Published on June 28th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
How to do Emergent Gameplay
Lets take an excursion from current issues in games and focus on something a little more positive.
After all, it’s not all so bad and here today I’m going to explore one of the unsung heroes of game design.
It’s hard to say when it originally started, or with what game it was pioneered but it’s fairly safe to say, that as long as games have existed, so has emergent gameplay and gamers who create gameplay thanks to the broad definition of the term.
Starting from the top, emergent gameplay is something that happens when assets of a game allow for situations or circumstances not necessarily planned by the developer of the game. This can be the random AI in something like Grand Theft Auto to the unexpected ability to be able to jump higher by rocket jumping in Quake.
Emergent gameplay can be said to have started with the arcade’s Golden era back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The limited nature of the games themselves left much to the imagination and soon people were creating their own ways of extracting more fun out of the media, firstly by beating the game faster, then by challenging friends. This is how the competitive aspect of gaming first came around as people would share their experiences and play against one another for scores.
As ever, I do love a definitive list and emergent gameplay design can be summed up in four categories.
Through randomised game design, like maps and AI for NPCs and enemies, the developer creates a world in which every experience is slightly different from gamer to gamer. A good example of this is Grand Theft Auto and the open-world, Dungeon Crawlers like Wizardry and stealth games like Thief.
The devs give you the blocks and you build. The most famous of these is Minecraft, but also games like Animal Crossing and Sims are examples of games where all of the content is user driven and requires a large imagination to enjoy and get the full capacity from.
Accidents and Glitches.
Sometimes accidents happen and a glitch is left in a game, exploiting glitches is one of the best kinds of emergent gameplay and has become increasingly popular with the internet.
The level editor glitch in Super Smash Brothers Brawl allows you to create different kinds of levels than those featured ordinarily in the game.
Some games have a following that encourages certain types of play. Super Metroid became a firm favourite for people creating their own enjoyment. By using “Sequence-breaking” you can Bomb Jump and collect items earlier than usual and so finishing the game in extreme speed, thus prompting a community of Speedrunners.
Recently I heard of another kind of Fan gameplay in Pokémon, called the Nuzlocke challenge. This is where a player can only capture one pokémon from each route and cannot allow a single pokémon to die or else suffer being “released from the box”.
Emergent gameplay has become increasingly popular due to success of games like Minecraft, but it is also because Emergent gameplay is more prevalent in western games than eastern, which previously dominated the market.
This is probably due to western game developers focusing on making more customisable and open games that allow users to immerse themselves in their own characters and their own version of the game world, where as eastern developers cater to demographics and aim to please a group of people that enjoy the same kind of experience allowing for a more linear and controlled game with added story focus.
You can see the same kind of marketing and development with western and eastern comics and the
way that they are categorised. Western comics are grouped into ones like; superhero, fantasy, horror etc, each is a description of the content. Whereas in Eastern comics, particularly manga, they are grouped into; Shonen, Seinen, Shoujo, Josei, generally Japanese will mention the genre’s target audience before going into content genres.
Thanks to the longevity that many games enjoy due to emergent gameplay, (as players are able to entertain themselves using the freedom it allows), more developers are beginning to incorporate aspects of it in their games and sometimes it can be damaging.
This is what I like to call:
Game elements that are simply just padding to what is otherwise a fantastic game. Sometimes learning “how to do” something is simply about learning “what not to do”.
Bereavement and Atrophy.
The most obvious of bad padding is the achievement systems which inhabit Xbox Live and later PSN and Steam. Instead of simply allowing the users to roam freely with the game and create their own “External input” we’re getting a bit of “Internal input”, IE: Bollocks.
Play in a co-op game with an employee of this terrible game company, Kill 25 enemies with this weapon you never use, nor ever will after this or my favourite, Find 25 of these useless items.
Instead of this fluff why not add in a decent quest?
Free to pay.
Sometimes what would have been considered a nice little addition to the game is now sold back to us as content. The best example here is Tales of Graces, a series that once had fantastic side missions to earn costumes for your characters and now it’s been culled for a purchase based system.
These minor negatives however will soon begin to phase out as publishers realise that people aren’t too interested in them and will always opt for more compelling features over superficial and fleeting whims.
The kind of interaction that Emergent gameplay allows is how the foundations of the gaming culture began and therefore is important to the development of the industry.
Games are the only medium where “emergence” can happen in such a pronounced way. Interactivity blended with creativity.
The next time you play a game, think about how you proceed to deal with a problem.
How many ways are there to solve this puzzle?
How much freedom is this game allowing you, and more importantly do you enjoy it?