Thursday, February 28, 2008

reverting to saved games

In games like Mass Effect and Deus Ex, the player can keep the game saved at many points. So it's possible to save before doing anything with a permanent effect (like choosing a skill or dialogue route) and returning to the save later to try a different route.

You can return in theory, anyway. In actuality, you've often progressed so far from the saved moment to the game's end that returning is a jarring experience. It's like watching a 2-hour film all the through, then being dropped back to the 30-minute mark to view a different course. Dropping back just 5 or 10 minutes, ala the ending of the movie Clue, is alright. But dropping back over an hour is begging for confusion and only a shallow immersion in events.

So, is there an alternative? Is there a way for a player to return to a much earlier point in his game experience without it feeling shallow or awkward?

TV series sometimes refresh their viewers memories with clips of the previous show. That helps avoid confusion, though it still requires that immersion be built up from scratch again. Would something like that work with a game? If skills or the complexity of the control scheme or item hoard changes significantly through the game, then the player would need to be refreshed on more than just the story.

Can much be done about this problem?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

drama in games vs film

Over at Weekend Gamer, I posted some thoughts about permanent consequences in games. Toward the end, I got to thinking about how open gamers in general really are to negative emotions:

... . Designers like to talk about games that will make us sad and angry the way movies do, but gamers in general don't want that sort of stuff in games (at least, not in the sort of games we're already familiar with). Unsettling movies and unsettling games are fundamentally different. The saddened or angered movie viewer must only continue to watch further events. The saddened or angered gamer must continue to participate in events. Therefore, negative emotions require more patience from gamers than from movie-viewers.

What do you think? Am I right that there are more barriers to including the full spectrum of emotions in games than just people respecting games as a dramatic medium, like films?

mini-maps are shit

I love this quote from Peter Molyneux at the GDC: ""Mini-maps are shit. They're shit because you make these multimillion-dollar games, and people play them staring at these little dots."

The last game I had that problem with was Saints Row. Learning streets and landmarks takes time, while the mini-map provided instant knowledge, so I spent nearly all of my time looking at the mini-map while driving to missions and shops around the city. Whenever I didn't watch the mini-map, I was able to appreciate and enjoy the city itself. The mini-map effectively placed a big chunk of the game into shadow.

Of course, avoiding mini-maps can be difficult, as Molyneux's upcoming Fable 2 clearly demonstrates. I'm sure developing the AI to make that game's dog into a guide has been no easy feat. Still, any designer should at least begin with a determination to replace such an obviously flawed mechanism.

What other features are common yet obviously distractions from core gameplay?

For example, could the need for inventory screens, which remove players from focus on the gameworld, be largely negated by letting the player sort the desirability of equipment elements? In other words, could choosing equipment preferences be a simple one-shot decision at the beginning of the game, like character class? At character creation (revisable at any time thereafter), I prioritize damage-dealing (1), fire-wielding (2), cold-resistance (3) ----> blunt protection (18). And so the game automatically switches or does not switch out my character's gear based on how well an item's stats match up with my chosen priorities (damage-dealing over protection, fire damage over cold damage, etc). Is that clear at all? The question at the heart of all that is whether or not the need for inventory management can be minimized.

Another possible example is directing a player toward a major quest by designing minor quests to nudge the player in that direction. Depending on the quest, environmental indicators might also be possible. For example: if there's more ash and destruction to the west, then the bad guy probably went that way.

Anyway, back to my question: What features are common yet obviously distractions from core gameplay?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

know thy enemy

Sometime tomorrow, I'll pick up my pre-order of Culdcept Saga. One interesting feature of that board-card game is that you're able to see your opponent's cards. You know every card they draw and even get a glimpse of their entire hand each turn.

Some reviewers complained about this, because it definitely goes against expectations. But it's an interesting twist, I enjoy it in the CS demo, and I've been thinking how it might open up a new style of gameplay for many genres.

RTS games, for example. Imagine knowing at all times what your enemy is doing. What would it be like if the element of surprise was not present?

It's a little more common in mono-a-mono games. If an enemy spell takes 3 seconds to cast, the player might be able to recognize it in the first second and cast a 2-second counterspell. In Sid Meier's Pirates!, the same is possible in dueling.

Anyway, how do y'all feel about some games including complete transparency?