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  • Engaging Players Through Ritual

    - Brandon Franklin

  • Doing the Action Matters

    What was good design for a long time was how enjoyable the main gameplay loop of the game was, but I personally feel that good design is a collaboration between the player and the designer that allows the player to have the intended experience.

    This abstraction away from real world actions culminated into there being only a few mechanics in a lot of genres and old mechanics from the genre happening automatically or just being removed.

    I went back to play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, one of my favorite games, and was reminded that the game starts you with a healing spell. It doesn't have passive health regeneration, but it does have passive mana regeneration. So this spell that everyone starts with lets you go into a menu, equip the spell, press the dedicated "cast spell" button, wait for the cast time, and see the mana bar get converted to health.

    Compare this to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where your health just ticks up over time as long as you aren't currently taking damage. A lot of people would look at that change and say "This is good design. This recognizes the player's intent and automatically serves its purpose." But not having to do any action on the player's part removes that dynamic gameplay element of Oblivion. It incentivizes the player to brute force solutions to problems and blame the game if it doesn't work.

    The same thing is occurring in both games; a regenerating resource is increasing the player's health. But those individual actions in Oblivion each matter. Here's a list of how these actions break down into gameplay.

    • You need to have the healing spell equipped to use it so the player doesn't have some other potentially more useful spell ready.

    • Not having the spell equipped when needed causes panic.

    • The default heal spell has great mana to health efficiency, but it has a long cast time. This gives it limited usefulness in combat.

    • There's a secondary resource, mana, that you have to keep track of while in the heat of battle.

    • If mana runs out when you need it there's a moment of panic.

    • Once the start spell doesn't meet the player's needs they will seek out better healing spells or alternative faster health sources like potions or brewing potions.

    • Each time they heal they're giving up another action which means combat becomes more strategic.

    One of my favorite additions to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is how the healing works. You press a heal button, an animation plays, you get healed, and then you can't heal again for a few seconds. Streamlining healing in previous Call of Duty games removed a major tactical element the game could have had. With Black Ops 4 they added this mechanic so that players have to think about where and when they heal and try to play the game in a fast paced but intentional way.


    The actions the player needs to do changes their behavior in ways that increase their connection to the game and let them feel the conflict in what should be a tense situations. By having not just gameplay loops action loops, rituals, the player can get in the mindset you want them to be in when engaging with your game.

    This sort of slower pace isn't meant to be a good idea in all games but mainly games that have a higher emphasis on history, locations, characters, and systems. Letting the player think and act at the same time can be critical to letting them engage with the game without being lost, confused, or bored.

    Let me know what you think about this design pattern, how it's used, or any other examples you have of games that use these kinds of techniques.

    Comment below or message me on twitter @RTCinder 

    Thanks for reading!

    Brandon Franklin


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