Game design Toolbox – Walk through – Narratives

This tools is used very often. The designer writes what he expects the first user experience to be upon using the product the first time. Walk through are generally just a page or two, but sometimes can be very different for the same product to show how people might face the game differently.
I like walk through because they provide a sorted view of the experience the designer is trying to provide. When reading a design document they are proven to provide more insights about the game than most other parts.
Walk-throughs are very tough to write. The main reason is that in most games the user has to repeat some tasks many times and explore the user interface and or the world. Those two actions are very difficult to describe in an interesting fashion. The second reason they are so difficult to create is what makes me like them so much also. Walk-throughs show off very easily the problems in granularity and the gaps in the design.
The reason is simple, like any of the other tool, they project the design on a different surface, and therefore are likely to demonstrate some of the issues the design needs to fix before it is finished.

I borrowed a walk through from Mike Sellers’ first pass at a design document for SimCity Online:

Ann’s Day

Ann is a mom and housewife who has played SimCity off-and-on for years – she’s played SC3K but hasn’t played The Sims or SimMars. She’s been on the Internet for about a year, but hasn’t played any other online games. She’s chatted online just a little bit in the past, and is both excited and a little anxious about the ’Net.

The first time Ann brings up SCO, she’s greeted by a colorful and friendly opening screen that reminds her somewhat of SimCity. Clicking on “World Tour” gives her a quick, graphical overview of all the cities in the online world, some of which look a little too big and bustling for her tastes. She looks over their geography, population, and other attributes, and finally decides to look into a small friendly looking town on one of the newer servers, and clicks on the “Quick Tour” button for that city.

The world-view dissolves and she finds herself zooming in from an aerial view of the small town she had chosen. A tour bus is waiting by the side of a busy street, and her view zooms right into the bus as it becomes transparent. A text window on the screen explains that she can take a free tour of the city to decide if she’d like to immigrate there. Not only that, but she can take the Maxis tour, or she can try out one of the tours that players have set up themselves! She decides to live on the wild side and go on a player-created tour of the city. She hears the sounds of a bus accelerating as her view of the city sweeps along. At various times text descriptions appear, backed by nifty music, pointing out interesting buildings, locations, and places where public events occur. This tour seems to be slanted toward people who might be coming to this town to start a business, but overall she likes the feel of the place and the originality of the tour. She decides at the end to give the tour operator a reputation “tip” as suggested during the tour and to create a character to live here.

Ann explores the character creation process a bit, and finally settles on a woman that looks a little like herself, but who is a little more outgoing and organized. She also sets her attributes so that she has more starting money than average, just to be safe. Soon she appears inside her new apartment in a good section of town, and proceeds to explore it.

The apartment is pretty bare, but there is a little furniture at least, and several changes of clothes hanging in the closet. Ann tries on different outfits, liking the different looks but thinking too that they’re a little boring – she’s going to have to find some new clothes pretty soon, along with some flowers or something to spruce up her place.

As she’s going from room to room she notices a newspaper on the floor by her front door. Clicking on it selects the newspaper, and double-clicking on it puts it in her hand and in her inventory list on the side of her screen. Sure enough, clicking on the inventory brings up a closer view of the newspaper in a smaller window over her view of the apartment. It turns out that this is a real newspaper intended for newcomers to the city, and lists all kinds of neat things to see and do. There are advertisements for shops in town, homes, apartments, jobs, people looking for other people, people looking for chess partners, even actual news stories about recent events in and around town. Ann notices too that there’s a vote coming up on several tax issues, and wonders how she can find out more about this. She decides to keep the paper with her as she ventures out from her apartment.

As she leaves her apartment and enters the lobby of her building, she notices a bulletin board on one wall (a helpful dialog box points this out to her with a quick message). Lots of notices here from people living in the building, and a pad of paper where she can post her own notice. Ann spies one large notice in particular of a regular newcomer’s meeting that’s already in progress. She follows the directions down the hall and to the right, entering a room where about a dozen other people are standing around talking. One of them waves to her and walks over to greet her. This is Teri, another player who likes to be around to welcome new people to town and help them find their way around. Ann smiles at her computer, and then remembers (from what she learned when making her character) how to make her avatar smile too. Teri’s avatar smiles back. Ann is already beginning to feel at home here, and looks forward to finding out more about this town and what part she can play in helping it grow.

This walk-through provides a ton of information about what the game is supposed to have and the mental model that the designer is expecting to reach. My example is that when reading this, I was surprised to find that the avatars were supposed to be able to smile. I had not found it anywhere else in the game design, even though it will be an important feature in the game.
By providing a walk through (in fact Mike provided 3 in his first draft), Mike provided us with a strong tool to understand his design faster.
By writing the walk-through, Mike faced new issues about the game that the other tools had not brought up yet, that’s why there is a small disconnect, and that’s what made the walk-through useful to him.