Game design Toolbox – The Game State Landscape

Game State Landscape

Another tool to think about the game that I learned from Will Wright:

Project the state of the game onto two dimensions and track the path that the game state will follow. There will be places where it is easier to go, and you can think of those are being lower. The places where it is tougher to go will be higher. This makes for a landscape where the user drives the game. The game is always a complex environment and has an almost chaotic behavior. We know that chaotic behavior often has attractors, places around which the object is often found. It is interesting for the designer to understand what those places (attractors) are.

Figure #1. Fund/Population landscape for SimCity 3000. Build by using 1000 cities from City Exchange and representing lower terrain where city states where more frequent. Since we have about 30 states for each city, this represents 30,000 states.

The figure above shows a landscape built using cities uploaded by users on the web. The most important feature is the basin along the population axes and where funds are low. This tells us that you cannot increase the funds in the game without population, it makes sense since the main mechanism to make money in the game is to tax the residents and the business. The next important feature is the cliff from the basin towards the increasing funds. This means that it is very difficult (or not motivating) to have a budget with a large surplus and accumulate cash.
Above the cliff the landscape is pretty flat. This means that once you figure it out, and make it above the original cliff, it is very easy to keep making money. This happens to be one of the problems in SimCity 3000 that we did not have time to fix before launch: Money does not matter anymore once the city reaches a certain size. We wish we had a tougher landscape at regular intervals along the funds axes to have a game that continues to be challenging over time.

This is a post launch study of SimCity 3000, in the future, we will try to develop those landscape as goals for the simulation, prior to the tuning process, and the tuning team will have to match those landscapes

It should be very tough to make money without population, and there should be an easier path where you have both money and population for a while. The terrain would be a little bit rugged to provide challenges along the different paths. This is not a full picture of the landscape state, as there is a limit to the population you can achieve.

Here are some more examples of landscapes as we are discussing them about the Sims:

As the Sims reach alpha it seems that the difficulty landscape in relation to “Friends” and “Money” looks like this:

Which means that it is tough to have a lot of friends or a lot of money, but easier to have both friends and money.
Will would like the same landscape to look more like this in the final product:

Meaning that it is tough to have lot of friends or a lot of money but even tougher to have a lot of friends and a lot of money.

After we discussed this, will is designing the different careers in the Sims such that the landscape will be different for each different careers.