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The Short Memory of Game Design 123

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 @02:44PM (#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.
  • Tell me about it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andrew Kismet ( 955764 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:45PM (#15692837)
    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 critisism of it.
    I hesitate to mention EA's endless flow of carbon-copy sequels...
  • by Ykant ( 318168 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:47PM (#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.
  • Kinda Sorta ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tranvisor ( 250175 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:47PM (#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...
  • by kinglink ( 195330 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:52PM (#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.
  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <> on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:52PM (#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!
  • by fotbr ( 855184 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:59PM (#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 ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:08PM (#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 Erioll ( 229536 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:16PM (#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)
  • by ArmyOfFun ( 652320 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:35PM (#15693175)
    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 problem the best. When you get good weapons, power-ups, spells and so on, the portions of the map you haven't been to usually still offer a challenge. The difference is that you're forced to back-track through some of the areas you've already been, but given your new gear, you can easily kill enemies that used to give you headaches.

    Another complaint about GUN, falls under the article's "Extreme Rule Changes When Fighting Boss Characters". The final boss is a Metroid style-boss in that you have to figure out "the trick(s)" to beating him. The problem? He's the only character in the game like this! I was so used to the run-and-gun style of the rest of the game, the final boss took way too many tries before I realized he operated according to rules not found in any other part of the game. Argh!
  • Eternal Darkness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasheiff ( 261577 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:36PM (#15693181)
    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 gutnor ( 872759 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:18PM (#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 ??
  • by Jtheletter ( 686279 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:27PM (#15693541)
    Halo's success was only in part to do with advertising, it's a clean, well-done FPS that offers a lot of options during battle. Also I should note I'm mostly referring to the PvP side of it. The solo game was fun but got repetitive and boring fast.

    I never saw any ads for Halo but after playing it at a friends house I became instantly addicted, it had a balance to it that other FPSes at the time seemed to lack. If the game sold only on advertising hype then there would be no explanation for the massive popularity of it on xbox Live (Halo 2 that is) and the freeware networking program that was created for Halo 1 before over-the-net play was provided by MS/bungie through Live.

  • by cloudofstrife ( 887438 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:53PM (#15693732)
    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 - magic is even less necessary in KH2 than KH1, and I never used the summons in either game, and the limits are almost as pointles. Drives are cool, but you can't use them for a large number of important battles - if Donald and/or Goofy aren't in your party, you can't use some or all of your drives! This is ridiculous, especially in the final boss fights.

    Which brings me to my second huge gripe about KH2 - the reaction commands. These were also added to the game, since there really wasn't anything like them in KH1. And they're necessary to the game, but no two commands are the same at all. They don't trigger the same way, they don't act the same way, they don't do the same thing... It's really really annoying, especially in the final battle, which I won't spoil, but it had me almost at the point where I was going to scream and beat the living crap out of my PS2. Bad, bad SquareEnix.

    KH2 isn't a horrible game, I liked the new Gummi missions (so much better than the old missions) and most of the gameplay is fine, although a little heavy on button mashing. I had wondered how IGN (I think) had given KH2 a 7.4 out of 10, but now I know why, and I'd be tempted to give it a lower score than that if I reviewed it. /rant

    In any case, it just bugs me that game developers continute to make the same mistakes over and over again, especially with something as important as core gameplay. And it isn't even just the smaller manufacturers, either. Shame on Square. Shame.
  • by grapeape ( 137008 ) <mpope7.kc@rr@com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:55PM (#15693749) Homepage
    Based on that resume it appears that the Author based his opinion on game design by finally learning a lesson after a career of making the same mistakkes he is speaking against. Madden makes up 2/3rds of his published resume and other than some graphics upgrades, Madden hasnt really added anything special or changed up gameplay since the Sega Genesis days. In fact, up until they got completely spanked in game reviews (sadly not with madden sheep) by Sega's NFL game there had been no real changes in game mechanics at all.
  • by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:28PM (#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.

  • by fotbr ( 855184 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:57PM (#15695614) Journal
    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 there ARE no "better" cars to unlock, since they're all the same anyway, and being nascar, the variation in tracks is minimal as well. Most fall into the trap I described before.

    I'd love to find a good helicopter sim to replace the obsolete-but-classic AH-64D Longbow. Or a good F-16 simulation like what the Falcon line used to be (yes, I know, Falcon4 was re-released). They both take time to learn, yes, but the "missions" are separate, and for the most part, short, without being an arcade shoot-em-up.

    As for choosing "a lifestyle that leaves no time for gaming" -- I work 40 hours / week, very little overtime, and even then the overtime is not required. As with most people I graduated with, we have time, but we can now afford our other hobbies, and if that means sacrificing time sitting on my butt playing games to gain more time out doing things, so be it. If the game companies continue to want our money, they'll adapt to a changing market. If they don't, and want to survive entirely on what the 13-19 year olds can get their parents to buy them, thats fine with me too. I know I'll be able to use the extra time to prep the toys for track days. And real racing is better than any game.
  • by 7Prime ( 871679 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:37AM (#15696086) Homepage Journal

    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... litterally). All-in-all, though, it's a pretty fun little game, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's quite enjoyable. SO3 falls flat on its face because it turns into Star Trek (some extremely bad ST references) + magic, the worst part being its constant habit of trying to explain away sci-fi science, which is just a really terrible idea unless you really have some decent grasp of current scienfic ideas.

    I must admit to being a long time fan of Japanese RPGs, and I do think that some of them are quite good. But the one thing that will kill a game for me is if it tries to be more than it really is. Any game that is given a fake facade of intellectualism really makes me cringe. Same with Anime... don't give me a bunch of random SHIT to make me think, "wow, that's so deep that I don't even know what it's about!" because, most of the time, it's exactly that, just a bunch of random stuff thrown together, with little thought, just to make kids feel like they're watching something intelligent (I'm looking at you, "Eva"!). This is why even though my absolute favorite games are probably more on the serious side of things, I think that lighter games are more likely to succeed. I love ChronoTrigger, because it's just a fun romp, there's a serious side to it, but that simply is played out with the reactions of characters to the events. I hated Chrono Cross because it tried so desperately NOT to be a fun romp, and tried to be really "deep" and "emotional", and it came off as complete schmaltz.

    That's where I'm liking Suikoden V, it's one of the few games that actually is MORE than it acts like it is. With things like talking beavers, cutsy little characters, things like that, you'd expect something not too heavy. But it also serves to paint a fairly intriquite picture of national politics, and the nature of power struggles in a way far more advanced than most games do. It does this in a fairly unpretentious way, as well. The fantasy elements are VERY secondary, the basic premise does not require any fantasy plot devices. Replace "Sun Rune" with "Atomic Bomb", and you pretty much have the same thing, unlike SO3, in which you have genetically engineered super-kids who have the ability to interact with other dimensions. One minute it's trying to be Eva, the next, it's The Matrix... grrrr, I have so many problems with that game.

    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.

    Yeah, but that pales in comparison to the TIME you put into it. $50 is nothing when you start thinking "I just wasted 50 hours of my life on this piece of crap!" For that reason, I'm much more likely to do a bit of research, and maybe even spend a little more $$$$ if I have to, to get a GOOD game that I won't feel like shit for haven't played.

  • Re:Coin-op Crapola (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @09:22AM (#15697333)
    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 saving more and more often until I was doing it before every room.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury