Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Lateness and Game Design

I just recently discovered xkcd, shame on me.

Okay, seriously, this whole mechanic of "complete objective X in Y time" needs to stop and die for good if designers cant learn to implement it right. I am getting so sick of playing games where the ending feedback is "well, you survived and completed the objective, but you were .783 seconds too late so you fail. . .try again?". Come on, I was right fucking there. How often does this ever happen in most Movies? Tabletop RPGs? etc. Sure it's realistic, but the ultimate goal of good game design has never been "make it realistic". It's a means to an end.

When I have no feedback on how I could have improved my time beyond "do it faster" and the core mechanic doesnt encourage/reward completing your objectives as fast as possible, AND there are factors that randomly impact your ability to reach your objective, then why would evaluating the player's performance based on time make any sense? It's just frustrating noise in the patterns of play.

Racing games, it works. Why? Because the whole game is built around doing an objective (racing around a circle) as fast as possible, and that's generally how the racing genre works. There are a ton of factors that go into calculating that time, all of which are available to the player at least for observation.

Strategy Games, it doesn't work most of the time. Why? Because even though a lot of war is very time-dependant (and I can respect that), players generally play strategy games to engage in territory aquisition and discover how complex systems of unit strengths, territory and resources work together as a model for warfare, not to see how fast they can do it. There is a place for those kind of timed goals, and they work if the player wishes to engage in them. So at the very least, give the player some control:

An enemy officer has been stationed at a nearby military base, we need him captured. However, if the enemy detects a large enough military force, they will send emergency evac which will arrive in 15 minutes. However, if you can keep the location and size of your forces quiet, you should be able to flank around and capture him in a surprise attack.

-Choose one-
A: Capture unit Z without your forces being spotted
B: If your forces are spotted, you have 15 minutes to complete objective A

At the very least, the player has some degree of control over the timer and, they get clear feedback on just how "stealthy" they were based on objective B triggering.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Experimental Gaming

From a t-shirt I saw somewhere, not sure where the original credit belongs.

I got into a discussion with a fellow designer/good friend of mine over the lack of games that take experimental risks with regards to narrative. While I've always been one to take the side that mechanics should lead player engagement, I do enjoy a good story told through a game from time to time, and judging by the vast majority of Triple-A content, so do most publishers.

When I say experimental, I mean stories that are rooted in ideas for the sake of exploring them, not necessarily reliving the Hero's Journey for the millionth time as he is destined to crusade over a hidden evil. It's as obvious as it is in film why this sort of gaming never reaches mainstream. However, I've found that even the indie scene is very dry of these topics, topics that touch on philosophical contexts and are intended to spark discussion and debate.

But why bother communicating these experiences through games when such ideas can be more easily told in Film and Literature? Because I believe, the experience a game can provide is totally unique from film and literature, and will impact the player on a deeper level since the story is (if good design principles are followed) a direct result of the player's actions. What better way to explore new mental territory than by probing and experimenting?

Take Silent Hill 2 for example. A darkly-themed adventure/survival/horror/etc. (did I mention I hate genres?) with multiple endings based on how you play the game. There really is no happy ending, and plays with the concepts of sanity, making you think about what you actually would have done in the character's place. Mature for the sake of being emotionally mature, not guts, gore and colourful language*. And where are my psychedelic games?!

You may say "There is no market for this kind of gaming", I say:

-You don't need a big budget to make a game profitable and fun
-Creating value to sell to an undeveloped market is the core function of entrepreneurship

*I have to credit this wording to my friend and colleague