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Dos and Don'ts of Game Development: Short, Mid, and Long-term Pacing

Games, like sports and stories, have a pace. Pace refers to the intensity of activity at any given moment. A good author or designer will use pacing to keep people interested without wearing them out. If nothing interesting happens for long stretches, people lose interest. If too much is happening all the time, they become confused or fatigued.

Menlo Park, CA, March 25, 2016 --( The team of Puzzle Dreams studio developing free-to-play Match-3 titles for Facebook and mobile continues to share tips and guides for gamedev newbies. They recently covered the main game design mistakes, wrote articles about game development stages, cost saving techniques, and this one is about one of the core gameplay aspects - the pacing.

The trick is to know how and when to use the pace to maximize fun and minimize fatigue. We do that by combining short-term, mid-term, and long-term activities.
Short-term actions comprise most of the game. These are the actions the player must perform to achieve the smallest unit of progress. In Tetris, it's maneuvering a single block into position. In Puzzle Bobble, it's launching a bubble. In Candy Crush, it's finding and clearing a set of matching tiles. Whatever the mechanic, the player will execute it dozens -- or hundreds -- of times during a level. Because of that, it's critical that you tune the pacing well.

Mid-term actions usually involve "tactical" thinking and require the player to think ahead many moves. In Tetris, the mid-term action involves looking at the upcoming pieces and figuring out their best configuration. In Bejeweled, this involves setting up combos by clearing a sequence of matches. Roughly speaking, mid-term actions take place over periods 10 times longer than short-term actions. If it takes 1 second to clear a match, it should take about 10 seconds to clear a series of matches that result in a powerful combo.

You can think of long-term actions as "strategic" moves. Not all casual games have strong mechanics at this level, but games like Juice Cubes use them well. In that case, later levels introduce victory conditions related to special tiles. For example, the player has to drop indestructible "bucket" tiles off the bottom of the screen. Here again, the long term pace is about 10 times that of the mid-term pace. If creating a good combo takes 10 seconds, it should take about 100 seconds to clear the level.

So, what have we learned? Mostly, that successful games need to keep the player engaged on multiple levels. What I'm doing now has to be fun. What I do now should be a single move in a larger combo with "tactical" importance. And, when I complete that tactical move, it should be part of an overarching strategic play that helps to complete the level I'm on.

And it doesn't have to stop there. You can keep adding layers of actions and goals. Once I beat a level, I can go to an over-world map where I journey to my next level, as in Candy Crush. What if I had meaningful choices at that level? For example, if I take the left fork in the road, I go to a level that helps me replenish my game clock, whereas going right helps me earn extra lives?

Just make sure that each level has a meaningful impact on the game, and that the activity at that level is easy to trigger, but difficult to execute.
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Puzzle Dreams
Alex Fedorchenko

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