This post is an extract from a university assignment I wrote in 2008. Although written three years ago the information is still applicable so I thought I’d share it here. To help explain the theory, I have used Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn as a case study.
‘When you ask someone to draw something, they are far more likely to draw the generalised iconic version of the object that they keep in their head than they are to draw the actual object in front of them. In fact, seeing what is actually there with our conscious mind is really hard to do… These things fall under the rubric of “cognitive theory,” a fancy way of saying “how we think we know what we think we know.” Raph Koster
In gaming terms cognition is the recognition of patterns. As games are formal systems, distracting details are removed so games are seen clearly, reality can produce ‘noise’ and our brains can fail to see patterns, when this happens we get frustrated and give up.
In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, cognitive theory is used within the battle environment in a number of different ways. The image below shows an example environment from one of the chapters, the primary features the player needs to recognise are the blue and orange tiles on the board. The blue area shows where the selected player can move and the adjacent orange tiles show the maximum distance in which they can attack.
In addition to this basic level of cognition, there are a number of other aspects that the experienced player will need to recognise; these are the terrain and level of health (HP). In the top left hand corner of the image, the type of terrain is shown. Certain terrain can provide a defensive increase and/or attacking advantage, this is especially evident for units on different levels; an archer firing up a cliff for example has a significantly lower chance of hitting their higher target. Below each unit you will see a bar (blue for your units, yellow for partner units, red for enemy units or green for other units). This shows the remaining health of that particular unit while it also serves to show which units are your allies, this becomes more important as the game progresses and the battlefields become much bigger with more units occupying them.
The battle screen also shows the number of turns that have passed and the requirements for victory for that particular chapter.
When selecting an individual unit, the player is shown more detail on that character and their equipment, this is important to ascertain whether or not it would be wise to attack with that unit or not. The image below shows information regarding weapon strength and basic character information such as strength, hit percentage and the attack range of the selected weapon.
Behavioural and cognitive theory is an important part in the design of any game as the last thing we want is for people to stop playing because of frustration.