Detective Structures

From gdp3
Jump to: navigation, search

Information available to a player is limited to the information available to one single character.

Narration in games (and other media) can be done in two ways to align players with the events that unfold. In Detective Structures knowledge is restricted to a protagonist, so players experience game events aligned with a single character[1]. This means that all surprises and revelations occur at the same time for the players and their characters although they may make different conclusions.


Detective Structures is a typical pattern used in many First-Person Shooters, e.g. Half-Life series and Deus Ex series. This come pretty natural for the genre since it is defined by how one perceives the game world from the view of one character.

However, games using third-person views can also make use of the pattern, with the Silent Hill series as one example. Although this may allow players to perceive things that their characters do not perceive (or vice versa) due to looking in different directions, this only concerns what happens in the very proximity of the characters and does not have to affect narrative structures.

Using the pattern

Creating games with Detective Structures at a minimum require the design of an Avatar for each player, and then limiting each players' availability of information to their Avatars. When doing so the range of possibilities to present information is limited compared to other games given that Detective Structures can mainly provide information through their Game Worlds. Diegetically Outstanding Features such as Clues and Traces is one alternative to do so as long as they follow a game's Thematic Consistency, while Non-Player Characters with potentially accompanying Dialogues provides another one.

The information provided through the Game World can be complimented with those related to the players' Characters. This includes diegetic interpretations of events by the Characters, including Game Prophecies, but can also be internal cognitive processes such dream, hallucinations, and Character Memories.

Although Detective Structures do not by themselves create Surprises, the wish to provide players with Surprises is one of the main reasons to make use of the structure.

Detective Structures make more sense in Single-Player Games than in Multiplayer Games. This since forcing several players to all get information from one Character is more akin to a Single-Player Game with a Public Interface than a Multiplayer Game.

Diegetic Aspects

Although limiting information of players to that of specific Characters may seem to imply that the information presented should be that perceivable by those Characters, this does not need to be the case. For instance, when a player makes his or her Character look at a certain object in the Game World additional Geospatial Game Widgets may be shown (e.g. floating Handles) which the Character cannot detect. Thus, the presence of Detective Structures in games does not need to imply Diegetic Consistency.

Interface Aspects

If Detective Structures are to be used in conjunction with Open Worlds, they need to make use First-Person Views or Third-Person Views that are tied to specific Avatars. This since Units by their nature provide several viewpoints and God Fingers in this case allows players to explore away from a specific Character; God Fingers have however been used extensively in Point-and-Click adventure games such as the Police Quest series and Myst series) where exploration is limited to the "room" the Character is currently in.

Split-Screen Views provide problems with Detective Structures since a player can then see other players' view of the gameplay.

Narrative Aspects

The use of Detective Structures makes it easier to control how players receive information, and which order they receive it in. Through this, Detective Structures can be used to ensure that Predetermined Story Structures are presented in the intended order.

Temporal Consistency helps create Detective Structures since it does not allow for multiple perspectives of the same event and helps ensure that intended Surprises are experienced as such.


Detective Structures is one way of presenting Narration Structures to players. Detective Structures provide Imperfect Information since it limits the player’s information to a certain point-of-view at any given point in time; the player does not need to have unlimited access to what Characters know, feel, and perceive. This provides an Uncertainty of Information at the beginning of gameplay which can be maintained through updating Game Worlds through Unobserved Game Events. Although initially incompatible with Perfect Information (unless a player's Avatar can perceive the whole Game World, which makes the pattern irrelevant), if these additional patterns are not used the Imperfect Information will gradually turn into Perfect Information as players can merge the different set of information into one complete view. Similarly, the Detective Structures pattern is initially incompatible with a Melodramatic Structures but unlike Perfect Information this needs to be maintained throughout the gameplay.

Through providing Imperfect Information and the possibilities of Surprises, Detective Structures can cause Tension. This is especially true when players' have been given Clues that certain events may occur. It is also likely that players will adopt Gain Information goals, either related to Predetermined Story Structures or simply related to Game World Exploration of Game Worlds (that may be possible to solve simply by Movement).


Can Instantiate

Gain Information, Game World Exploration, Imperfect Information, Surprises, Tension, Uncertainty of Information

Can Modulate

Narration Structures, Predetermined Story Structures

Can Be Instantiated By

Avatars, Characters, Single-Player Games, Temporal Consistency

Game Worlds together with First-Person Views or Third-Person Views

Can Be Modulated By

Dialogues, Character Memories, Game Prophecies, Geospatial Game Widgets, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Non-Player Characters, Traces

Clues when used together with Thematic Consistency

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Melodramatic Structures, Perfect Information, Split-Screen Views, Units

God Fingers together with Open Worlds


An updated version of the pattern Detective Structure, first introduced by Lankoski[2].


  1. Smith, M. (1995). Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Lankoski, P. (2010). Character-Driven Game Design - A Design Approach and Its Foundations in Character Engagement. D.A. thesis at Aalto University. Publication Series of the School of Art and Design A 101.