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  • The Nine Structural Subsystems of Any Game

    - Lewis Pulsipher

  •  Now for examples.

    Traditional games are almost always turn-based in sequence, with one piece moving.  Think chess (including oriental versions), checkers, Go, Monopoly, Parcheesi.  Certain genres of video games are almost always simultaneous movement (real-time), such as most shooters (Worms Armageddon is an exception of sorts).

    How do video games fit? Most "shooter" video games follow the same pattern:

    1. Theme/History/Story/Emotion/Image.  Usually, the story is an excuse to get to the action, though there are shooters with deeper stories that actually affect gameplay.  Many "elicit an emotion" games are at least partly shooters.

    2. Player Interaction rules (and number of players).  Generally these are one-person games, though now we're getting more cooperative/buddy versions.  Many have a multi-player (but two-sided) version as well.  There are rarely player interaction rules other than common courtesy.  Some players try to install their own rules (such as the disdain of "camping"), even though "camping" is perfectly within the rules.

    3. Objective/victory conditions.  The objective is usually to kill as much as possible before you're killed, but there can be overall game victory conditions.

    4. "Data storage". (Information Management) The computer/console provides the storage and management; how the software addresses the details is usually hidden from anyone not on the production team.

    5. Sequencing.  Almost always, shooters are simultaneous movement (real-time).

    6. Movement/Placement.  Almost always, the player has an avatar that moves in ways analogous to the real world.  The difference can come in whether the character can jump, swim, fly, etc.

    7. Information availability.  Most video games involve much hidden information-one of the great virtues of electronic games as compared to non-electronic.  In a shooter, you rarely have information that your avatar cannot reasonably see or hear, though there may be scanners or other devices that detect through walls and around corners.  (Exception: many games show you, after you're killed, where your killer was when he attacked you.)

    8. Conflict resolution/interaction of game entities.  Shooting.  And perhaps melee.

    9. "Economy" (resource acquisition).  In most shooters you can find food, weapons, and medical kits.  In some, when you score enough you gain additional "lives", or can purchase better weapons.  You may be able to despoil the bodies or the installations of your vanquished enemies, as well.

    Let's try a simple electronic game: Pac-Man.

    1. Theme/History/Story/Emotion/Image.  The game is often credited as the first to have a character and there is a story of sorts, though once again the story is mostly an excuse for action.

    2. Player Interaction rules (and number of players).  One player vs. the computer.

    3. Objective/victory conditions.  Make it through all the levels.

    4. "Data storage". (Information Management).  The game uses a square grid, more or less, as a "board". 

    5. Sequencing.  Simultaneous.

    6. Movement/Placement.  The player has one "piece" which can move constantly.  The opposition has up to four ghosts, though not always all of them at once.

    7. Information availability.  Virtually all information is available!

    8. Conflict resolution/interaction of game entities.  Pac-Man eats dots, ghosts eat Pac-man, Pac-man can eat ghosts for a limited time after consuming special dots.

    9. "Economy" (resource acquisition).  Score points to gain lives.

    Next, another example. The video game Civilization IV is not much different from most board war games:

    1. Theme/History/Story/Emotion/Image.  Rise from barbarism to the moon.  Conquer the world or persuade it to acknowledge your nation's superiority.

    2. Player Interaction rules (and number of players).  Multiple separate interests and sides.  Negotiation is possible.

    3. Objective/victory conditions.  As with some boardgames, there are multiple ways to win, such as flying to the moon/stars or conquest.

    4. "Data storage". (Information Management).  Civ uses a square grid, which a player can actually make visible, to regulate movement.  The computer keeps track of many details, which of course is why Civ the computer game includes far more detail than any boardgame.

    5. Sequencing.  Turn-based.

    6. Movement/Placement.  One side moves all of its pieces in a turn, many pieces can be in one area at a time, move into an enemy-occupied area to attack it.

    7. Information availability.  Thanks to the computer, much of the information is hidden, though Civ provides various aids and warnings to give you some idea of your standing in the world.

    8. Conflict resolution/interaction of game entities.  When pieces move into an enemy-occupied area, a fight occurs.  Unlike most boardgames, the combat method involves one unit at a time on each side even though many may be in the area.

    9. "Economy" (resource acquisition).  Much of Civ revolves around acquisition of resources that enable technological research and construction of a great variety of pieces.


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