9.8. Pacing

The idea of pacing is applicable to all story telling. A good story tends to hook the user right off the bat with something mysterious or interesting. Throughout the rest of the story, the teller builds and releases narrative tension, building up anxiety in the reader before relieving it, only to build it up even further.

Whether or not they are trying to tell a traditional story, games too must must generally follow this pattern to be successful. If they are telling the story, they need to not only make sure the story and the game play both follow that pattern, but that the relative pacing is aligned. We want the dramatic arcs of story and tension of the gameplay to support each other.

This is a lot harder than it first appears; in many games, the most difficult part of gameplay occurs somewhere in the middle of the game, when the enemies and challenges are getting harder but you haven’t yet found new weapons and abilities to power yourself up to compensate. As the player gets more powerful and better at playing, the challenge of a game often decreases over time, even as the intensity of the story is increasing. If you have ever seen a final boss fight introduced with a high amount of drama and foreboding, and then defeated it without ever feeling seriously threatened, the story probably felt robbed of its impact.

These extra credits video introduce ways to grab the player’s attention and then how to keep it through pacing:

Materials on this page adapted from:
Game Design Concepts by Ian Schreiber (CC BY-NC 3.0)