How fast should your plot points flow? What is the perfect balance of action and rest? These questions are all elements of pacing- the intensity of your game. Proper pacing allows you as the developer to not have to crank your game to max every level, which could lead players to either get bored or even expect more levels to deliver an even bigger experience. So pacing your game can keep player on the back of their seats just to propel them to the edge because of an intense moment perfectly positioned to tailor their experience from okay to epic.
The First Ten Minutes Establish Your Game
I believe the phrase is “put your best foot forward”- and with your game that’s exactly what you should do. However, this doesn’t mean “throw every single surprise you have in your game at them within the next 3 minutes”. The goal with a strong start is to set an expectation for the player and to foreshadow your game’s highlight moments. There are a many ways a developer can start off strong.
A good example of this is the first area of Dead Island. In the beginning of the game the player wakes up in a hotel, an eerie atmosphere surrounds the environment. Shortly after raising this suspense- bam; zombies are chasing the player. This section is accompanied by intense music and the sounds of snarling and growling ever present in the background. This opening doesn’t take too long to set up the concept and gets the player into the action as fast as possible.
Leave Breadcrumbs to Direct Your Players
The breadcrumb technique is common way to control the pace of a games. Mario has coins, Sonic has rings, and Pac-Man has pellets. These mechanics push the player forward, but also allow the developer to know with a level certainty a player will be on a specific path.. When using this technique the item you want the player to either follow or collect should either aesthetically blend or to have a visual appearance that draws the player to the object such as a glow, outline, sound, or movement of sorts.
If you look at Fable 2, developed by Lionhead Studios, their sparkle breadcrumb trail is an example of a leading breadcrumb. You don’t collect these just merely follow them. These guide players when they don’t know where to go and can even allow the player to explore more of the world if they simply defy the breadcrumb trail. In other words it’s a win-win even if the player chooses to follow the trail or not.
Urgency Gets the Blood Flowing
Creating Urgency in a game can make players not only connect with your game, but also gets them to think differently- causing them to be more strategic in certain situations. Even in the real world, urgency creates a rush which makes a faster pace. Urgency can be displayed in a number of ways. One way is through a time limit. We see this in many games, especially smaller web games. Creating a time limit displays the dynamic of player vs. the clock. This makes the player constantly think about the clock no matter what the situation.
Most games have a dialog that tells the player to continue their mission or something will happen. The player usually ignores this until they are done exploring the world. Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes urgency and even adds consequence. In Deus Ex the player is told to go to this building to rescue people otherwise the place explodes, killing an undefined amount of people. If you take too long talking to NPCs, flushing toilets and examining your co-worker’s desks, the building blows up and you are reminded how your lack of urgency wasn’t high enough and you let people die. This realization of death changes how the player perceives the game and forces them to adopt a quick pace.
Pacing can dictate the way a game plays and feels. Bad pacing can make a game feel too long or lack a sense of engagement. I have proposed three ways that might help you better control your pacing. Starting off strong, then bread crumbing the player to urgent moments can pace your game the way you want and helps the player not feel overwhelmed with all the aspects of your game at once. I hope this has helped you understand pacing and helps you explore the world of pacing.
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