Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Simulations vs. Games

(I wrote this for the college Web site, to help prospective students and parents understand the difference between simulations and games (our program is called "Simulation and Game Development"). It may not get onto the Web there, but I can use it here.)

People who can make good video games are also likely to make good simulations. Many video game makers who tire of the highly intense competitive nature of “getting that game out on time” move on to make training applications (simulations).

While the video game market is larger than the market for films, in the long run the simulation market will be bigger than either. The video game generation is more accustomed to learning through a “game” than through reading or listening. As more and more such folks are in the work force, and as schools adopt technology solutions, more and more learning will be game/simulation based.

The techniques, especially the 3D modeling and other graphical elements, for making simulations and for video games are identical. When you learn one, you learn the other.

For a video game, the story provides a context, a reason for playing, but in most cases the story is more an excuse than the main focus. The main focus is the gameplay. In a simulation, the “story” is the message or training that the player is supposed to receive and understand, so that gameplay is secondary. But a good simulation should also be a good game, or a good puzzle. Even though people can sometimes be forced by schools or employers to use simulations, they will be more willing to use simulations that are also good games or puzzles, and will probably learn more when they’re willing than when they’re unwilling.

Many single-player video games are interactive puzzles. Many simulations are interactive puzzles. For both there is a solution, and once that solution is found, there is little reason to keep playing.

Those who try to learn to make simulations, without understanding that they must be interesting/entertaining games or puzzles, are less likely to succeed than those who know how to make good video “games.”

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