Monday, November 09, 2009

fake emergencies

me: "Do you think anything is lost by the way games say "hurry!" and then let you dally all you want?"

Ysharros: "I most certainly do. It sets expectations (at least in me) that then aren't fulfilled. Yet almost every game I know does this."
I agree. If an NPC urges me to hurry, that urgency should be reflected in the events thereafter.


  1. How do you prevent players from becoming trapped? So you find out the palace is under attack and you need to get there and save the queen. But you get there and you're not up to the task of saving the queen yet.

    So is that just Game Over and reload an earlier save? You can't back away and get stronger if you stick to the urgent time issue?

    I agree with you in spirit but in practice I'm not sure I'd like the alternative... though smarter people than me could probably find a way to maintain the urgency and still offer the player an 'out' if they weren't ready for the task at hand.

  2. I think Dragon Age helped this a bit with the way the game presents "emergencies." I noticed that when something REALLY needed to be done right then, it seemed to take a dialogue tree that would insert responses from the NPC that would reinforce that. No clock ever showed up and I never ran out of time, but for instance:

    I had a dialogue where I had to "hurry and save someone from certain doom" but I kept talking to the NPC trying to get information. After the initial dialogue, all her responses were filled with "Alright, I'll tell you, but don't you think you should get going?" Or "Is that really more important to know than saving so-and-so right now?"

    That kind of reinforcement is a nice addition in that aspect, but again ... if you want to dilly dally around, you can without consequence.

    I think if side-quests that had time limits came up, but nothing for the main story line, that would be ok. I agree with Pete though. You can't lock someone out of the main story line because they don't feel like rushing it. Some people like to play cautiously and conservatively.

  3. It has to be taken into account before quests and gameplay are already put into place. Like all elements of game design, it's something that has to be considered in conjunction with everything else, rather than applied separately.

    So, in your example, you don't present the player with the opportunity to enter the palace and save the queen without having ensured the player has already experienced enough and is prepared. You're right that timing is the key.

    There are many possible solutions. You might alert the player once he reaches a particular level or completes a particular quests (ala the Bounty Board missions in Borderlands). Or you might design the environment so that the player can't reach the point of urgency without first encountering other combat scenarios and NPCs. The more open the game, the harder it is to control. But in any case, the emergency "countdown" doesn't begin until triggered by a player action signaling that he/she is ready.

    The challenge of game design in general is that the many elements all affect each other. Emergency quests aren't really exceptional that way.

  4. "You can't lock someone out of the main story line because they don't feel like rushing it. Some people like to play cautiously and conservatively."

    I know what you mean. I'm the sort of player who likes to tackle sidequests before the main storyline. I played Oblivion for months without progressing through the main questline.

    Again, the problem is timing... it's when players are offered those urgent quests. Games are usually designed so that the NPC or scenario in which one leg of the main plotline ends is where the next leg begins. This means the player is always trapped in a state of urgency. There's always some emergency beckoning.

    Instead, games should allow players to explore and fulfill side missions BEFORE the next leg of the plot begins.

    The tricky part is enabling players who enjoy blasting through the main plotline to do so without them needing to level up or otherwise be empowered by side missions.

    Diablo 2 enables players to rush through. Those players have a more difficult time, but they become stronger even as they fail. A level 8 player might not survive a dungeon full of level 10 enemies, but he'll kill enough to gain a level or two by the time he has to try again.

    That sort of system isn't applicable to every game, but it's a good model in general. And death needn't be involved. For example, you might storm the palace and fail, then be mistaken for dead and thrown in the moat (where you recover). Or you could be kicked out of a place, incapacitated, etc.

    As for the emergency of the situation, in some cases that urgency could be lessened by the player even if he fails. For example, merely by entering the palace and slaying guards, the player might distract the queen's assailants enough to prolong the amount of time the player has to reach her.

    Now that y'all have made me think about it more deeply, I can see that there's probably not a simple solution that can be applied to all games. But I think fake emergencies can generally be avoided by a combination of the strategies I've mentioned above and others.

    As I said before, it's mainly a matter of considering this while designing everything else. It can't be an afterthought.

  5. I certainly wouldn't advocate doing the hurry-up/oops you failed dance *all* the time, but now and then it would help keep me on my toes and reinforce the feeling that I'm in a story/world that flows, rather than one that waits solely for my input.

    Actually, thinking about it after the comments above, I'd probably want to see it used sparingly, but I certainly would want to see emergency-actions used. Sometimes you just have to drop everything and save the world.

    Then again, it doesn't *have* to be a pass/fail thing. You could have to deliver a message before a certain time, or other such non skill-critical tasks. Just something, however minor, that reminds you other stuff is going on around you.


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