Flowing AlongFlow is a word that is frequently thrown around by designers, critics and players. From it’s dictionary definition, it is easy to see why it is so popular -- it means ‘to move along steadily and continuously in a current or stream’. That is a concept that is considered desirable by designers and optimal for players. However, as with any idea, a complete expression of it does aid understanding and the practical application of the concept.
Flow-ValuesThe concept of flow that is frequently used typically means the generalised ability of players to move around a level. In other words, a map with poor flow is difficult to move about -- this can be caused by bumpy floors, tight corners or narrow passages. A level’s flow is also influenced by the movement of players. An area controlled by a red sniper, tank or shotgunner is hard to move through by a blue player, which indicates that flow varies depending on a game’s progression. The contributing factors are ally and enemy locations; weapon and vehicle spawns; and, objective locations. Typically, a level that flows well presents a good first impression.
That only takes into account flow on a broad scale, but it also exists on a local scale. Every locale within a map provides a certain ease of motion to players. It can be difficult or it can be hard. To aid in the comparison of areas, I use a concept called a ‘flow-value’. One can imagine it as a number, where a high value equals good flow (often achieved by plenty of dance-floor). However, it is better understood as a comparative tool. Saying “this map has a high flow-value” is exactly the same as saying, “This map flows well.” However, the use of flow-values allows easier comparison by reference to concrete quantitative expressions rather than vague qualitative statements. That being said, flow-values are not, strictly speaking, a numerical tool, but a comparative tool. I mainly make use of it so I can better explain the concepts of flow -- it is easier to understand “the flow-value decreases” than to say “flow is worse”.