Archive:Pushing and Pulling

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  • Published: 31 May 2000
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part Eight: Pushing and Pulling
By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

Part of Oddworld’s evolving design lexicon is the terms ‘push’ and ‘pull.’ I picked up the concept from Marc Miller’s role-playing game Traveller and have found it applies wonderfully to video game design.

Simply put, a ‘pull’ is anything the player wants, while a ‘push’ is anything the player wishes to avoid. By balancing the pushes and pulls, you as the designer dictate the player’s motivation in any given part of the layout. A layout can have one, or the other, or both, but if it doesn’t have either a push or a pull, you’re in trouble.

The pulls in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee are similar to our past games. Most obviously, enslaved Mudokons are a pull. Most players want to rescue them, both to complete the game with good Quarma and to use the Mudokons to help them solve other game puzzles. We’ll also have little lab animals—called Fuzzles—that Munch will wish to save. Longer-term pulls include the joy of graduating to a new play environment or watching the story unfold through our movies. Short-term pulls include gaining power-ups from vending machines or capturing some experimental vehicle and using it against the bad guys.

The pushes of Oddworld games have traditionally been soft, and Munch’s Oddysee will be no exception. We like to promote thoughtful play by permitting the players to fully appraise a situation before throwing themselves into the fire. We are careful to avoid ‘cheap hits’ that tag players moments after they come onscreen, and unless they’re in a special situation (like a level ender, or some sequence where an obvious countdown timer is working against the player), we always try to provide some safe spot from which they can observe what is to come and plan what they are going to do.

After you form your plan, the rules change. Then we give you a push—sometimes a very hard push. For instance, you might be able to view the patrol paths of several Sligs from some safe perch, but once you jump down into the room and try to rescue your buddies or sneak to the switch, those Sligs are going to be on you. The Sligs are now a push. If you didn’t correctly appraise their behavior before committing yourself to action, you’re going to wind up as a Mudokon Pop. Fortunately, with infinite lives you can always start over, hopefully a bit wiser for having failed, or at least better motivated to find that little flaw in the enemy’s security that you can exploit to beat the puzzle.

Now that you know this bit of insider game wisdom, I’ll tell you a secret: You can ignore our pulls and most of our pushes. That’s because, in Oddworld games, while we provide plenty of stuff for you to do, we also try to create environments where you can set your own goal—-and I’ll tell you more about that aspect of design in my next column.