Can A Basic Game Design Principle Be Applied To Comics, Art, Fiction etc.. Too?

2016 Artwork Game Design Trick Traditional Mediums article sketch

Although this is an article about making comics, making art and/or writing fiction, I’m probably going to have to spend quite a while talking about computer and video games. This is mostly because I’m curious about whether (or, rather, how) one interesting principle of game design can be applied to more traditional creative mediums.

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a fan of both old 1990s-early 2000s computer/video games and of modern low-budget computer games (eg: the kind that will actually run on my computer). Anyway, I’ve noticed something interesting about many of these games – they usually include multiple types of gameplay and/or a diverse array of different things to hold the audience’s interest.

For example, in classic survival horror games like the early “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” games (or the first “Alone In The Dark” game), the gameplay doesn’t just revolve around fighting zombies and/or monsters. The gameplay also involves solving complex puzzles, exploring fascinatingly creepy locations and reading ominously abandoned documents. If you’re not a fan of complex puzzles, then there’s still lots of other stuff to hold your interest.

In both classic 1990s “point and click” adventure games and their modern indie counterparts, the main focus of the gameplay is solving complex puzzles. Although I’m not a fan of these types of puzzles (and I usually just cheat and look up the solutions online), I still absolutely love this genre of game because these games include lots of other stuff too. As well as containing lots of awesome artwork, these games also include lots of interesting exploration, compelling storytelling, fascinating characters and interactive dialogue.

Hidden Object Games are also an interesting (and extremely fun) genre when it comes to having a variety of things on offer. As well as featuring enjoyable “puzzles” where you have to search for objects that are hidden amongst piles of other objects, they also include limited “point and click” game-style exploration as well as enjoyably easy (and vaguely logical) item-based puzzles. They also usually include at least a small amount of narrative storytelling too.

Even First-Person Shooter games from the early-mid 1990s weren’t the “mindlessly stupid” kind of games that their modern mega-budget counterparts often have a reputation for being. In a classic early FPS game like “Doom”, the gameplay also includes exploration (eg: searching large non-linear levels for keys and switches) as well as combat.

Old FPS games often also used to include basic puzzles too (eg: “Duke Nukem 3D” included ‘combination lock’-style puzzles).

In many old FPS games, even the combat itself can also involve tactics and strategy too – since you are often faced with groups of powerful adversaries, whilst only having limited amounts of ammunition and/or health. If you just charge into battle mindlessly, you’ll fail within seconds. So, you actually have to think whilst you fight.

So, why have I just spent several paragraphs talking about computer games and what does this have to do with writing, comics and/or art?

Well, it’s all to do with the value of having lots of different things on offer for your audience. Since games are an interactive medium, they have a massive advantage when it comes to doing this, but I’d argue that the same thing can be done in a more subtle way in traditional creative mediums.

When it comes to making art and making comics, the best way to include multiple things is to include intriguing background details that the viewer might miss at first glance. These small background details can be used to tell a story by implication or they can just be included for fun.

For example, one of my upcoming paintings is a painting of a 1950s-70s intellectual who is reading a book. However, if you look closely at the painting, you’ll also see simplified versions of a couple of classic vintage works of art in the background too. Here’s a small detail from this painting:

Yes, that's Hokusai's "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" and Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec's "Chat Noir" poster.

Yes, that’s Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” and Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Chat Noir” poster.

The classic example of this kind of thing being used well in prose fiction is when a story includes a sub-plot. Although this only really works in longer stories, having a second storyline running alongside the main storyline can be a good way to keep things interesting.

This is especially true when the sub-plot is a different genre to the main plot (eg: the classic example of this is a romantic sub-plot in a horror and/or thriller story, or a politics-based sub-plot in a sci-fi story).

Yes, these traditional mediums don’t include anything close to the opportunities that games have when it comes to including multiple interesting things, but that isn’t to say that you can’t make your art, comics and/or fiction more interesting by including more than one interesting thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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