Chapter 5: Rule based interactive digital media

Games are based on rules, but it is useful to recognize two other rule based mediums too.

Puzzle

Defining a puzzle can be done similarly to games, except in this case we can look at modern puzzles too. The term really has not changed its meaning in recent times.

Examples:

  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Maze
  • Rubic’s cube
  • Arithmetic puzzle

A working definition:
A puzzle is a system of rules which the player interacts with by choosing actions in order to solve a deductive logic problem.

Some implications:

  • A deductive logic problem offers no active resistance. It waits until you solve it or give up. There is no way to lose.
  • Actions in a puzzle can, and should, be reversible as there is no losing. This improves the user experience.

Digital puzzles can share a lot of aspects with digital games. The key difference is what the player is trying to achieve and how. Both mediums can have extra things like graphical effects, stories and even interactive aspects (e.g. moving around in a virtual world) which don’t sideline the main mechanics.

Interactive simulation

My favourite interactive digital medium, for what it’s worth. Also a complex medium so I haven’t even finished one yet. First, what is a simulation?

Definition:
A self-sufficient set of interconnected systems composed of rules

Implications:

  • A simulation does something on its own once started. It requires no interactivity to exist or to do its thing.
  • A simulation can go on endlessly or stop at some point. Both are valid options.

Interactive simulation then is a simulation which the player can interact with in some way.

Definition:
A self-sufficient set of interconnected systems composed of rules which are affected by user input.

Implications:

  • Winning and losing don’t need to exist or be defined explicitly by the developer. The player can try to achieve their own goals, help AI agents in the simulation to achieve theirs, or just explore the simulation.

Example:
The simulation might represent a city and the player is allowed to run a business in the city. The way the player runs their business might affect the simulation, especially if they build a business empire. At the same time all the AI driven businesses are affecting the city and the player’s business too.

Eventually the player can end up in the gutter, own the whole city or anything between. Regardless the simulation keeps on going based on its own rules.

Digital puzzles, digital games and interactive simulations are the three big rule driven interactive digital mediums. The developer has absolute control over the rules of the program, but not necessarily what is going to happen when those rules start to interact with themselves and the player.

If you need absolute control over everything, author based interactive media is a better fit. That is next.

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