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The Short Memory of Game Design 123

Posted by Zonk
from the remember-and-keep-your-twinkie dept.
Gamasutra has another piece in Ernest Adams' ongoing series Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! This week he looks at the terrible long-term memory the game industry suffers from. Because of fast turnover within company ranks, games released by a single studio can consistently make the same bad design decisions over and over again. From the article: "Which is worse: A game that introduces its features sparsely but regularly, or one that gives them all to you at once and then never gives you another one? I would much rather play the former. Obviously this will vary somewhat by genre, but offering up a new twist every now and then will certainly help to keep the player's interest. Too many games turn into a boring grind in the last third or so, and the player has to slog through it if he wants to see the ending. We didn't get into this business to make boring grinds."
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The Short Memory of Game Design

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  • by jizziknight (976750) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:44PM (#15692830)
    It's also really annoying when a game gives you no features at the beginning and makes you trudge through a few hours of play before you get to do anything cool. Or if the one critical feature you need is given to you at the very end, and you have to practically play the entire game again to beat it (I'm looking at you, Jet Force Gemini). It also sucks when you get no new features for each iteration of a particular series.

    On a related note, this is also why I can't stand most MMORPGs. Too much time wasted grinding. I don't want to kill monster x for 5 hours so I can level up so that I can use weapon/ability z, and then start killing monster y for 6 hours so I can level up and.... you get the idea.
    • by kthejoker (931838) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:03PM (#15692954)
      What every MMORPG needs is a handicapping system. You go into settings, you set your handicap, and you get to ascend accordingly.So you could have Level 1, the Casual Gamer, who levels up quickly but doesn't get access to all of the quests or best weaponry or any of the fancier materia vs Level 10 the Ubergame, whose grinding takes twice as long as normal, but has exclusive access to the +70 Vorpal Sword of Fantasticness and SideQuests A, B, and C.

      Again, this goes back to the whole "What Suit Are You?" style of RPG gameplay. Some people are completists, some people like community, some people just like the theatricality and fun of playing a game, and some people are stat freaks, and most people are shades of all 4. MMORPGs needs to acclimate for that better - want to be a completist? you have to grind more. A stats freak? We'll boost you up, but it'll cost you. In it for the community? Level up faster if you're playing with a friend. And these are just ideas off the top of my head, but they strike at the heart of what's dumb about grinding: it's not for everyone.

      The parent poster complains about 6 hour grinds - if there were 2 hour grinds (in the midst of a fun sidequest, or with a clear "save this countryside" campaign behind it), nobody would complain. So what's the difference between 2 hours and 6 hours? The very arbitrary nature of these kinds of numbers prove that the problem is not the time, but the very concept itself, and the fact that no game designer seems to want to cater towards allowing more flexible leveling and participating options for gamers (and yes, non-gamers) into their world.

      That's a pity, and I hope that in the next 5-10 years, some more adventurous game companies figure out that with episodic content, different methods of entry for newer players, different schemes of success and advancement, and a better sense of handicapping, they could easily hook 5, 10, or 20 times the number of players they do now.

      (I say all this as a huge fan of single-player RPGs (Final Fantasy in particular) who couldn't stand the grinding of Diablo II or EverQuest and never tried to get back on the bandwagon.)
      • damn, that is a good idea. I wish it would happen.
      • by gutnor (872759) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:18PM (#15693480)
        I like the idea of handicapping system, it is a step in the right direction. However lots of MMORPGS are already plagued with farming and rare item market and that won't help with the handicap system ( because you don't have any hope of getting the uber object without the right handicap )

        I have another idea slightly in the same line. I'm thinking why no using a automatic anti-grind system. Give quota for player. Let say for the first 2 hours you play you get 100% XP, after you only get 80%. After 2 more hours of game you get 60%, ... up to 20% after 8 hours.

        That seems harsh for the hardcore player, but hardcore player can still create multiple characters ( let's face it, a real hardcore player has already mutliple high level characters ... ) That means that the difference between hardcore and casual will be in the number of characters: Hardcore player will have the opportunity of playing high level mage, monk and warrior, while the casual player only Mage for example.

        Well ok, not perfect. And that doesn't solve another problem of casual player. As in real life, you don't see your friends every day and sometimes you are busy for a period and don't see them at all. After when you meet again, it is very difficult to do a game again with them since they basically are too advanced ( or they restarted a new character that is far behind )
        I'm currently playing GuildWars with some friends. Unfortunatly I could not play as often for 2 weeks, and therefore the number of level between them and me is significant enough that we cannot play together anymore :-( So maybe there could be a catchup system ? Let's say you team with people too advanced and the system raise your level and equipment temporarily ??
        • Re: catchup system (Score:4, Informative)

          by DocSavage64109 (799754) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:58PM (#15693769)
          City of Heroes and City of Villains have a system where either the higher level character can temporarily be a lower level or the lower level character can temporarily play as a higher level when teaming. It makes the game fun and playable for both the hardcore and the lite players in our guild.
        • You're not playing the same GW I'm playing. the level cap is extremely low and you get exp really quickly, your friends could easily get you 3-4 levels in an hour or two if you were post-searing and really low level. Probably 1 an hour if mid level.

          Also theres no reason you can't hang with them if they come and run you to the area, you may not be able to do much but leech exp, but with hexs and disruption skills you can still be some use.
          • Yeah, leveling in GW is really fast. In Factions, it's ridiculously fast... I reached level 18 or 19 in less than a week (level cap is 20), and I've only done two missions (out of 13 or so).
          • I guess, generally speaking, I'm expecting a bit too much from a computer game. I used to play paper RPG and the GM always found a way to stick any character in the game and have fun. I'm getting older, I sometimes want instant rewards ...

            Otherwise I agree with you, GW was not the best example and could even be a counter example.
            If you want to know, technically in GW, I just arrived in North Shiverpeak.
            They played several days more than me and are currently in the jungle, they are level 20 with Drognar armo
        • I agree, I have some "friends" (in that online-only, don't-know-your-real-name sense) that I've power-levelled in a game who are now 20-30 levels higher than I am.

          Most games would have a great benefit from an experience-boosting effect for more casual gamers. Something along the lines of 5% per offline-day for 1 hour per offline-day (to a max of 5 offline-days - 25% bonus for 5 hours). Some people would think it is unfair, but the advantage is that "casuals" could try to keep up the pace with the "addicts
          • Ooh, I know. You could have a game where you do nothing but send a check to Blizzard every month, and you get levels for it!

            Meh. Nobody would notice the difference.
        • WoW's rest system was originally going to do this, but apparently people in beta disliked getting penalized for playing too much, so in its current form it simply gives you bonus experience after you've been logged off for some amount of time. Obviously it's not much of a solution, but it's a step in the right direction.
      • but you shouldn't let the user decide for himself what his suit is. Nobody plays the game on easy, the game should just monitor automatically how long the user wants to play and adjust the difficulty to that.
      • by bishiraver (707931) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:32PM (#15695259) Homepage
        How about you make it so that there's actually more skill involved in combat and leveling up. Do away with levels entirely. Use a skill-based system (origional ultima online, anyone?) Make it so you can get to "slightly better than average" in under a few hours, and most of the game content can be experienced at this "slightly better than average" point. Make it so equipment doesn't have so much of a bearing on how well you fight/cast magic/whatever. (A master swordsman with a stick could probably best a neophyte with a finely weighted broadsword) Make permanent death part of the game. Utilize some inheritance system, so that you don't lose EVERYTHING when you die... and allow all your characters to share the same surname. One thing this would do: allow casual gamers to quickly and easily accomplish just about everything in the game. And those people who get -good- at the game - not those who just play it endlessly - might eventually get characters that are much more skilled than other players, and actually become famous for whatever they might do. Ideally, the player power curve would be a bell curve, with very few weak characters and very few powerful characters, but a lot of average characters - and have most of the game content focused on the average players.
        • Aye!!

          One of the most anoying things about the PVP system in WOW is that it doesn't really matter how skilled you are, the people with the uber raiding guilds will win because they have the best gear unless they are complete idiots.
    • by Erioll (229536) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:16PM (#15693040)
      You're absolutely right jizz. Now for examples of games that do this right I'd point to games like Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda. Both of these games are "item-centric," giving the player increased abilities as time goes on, and yet they also keep the core mechanics there, so that the game experience at the end isn't drastically changed from the beginning. If you're awesome with a sword at the beginning, it will still serve you well at the end. And the Metroid games are the same, in that as long as you're good at the core shoot/dodge/jumping maneuvers, those are almost-always worth more than the best weapons around.

      So getting the balance right is why games like those two have become greats: they keep the game interesting and fresh all the way through, while still not invalidating what made them fun at the beginning. I'm sure there's other examples of this around, but there are few that have historically done it as well as these franchises have.

      Thinking about it, Mega Man might be an argument for EITHER side, but I think it's worth mentioning as something else that can go either way depending on your perspective (and I'm referring to classic Mega Man, not whatever's been done lately that radically changes things).

      (and if others have good examples of doing it right, that'd be great to mention too)
      • I wholeheartedly agree. One thing I especially like about the Metroid Prime games is the "loss" of features. Both start you out with many of the basic features/abilities, and some event causes you to lose all or some of them. Sort of like a preview of what the game will be like before you get into the thick of it. The first bit of the first one had me going "Damn, I wish I could get that morph ball back." I also like the differences of features between the two.

        As for Zelda.... Wind Waker didn't do quite as
  • Tell me about it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andrew Kismet (955764)
    This is the field I hope to enter in three years time, after getting through university. It's shocking how many games drag on towards the end, and even worse the ubiquitous sequels made each year with absolutely no attempts at improvement...
    One game that suprised me time after time was Advance Wars (1, 2, and DS), each time introducing new and unique strategy elements and tactics, improved AI, improved graphics, and yet retaining it's core gameplay and character.
    Even GTA dos this well, despite my other crit
  • by Ykant (318168) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:47PM (#15692845)
    I don't know how many games I've played that feed you new techniques and weapons as you go along where, once you get the uber-weapon, the challenge sucks right down to nothing until you get to the endgame. Or when you work on the same section for hours... only to immediately receive an ability that would have gotten you through in minutes. Or enemies near the end of a game that can only be defeated by something you just received, making everything else you've perfected along the way useless. The God of War endgame comes to mind (not bashing the game, great game, this is just an example) - you've perfected your technique with the default weapon to reach the end, nothing could possibly stand under your vicious onslaught, only to have it all taken away from you and wind up with a completely different weapon against a difficult opponent. It's sort of an artifical way of increasing the difficulty of the section.
    • once you get the uber-weapon, the challenge sucks right down to nothing until you get to the endgame

      The converse is also true though. In GUN, you get some uber-weapons after you beat the game and all side missions. The problem is that after you beat the game and all side missions, there's nothing left to do! I'd give GUN a pass if, like some of the Resident Evil games, I get the uber-weapon after beating the game but can start a new game WITH the uber-weapon(s).

      Castlevania/Metroid handles the uber-weapon pr

  • Kinda Sorta ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tranvisor (250175) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:47PM (#15692848) Homepage
    "Which is worse: A game that introduces its features sparsely but regularly, or one that gives them all to you at once and then never gives you another one? I would much rather play the former."

    Would Tony Hawk games be as much fun if you could only do 1/4 the moves in the begining? Course, as your stats increase throughout the game certain moves go from tough/impossible to easy but you can still basically do almost everything at the very beginning when it comes to moves.

    Unlockables are fun but some games take this concept to far...
    • The "all feature in the beginning" is probally the most extreme in simulations, where you often get everything at the very beginning and there aren't even stats you could improve. What however improves over time is the players ability to handle the plane/car/mech and that is IMHO by far the best thing, since its fair, there is no magic 'smash hundert monster to level up', but its all simply your skill and nothing else. Ikaruga is yet another game where you start with everything right from the start, there a
    • Have you played a recent Tony Hawk game? American Wasteland gives you jack squat for abilities at the beginning of the game... Normally that's the kind of progression I like in a game but as someone who'd played through the other 6 versions completely it was more annoying then anything else.

      As much as I love the Tony Hawk series it's getting really tired, I'd almost say it rivals Madden in terms of how much they add with each annual "re-release"
  • Water levels (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If you dive down to a lower level and get out into the air down there... why doesn't that space just fill up with water?

    Perhaps that space has a higher air pressure than outside?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:54PM (#15692895)
      If you dive down to a lower level and get out into the air down there... why doesn't that space just fill up with water?


      A wizard did it.

      But what...

      A wizard...
    • You would think that would be the case if the level was properly designed according to real world physics. But I'd seen some underwater levels that defies real world physics because the designer was too lazy to take that into consideration.
      • Re:Water levels (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        And there are games where I don't care. If the setup of a water level in Super Mario Ultra is physically impossible, I don't really care at all. The fact that Mario can jump 10 times his own height, and drastically change his direction while in the air is already impossible enough that I don't expect realism in the game.
        • True. Some games don't need real-world design considerations to be fun. I was thinking of first person shooters when I made my comment.
    • He is wrong about the water level thing. You could have a pressurized tube underwater that you escape through. Or if you reenter through a diving bell or into a sewer pipe which could be at a different pressure. There are several valid scenarios.

      And what the hell is up with picking on Myst? That game is what, 13 years old? Come on ...
  • by kinglink (195330) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:52PM (#15692885)
    So wait, it was OK when GTA San Andreas had you wait til 1/3rd of the game was done before you could buy any weapons? According to "No New Features After the First Few Levels" that would be a good thing. Personally I think that's the WORST thing about it. No new features has to be taken with a grain of salt. Let's look into it.

    "Person can't drive car til they get license, they must past a long involved series of missions to do that, then to own a gun they must get a gun license, which happens through another set of four missions. Person finds a rocket launcher on the ground, must now take lessons from a third NPC."

    Sounds exciting. How about

    "Person grabs a car, drives to a local gun range, buys a simple gun because it's all he can afford, as he drives to the next point, he finds an AK-47 on a local gangbanger, he grabs the weapon and starts to shoot up the street".

    I don't know the second one sounds like it'd be more fun. I mean learning new "skills" is good, but learning simple stuff that should be available at the begining is lame. In San Andreas, they locked the Airports, which is a good thing at times. People could still get in, hijack a plane and fly badly.

    I think that cavet that you should gain skills depends on the game. If you're doing open world games, you shouldn't get completely new skills unless there's a reason. Perhaps you can get a group together after a while and lead them because you earn their respect. But then again from the begining you're able to use all your abilities that you normally would with out having to "unlock" them.

    I looked at the writer's bio and found he wrote a bunch of books, good for him. as well as

    "Ernest was most recently employed as a lead designer at Bullfrog Productions, and for several years before that he was the audio/video producer on the Madden NFL Football product line. " ... Hmmmm I'll leave on that note. You can decide yourself on his opinions validity, oh and that's ALL the specific industry experience he gives.
    • "Ernest was most recently employed as a lead designer at Bullfrog Productions, and for several years before that he was the audio/video producer on the Madden NFL Football product line. " ... Hmmmm I'll leave on that note. You can decide yourself on his opinions validity, oh and that's ALL the specific industry experience he gives.

      It's all [designersnotebook.com] the industry experience he gives?

      • I meant on that site, I'm sure he's completely valid, however the fact he even references Madden in his small blerb and then tells US what's wrong with gaming is a little short sited.

        He had 7 YEARS at EA, I'm sure that also left him a little jaded. I've never been employed by them but I'm sure the employees have little to no say, especially working on madden every year, at the company I work (game industry developer) the lower end people have a lot of ability to move however we try to create fun games, not
    • Wait...

      He's an unemployed game designer complaining about turnover in the game industry!?
    • So wait, it was OK when GTA San Andreas had you wait til 1/3rd of the game was done before you could buy any weapons?

      Eh, San Andreas was f'ed up in a number of ways. I just can't be bothered to play it anymore, because even after I cheat to get the jetpack or helicopter it still takes too damn long to retry a mission. I'm not sure whether to respect or pity the people who actually finish that game. (Maybe they never fail a mission, I dunno.)

      It's like they took Vice City, which IIRC I 100%'ed (so it's not li
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@devi n m oore.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:52PM (#15692887) Homepage Journal
    What's worst is to polish a crap game with a marketing assault. Mario could have been announced with a 3x5 card mailed to my sister's pet dog and it still would be a sweet game. A huge animation for a crappy game in times square just makes that company look desperate and deceitful. How many super-rendered game commercials have you seen that literally show no gameplay whatsoever? Just show the damned game, if you're ashamed of it maybe you shouldn't release it!
    • If there's one thing I appreciated about the God of War commercials, which played endlessly on television, is that the rendered content was accompanied by an equal amount of gameplay footage.
    • I wonder if I need to see a psychiatrist? For some reason, I read what you wrote as "...a 3x5 card stapled to my sister's pet dog."

  • by fotbr (855184) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:59PM (#15692923) Journal
    Since I've entered the "real world" I have nowhere near the amount of time to spend gaming as I did in college.

    I'd rather have all the features, abilities, etc "unlocked" from the beginning so I can have FUN. Racing games are the worst. Start with crappy car, on a boring track. Then spend hours to achieve first-place so you can get a slightly better car, or have a slightly more interesting track. Repeat for days until you finally can run the high-end cars on challenging tracks. All in the name of providing "lots" of gameplay. Gameplay, yes. Fun, not so much.

    Give me all the cars, tracks, cool weapons, gadgets, etc all at the beginning and let me get my hours of gameplay in 10-20 minute pieces of fun.

    I think "Casual games" and "Casual gamers" want fun out of their games, not work. Which means a lot more games can fall into the "casual" category than just brain teasers and Bejeweled or Tetris clones. Let the hardcore crowd work for weeks to unlock the super-baddass-mega-blaster, but at least give everyone else the option to click a "unlock all" option and just have fun.
    • by Jerf (17166)
      For similar reasons, I noticed I'm losing the ability to play console RPGs.

      I recently picked up Star Ocean 3 on the cheap (I'm a bottom feeder, what can I say?) and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish it. I'm still in the first sixth of the game and already there was a dungeon I barely could get to the next save point before I had to stop anyhow. I'm nervous that this game, which I otherwise enjoy so far, is going to throw a required three+ hours to the save point at me, and that's going to require
      • I've been having this same problem for a while now. I actually got all the way to the end in FF8 and FF9, and couldn't be bothered to spend a week grinding just to beat the end boss. (An especial shame in FF9, where the end boss seemed terribly out of proportion to the lead up thereto, and marred a game I thoroughly enjoyed otherwise.)

        In fact, I think the last RPG I played all the way through was FF1&2, and I'm not sure I completed all of that. That was over a year ago, and I've played at least two RPGs
        • (An especial shame in FF9, where the end boss seemed terribly out of proportion to the lead up thereto, and marred a game I thoroughly enjoyed otherwise.)

          I had the same problem in FFX too. Everything up to that point I thought was pretty well balanced for someone who wants challenging fights that you can win with thought and a couple of tries. But it seemed to me the end boss was a real jump after that.

          Eventually I cheated; I found that I had just enough stuff to "mix" a Trio of 9999, which makes all damage
          • What? X? X had the easiest end bosses ever. Methinks you should have run around, done a bit more optional stuff, and gained more stats in the process; by the time I finished that game, a Trio of 9999 would have greatly reduced my damage potential. Yunalesca, a few hours earlier in terms of mandatory plot, with all of her status attacks, was at least 10 times more difficult than any of the "final" battles.

            I've got to agree with the grandparent, though, about VIII. Due to some poor planning, I ended up at Ult
      • For similar reasons, I noticed I'm losing the ability to play console RPGs.

        I recently picked up Star Ocean 3 on the cheap (I'm a bottom feeder, what can I say?) and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish it. I'm still in the first sixth of the game and already there was a dungeon I barely could get to the next save point before I had to stop anyhow. I'm nervous that this game, which I otherwise enjoy so far, is going to throw a required three+ hours to the save point at me, and that's going to require

      • I recently picked up Star Ocean 3...

        Well, that was your first mistake. I was warned about SO3 before I got it (I loved SO2, btw), unfortunately, I didn't take heed, and picked it up anyway. The game takes itself WAY too seriously, the story blows, and gets worse and worse as the game progresses. The gameplay is extremely unbalanced and thus unfairly difficult. For a game that's supposed to be about real-time action, it leaves way too much to chance, and not enough to actual skill. The item creation syst

        • I haven't bailed yet, but I can see what you're saying.

          This is one of the reasons I'm a bottom-feeder; somehow, blowing $50 feel much more than 2.5 times worse than blowing $20.

          My biggest complaint so far is completely unrelated to any of that; I was hoping for a sci-fi RPG, not a fantasy RPG with spaceships. I suppose I should have known better; Japan's RPGs are pretty stuck in their groove.

          This was probably the deciding factor between it and Suikoden, which was next to it.
          • by 7Prime (871679)

            Have you ever played SO2? It's even more a fantasy RPG than SO3. In fact, SO3 would have been better off had it NOT done so much sci-fi. Basically, for the first half of SO2, the main character is stuck on a planet that's pretty much like old-school Final Fantasy or Suikoden, in terms of technology and civilization, at the mid point, you leave planet 1, and end up on planet 2, which is much more contemporary in nature. All the sci-fi elements are VERY secondary (you end up on a ship for a total of 4 minutes

          • Oh, sorry to respond twice, but I wanted to comment about the sci-fi / fantasy thing. To be honest, I've never seen a full "sci-fi" RPG. I guess Fallout could be considered this, but I can't really get myself interested in that series. There are a lot of halfways, like Xenosaga, .Hack (though I can't vouch for them, personally), FF8 is sorta light on the fantasy elements (and one of my personal favs, if you haven't played it already). But every American or Japanese style RPG I can think of has a lot of fant

    • You couldn't be more right. The first thing I do when getting a game is look online for unlock codes. Too often I find myself not buying a game because I don't want to be bothered. RPGs are completely out of the question, but sports and racing games are good.
    • I believe Super Smash Bros: Melee has a 'unlock' system that is similar to your wants. Asisde from playing the game a lot... In SSB:M you could unlock everything by doing all the challenges, beating the game in every way and all that stuff, but you could also unlock the new charecters and most of the extra levels just by logging time. Well, the game lets you do everything from the begining. Yes, new chars come later and they do take time to master, but it's a lot better knowing that you don't have to be
      • Interesting counterpoint; I lost my fully-unlocked save file for DDRMAX2, which unlocks things purely on a song play-through basis. I thought I'd try this basic trick, only in this case I just muted the game and periodically hit "x". (I don't have a turbo controller.)

        Bastards programmed it so you have to actually meet some minimum performance guidelines for the play to count. And no unlock codes, of course, even though there is really no reason not to include them.

        I really enjoy DDR, but this is by far my b
    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's why I really like the Sims 2: The game itself gives you a list of cheats. It's fun for my sister to play for weeks on end without cheating, it's fun for me to play (massively cheating) for the 2-3 hours a month I can give it. I certainly wish more games were like that.
    • Give me all the cars, tracks, cool weapons, gadgets, etc all at the beginning and let me get my hours of gameplay in 10-20 minute pieces of fun.

      But then the 13-19 year old set decries it as "t3w ez" or "teh l4m3" and it doesn't get shelf placement.

      • Ah, but if the 13-19 year old crowd wants to engage in dick-swinging contests over who can get what 1337 piece of gear, let them. All I ask is that the game makers give me the option to bypass the BS and just play the game.

        Put another way, I don't care if a bunch of 13-19 year olds don't think I "earned" the stuff. Let them "earn" it if it means that much to them. Flag save games, screenshots, whatever with "Casual Play" or something like that to keep them happy that the "posers" aren't trying to brag ab
    • Obviously the real world has made you forget how video games work. What would be the point of a game like Metroid Prime if you were immediately granted with every powerup and item in the game? You just have to spend time getting stuff in games. Video games have always been a time-consuming hobby. Why should that change just because you chose a lifestyle that leaves no time for gaming?
      • by fotbr (855184)
        No, it hasn't. I think games will eventually change to meet consumer demand. To some degree we're already seeing this -- spend any amount of time on the World of Warcraft forums and you'll see constant complaining about the amount of grinding required. In all fairness, its not limited to WoW. Also see the popularity of games like the Sims -- where you can sit down, mess around a bit, save it, and turn it off. Some racing games do a pretty decent job -- unfortunetly they tend to be nascar games where th
        • It's your choice to not spend time playing games. Getting to lvl 60 in WoW takes time. Learning how to speak Japanese takes time. Getting a black belt in Judo takes time. Things take time. Of course you can just play more casual games like Sims, but why should a game like WoW be dumbed down just because you've decided that you won't invest much time in gaming? Go play some other game.
      • Why should that change just because you chose a lifestyle that leaves no time for gaming?

        Mostly because game companies want to make as much money as possible and if they can include more persons in the fold, they'll change the game to make more money.

  • by ivan256 (17499) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:08PM (#15692978)
    It also sucks when the game you're playing at the end is nothing like the game you were playing at the beginning. If I liked the beginning, chances are I'm not going to be too pleased if the end is completely different.

    Exercise a bit of moderation. And remember, you don't need to add bells and whistles to keep the player interested. That job can be left to the plot. If the game has a great story, you can re-use the same damned engine without adding any new features at all and you can keep the player interested beyond the endgame and into completely different titles. Some of the best selling games of all time shared an engine and just plastered some new content on top. Why don't developers remember that?
  • by Xiph (723935)
    Hmm, the article was surprisingly good.
    I didn't agree with the first claim, probably because i prefer multiplayer games, nor the last, because i don't believe realism is always the best choice. But the rest of the article was very objective, so to sum it up:
    • Spread gamefeatures throughout the game, instead of all at once.
    • Don't change rules, to make experience obselete in end game.
    • If you do localization, don't do it half-assed.
    • Provide subtitles.
    • Don't obfuscate the interface.
    • Save those configs.
    • Keep opti
  • I'm not a regular gamer, so cheat codes are a great way to extract a little fun. An hour or two of grinding is ok, if it's fun. But if things drag on, time to cheat, get some fun out of this beast of a game, then stick it in a closet.
  • Eternal Darkness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasheiff (261577) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:36PM (#15693181) Homepage
    As mentioned before on Slashdot, I think this was done very well in Eternal Darkness. There are about 11 chapters and only 12 spells in the game which you learn as you go though. The spells get more effecive as the game progress, but since you play with many different character with strenghs and weaknesses the play of the game changes. Everytime you start a new chapter you don't start out with all of your magic. You do get it all at once at some point, but you are forced to explore and feel a little helpless without it. Some people are really good at magic and some are not so good. And since the spells have a fairly large fundimental varience, i.e. not just Fireball 1 2 3 etc. You might think, I think that other time before I had this would be easier with this new spell, it doesn't obsolete the older spells. Sure the story line is amazing, the puzzles interesting, and the character diversity well done, but the combat doesn't get old either. This game got it right.
  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:13PM (#15693439) Journal
    Let's try to remember how some games got it right.

    The most obvious one that comes to mind is Half-Life. The original. They do give you lots of new and interesting weapons throughout the game, but the gameplay is the same, which means you don't actually have to learn many new skills during the course of the game. My only complaint there would be Xen at the end, where the physics completely change.

    But mostly, the game interface and the gameplay itself doesn't change fundamentally. What changes is the content. An example would be going into a tunnel which leads to a cliff face -- the tunnel has the feel of the vents and such, then you hit the cliff face -- completely different. Suddenly, you have to look up and down, and you have to watch your step. Get through that, and you're in a trench, trying not to get noticed till you get to somewhere you can successfully lob a grenade from. And so on.

    And enough "plot" to keep you interested. They don't need a cutscene to keep things interesting.

    Compare that to, say, Zelda. The entire game is discovering new and cool bits of gameplay. It's rarely frustrating, because if you make it through the first level, you've got the hang of discovering and using these new bits of gameplay. And again, no cutscenes needed, although they are there.

    Or Halo 2. Gameplay is very consistent, yet you're never without a sense of place, and while there is a bit more repetition than I'd like, the story does move along, and so does the kind of situation you end up with. Sniping jackals takes a completely different kind of skill than driving a tank, or swording a bunch of Flood. Yet the learning curve is practically nil, and I don't think I ever felt cheated by suddenly being presented with a completely different game that I sucked at.

    And compare that to a game that gets it completely wrong like, say, Doom 3. Absolutely nothing new. Oh, sure, towards the end you get the SoulCube, and the final boss battle is interesting. The rest of it is completely boring. I mean, there are some relatively interesting puzzles involving machines and controls, but it's almost impossible to notice those, or any bit of plot development, amid all the insane, mind-numbing repetitiveness of the levels. The only thing that changed was the environment, and it was kind of cool the first time through, when the graphics were hot shit. Now, yawn. All the cheap thrills don't work when you know where they all are, and it just isn't a fun game anymore.

    One of my most frustrating games has got to be doing the minigames in Final Fantasy X. Thank God they aren't required. One night, my roommate and I decided we wanted Tidus' Legendary Weapon, which meant we had to beat the Chocobo training session. This required a wholly different skillset than anything else in that game, and in fact, was completely different than most other games I've played. It's a race -- on a bird that doesn't always want to go where you tell it -- where you must dodge oncoming traffic (seagulls) and also collect enough balloons to win. With very little margin for error -- not only do you have to be able to handle this game, but you must absolutely kick ass at it. Took the two of us about three or four hours of playing the exact same 40-second race over and over.

    Or the lightning dodging. Completely unlike anything else required. Fun anyway, because after I could get to 10 or 20, I started over, got to 50, and just kept going, 200 was pretty easy. But the same roommate could never do it.

    In the case of FFX, this is completely forgivable, because neither of these are required. In fact, anything actually required by the plotline was incredibly easy -- it breaks the longstanding tradition of having Omega Weapon be the most powerful enemy in the game. Omega in a pansy next to some of these (optional) Arena monsters -- roommate goes in thinking it's going to be the toughest battle ever, summons an Aeon in overdrive, unleashes the overdrive... one hit. We must've laughed for
    • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:41PM (#15693650)
      The most obvious one that comes to mind is Half-Life. The original. They do give you lots of new and interesting weapons throughout the game, but the gameplay is the same, which means you don't actually have to learn many new skills during the course of the game. My only complaint there would be Xen at the end, where the physics completely change.

      Indeed, I was at a loss to find a way to stop falling to my death starting that level. And it appeared from search results many people were just so exasperated with questions about it that they just berated people for not going through the tutorial when really it is just that it takes so long for some players to get that far (not playing every free hour of every day) that that one little detail on how to do those long jumps gets forgotten.

      Just like how I don't know how to do them right now.

      • "...Indeed, I was at a loss to find a way to stop falling to my death starting that level. And it appeared from search results many people were just so exasperated with questions about it that they just berated people for not going through the tutorial when really it is just that it takes so long for some players to get that far (not playing every free hour of every day) that that one little detail on how to do those long jumps gets forgotten..."

        I didn't have this problem. Before you go into the portal
        • Before you go into the portal room for the jump to Xen, doesn't a scientist max out your weapons and then give you some kind of extended long jump pack, all the while telling you that it will be vital when moving around in Xen?

          Yes, but as I recall there was a bit of a rush to get you on your way. No safe play in a practice area before you had to get in the portal. Not like in Half Life 2 where you get to play catch with the gravity gun for awhile until you're used to it. (The fun ended for me when I acci
    • I couldn't agree with you more - I had the same experiences with FFX, and I had a lot of the same ones with Kingdom Hearts 2 recently.

      I bought KH2 with high expectations - the first game was great in my opinion. However, KH2 screwed it up big time. They tried to take what was good from the first game and add on more (limits, drives, different summons and magic, etc.) to make it a new experience and justify people spending $50 on the new title. However, all of the new stuff is almost completely pointless
    • Final showdown is also frustrating in that it's about twice as hard as the rest of the game, even if you know the trick with the controls -- dodging while you're standing still goes up, but dodge + up arrow key also dodges up, if you don't know that, then dodging while not pressing any key = dodge in direction you are drifting in.

      That's quite a trick. Holding up and pressing dodge will dodge up, who'd have imagined? You, sir, are a god among gamers.

      Would you mind terribly if I asked you a question? I've

    • I don't really have a good example of a really bad game that does introduce new features... let's see... The Matrix: Path of Neo. First bit of gameplay is

      And then you go on to describe something with about as much variety as WarioWare. What does WarioWare do right that Path of Neo does wrong?

    • If you liked Half-Life, what was wrong with HL2? I bought these games soley for Counterstrike, but discovered I liked playing HL, also. I'm liking HL2 even more, truly a great sequel, IMO.
  • I like games where some of the powers/abilities you can obtain are optional. In particular, the Gamecube's two Metroid Prime games do this fantastically.

    There's a certain number of items that you're required to get (without exploiting glitches), and they're introduced regularly throughout the game, all the way up until the last couple of boss fights. In addition to these, however, there are extra weapons (such as MP1's wavebuster or ice spreader) that are immensely powerful and helpful, but also complet

    • RPGs already have that system. It's a rarity in FPS games though.
    • Metroid Prime handled the issue of "building up the game" beautifully. First, take basic gameplay that's really fun. Then, add multiple axes along which the character can grow, each with their own interesting points. Then, add a few things along towards the end just for surprise factor. Roll it all into a game that's polished in every facet, to ensure that every moment is fun[1]. Release, and watch as people worship you. ;)

      [1] We won't talk about the Omega Pirate.
  • by Buran (150348) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:24PM (#15693521)
    It's about time the issue of captioning is getting press. I'm hearing-impaired and captions are vital to me. I must have them available to understand important messages. If there's no captioning and I can't make out the dialogue without it (which is often), then the game doesn't get played. I still haven't done much with Starlancer since it had no captions even though it was developed by many of the same guys who did the well-captioned Wing Commander series (what the hell?) and the publisher knew about it but outright said it wasn't going to fix it. That's callous and uncaring and insensitive. Haven't bought anything from those guys since.

    Now, some people may say that it's less realistic to have captions, and in fact I've gotten really tired of Knights of the Old Republic periodically yelling at me about using captions in the loading screens ("turn off subtitles for a more cinematic experience" my ass, I NEED THOSE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE HELL YOU ARE SAYING, so shut the fuck up!). That's fine; if you don't want subtitles, don't turn them on. That's why it's called closed captioning!

    I've even had people call me a snob when I tell them that when I watch anime (and that's not often), I will only watch subtitled anime, not dubbed. (How does that make me a snob, anyway?). I asked them how they'd feel if they were in wheelchairs and it was seen as snobby to actually demand that buildings and street corners have wheelchair ramps. Oh, their expressions ... followed by my glaring at them and then wandering off to find someone else to talk to.

    Half-Life 2 even has the standard symbol for closed captions on the box (a TV with "CC" printed on the screen). Why can't other games do that, too?
    • It's about time the issue of captioning is getting press. I'm hearing-impaired and captions are vital to me.

      What's tragic is that people like you should not have been suffering in the first place. Voice-only communication in games is a recent phenomenon. For most of it's history, games required sub-titles since that was all there was room for! None of this fancy-smancy voice MP3/PCM/WAV data takes all sorts of migs and megs of memories that cost mucho dinero to produce.

      I can hear just fine, but I'm

    • ### It's about time the issue of captioning is getting press. I'm hearing-impaired and captions are vital to me.

      Captions are also very important for non-native speakers, average school english might be enough when you have a non-accent english speaker, but as soon as a game adds some accent it gets a heck of a lot more difficult to follow, if the game has environmental sound or badly balanced volume for speech and other sounds it gets often impossible to decipher what people are saying. One game which solve
    • I have normal hearing but I use closed captioning on TV quite a bit. In noisy environments it can help. Bars have discovered that closed captioning is extremely useful when carrying a sports program because you can't hear the commentary.

      In many films there is background dialog or additional statements that may not be audible. The caption writer works from the script so they can type in whatever is said and it can add important and subtle details which might otherwise be missed.

      About the only thing I fi

      • especially in the case of the Parent poster to this thread, who couldn't understand the game if the subtitles weren't there in the first place.

        I'm my own parent? Cool. ;)

        The errors drive me crazy, too. I know why live captions have the mistakes, too, but that doesn't make them any more tolerable. I'd like to see more quality control. People depend on them and making a half-assed excuse isn't enough.

        I really think whoever put that "more cinematic experience" crap in KOTOR has never actually thought about why
  • Game duration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:34PM (#15693604)
    The design issues thing that most annoys me about a lot of games is the cheap way they add more hours of gameplay. It's like the designers came up with the game and then thought "oh no, the reviews are all going to say it's only 10 hours long, what do we do?". If your game idea is only good enough for 10 hours play, then make the game 10 hours long. Don't:

    - add reprise levels: all the ideas from previous levels, but in a different order!
    - force backtracking: what fun, revisiting the same areas I've already completed. Paper Mario:TTYD did this and it killed the game for me
    - Fiddle with the save points so the player has to repeat more of a level after dying
    • Good points with regards to reprise levels. I always felt that games should have a 'Director's Cut' on some levels where the difficult is amped up or otherwise uniquely challenging without the usual 'increase enemy hitpoints and increase their damage output'.
    • You are talking about Halo, aren't you?
  • Ever played a strategy game which has had whole swathes of the game that you had to unlock level by level? I mean games where you couldn't even do basic stuff -- like a space RTS where you couldn't build stuff or carry out research -- until you'd advanced a level. In that instance, it was coupled with a first level which was very easy to fail just by blind bad luck: a recipe for complete disaster.

    Note to designers: if you're going to make things unlockable, make sure the game's still playable without them

  • The worst, in my opinion, is a game that gives you everything to begin with, then knocks you down to near powerless after about 10 minutes. You start out with all these cool powers you don't even know what to do with yet, and then suddenly all you can do is punch.

    Ve-e-e-ry frustrating.
    • Someone's not a big fan of the Metroid Prime series, I take it? They did just that, and, as you can see, many of us are using those games as an example of the pinnicle of successful game progression. Now, granted, they didn't give you EVERYTHING in the beginning, they just gave you the basic powerups: morph ball, bombs, missiles, and grapple beam (about 1/4 of the actual powerups in the game). Now, that little intro wasn't what made the game great, but I think it was an interesting idea, and done well. I do

  • by VGPowerlord (621254) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:28PM (#15694951)

    I should make a column called this, and put pages like this one on it... pretend the next paragraph is a header.

    Not Including Links to Other Articles in the Same Series

    If an article is the seventh in a series, why aren't there links to the other six articles? How about a link to a page that has links to all of them without having to sort through Gamasutra's other features? Even a separate page for the Developer's Diaries series of articles would be an improvement over what we have now.

  • From the article: We all know the game industry suffers from a lot of personnel turnover. ... Apart from the waste of life and talent this represents, it means that game companies have no institutional memory, and that's partly why we keep making design errors.

    I'm not sure if agree with this thesis, whilst there is a lot of changes in the grunt work, artists, coders etc. Its a different story for those higher up in the organization who have the a much longer track record and also have the responsibility f

  • Coin-op Crapola (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rfc1394 (155777) <Paul@paul-robinson.us> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @06:19AM (#15696813) Homepage Journal

    I have noticed for a lot of games a problem which I refer to as "coin-op crapola," stunts that should have ended when the user paid for the game all at once, and should have been dropped when they no longer had to keep making the game too hard in order to get you to drop more quarters in the video game. These include, but are not limited to:

    • Making it impossible to save except at limited points. It's inexcusable to not allow someone to save state at (almost) any time. I'll grant that it may be impossible due to too many temporary variables or state saving requirements) to allow save state in the middle of a mission or a scenario (such as with Grand Theft Auto III, but even then I'm still suspicious) but other than that, it's inexcusable misconduct amounting to negligence to say that I have to find a save icon or save location in order to save what I'm doing.
    • Making the game so difficult it's unplayable. We are not all hard-core gamers, making the game so hard that it's unplayable or unwinnable is ridiculous. I have Quake III arena. I can't play more than one or two levels because the AI on the game, at the weakest and least difficult level, is impossible to beat. This also means the rest of the game is inaccessible because until I win the levels I can't win, I can't play anything further. Which brings me to...
    • Having locked levels, or locked features. I'm paying for the damned game, let me decide if I want to play other levels or other features. If it's that significant, put it in as a "cheat mode" but let me decide; I'm the one paying for the game, not you.
    • Making "cheat mode" contaminate the game. If I want to unlock something early I should be able to do so, without causing it to make the game reduce functionality or become unworkable. The so-called "cheat mode" simply either disables some policy of the game, or adds features early; there is no reason - other than pure spite - to have it cause other features to degrade or fail.
    • Making overly complicated and basically unusable level editors. Level editors have increased in complexity with the increase in complexity of these games to the point that you can't use them. I have never been able to figure out how to use the editor for Half-Life, or Quake III Arena, or any of these. You look at the simplicity of the editor for Duke Nukem, which includes a 2D and 3D mode, and while it has a lot of options and key controls, you can still use it. These 3D wireframe editor tools are basically unusable. For most purposes, I simply want to carve out a space such as a room, a corridor or other such, and perhaps connect them. Later I may want to do some special features. Why is it so hard to make it possible to get the job done? Game editor tools are not important, nobody bothers to standardize so they're ad-hoc and recreated from scratch for every new game, and it shows in the results, with overly complicated and extremely user-hostile tools that are basically unusual for someone who simply wants to do what they have to do. Look at the object builder tools in the on-line game Second Life. They have to have easy to use tools, most people developing objects for such a game are not hard-core gamers willing to put up with crapola.

    Having done programming professionally for over 25 years (including game programming), I am aware of what it takes to write programs or to develop them. And nothing I have said is excessively hard to implement, or in most cases, even necessary. But it still continues over and over and over and...

    Paul Robinson <paul@paul-robinson.us [mailto]>
    • "Game editor tools are not important, nobody bothers to standardize so they're ad-hoc and recreated from scratch for every new game, and it shows in the results, with overly complicated and extremely user-hostile tools that are basically unusual for someone who simply wants to do what they have to do."

      Agree with all your points but the above really touched anervein me... it's the disease of many programmers... reinventing the f**king wheel... same phenomenom plagues Linux distro's... progress is so slow of
    • Re:Coin-op Crapola (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BenjyD (316700)
      I'm not sure about the save issue. I doubt very much it's a technical issue. Being able to save all the time removes all death penalty, so there's no fear of failure. That can remove the sense of achievement in a game. How boring would Resident Evil 4 be if you could save after killing every bad guy? It also makes the "Die, memorise level, win" method easier.

      I remember thinking about this playing Half Life. Initially I would only save between major encounters, but as I progressed I gradually started quick s
      • I'm not sure about the save issue. I doubt very much it's a technical issue.

        It's not. There is no reason other than policy - the rules the game designer chooses - to prohibit a save at any time. Where a game does not allow saving it's because the designer/programmer has chosen to prohibit it. Being a programmer "I can say that I know this as a fact, a certainty beyond any shadow of a doubt whatsoever."

        Being able to save all the time removes all death penalty, so there's no fear of failure.

        Why should t

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