Like many other aspects of game development, motivation is two-pronged. Not only do you need to consider the motivation of what drives the player character through the game’s story, you also need to consider how to keep the player motivated to continue playing the game.
All games, whether they have a story or not, should ensure that the player is sufficiently motivated to continue playing on a moment-to-moment basis. This is part of the fundamentals of good gameplay and is not what I want to discuss this time around. I want to concentrate on the player character’s motivation and the conflicts that stand in the way. For only with conflict can we get something that approaches true drama.
Motivation comes from a combination of things; the personality of the character, his connection to what’s at stake and his ability to discern a clear direction that will take him towards his goals. If he doesn’t care enough or believe that he can do what needs to be done, then his motivation to even try is going to be severely lacking.
The developing story drives the motivation of the player character. If the broad gameplay goals tie in with the story goals, then the blending of the two will provide additional impetus to the player. If there is a strong story reason to go to the abandoned school, and not just because it’s a cool location, then you believe the character’s motivation for going there much more.
Because there are other characters in the game, you also need to take into account their motivation, particularly the antagonist. Without good motivation, the player will begin to question why the bad guy is doing what he’s doing. It also needs to be made clear that the antagonist is getting on with his plans off screen or it will feel like he’s just sitting around waiting for the player to turn up at the end of the next level.
Drama is created when the expectations of two characters, driven by their individual motivation, comes into conflict. This could be something as simple as one character trying to get through a doorway and another character preventing them. More often than not, the conflict will be more complicated or less clearly definable. Sometimes conflict can be a mixture of three or more characters and it may not always be clear who is conflicting with who – sides may shift and change through the course of an exchange that in turn leads to more conflict.
Conflict may appear to be an odd way of providing motivation for the characters, but if they were the type of characters that backed away from conflict and adversity, would they be the type of characters you’d want in a game? Certainly, the player character should be sufficiently motivated that he will continue, even when faced with personal danger, the threat of global annihilation, and sarcastic ridicule.
If the player character is taking a path that brings him into conflict with the plans of the antagonist, then he’s clearly on the right lines. If that isn’t enough motivation in itself, then we’ll throw in some poisonous spiders and snakes for good measure.
© Steve Ince, 2004