1. A Theory of Flow Pt. 2

      written by noklu

      We have explored the nature of flow on a foundational level -- or at least, we have explored one way to consider the concept of flow. I hardly suggest that my description is absolute or that I am infallible! But I submit that my ideas may be of some small use to the aspiring forger or designer, if only as terminology to describe the rich world of level design accessible by our imagination. And so today I shall expand on flow, and make some links to a previous idea of mine, Points of Interest, as well as digressing into human psychology, the nature of level design and more.

      POI: Recap

      Points of Interest was my inaugural post on Reaching Perfection and it is an idea that has settled and developed in my mind over time. A point of interest is not only rocket spawns, or the centre-piece, or that mass of red players but it includes every object in your map and the collections that they form. However, the vast majority of these are of negligible interest: we are uninterested in the spent ammunition rounds. Walls and floors typically are uninteresting, however inconsistency with object textures breaks immersion by possessing a larger than desired interest-value. This is how the human mind operates: change is prioritised.

      Relating Flow and POI

      A key point to understand is that powerful points of interest exert attraction upon the player. The high ground, weapon spawns or enemy players all attract attention and a designer’s job is to subordinate unnecessary details to these important aspects of the game. The use of aesthetic pieces should be used to draw attention to certain locations (or for navigation) and it is a powerful tool for manipulating a player’s motion. In essence, flow depends on the player’s interest in moving to a certain location.

      Hence, it can be surmised that designers alter the interest-value of places so as to manipulate player motion. This should come as no surprise: we know that players like to rush power weapons in the early game, and dislike being in large open fields. However, some designers cram so many wondrous things into a single map that players become distracted and the gameplay atrophies into an anarchic rabble. A designer, through the map, should guide the player towards fun, balanced gameplay -- and just as we would not give chaotic directions to a new taxi driver, we should not provide chaotic instructions to the player. Instead, there should be a simplicity behind the map, even while the actual layout is relatively complex.

      This is not to say, however, that we should spoon feed a player, and never present choices. Simply design in a way that makes the choices easy to make. The typical player is not interested in rapid cost-benefit analysis of a choice, rather the focus is on the actual combat: that is the core of the game (although having said that, some sneaky players like GodlyPerfection like to weigh up their options). Reducing aesthetic noise is the most effective way to streamline the decision process -- and, actually, this also helps the sneaky player.

      Practical Application

      Design requires simplicity behind it, not necessarily within it. The reduction of aesthetic noise is one way to do this, as does the reduction of the number of valid things that compete for our attention. There is a solid reason why most maps have two or three major power weapons: placing too many causes players to spread themselves thin. Basically, the sum of all the players’ attention is the butter that one spreads on bread. If you have too much bread -- or distractions -- then the butter or attention is spread thin, and it’s no fun.

      Many designers use a neutral line of three power weapons, whereas Bungie often places weapons on the outskirts of a map. These places would otherwise possess a low flow-value, but the presence of these weapons attracts players to locations that, normally, they would venture to only rarely. The same can be said for aesthetic pieces: they draw players to locations, and so one could cleverly design a major battlespace -- think the centre diamond of Think Twice -- that also possesses an attractive aesthetic and this arena would enjoy higher rates of battle -- so when designing your major battlespace, make it the most natural place to be.

      Statement of Purpose

      Players do not move in pure randomosity; they are human beings. We are all exceptionally predictable creatures and so level design should be understood as the manipulation of human behaviour into pleasing gameplay. In these ideas, I have expressed some terms that describe how we manipulate gameplay by controlling interest-values and hence, flow.

      A Theory of Flow Pt. 1


      Tyler said...

      The last article brought a lot more to the table IMO. This one seems to summarize why flow is important again. Pretty common sense stuff really.
      I think it would have been cool if you had delved into the psychology of why players feel attracted to continually climbing to higher ground on maps. Idea for future article perhaps?

      Noklu said...

      Thanks for the suggestion. I know that this article is much of the same, but the reinforcement of prior articles and ideas was deliberate. I also intended to consolidate the points of interest concept and flow in one article so that I could refer to both systems easily in the future. And the point of this article is not to cover new ground but to provide a conceptual framework to explore and explain design and player psychology.

      Tyler said...

       Good enough for me. :P
      Honestly, its seems that too few people have a proper understanding of flow. I've ran tests on roughly 100 different community maps over the past two weeks and its crazy how different the flow of each map is, as well as how bad some maps flow... You could literally write a book about flow. There are so many different opinions designers have on what is ideal for player movement. Its wild.
      I hate maps that are "too free flowing" or "too structured flowing"... One on hand you've got maps that play unintuitively and chaotic, and on the other one that plays very linearly.

      Tyler said...

      *Prods RP with a stick*
      "Hey mister, you alive?