Players of competitive games are junkies. We are thrill seekers who desire conflict, tense situations, and ultimately the triumph only associated with overcoming an equal. Hands shake from adrenaline, palms sweat as you attempt to stay one step ahead. The euphoria, the high, that comes from successfully outplaying your opponent is unmatched. It is unique to games that pit individuals against other humans and provides a feeling of victory not present against non-human competitors. The experience and emotion of triumph in a competition among equals; this is what drives those who play competitive games across changing media. When creating a piece of art there are many locations from which to begin. For the creation of Third Age, we began by placing our emphasis on the emotions evoked in players by competitive games.
Emotion through Choice: Power and Agency
As is always the case between theory and application, Third Age required a concrete plan for implementing our ideas. We wanted individuals to play through tense situations, to feel stress, and ultimately triumph. These desired emotions are created whenever a player feels empowered within a game world. Power, or agency, results when individuals believe their actions are unique and impactful. Logically it makes sense to provide players with many moments to make choices within the game. These decision points, these opportunities for action, create interplay. Opportunities for interplay are created as a result of pieces, game mechanics, or actions taken by opponents. Interplay exists whenever a player is presented a choice and empowers the individual through opportunity for action. Growing from this opportunity, interplay creates a unique impact based on choice and resulting consequence. With direct and frequent opportunities to impact game flow players are impowered. Third Age places central importance on empowerment created through the theory of interplay; and through interplay players are fulfilled.
Subsequent design choices then require players to have the greatest range of freedom possible. It is impossible to create a serious competitive game in which player action is heavily limited, or in which players have long periods of unengagement. Interaction, or at least the potential for interaction, must exist at all times keeping a player immersed in a game up until the very end. It is this immersion that creates the tense, and totalizing emotional situations that drive competitive games. Can one even imagine a game of League of Legends, Call of Duty, Magic: The Gathering, or any game against a human opponent in which a player is not forced to interact with their games progress at all times? Without the constant threat of missing relevant new information, with limited interplay, players become disinterested and unengaged. Subsequently, game complexity suffers.
Simple Structures, Complex Interactions
This issue of complexity is another bearing on competitive games. Certainly there is much to be said for simplicity: simple games have a wide potential player base. However, games that are too simple lack content critical to creating a popular competitive game. On the other hand, overly complex games risk alienating potential players, and can become lost in their own depth. A balance must be stricken between the two extremes. During development, we determined that simple structures allowing for complex interactions created the most playspace while minimizing the risk of being overly complicated. Chess provides the perfect example of this philosophy. Ultimately chess can be summarized as such: structures are moved across a board, utilizing different movement patterns to capture the principle opposing piece. The games structure is simple. Complexity comes from the interaction between different movement patterns of each piece. How many potential situations exist from combining these pieces? Games such as this possess the capacity for mass appeal while preserving internal complexity.
In a similar manner Third Age creates simple play structures. Resources pass from heroes to cards, affecting the game with the goal of either shrinking the opponents resource pool, or growing your own. Eventually a resource pool will be overwhelmed, and victory achieved by a player. Complexity comes from card text and the manner in which players either grow their own or shrink opposing resource pools. Third Age walks the line, balancing complex piece interactions with a simple structure binding everything together.
Emotions evoked in players are everything. In games, how people feel about their actions is far more important than the actual actions. After all, how players feel determines enjoyment of the game. Emotionally, we sought to design a game that reinforced tense, competitive situations. These situations are designed to leave players feeling fulfilled in their interactions with not only the game, but also their opponents. Through an emphasis on interplay and balancing simple structures with complex interactions we feel Third Age succeeds in accomplishing our goals.