I posted an outline of the REMA model, but I wanted to go into more detail. Let’s examine the Spore Creature Creator, which goes through all 4 stages. (Not all games go through all 4).
1. Rollercoaster mode: When you start up Spore, one of the first things you do is learn how the Creature Creator works. You learn you are evolving your creature, that you want to collect parts, that each creature you see has different cultures. You learn and explore the context of the game. But Spore quickly moves you into other modes.
2. Experiment mode: This is where the majority of most player’s time is spent. You learn different parts have different effects, and they need to be collected. You discover how the Creator works – where things can be placed, what it makes Creatures do when you put their legs on backwards. You learn the behavior of the underlying systems.
3. Mastery mode: At some point, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the Creature Creator works. You’ll be able to accurately predict results. If you chose to continue playing, you’ll switch into mastery mode – trying to collect all of the parts, trying to collect enough of a certain part to get a certain look, showing off your creations to others. You perfect your control over the underlying systems.
4. Application mode: Lastly, you might decide to apply your knowledge. This is where players branch out – taking what they’ve mastered and applying it in areas outside the game. You might write the backstory of the Creatures you’ve created. You might use the Creature Creator as a modeling tool, exporting your creatures for your portfolio. You might even try breaking or adding the rules of the game to get a particular result – modding the game to add parts, for example, or doing a speed modelling contest. You apply and demonstrate your expertise outside the game itself.
Note that these are sequential and player-driven, and take discrete chunks of the player attention. Players can stay in a mode indefinitely (in say, Gears of War on easy mode), and they can even go back to an earlier mode. But they can’t skip ahead. You don’t work to craft a respectable creature until you feel like you’ve learned how the tool works, for example.
But wait! Spore is bigger then the Spore Creature Creator, you say. Yes, yes it is. One of things I’ve seen is that modern games have gotten so large that it makes them hard to break down. Spore has lots of different ways to play – the Creature Creator is just one game inside it. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is both a single player and a multiplayer game, played in different ways that are essentially different experiences.
For various reasons we’ll get to, trying to do multiple modes simultaneously just ends up making the player confused. But there are a couple of tricks designers use to put multiple modes in a game effectively that I’ve discovered:
1. Products can have more then 1 game in it. This is what CoD: MW did, and is quite common, particularly amongst single player and multiplayer games. Starcraft, Tekken, and Need for Speed are other good examples.
2. Separate them by time. This is even more of a classic. You do the tutorial, then you move on. You beat the game, and then you get speed runs. You add a patch, and players have to re-experiment and then re-master the content.
3. Separate them by reward cycle time scale. This is also common, but much trickier. You can deliberately revert players back to an earlier mode, temporarily, on long reward schedules. Give players a cutscene every hour, and they’ll appreciate the break in their experiment play. Changing your characters appearance is a nice break between matches. Players appreciate the variety if it’s not frequent, and has clear separation from the previous mode with clear implications. Players will often do this on their own as well, sometimes quite frequently, but it’s much harder for designers to prod (at least with current techniques). Note that it’s easier to go to an adjacent mode then a distant mode. Experiment players appreciate cutscenes much more then Mastery players do. (I believe this is due to the underlying needs of each mode, as we’ll see.)
This is what I’ve discovered so far. There are quite possibly more, which would be awesome, because they are super-powerful. Using these techniques, you can guide the player through the modes at your own pace, and really extend the interest and power of your game.