Microsoft Flight – Challenge Ramp

October 13, 2011 – Microsoft Flight Missions
As we, the collective team working on Flight, sit at our desks writing code, creating pretty aircraft and scenery, and thinking up fun ways to explore Flight, it’s easy to get lost in the details of building a game. As we get closer to releasing a game that you, our customers, will be playing, we need to stop and think about what you will experience and how we can express what “it” actually is.

As game designers, we are tasked with creating a fun flying game that will appeal to a wide variety of players. In this article, we look at that problem and some of the mechanics we are employing to reach our goals. Ultimately, you will be the judge of how successful we have been, and you can, in turn, influence where we take the game in the future.

Most games are very direct in establishing what the player is expected to do in order to succeed. Whether these are tasks, activities, challenges, missions, or whatever, the player is drawn through the game in a carefully designed sequence. This sequence typically increases in difficulty over what we call a “challenge ramp,” with careful consideration given to balance how much challenge the player must face in fun and exciting gameplay against potential frustration if the ramp is too steep.

Flight is a game that is designed for a wide range of players, not just a typical simulation enthusiast. Anyone interested in flying or aviation at any level will find enjoyment in Flight, whether it is through missions or via an ad-hoc Free Flight mode. This creates an interesting problem when designing the challenge ramp for game missions, because we must account for a very broad range of knowledge and skills, while keeping the experience fun, interesting, and rewarding for all players.

Missions in Microsoft Flight are designed to guide the player through the game objectives, from simple tasks like flying to a waypoint to performing challenging aerobatic routines to transporting scared passengers through bad weather at night. We have tackled the challenge ramp design problem by creating a variety of missions for our players to experience, each helping them to become more accomplished and skilled along their career path. The pathway to becoming a skilled virtual pilot in Flight is not linear like in a traditional game, but rather it splits into multiple paths which converge further along in their overall career.

We are using awards, achievements, and experience points to “reward” players that accomplish something in the game. How much the player earns is often directly related to how successful they are in a given mission, such as how well they land the aircraft. This way, players of all ability levels can earn something and aspire to do better with each attempt until they can get a perfect score.

Players can fly quick and exciting challenges that test their skills even if they only have a few minutes to play. Alternatively, players can fly “story-based” missions such as finding a missing person or playing a key role in an event. Another way to play is flying jobs such as carrying cargo or passengers from one location to another using piloting skills and knowledge to get them to the destination safely. Of course, players can always choose to fly freely without guidance in order to simply enjoy the beauty of the world, fiddle with the knobs and switches in the cockpit, or put an aircraft through its paces. Each of these experiences is different and enriches the game overall, providing short-term and longer-term gameplay.

There are other ways we have designed fun activities into the game that we will discuss in future articles. Ultimately, players of all skill levels will find fun, challenging, and beautiful experiences in Flight.

Thank you,

The Microsoft Flight Development Team

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