Gamasutra - Beyond Pacing: Games Aren't Hollywood
This lengthy piece at Gamasutra by Painkiller designer Jacek Wesolowski discusses pacing in games, noting that the structure of media like film doesn't fit with the interactive nature of games. Among examples such as Fallout 3, I was surprised to see Gothic, which is his primary example of pacing controlled by the setting:
Gothic is an old PC game by a small developer who had trouble finding publisher in some countries, which is a shame, because it's also one of very few action-RPG hybrids to ever manage to turn backtracking into fun.
Let's take a look at the map of the game's main area. Note the complex network of roads and rivers. Water is swimmable. Falling from heights is lethal, but many cliffs are climbable. Forests are dangerous, but provide shortcuts. The player spends a lot of time travelling between the three hubs in one of following ways, starting with the slowest:
* take a safe route
* ask a guide to lead the Hero
* take a dangerous shortcut
* polymorph into a faster creature (requires resources)
* swim (takes some skill, works downstream only)
* teleport (not available until later in the game)
The fundamental notion of pacing by setting is that there is literally a landmark around every corner. Locations in Gothic are small and nonuniform: the biggest forest is some 200 meters across, and no two ruins are identical. Every feature plays a unique role in the game's world, as they pose varying challenges and offer different rewards.