Player Agency: Leaving Your Mark

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Game Design
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In the past I have talked about player agency and how I consider it to be very important, but what is it really all about? What is so great about player agency? Player agency basically allows the player to  leave a mark on the game world, either temporary or permanent. Permanent is usually better, but will make the save file larger, and temporary changes are often nearly as enjoyable.

When I say make a change,  I don’t necessarily mean anything big, even something simple like killing a zombie is a change in the gameworld. Before there was a zombie, now there’s just a immobile corpse. Even simpler than that, leaving footprints in the snow is a way for a player to leave their mark. Uncharted 2 really impressed me because it left permanent footprints in the snow. I’ve seen a few games before that that left footprints in the snow, but after a few seconds they disappeared. Uncharted 2 was the first game I saw that had permanent footprints.

I usually care a lot more about the core gameplay of a game than little visual details, but they can improve the over all experience. It seems like there’s a trend toward cinematic game, longer and more impressive cutscenes. Now cutscenes can be nice from time to time, but I think the priorities are wrong.

The most important visuals are the ones that the player can interact with. Leaving footprints behind, flattened grass where they walk, realistic water splashing when someone steps in it(although some games are already getting pretty good at this one). These little details are more important than a 10 minute cut scene, no matter how impressive because they respond to the player’s interaction.

I have to say that Farcry 2 had a very impressive fire propagation system, which was definitely the coolest thing about the game, and was a great way for a player to leave their mark on the gameworld, even is it was temporary. Go ahead and mention any games you can think of that let players interact with the environment in cool ways, as well as leaving praise or criticism of this post.

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