August 1st, 2008 - 12:15 pm

Gamasutra was at Microsoft’s recent Gamefest and gives us this piece on How Valve Makes Art to Enhance Gameplay. And well, to me ‘gameplay’ is just another word for the way a game tells you its story. Okay, okay.. so Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead aren’t exactly bereft with story. They do focus heavily on their game mechanics, and these are the primary reason why people do and, in the case of Left 4 Dead, probably will play these games. But that being said, what makes these games so much more than just their mechanics; what, in part, makes them a cut above the rest of the industry and helps make these games as wildly popular as they are isn’t just Valve‘s commitment to giving you fun mechanics, but their commitment to creating rich and interesting fictional worlds that mesh beautifully with those mechanics.

Team Fortress 2 “is over-the-top from a gameplay perspective – you can rocket jump, you can magically heal people. [...] Valve designers came to the conclusion that they should aim to match the game’s look to the gameplay.” So far here at Systems of Play we’ve talked about designing gameplay mechanics that are coherent with the story the game is trying to tell, but the opposite is also equally true: you can make story to enhance gameplay. TF2′s classes were given “grossly distinct physical shape[s]” not only to help differentiate between classes, but also to coherently reflect the classes’ main functions in the game.

I don’t mean to muddle art and story, but if you think about it, story isn’t just the “text” behind a work of fiction. Story is that abstract chronology that can be told using text, sound, images, environments, haptics and yes, even play itself (enactment). So in that sense, creating art in a work of fiction is to tell the story in a particular way. If you consider how The Joker has been portrayed over the years, you can tell that although the abstract story of The Joker has remained relatively the same, different ways of portraying him relate (tell) that story differently.

Although not mentioned in the article, Valve uses more than just art to reinforce their game mechanics. Different classes also have very unique voices and sounds that emphasize their character and their role in the game. Even each class’ “feel” (haptics) is coherent to their character and their role, with the Heavy feeling much.. heavier than the Scout. Valve even uses the environment to emphasize the fictional world:

for the red team we used predominantly warm colors – some grays, but they’re warm as well. We used natural materials such as woods and red brick, and angled geometry [...] Then for the blue team we used cooler colors, and industrial materials such as concrete and steel, and orthogonal forms.

That’s the whole lot: game mechanics, art, environments, sound and haptics; used coherently to emphasize TF2′s fiction, to tell TF2′s (albeit simple) story. Why does Valve make such great games? Look no further.

Spake gian mancuso, tagged as: opinion

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