Discussion: Shifting style or fidelity of play for authored experiences


In animation, drastic style changes can happen for dramatic effect: to evoke a new emotion, or surprise, or emphasize something.

They also do this with framerate: more important scenes get more keyframes.

What would an equivalent for video games as a medium be?

What would it mean for style or fidelity of play to change contextually to emphasize an author’s intent? Are there examples?

I’m interesting in seeing this kind of medium-warping applied to gameplay. How can one stretch of play differ from another fundamentally, to the point where it resembles a different work, but remains a cohesive whole?

(30 minutes later)

The first example that comes to mind for me is Nier: Automata.

It’s a heavily authored game, and it uses different settings for movement, camera, and combat modes the way a movie uses cinematography or lighting to emphasize mood.

There are two camera/axial modes: 3rd person with 3D-dimensional movement, or sidescrolling.

There are three movement modes: avatar that walks and jumps; flight mode with fixed facing (like a shmup), or flight mode with player-controlled facing.

There are two “combat” modes: melee action, or “bullet hell” shmup-style shooting.

The game freely intermixes different sets of all these settings, and the player does NOT control them. Instead the level designers – the authors – decide what combination of these you experience.

To my eyes this resembles the way that anime changes visual style for characters to emphasize authorial intent and create the emotions that the animators are aiming for. Except instead of visuals changing, it’s gameplay modes.

The second example that comes to my mind, for somewhat different reasons, is Undertale. Brilliant narrative devices aside, to my eyes Undertales‘ gameplay interest mostly comes from the way that the game establishes boundaries and expectations, and then breaks them shockingly.

The most concrete example is the boundary box in Undertale’s combat. Most of the time it’s a small rectangular space in the middle of the screen. In most battles, 100% of the action gameplay occurs in this box. But at key, dramatic moments, the game breaks those rules.

A momentous boss might greatly increase or decrease the size of the box. Sometimes the boss might attack from OUTSIDE the box, and you need to widen your perspective to pay attention to the boss sprite’s animations.

The game does this in a bunch of other ways. There’s weird meta-narrative stuff that exists outside the running .exe of the game. One of the bosses has a DRASTICALLY different visual style with far more fidelity and BECOMES the boundary box.

Undertale is obsessed with setting an expectation for how things work or how things look only to turn around and break that expectation for very dramatic effect.

I love that! And it feels like an author playing with the normally-set rules of their style, like these anime.

It would be so fun to make a game that’s normally 4:3 and sometimes stretches to 16:9 for dramatic effect.

Or one with slowed framerate (or timedilation) at key authored moments.

Or one where everything becomes the lowest LOD-models during the most intense fights.

Or one where there is normally no destructible terrain and it’s all normal 3D-modelled geo… but sometimes it goes voxel, and you’re fighting a big boss and your attacks are exploding mountains.

Changes in scale, fidelity, visual style, gameplay genres – these things are typically set in stone from beginning to end in most games, especially western-developed ones.

We can play with these axes of experience, too, just like animation does.