Many of us have a basic understanding of the idea of tension and release, and the use of conflict in basic dramatic structure.
But Nihilistic Software gameplay programmer John Rose said in a new Gamasutra feature
that game developers don't explore tension and release closely enough, even though games have great potential to communicate the concept.
"I believe one of the most crucial aspects to development is managing player tension," Rose said. "The ups and downs of the player experience are sometimes referred to as 'story beats,' but player tension has to be managed well beyond the narrative level. Between the overall story structure and the moment-to-moment gameplay lays a spectrum of opportunity for conflict."
He added, "The team behind Halo 3
is known for focusing on "30 seconds of fun"
-- the ideal quantum of tension for their particular brand of running and gunning. Like God of War III
, Halo 3
is roughly broken into discreet encounters designed to take around 30 seconds to complete."
"Players appreciate the tension during these intense battles, which they shortly overcome by killing enemies and moving on," he said. "This cycle of tension and release is repeated hundreds of times throughout the game. Different titles succeed with different intervals; an extreme example like Tetris
will repeat the sequence every three seconds."
The tension cycle can be stretched out for less action-oriented games, Rose noted. Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus
has only 16 enemies dotted across an expansive, mainly empty world. Tension occurs almost exclusively at these sparse encounters.
Compared to non-interactive forms of entertainment, video games have a unique opportunity to put tension and release in players' hands, Rose said. "We crave tension on every level, and we find joy in overcoming it. Exposing this delight to players is an indispensable way to hook them and make our games more successful."
For more examples of tension and release in games and some tools to employ it, read the full Gamasutra feature
, available now.