Recently, I finished a series taking a closer, deeper look at interplay. As it turned out, even after covering interplay in the Mario Melodies series, there was still much more to talk about. Now it's time to do the same for variation.
When you value interactivity as the most important element in a video game, you begin to understand why interplay is such a big deal. To love making a difference in the (game) world by jumping on and off of every Goomba that crosses your path all in efforts to save the princess (and have a little fun along the way) IS to love mechanics, function, and gameplay. One would never say "Not if I can help it" when watching a movie. If you like making a difference, the video game medium is the right one for you. But any mechanic or amount of control that you have only becomes meaningful in context. Afterall, what good is Mario's JUMP in a game like Tetris?
I tend to think of a game's content as being 1% the concepts/ideas and 10% mechanics. The remaining 89% comes from how the ideas and mechanics are developed/expressed throughout the game via level design or the construction of its challenges. When done properly, players get to see, do, and experience many sides, shades, and facets of their actions and the game world. When done improperly, even interesting actions and fresh ideas can become dull with repetition or disappointing from the lack of development.
If meaning can be expressed in a function, then from stories to challenges, variation is how action and function are put into a rich context. It's how we measure our progress when moving from one place to another. From point A to point B. From game start to game over. In a world built around repetition (ie. real life), recognizing how little, incremental differences add up to something extraordinary, making the journey more interesting than the destination, is how to appreciate an experience more fully.
Variation is recognizing that there isn't an average person or a typical day. Either you're not looking hard enough to find what's unique, or you simply don't know how to look. This means your preception is a key part in appreciating change and progression. And by coming to terms with it, you'll find that there's a great beauty in the "ordinary" and that small changes can be great changes. Change is just one of those feared forces that never gets old because we can never completely get used to. It never quite seems to settle down. Learning to live a lifetime inside the small changes of a day or a moment is wonderful. Being there as that moment flows into the next life-sized-instant is beyond wonderful. Experience this once, and nothing will every be the same.
Continuing with this series, we'll look at variation in video games specifically through the following topics:
- design spaces
- the development of ideas
- balance (competitive balance [multiplayer] and how ideas are stressed through function [single/multiplayer])