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Feature: 'Gameplay Fundamentals Revisited: Harnessed Pacing & Intensity'

Former Electronic Arts and THQ designer Mike Lopez looks at pacing in games versus films and TV for Gamasutra, explaining how careful planning of single-player l
Former Electronic Arts and THQ designer Mike Lopez looks at pacing in games versus films and TV for Gamasutra, explaining how careful planning of single-player level content can produce a perfect "intensity curve" for games. Game designers should look at how top Hollywood blockbuster movies and even television dramas have utilized intensity and pacing structure for the last 30 years, so that they can learn and apply those same techniques when pre-planning and structuring the action in their titles: "While movies and even written fiction have some strong lessons to teach the game industry about pacing, it is really the modern TV drama that lends our closest and most relevant comparison, where a single episode is akin to a game level, mission or course and an entire season to an entire campaign or career. Just as the amazing teams on the top TV dramas 24, Prison Break and Lost carefully pre-structure the plot and shot sequence to maximize the intensity and pacing, I believe the games with the highest top quality experience (Ratchet & Clank, Splinter Cell, Halo, Zelda, Metal Gear Solid, etc.) have carefully structured their single player level content to precisely control the pacing and to ratchet up the intensity. In fact, if we designers are every hoping to deliver an experience as delightfully exciting and enjoyable as Lost, Prison Break, or 24, we need to begin during pre-production by pre-planning a carefully structured intensity and pacing plan for all environments, levels or courses." Modern game teams that rely on mechanics, game systems, or AI alone to control the pacing outcome will fall short of the pacing and intensity seen in TV shows, movies, or games that have integrated these pre-production techniques: "For a game level, mission, or course, an unplanned / on-the-fly construction process will always deliver a series of events without any predictable pattern of pacing or intensity within the game level. The opportunity to deliver the most high-octane experience will be lost. The system-driven and environment constructed events will still occur and create intensity peaks and troughs, but the height of the peaks will vary erratically and the duration between the events will be unpredictable. So any beneficial rhythm of pacing/intensity will be lost, as likely will the player's attention. To create a heart-racing, nail biting, roller-coaster ride of excitement in a game we need to first organize a level plan with a carefully structured series of events, prior to the construction of the level, mission or course (i.e. during pre-production). It is not necessary that all or even most of the micro elements be planned out into an über-detailed design at this stage, although some teams prefer to do so by early production and there are many merits there. What is most important is that the key gameplay, action and story plot events are ranked, ordered and spaced out to create an experience that is continually increasing in intensity, and either consistent or increasing in pace." You can read the full feature on producing a perfect "intensity curve" for video games with pre-planning and structuring methods employed by film and television projects (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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