A Dialogue on Design Choices

“Randomness is required.”

Crowds flock to the Mission Bakery Cafe, eager to dine on toasted bagels, bananas, and coffee. Students pour through the double doors of the Benson building, the massive throng propelled in every possible direction. Individuals weave between lines, struggling to fit between cramped spaces as their heavy backpacks protrude and obstruct their progress.

Despite the chaos and sporadic movement of its participants, the system functions. Students decide what to buy before reaching the cashier. They prepare to swipe their access cards and almost never cut the line. From random chaos, emerges order. The players know the rules, and from these rules, achieve success in the form of sugary muffins and overpriced Bistro specials. They play the “cafeteria game.”

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Students in line at the Mission Bakery Cafe. Image courtesy of Santa Clara University.

Even if you’ve never played a video game in your life – or even a board game like Monopoly or chess – you’ve played games before, and continue to play them each and every day. Most games are rather simple on the surface – children running while playing tag and college students walking to class both play a game based on movement, but the complexities vary. If you want to succeed at the game of “commuting,” then you must make a few choices – when do I leave? How do I get there? What is the most efficient route? Do I need to use a vehicle to get there? Do I drive my own car or take a bus? How do I pay the bus driver? Ad infinitum.

Even the simplest of activities become complex once framed as a game. Today I sat down with Jackson Parsons, computer science major, mathematics minor, – avid gamer – and junior at Santa Clara University. We touched on the whole spectrum of gaming topics, from the health of the industry to our favorite design choices, and more.

Although we discussed issues such as the CS:GO gambling scandals, the spread of DLC and rising prices for triple A titles, and the controversies of paid mods, one subject continued rising to the forefront of our discussion. Random probability.

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Image courtesy of Wolfram.

Randomness adds a new and engaging element to almost every game that uses it in some form. And that same randomness which now prevails across games of all genres and platforms has contributed to the rise of multiplayer games. Veteran gamers who remember the days of arcades and early home consoles likely remember the rise of multiplayer games as major titans of the industry. While many analysts have pointed out specific benefits of multiplayer games which led to their dominance, one factor still remains the most prominent: increased replayability. But, how does multiplayer capability lead to increased replayability?

While AI can be programmed to exhibit random behaviors at specified frequencies, these behaviors tend to become predictable patterns over time. But, when two players interact with one another, they create an unpredictable dynamic (both through gameplay and through social interaction) that adds a novel change, therefore making the game engaging. Jackson approached this idea in our discussion:

“I feel like some amount of randomness is required. At some point I feel like games like the original Super Mario Bros. get really boring because it’s just you against the same thing over and over again. Eventually, even if you’re a complete idiot, you can still master it. Nothing changes,” he said.

Rather than encourage distinct decision-making skills, older single-player games lose their replayability as soon as players become acquainted with the content at hand. To combat this deteriorating replayability, many single-player games have introduced random spawns, increased or decreased damage values for enemies, and in some cases even randomized, procedurally-generated environments. While these features can extend the length that a single-player game remains entertaining, they can never replicate the random qualities exhibited by players.

Nowadays, gamers expect more from their games. As the industry develops and games increasingly compete for gamers’ time rather than money, game developers seek to deliver more impactful moments of engaging gameplay per hour than their competitors. Thanks to the inherent randomness provided by multiplayer interactions, we continue to see competitive multiplayer games reaching the top of the charts and remaining popular even years after release.

There’s a reason people have spent seven years playing League of Legends on the same map with only a few extra playable characters and other additions.

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