– Premise –
Once again, every time I write a new blog it feels like there’s 3 life time that has past since the last one. I guess that you have to be in the mood to do that.
Look at the image above. Isn’t it great? Perfectly looping gif of a river flowing. Would be even better with sound. Right? So relaxing.
For some times now I wanted to write about something that is really important to me, probably the 2nd most important thing when I design stuff. The first one being consistency in video games. I’ll probably write about it at some point. Maybe.
You probably have guessed it with the title, I wanted to write about Flow.
Flow is SO important in video games and in life in general. We all have our moments when we are in the flow. You know, when time flies so fast because you’re having fun or when a day at work feels like it lasted 30 minutes. We all know what it is and damn it’s great.
It’s the same thing in video games.
So, let’s talk about it.
– Flow in Games-
– Guitar Hero –
I will assume that, we ALL have played guitar hero when it was like THE thing to do in every party. I wanted to kick that blog with this game because being in the flow in that game was so good and rewarding. When you were doing that expert white notes solo during Freebird looking at the notes combo going up, tilting that guitar to activate the star power and still going up and up.
You were in the flow.
Games can be created in order to help keeping the flow, and even more, rewarding players when they keep it. That’s how pretty much everything was designed in Guitar Hero.
– Mario Bros –
Mario games in general are pretty good for this. I will boldly say that ~99% of the time you can start a level running and if your timing in good enough you’ll be able to get to the end without stopping even once. The exception being auto-scrolling levels and such.
Sometimes (often) even, they place goombas, koopas and other enemies in such a way that you can jump on all of them in consequences to gain a 1up.
Rewarding the player when they are in the flow.
– Rayman Legends –
The new Rayman games are pretty good for that. The way they place the enemies and the collectibles. It’s a really well done Level Design job for that. I’ll write about Level Design and flow in a few minutes. Platformers in general are really good for flow.
They also even make the music flow to your play. Which is also a nice reward for players.
– Flow (the game) –
Last example is Flow. I had to write about the game with the same name right? I could have also wrote about Flowers and other great “experiences” games like that but that’s not the goal of this blog post. I want to get to Level Design at some point.
In flow, you started as a small entity, eating smaller entities to get bigger to eat bigger entities and so on. It was the perfect example of flow because you had your reward straight in your face, getting bigger and bigger.
So I guess you get the point now. I’ll write about a few of my own experience with Flow in Level Design and how I was (we were) handling it.
– Flow in Level Design –
– Assassin’s Creed Navigation –
I’ll start with that, since, well, I worked on 6 or 7 of them, I don’t remember. Navigation in Assassin’s Creed is all about flow.
That’s a 1 button press game. Navigation in AC is not about challenging the player, it’s about letting the player go for A to B easily and to let him be in short burst of flow during that. Enjoying the smoothness of it.
There are a ton (and when I say a ton it’s a ton) of different metrics in AC games. Obviously, when you press the right trigger to run and the character starts running and jumping on pole and flags by itself, yes, the animations and all is handled by the engine, but each ingredients had to be placed by hand by a Level Designer (almost) to ensure a smooth navigation from A to B.
At least, for navigation, metrics and rules were pretty straight forward.
Every navigation sequences in AC begin with, what we called, a starter. Then after that, if we wanted to keep the flow it was a simple set of metrics.
To keep the character on his feet and running we could either put the next ingredient 5 meters ahead at the same height (5-0), 4 meters ahead and 1 meter higher (4-1) or 3 meters ahead and 2 meters higher (3-2). Nothing less, nothing more.
Ingredients could be whatever from a pole, to a tree branch to an awning and such. The only important thing was to place ingredients at the write spot.
We could also had an ingredient at (if I recall correctly) 4 meters higher and 3-4 meters farther to make the character grab the ingredient and keep going. It was good to change the pace. Instead of having a jump, jump, jump, jump sequence we could had jump, grad, jump grab, and so on.
Nobody likes seeing the same thing over and over.
The important thing was (and I talked about it at the beginning) to be consistent. It helps keep the flow on something like navigation in AC. Always respect your metrics.
– Divinity: Original Sin –
Divinity: Original Sin (or DoS), in a top down isometric CRPG.
It’s really slow paced.
There was still a strong importance of Flow in Level Design even in that game and what I’m about to write can be applied to every single Level Design.
Rule #1: We hate dead ends*.
Rule #2: We hate corridors.
Yeah, that’s it.
In DoS, you walk a lot, you can fast travel from location to location but most of the time you walk/run. How annoying is it in a game when you get at the end of a freaking long dead end and the only thing you can do is walk back?
That’s annoying, damn that’s annoying.
*(Small dead ends leading to collectibles/reward/secret is strongly suggested though)
DoS navigation was all about loops.
Bellow is the map of the first act (may contain spoilers and whatnot). You can easily see the loops there.
(There are few dead ends, long ones, I know. I hate them, you can’t oversee everything. At least they lead to combat zones and big rewards. You have to ship a game at some point right?)
Having loops helped for two things:
The sense of open exploration.
Obviously, in a open map like this, you’ll have to get back at some point but with loops, it happened a lot that people where going one way and coming back by another so even though they were backtracking, they were still, in their mind, moving forward because it was still unexplored area.
Then, when the loops lead to some sort of dead ends, well, that’s where you put a fast travel ingredient/location to go back quickly. MAGIC!
So the important thing here is to always keep the player engaged. When there is always something new, it keeps him in the flow of exploration. They are both (flow/exploration) linked with each other.
– Ending Notes –
Flow is a really important thing, as said above. We all love that.
Can we keep the player in the flow 100% of the time? No.
They will either get stuck in a challenge, die, or anything like that.
Everything is good with moderation.
Remember that Prince of Persia made in 2008? The cell shading one? You were not able to die in this game. Elika (I think that was her name) was always getting you out of trouble. You know, it was really good for the flow. You were always engaged. It was also super exhausting and even boring to some extend.
Players should never get stuck exploring/navigating. If a player is stuck, it’s out fault, seriously. And if they get stuck, it breaks the flow hard but not for the good reason.
Keep your players engaged during exploration in your levels.
Create as few dead ends as possible and if you do, make them small and put rewards. It’ll keep the player engaged during exploration (see above, heh).
If you have metrics for your game, respect them, always. Creating false calls for your players will create frustration and break the flow.
Alright, that’s enough text. I think I’ll talk about Shapes next.
EDIT: I could have wrote a whole book about this. Live everything in fact but the goal was to how a thing or two about Flow. Not to write a thesis or anything.
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