Wednesday, April 08, 2015

hopes for Star Wars: Battlefront reboot

The original Star Wars: Battlefront (PC) is one of my all-time favorite games. When I heard the series would be coming to the Xbox One, I was very excited. In the hands of DICE, it is sure to be visually impressive and full of great physics. But will it be true to the series?

What features distinguish past Star Wars: Battlefront games from DICE's own Battlefield series? What made the original series great?

One difference between those old games and Battlefield is the option to play against and with bots in multiplayer. I have always found competing against bots in fragfest games more enjoyable than competing with other players, for a variety of reasons.

Ironically, the behaviors of human players are often more cartoonish than scripted characters — ways which are not fun for everyone. Many players hop around like kangaroos and spam grenades, for example.

Another way bots can be more fun is that a player is more free to play however he wants when other players are not counting on him to seize an objective, guard a position, or otherwise focus on team play. Against bots, a player can treat the fragfest like an open world sandbox, emphasizing victory sometimes and silly or over-the-top action other times.

Galactic Conquest mode was another key feature of the original game. It added a level of strategy on beyond individual battles, linking them into a war campaign. It also added team bonus dynamics. Which planet to attack next? Which team bonus (extra ammo, health regeneration, etc) to bring into this fight? What bonus will the enemy have? DICE could even expand this idea into a system more akin to LOTR: Battle For Middle Earth 2's excellent "War of the Ring" mode.

To be true to the series, DICE also must not give the factions identical class options. Droidekas and jet troopers, for example, had no equivalent units in the Rebel faction... which had Wookies.

One aspect many very popular games (Star Wars: Battlefront, Diablo, Super Smash Bros, Call of Duty, Mass Effect 3, etc) share is that they don't let an obsession with power balancing get in the way of providing variety of character, weapon, and skill options (among other dynamics). It is more important to provide players with thrilling and pleasantly surprising experiences than it is to ensure fairness. As any sports fan will tell you, nothing kills the fun as fast as an over-zealous referee.

I might not mind a few extra layers of dynamics, like destruction physics or a Mass Effect 3-style weapon and loot system.  I'm sure the movement, shooting mechanics, and vehicles will be fun in the hands of DICE.

Here's hoping that the new Star Wars: Battlefront's dynamics are as compelling as its core combat mechanics and visual treats.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dynamic vs static customization

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer demonstrates how important quality is to customization.

It's not enough for the player to have choices. If only a few choices are appealing to the typical player, then you have enabled the player to choose a particular playstyle but have not improved replayability. If the player does not alternate between a variety of options, but rather sticks to one or two playsets, then the game is less dynamic and less perpetually exciting for that player.

In ME3 multiplayer, I am constantly rediscovering classes and weapons. Returning to a previous choice after playing with other choices makes that option feel fresh and even surprising.

Monday, February 06, 2012

AI and predictability

I played the Syndicate demo again. My character is level 7 now. I have probably played that same mission seven or eight times now.

What strikes me is how important the AI is to the replayability. I see players using the same weapons and skills, yet the battle is a little different every time.

In the movie The Ghost and the Darkness , one character tells another, "They've got a saying in prize fighting: Everyone's got a plan until they've been hit."

Good, dynamic AI forces players to adapt every time. It provides just enough predictability to enable strategy, but it doesn't let players anticipate everything.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

memory markers

Dynamics make a game feel longer.

I realized this after reading an article about "Why Times Goes Faster as You Get Older." The article's point is basically that new or unique experiences act as markers in one's reflection on one's history as a whole. The older a person gets, the more routine his or her life is likely to become. By seeking out new and bold experiences, we can slow our lives down... at least in perception.

Likewise, unique and memorable experiences act as markers in a player's reflection. If you want players to feel like they have gotten their money's worth, dynamics can help create an impression of a grander adventure.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kinect bar games

Microsoft could sell a lot of console-Kinect bundles by creating a good collection of bar games which involve shouting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NPCs as geographical indicators

Maps are great when designed well, but landmarks also help.

While roaming alleys in Deus Ex, I realized that I was using particular NPCs like landmarks to tell me which direction to go.

I was able to do so because the NPCs were various and unique. One had wild red-dyed hair. Another had a green mohawk.

If your NPCs are going to be just standing around anyway, why not make them useful in this way?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

preorder bonus announcements

Dear publishers,

If you're going to offer different preorder bonus content through different retailers, announce all of those offers simultaneously... or at least inform us that further offers are upcoming. Otherwise, you're ensuring that some customers will have to cancel one preorder to place another so they get the specific bonus content they want.

A choice is less of a choice if not all options are on the table when the decision is made.

If physicians take an oath to do no harm, salesman can at least try to avoid needlessly annoying their customers.

I'm looking at you, Warner Brothers.