The first question players ask themselves when they start a game is: what am I supposed to do? This is directly related to the goal(conflict) of the game, which is the first thing we need to know if we are going to progress in the game(story).
How can we communicate the goal of a game using the game's language?
- We can use language in the form of text and speech
- We can use the visuals
- We can use audio
- We can use interactions
Using interactions to reveal the goal is (I think) a bad idea, because interaction requires effort on the player's part, who at this point have no reason or motivation to do so. We could use one of the other channels of communication to kindle the player's interest and use his/her first interactions to reveal our goal. But in any case I think the goal statement would be too vague for the player to have any long lasting motivation. In addition will it leave the main goal of the game, at best, as the second motivation the player encounters in the game (the first being the motivation to interact with the game to find the main goal). Imagine someone who have never played a video game before; how are you going to convince them to play if they don't understand what to do before later in the game? These players would very quickly put your game down. If the goal is stated using some other method, the interactions could support that goal or reiterate it, making it even clearer what to do.
Using the channels of communication we are given in isolation is just making things unnecessarily vague. Why not use them all to point in the same direction?
The most obvious (and most effective) channel to use is language. I do not like to passively being witness to dialogue and cutscenes in games, but the reason for this is that they are strangely not interactive and bound to their traditional usage in media. Language should very much be interactive, it is what we have developed them for; conversing.
So, with language we can very easily specify the goal(conflict) the player should be concerning himself/herself with.
Visual goal statements have often been used to try to create a point of interest that the player is supposed to approach. But it is usually concerned with spatial guidance, but it could also be used to show a character's situation, mood and reactions (emotions.) It could be used to show a character in distress, which makes it obvious that we are supposed to help him/her. It immediately becomes our goal.
Goal statements through audio (in the form of music and sound effects) are to my knowledge not very common. Music has a very special way of talking to us, through metaphors and moods, in any case I think stating the game's goal(conflict) purely using music would be a bad idea. One could use sound effects to evoke curiosity, but still it would be difficult to state the main goal(conflict) in the game through sound effects.
What should we do so that the player don't have to ask himself/herself 'what to do'?
First thing is to make sure the player knows what he/she can do and how to execute it. Naturaly logical controls only goes that far. If you are not familiar with the industry standard, then it might seem illogical to walk by tilting a stick (but it is still the most effective way right now.) If we can explain this even before the game starts it would really ease the entrance to our universe. I suggest trying to teach the controls in the main menu, requiring the player to use the controls to start the game.
With the controls more or less out of the way, the next thing is to catch the player's attention and hold it for as long as possible. Try to find some way to make sure the player's eyes are on the screen and is listening. Some type of interaction or participation would be great. Present everything in a way that makes it worthwhile paying attention and so that the player is getting the feeling that there is something valuable to learn from this experience.
Now make the objective or goal(conflict) statement as clear as possible. But be aware that you don't treat your player as an idiot. Show that you have respect for the player and acknowledge that he or she is an intelligent human being. The statement should encompass what the whole game is about. It could be just a representation of the greater conflict you'll meet later in the game, but it will explain the main rules of the game right away, which will help the player enter our world. (This may be a matter of taste, but it will certainly make the experience easier to... experience?)
By now the player should be eager to find out how the goal(conflict) is resolved, curious about your world and about what will happen if he/she does this or that.
I have now tried to answer everything I questioned in my first log. In my next log, I will go back and see if I was able to find what I was looking for, and I'll write a summary putting the pieces together.