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Creating Player Experience

Disney Imagineers use every bit of technology available to imagine and design magical experiences for their guests. We, the game industry, have the unique ability to bring that home. It's time we did.

Many articles have been written comparing Disney and its Imagineers to game development.  Yet, we still fail to draw upon the critical driving force behind the work of the Imagineers:  to create a magical end-user experience.  It’s all about the guest. It’s all about making the impossible, possible.  

When I wrote about creating great movie games, I said that we needed to take the one thing from the movie that the player wanted to experience.  What is it about Harry Potter that potential players want to experience?  Hogwarts?  Perhaps it’s a first-person wand-fighting game?  

What “impossible” dream would you like to try?  Would you like to fly?  Perhaps you’d like to go in space?  What would it be like to walk the halls of the Titanic in a perfect virtual reproduction?  GTE Entertainment actually presented a game such as this in the form of Titanic: Adventure out of Time in 1996.  The game itself is not all that memorable, and yet, I played over and over to walk the halls of that ship and explore every corner.  

We have, within our grasp, the ability to reach our audience in a way that no other form of media can.  Not only that, we can put this form of entertainment in every livingroom.  And still, we have yet to create a truly immersive experience in gaming.  It can be done without 3D technology and without special equipment if we follow some simple rules.

Disney’s Imagineers are careful about contradiction, color and blending so that nothing knocks their guests out of the magic they, the Imagineers, are weaving.  Heavy Rain is the first game of it’s kind.  In Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream attempts to create a game that is truly interactive and truly leaves the power in the player’s hands.  It is a valiant effort.  Unfortunately, there are too many contradictions and too many things that make the player question.  They lose the immersive effect by failing to get the player to suspend disbelief for any length of time.  

In addition, the four player characters fail to be well-rounded enough to give the player a sense of personality or how to play the character.  Since all of the player characters can be played essentially the same way--nice, for instance--Heavy Rain lacks the identity required for the player to connect.  In addition, the son is so distant and hard to reach that he never even becomes a sympathetic character.  Therefore, he fails to be a significant inciting incident to cause the player to rally for his father.    

Yet, Quantic Dream’s attempt is admirable in its vision and, if combined with the vision of Walt Disney, it is possible to see a new future in interactive experience.  In order to do this, we have to think first of our end-user, our player.  

The game must be told from a first-person viewpoint.  However, there must be some degree of peripheral vision and a way to sense what is behind you.  My biggest pet peeve in any fps game is getting hit on the left by a combatant I never saw coming and can’t even swing around to see now that he’s beating on me.  

The protagonist must be a silent one.  There is really no such thing as a silent protagonist, but when the game’s protagonist doesn’t speak, the player is free to think, and therefore to experience what is happening around him.  He must use his senses and pay attention to his surroundings.  Also, an unscripted protagonist allows the player to become the character, which is essential for truly immersive play.  

Never take control from the player.  Our day-to-day lives don’t usually stop completely so that someone can tell us something, unless we are watching a movie or reading a book.  Also, no one is going to hang out with people who constantly treat them like the dumbest person in the room.  If we are to suspend a player in an unfamiliar virtual world, we must do so in such a way that the player remains empowered and in control.  

The environment must be completely explorable and the player needs to be able to interact with it.  The reason that sandbox environments and MMO’s are so popular is that the player is in control.  They can interact with a variety of characters, go where they want and do what they want to do.  A player looking for an experience would be thrown out of that experience by areas they can see, but can’t explore.

The controls must be invisible.  Quick Time Events, no matter how interactive, always remind the player they are playing a game.  With the EyeToy, Kinect, Move, and Wii, the technology is already in homes.  We simply must tap into that technology to create a new, more concealed, method of play mechanic.  In other words, to remember that the experience we are creating is still a game, an escape, and that, again, the player remains in control of the experience.  

Many games are panned for tacking a story onto gameplay, almost as an afterthought.  Heavy Rain seemed to tack the game onto the story and came up short on both.  If we are to reward our players with a new way of interacting, we can never lose sight of the end experience and how every piece fits together.  The story and gameplay must be a perfectly woven masterpiece.  

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