Everyone can do this

March 1st, 2009 No comments

caught before the fall

Since the success of the Wii has unveiled a huge new audience of casual players, other platforms have started to cater for that same considerable amount of people. Next to the titles that are specifically aimed at these casual gamers, some IP’s that were previously labeled hardcore, are also trying appeal to it. While this is an understandable step, it is one that must be taken with care.

Drawing a casual audience to a previously existing IP or genre has the basic difficulty that it did not appeal to them in the first place. The appeal of a game can be divided into many different parts like; visual appeal, difficulty, theme, learning curve, etc.

An existing franchise that lowers its difficulty to be accessible to a larger audience runs the risk of losing its appeal to the original audience. Changing the visual style of a game might make a game more appealing to a new audience but that by itself will not keep them interested if they dislike the core gameplay.

A clear example of a game that fails at some of the points mentioned above is the latest iteration of Prince of Persia. The visuals and theme of the game have been polished and will most likely appeal to a broad audience but the core mechanic is still platforming, which is a genre that many find too hard and/or just don’t like. In this new version of Prince of Persia the difficulty has been lowered so much that the game almost doesn’t feel like a platformer anymore. A minimal amount of player input is required to execute impressive moves and jumps and some of the sections are so simple, they can literally be played with one hand behind your back. Furthermore there is no skill development throughout the game. The moves you start out with are the same ones you will use from beginning to end.

The drastic change in difficulty within the franchise displeases many fans. Though even a player that has not played a platformer before will be able to successfully play this game within a few minutes, most do not want to, simply because it is a platforming game and platforming doesn’t appeal to them.

Making a game more accessible is a good thing, just make sure not to lose the appeal of your core gameplay in the process. If saving the world by fighting monsters and making incredible jumps is so simple that even your little sister can do it with one hand behind her back, why do it at all?

Categories: Thoughts on game design Tags:

Finding the balance

February 22nd, 2009 No comments

While making a game one has to strike a careful balance between content/features and polish/balancing. Flaws in the game´s AI and graphical glitches can be overlooked when a game has just been launched but if they are persistent throughout the game, they will eventually break the user experience. This of course is something you don’t want to happen. The problem can only be remedied by further balancing and tweaking the game, which takes time. And time is money. That brings us to the core of the design challenge. As a designer it is essential to take into account the time required to polish, balance and test every important aspect of the game. A well balanced and polished game can still be playable long after its launch, while a flawed game will eventually lose its appeal.

Some games are balanced and tweaked to perfection while others strike a delicate balance between content and tweaking. If done right both can be successful in their own way. Take for example the games Gears of War 2 as opposed to Fallout 3.

Gears of War 2 is in essence a heavily polished and tweaked version of Gears of War. Every aspect of the previous iteration has returned in this title in a more polished way. The sounds have more impact, the cover system works much better, the graphics are much more varied, the level design is much more interesting etc. As a result the game is very solid and replayable.

balanceFallout 3 is stuffed with content and therefore also filled with bugs/glitches. In Fallout 3 the player has tons of areas to explore, quests to complete, conversational options, non linear gameplay, etc. The sheer amount of content results in weaker balancing and some bugs will keep haunting you throughout the game. Even though the bugs damage the overall experience, the sheer amount of gameplay and overall atmosphere keep many players interested for dozens of hours.

As you can see from the example above; there is no fixed and perfect balance that one can use in every design. What can be said however is that a balance has to be found. A small, well balanced game can be fun to play for a long time and a massive game can fail on its outset. It is not the size or polish that is the most important factor, it’s what you have in mind for the game. Ask yourself what the game is supposed to achieve, make sure you have the required amount of content and balance it accordingly.

Categories: Thoughts on game design Tags:

Co-op vs just playing together

February 8th, 2009 No comments

If you look at most so called co-op games with a critical eye, you will be aware of the fact that most of them are in essence just single player games you can play together. The core mechanics, level design and controls are single player oriënted. So in essence those games are not really co-op games at all, not even if you work together.

A good example of the above are games like Metal Slug. In this game the player navigates through a level and shoots everything that comes his way to progress. Drop in as a second player and you can both shoot everything in sight to progress.

A more subtle case of the above is Army of Two. This is a third person shooter game that was designed to be played as a two player co-op game. While it is true that the game is only enjoyable if you play it together, this does not make it a co-op game. The game has several co-op elements that are designed to facilitate a co-op experience. These are dragging your buddy when he is wounded, helping each other onto higher ground, an aggro system, the possibility to swap weapons in the field, co-op parachute jumps and co-op vehicle sections.

ArmyOfTwo

With so many co-op aspects one might think the above must be a co-op game, yet at the foundation of the game the mechanics are still single player oriënted. Also most of the mechanics mentioned above are not core mechanics and therefore used/encountered sporadically. As a player you will spend most of your time in the game running around shooting enemies and grabbing ammo along the way, just as you would in any other third person shooter.

Then what does it take to make a game truly co-op?

To really be a co-op game working together has to play a central role in the game’s core mechanics. Also the levels and controls should reflect this. Just splitting up a single player action, into pieces that must then be executed by more players, doesn’t cut it. The game’s design has to stimulate and require cooperation and preferably also communication. Players should constantly be thinking about how to solve game situations as a team. This most likely creates completely different design challenges, opportunities and player interactions then those of a single player game with added cooperative elements. Also the result will be a true co-op game as opposed to a single player game with tacked on co-op.

Categories: Thoughts on game design Tags: