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  • Gameplay Deconstruction: Elements and Layers

    - Paolo Tajè

  •  Pac-Man

    As we can see the diagram is divided into four different sectors: we can refer to them using TOKEN, DYN or GOAL layers. The leftmost is the main sector, because Collecting all white dots is the main goal of the game (reaching it makes you finish the level); the TOKEN layer of this sector therefore contains the Player (Pac-Man) and all the little white dots (marked as Collectables). The design of the maze, being part of the level design, doesn't take part of this analysis. As we said before, Collecting all dots makes the player jump to the next level, that is why Levels is the META element of this sector, and desire for Completion is the PSYCHO one.

    The second sector describes how, introducing Enemies, the player has to Escape from them, with the goal of Surviving. If they touch you, you can restart the game, but only losing one of your Lives. The Enemies token, then, adds the necessary Tension to the game.

    Third sector: the Power up token refers to the four power pellets that give temporary Invincibility to the player. After collecting one of them, the DYN changes from Escape to Chase, the GOAL from Survive to Destroy All, and Tension is replaced with a few seconds of Relief.

    The last sector is the Score one, connected to the Competition PSYCHO element through the Highscore Table; it refers primarily to two elements: the first is the Geometric Reward given when you eat all the ghosts, important because it makes people take risky decisions; the second is the fruit Bonus, which appears only for a Limited amount of Time.


    The rules of Tetris create a network of dynamics, properties and goals in the main (left) sector. First of all, you can Move your blocks in one dimension (left or right) and Rotate them by 90 degrees. Their fall can be described as a Time Limit in placing them; Play Area has instead an upper Space Limit. The foremost dynamic is Match, i.e. to position and wedge blocks, which results in Destroying one or more lines. Depending on game state, the player's goal changes from impulse to Survive, when the play area is almost full, to wish to Destroy All blocks, when the play area is filled up only halfway or less. In the META layer we have an endless level (which doesn't give breath to the player) with an increasing level of difficulty: they both contribute to increase Tension. Destroying lines gives instead a momentary Relief to the player.

    Then there's the Score sector, similar to the one we've found in Pac-Man. One difference is in a property of the game, according to which destroying four lines at one time (making a "Tetris") gives you extra points; we can summarize this with an Instant Combo element (where instant means that they are not chainable). The Preview token, i.e. the presentation of the next block, creates a Planning dynamic (depending also on the Instant Combo element): knowing the next piece can make the game simpler, but it surely adds depth to gameplay.


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