Data Structures

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This is a proposed entry.
This entry is currently being proposed as a permanent part of the ontology. It should be considered a draft and not really part of the "official" ontology.

A data structure is the term in computer science used to describe methods of storing and accessing data on a computer. This is important to game design because the nature of a data structure affects the kinds of gameplay we are likely to create. The design of games old and new are affected by the available data structures.


Strong example

Early shooting games from Space Invaders to Galaga limit both the number of enemies onscreen, and the player's shots onscreen. This reflects a simple data structure design, where memory is not dynamically allocated to account for arbitrary amounts of enemies or shots; instead, the programmers and designers agreed to limit these values to a constant maximum, easing the programming process. Consequently those early games are about both dodging enemy fire and making quick, accurate shots. Later games, such as 1942 and Gradius, maintain (seemingly) any number of enemies or shots onscreen. The shmup gameplay gradually changed; larger bullet streams formed their own patterns, and in most shmup games from that point onward, the player was usually guaranteed survival by their dodging skill alone, rather than by a mix of both dodging and shooting.

The first "Super Mario Bros." game only allows the player to scroll the screen in one direction; additionally, enemies and objects that are offscreen, with few exceptions, do not exist until the game scrolls onto them. This happens because the game is only storing in memory the data for one screen of gameplay at any given time; to go backwards in the level, or to apply the game's rules to offscreen enemies, would require the game to remember the state of the entire level.

Weak example

Classic board games like Go and Chess use data structures which are easy both to create physical pieces for, and for humans to understand. They only use a few "types" of game piece, and relatively small board sizes (8x8 in Chess, 19x19 in Go). They are "low resolution" compared to what a computer can simulate.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology




Taito Corporation, 1978, Space Invaders

Namco inc., 1981, Galaga

Capcom Co., ltd., 1984, 1942

Nintendo inc., 1986, Super Mario Bros.