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Intuition And Intellect

Deconstructing The Design of Oasis

            Marc LeBlanc
             GDC 2005
Part I: Overview

Or, what this talk is, and what it
• Demo Oasis
• Discuss “Intellectual” and
  “Intuitive” Design
• Outline an intellectual framework
• Deconstruct Oasis
• Bring up some moments of
  Intellect/Intuition collision
• This talk is not a post-mortem
   Not “What went right”
   Rather, “What we were thinking”
• This is not a “how to win the IGF”
   Like I would know
Part II: Let’s Play Oasis…
 Part III: Intuition and Intellect

In which we talk about talking about
             game design.
Intuition vs. Intellect
• Intuition:
   Life Experience
   Mysterious and Creative
   Quick and Dirty
• Intellect:
   Study, Research, Synthesis
   Articulate and Analytical
   Slow and Precise
“The intellect is a Bailey bridge
 built between islands of
            - Mike Myers
Another Metaphor
• Intuition is “high gear”
• Intellect is “low gear”
• Speed vs. Power tradeoff
You need both gears!
• Without Intuition you will get left
• Without Intellect you will get

• Intuition AND Intellect,
  not Intuiton VS. Intellect
• Intellect is inherently easier to
• Welcome to the GDC
Part IV: An Intellectual

Wherein concepts are classified, and
 terms are defined.
Games as Software

Games as Software

 Code     Process
Games as Software

 Code     Process   Requirements
Games as Software

 Code     Process   Requirements

Games as Software

 Code     Process    Requirements

 Rules    Activity
Games as Software

 Code     Process    Requirements

 Rules    Activity      “Fun”
A Design Vocabulary

 Code     Process     Requirements

 Rules    Activity       “Fun”
A Design Vocabulary

  Code      Process    Requirements
 Rules      Activity      “Fun”
A Design Vocabulary

            Process    Requirements
Mechanics   Dynamics
             Game         “Fun”
A Design Vocabulary

Mechanics   Dynamics   Aesthetics
The MDA Framework

Mechanics   Dynamics   Aesthetics
Part V: Back to Oasis

Where we finally get back to that
 game we looked at.
 Aesthetic Objectives of Oasis
• Challenge the player
    He has interesting problems to solve.
• Create a strategic landscape to Discover
    The player crafts his own “game science.”
• Create an emergent Narrative
    Convey a sense of dramatic tension building to a climax.
• Fulfill a Fantasy
    The player feels like he’s building a tiny empire.
• Create a spectacle of Sensation
    Sights and sounds for the player to enjoy.
The “Design Thesis” of Oasis

Oasis is the “anti-Minesweeper”
•   Clicking yields information, but
•   Clicking is good instead of bad.
•   Many carrots, one big stick.
•   Some carrots are sucker punches
     Use sights & sounds to lure the player
The “No Bad Clicks” Principle
• Became an aesthetic yardstick.
• We had to refine our notion of
   “Worth less than nothing”
• Killed many, many potential
• Still, some emergent “bad clicks”
The Strategic Landscape
• Player starts out as a tourist.
• Eventually, he becomes a native.

• Map Generator
• Combat System
Dynamics that Challenge
Mechanic: Resource Contention
   Different moves compete for turns.
   Some also compete for followers.

Combined with:
   Random Maps
   Random Players
   Limited Information

Challenging decisions emerge.
 Difficulty “Balance”

Easy          Challenging?       Impossible

Q: How do you find the balance
A: You don’t.
 The Oldest Trick in the Book

Easy                Challenging?   Impossible

       Start here
 The Oldest Trick in the Book

Easy             Challenging?        Impossible

   March Onward and Upward
• The player has to win before it becomes
• You still need to tune, but now it’s
• This reflects our whole attitude towards
The Dramatic Arc


   Rising               Falling
   Action               Action
  Dramatic Dynamics
• Difficulty: Easy … Hard … Impossible
• Choices: Few … Many … Few
• Flow: Turn-based … Timed … Real-
• Combat: Losing … Even … Winning

• Some arcs are authored, some are
The Combat Mechanics,
The Simple Version
• Each round is a coin flip
• The winner kills some of the
  loser’s troops
The Combat Mechanics,
The Less Simple Version
• Each round is a lottery.
• Every soldier has a ticket.
• Technology can add or remove
• The winner’s team gets to kill
  some of the losing team’s troops.
  3 + <treasure bonus>/2
Some Combat Observations
• The better army usually wins.
• BUT, losing one round doesn’t cost
• Ties can take a while to
• The weaker army…
   Still has a fighting chance
   Can last a long time
But There’s More
• Each side gets 200 “bonus tickets.”
• When a side kills N soldiers, it loses >N
  bonus tickets.

• So:
   At the start, the battle is biased towards a coin flip.
   There’s some negative feedback.
   When the bonus runs out, the fight becomes more skewed
All This Adds Up to Drama
• Fights stay close for a while, and
  then the tide turns.
• The player starts out the
  underdog, and then wins.
   Numbers vs. Firepower
• Not too bad, for just numbers going
• Again, the drama is emergent.
Part VI: Intution and
Intellect, Revisited

In which the previous parts are
  related to each other.
Creating Oasis
• Our day-to-day process was largely
• Intellectual processes helped us:
   Get out of ruts.
   Communicate objectives.
   Design tricky mechanics
Another Example: The
“Smitey Glyph” Feature
• Problem: All levels are won or lost,
  no “region of forgiveness.”
• Proposed Solution: The “Smitey
• Many theoretical problems
   Creates a “stalling” opportunity
   Diminishes the “sucker punch”
• But it Just Made Sense
 Example: Pharaoh’s
• Publisher asked us for “campaign mode” to
  create an increased sense of “content.”
• We felt free to experiment, create an “inferior
• We could rationalize that freedom
• We relaxed the “No Bad Clicks” rule.
Example: Level Flow
Three Phases:
  1. Turn-based explore & build
  2. Timed troop deployment
  3. Non-interactive battle.
• Were we nuts?
• Conventional wisdom says yes.
• Conventional wisdom is largely
It’s All About Drama


      An Important Precedent:
            Golf Games

                               Ball Flight
                 Swing Meter

Club Selection
              In General


  Example: Difficulty Coupling
• Originally, difficulty only determined
  starting level number.
 (Easy = 1, Normal = 11, Hard = 21, Insane = 31)
• Empirically, a bad idea.
• We changed it so all levels start at 1.
• The change bought us tuning freedom.
• Slides and Stuff:
• Oasis:
• Me:
Example Bugs
1. “10 Second phase” is too
   “solveable.” (challenge)
2. When the player’s scarab power
   is low, defeat seems inevitable.
3. Not enough ways to take risks
4. Treasure searching is too random,
   not skill-based (challenge)
Example Solutions
• “10 Second phase” is too
  “solveable.” (challenge)

Introduce a penalty for each city
Example Solutions
2. When the player’s scarab power
   is low, defeat seems inevitable.

Introduce a special treasure that
   repleneshes scarab power, if
   defended. (Also addresses #3)
Example Solutions
3. Not enough ways to take risks

Introduce a special treasure that
   earns score, if defended.
Example Solutions
4. Treasure searching is too random,
   not skill-based (challenge)

Treasure placement has a more
   learnable pattern. (No
   duplicates, ascending order.)
Here’s What We Did
• Saw Oasis
• Discussed “Intellectual” and
  “Intuitive” Design
• Presented MDA
• Examined Oasis
• Discussed moments of Intution and
  Intellect at work.

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