Wednesday, September 16, 2009

game heritage

Games aren't released in a creative vacuum. Other games have gone before, and a designer can shoot himself in the foot by ignoring the ideas those other games have already set in the player's mind.

For example, I was playing Mirror's Edge yesterday. Occasionally, a few birds will be resting on the edge of rooftop, and fly away if the player's comes near. It's apparently environmental... and that's the problem. Five years ago, those birds would have been fine. But Assassin's Creed changed that.

The gameplay of Assassin's Creed also involves rooftops and acrobatics. It also includes birds resting on edges... and, in that game, those birds signal a spot from which the player may jump and expect to land safely in a bale of hay. So, when a gamer plays the latter game before the former, that training becomes problematic. It's not a great flaw, certainly. But it demonstrates how a gamer's past experiences affect present gameplay.

Perhaps a better example is shooter controls. On the PC, you're a fool to abandon the traditional WASD movement controls, because that configuration has become instinctual for the majority of gamers. Unfortunately, there is less of a tradition with console shooters. Right-trigger is universally accepted as the command for firing a gun, but other standard actions (zooming, grenades, sprinting, ducking, etc) vary from game to game. The result is that it's uncomfortable for a gamer to move from one console shooter to another.

Anyway, I could provide many examples and they would all be debatable. The point is that gamers' past experiences matter. That a design decision makes the most sense on its own is not good enough reason to include it. It must also be asked whether or not that feature conflicts with players' expectations enough to become a distraction or burden. Like I said, games aren't released in a vacuum.


  1. I agree with you about the controls, but not so much about things like the birds.

    The same reason I had issues with the article over here:

    If you cling too tightly to the things that come before, you ultimately stifle innovation.

  2. The birds is a problem because the two are sooo similar. In both cases, there's a few pigeons or doves grouped together that flutter away when you get close. And if the games hadn't been released so close to each other, it wouldn't be a problem.

    But yeah, that's a minor issue and not the best example.

  3. Is a year really that close of a release?

  4. haha, maybe not. I haven't heard anyone else mention it, so it might be just me.

    This is why I put my main points in bold. If my examples suck or I get sidetracked, hopefully people still remember my point. :)

  5. You know, I never noticed that in Assassin's Creed--at least not consciously.


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