Tuesday, March 13, 2007

missing the obvious

I downloaded the Star Trek: Legacy demo onto my 360 the other day. It never ceases to amaze me how many obvious irritations developers let slip by sometimes.

The demo has no tutorial. Instead, it simply provides a diagram of controls during the loading screen. A tutorial takes resources to build, and perhaps the tutorial function is taken care of in the full game in some other way, so I can accept the controls diagram as the more viable option.

But the diagram only stays up there as long as the skirmish is loading. There is no "Ready?" prompt before leaving the diagram and starting the skirmish. There is no option to access the diagram by pausing during the skirmish. The result is that, unless the player manages to memorize the diagram's information in those 10 seconds or less (and the diagram alone does not answer all control questions, by the way), then the player is left frustrated. Experimenting with buttons during the skirmish helped me very little.

It's such a little thing, that "Ready" prompt. Why isn't there? Likely, because Bethesda never tested the demo on people who hadn't played the game yet. They probably just tested it with people who had been playing for months, already knew the controls, and so didn't notice such an obvious need.

Little things like this with significant consequences pop up in games all the time. Completely fresh testers are needed during each new phase of development; and that goes for demos, too. Looking at the industry from the outside, I had assumed that was common practice for all developers, but problems like this make me wonder.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Molyneux, I salute you

Of course, I wasn't able to attend the GDC, but I have been reading the interviews and watching videos. And after seeing Peter Molyneux explain the dog companion in Fable 2, I wish I had been there to shake the man's hand.

It has the potential to be--and, from the video, appears to be meeting that potential--the greatest advancement in storytelling this industry has seen in the past decade. It may be one of the most important games releasing (presumably) this year.

Finally, a game developer has the cojones to introduce true empathy and make a game about more than mere entertainment, a game that will actually pull at players' emotions and sanction behavior through emotional punishments and rewards. Finally, a developer has introduced unconditional love to a game, for the player to not only enjoy but also face responsibility for.

Other games have included drama and serious storytelling, but I'm hoping this will be the first to approach the effectiveness of literature and film. It will take a lot of work and luck to get it just right, but I thank Molyneux for even trying.