Saturday, April 3, 2010

Game design from a gamer's perspective Pt. 5

Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective Part V

Patronizing Behaviors - No!

Do not insert patronizing sounds or suggestions. In this case, for example, Dante's Inferno suggested that I should move to an easier difficulty after starting a boss battle over about 5 times. Here is another design no-no. Don't do this. Never patronize your gamer. Never. Patronizing the gamer is not only a way to cause the gamer to get mad, it's not going to help the gamer get past the level (no, not even if they change difficulties). You have to understand that changing difficulties may have other game ramifications. Secondarily, don't lower or alter the difficulty of the level because the gamer has started over multiple times. If you want to allow modification to the hardness level, then allow it as an option on the main menu that the gamer can turn on. Do not turn it on by default. Always design helpful hints into the game, but let the gamer decide if they want to see the helpful hints.

Boss Battles revisited

Even though bosses are discussed in part 1, another issue has cropped up regarding bosses that needs discussion. In this case, the issue is that you are thrown into a boss battle without any idea of what to do. You don't know the boss's tactic, so you're fighting blind. You are forced to trial-and-error your way through the battle to figure out what to do. Here is the perfect opportunity to offer an in-game tutorial to help defeat this boss. This tutorial should only be executed if the gamer requests, but a simple pause request going into this battle the first time only isn't patronizing. It gives the gamer a way to size up the boss and cut some time off of the battle. Some gamers like the challenge of not knowing anything. Others would at least like some kind of clue what to do and what to avoid.

Wave after wave plus enemies with no way to kill them

Here's a boss tactic to avoid, at least early in the game. Dante's Inferno is yet another example of bad design in this regard. The first major and real boss battle throws wave after wave after wave of enemies at you. Just about the time you think you're done, you start completely over again with an entirely new wave of enemies. Again, the problem with Dante's Inferno is lack of health. Always give enough health on a level! During many battles in Dante's Inferno, there is entirely no way to get any health. No health wells, no potions, nothing. So, you have to do the entire boss level on one single health bar. Worse, you're doing it against an enemy where you have no defense (tentacles shoot up from the ground). You just have to move out of the way and hope the next tentacle doesn't hit you. If you could at least target the tentacles and stop the attack, that would be one thing. But, you can't. This harkens back to another game, Batman Arkham Asylum that would put up enemies that you cannot kill. Again, reinforcing another part of the this very guide: never put enemies into the playfield that cannot be wounded, defeated or harmed! Never.

Adding undamagable enemies only serves to take player health and make the player avoid being hit during this useless period. It doesn't make the game any harder, it just makes it frustrating. Let the player use the health he/she has to defeat actually killable enemies. For some reason, a lot of game designers seem to think that reducing the health of the player is somehow challenging. It isn't. Again, it's frustrating and time wasting. This goes back to... don't waste the players time (see part 1 and part 2 of this guide).

Story vs Gameplay

I think a lot of game developers wrestle with this issue when designing a game. So, I'm here to definitively answer this question. If you have a story in your game, then single most important thing in your game is that story. Period. There is no more important aspect than getting through the story to the end. The game play enables the story to work, but the story leads you through. The story is what is most compelling and what drives most gamers to play. If you're setting up a story at all, then it has to be the single most important thing in the game.

What does that mean for your game? This means that all gaming elements must revolve around the story. That also means that should you put any kind of battles or elements in the game that prevent completion of the story, then your design has put a gaming element ahead of the story and you have failed your game and your story. There should never be any gaming element including boss battles, other stories or puzzles that prevent the gamer from moving forward. If a boss battle cannot be completed, then allow it to be skipped entirely. The gamer can come back and play it later. Patronizing the gamer by suggesting a lesser difficulty is not the answer. Letting the gamer skip the level, see the outcome and move-on is not patronizing, It also lets the gamer move the story forward which then means you value the story more than the gaming element... and that's as it should be.

Far too many gaming companies put in impossible roadblock levels that prevent the game and, ultimately, the story from moving forward. If the gamer can never get past the level, then you have failed. Yes, you may have made your $60 from that game purchase, but I can guarantee you that the gamer will think twice before buying another title from your company. This leaves your next game with sales issues.

Future Sales

Always consider your present game as a resume for your next game. That means that the gamer who is playing your current game will judge whether or not to buy future titles from your company based on the present game they are playing. A failure game is a failure for future sales. You don't want this. Make your games a success for the gamer and the gamer will come back to purchase more later. This means you should always think about the gamer when designing your game. Never design the game for your convenience.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Friday, April 2, 2010

Xbox 360 - Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno by Visceral / EA

Ok, so while I was very suitably impressed by the graphics on this game, the gameplay is poor to average at best. Let's explore.

Poor design ideas

First, here's a game that is a complete waste. A throw-away title. The sad thing is, it could have been so much more than it is. By tying down this game as an average third person fighting game, it limits the overall quality of this title. But, that's EA for you. They're a churn factory of average games and Dante's Inferno is no exception.


Basically, the story to this game is lame. I do understand its origins. It originated as a book and then a film. So, in effect, this is a media tie-in game. This fact almost assures mediocrity and EA certainly doesn't disappoint in that.

You play a knight who is thrust into hell to find his love. The setup of this story was actually quite confusing overall. While the visuals were quite stunning, the story is muddled and lost in the mix.


This is a standard third person fighter intertwined with a number of cuts scenes. The problem with the cut scenes in this game is that they are cartoons, they are also repetitive. So, you might see a certain scene several times in progression. Not a great idea, actually.

The interweaving of the cut scenes works ok, but not spectacular. That's not the real problem, though. The real problem is in the controls and gameplay. Worse, if you end up replaying a level over and over (3 maybe 4 times), the game patronizes you by suggesting a lesser difficulty level. No. Don't do this. Let the gamer muddle through the level on their own. Don't suggest level difficulties and don't decrease the difficulty unless the player requests it. Here is yet another faux pas that will end up in the Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective. Again, DO NOT suggest or alter level difficulties.


But, this isn't the real problem. The real problem with the level isn't the difficulty. The real problem is that you're thrown in without any semblance of what to do or how to defeat a given boss. You HAVE to muddle through it. If the game at least gave you some kind of hint or gave something familiar from a previous fight, then you might even have a clue. But, you're going to end up starting a boss over at least 4-5 times before you get the right combination. So, patronizing the player by suggesting difficulty levels is HIGHLY annoying. Again, DO NOT DO THIS when designing your game.

Further, the problem with the bosses is that you have no idea their strength, their weaknesses or how to cut the whole thing short, if there is even a way to do this. Worse, the boss battles do not give any hiding spaces, ways of taking a break or in any way getting out of the fight. So, you're stuck for the duration (or you press pause). The last problem with the boss levels is, like Batman Arkham Asylum, it throws wave after wave after wave at you. By the time you get to the last wave, and you're not even sure if it is the last wave, you're down to basically no health at all. In other words, the whole point to the boss levels in this game ends up trying to retain as much health as you possibly can. The boss's goal, then, is to whittle down as much health as they can. Overall, there is no fun or pleasure in that. It's just stupid design. The point to any game isn't to make the boss level impossible, it's to make the game FUN. Note that impossible does not equal fun! Fun is making the game enjoyable to play all throughout (including the boss levels) and to keep your story going. Forcing the gamer to stop your story by waging impossible battles means that you value the gameplay over the story. Wrong. You should always value the story over the game. Always.

Note that I'm not playing on the 'easy' level. I'm playing on the second level, which shouldn't be easy, but it shouldn't be impossible. Impossible should be reserved for the final difficulty level. Basically, this game has their difficulty levels set up wrong.

Save Points

Here's another game that does both obelisk saves and memory based checkpoint saves. So for memory saves, if you lose a battle, the game is kind enough to start you back at the beginning of the battle. Bad thing is, you lose any skills you've purchased. After starting over again, you have to stop what you are doing, visit the shop and purchase everything again. Frustrating. The least it could do is remember the things you've purchased. Note that memory saves are gone once you quit out of the game and start over later. So, you'll have to start again from a real save (see obelisk saves below). That means you will also lose your progress and have to backtrack to a disk save.

With obelisk saves, you stop by a specific statue and by pressing RB, you can activate the save point and save your game for real. The trouble, once again, is that like the health wells there are not enough save points throughout the game.

Again, this is a bad design. There is no reason why a limit is placed on the number of save points in a game. In fact, why even use save obelisks when you can put save onto the top menu? If the gaming industry would get rid of this obelisk save idea, it would be too soon.


There is simply not enough health to be had in this game. You find health as wells that you destroy to get health from. The problem, though, is that you can travel an entire level and find only one health increase. Yes, that's right, one. You have no health potions, nothing you can carry with you, so you are entirely reliant on the game to provide you with a health well. When you do find one, it's when you don't need one or at a time when you can't use it (during a fight).

Absolve or Punish

This is an anomaly in this game. It stands out like a sore thumb. You can scoop up an enemy during battle and absolve or punish them. If you absolve, you get light side points. If you punish, you get dark side points. So, while you are absolving or punishing, the battle grinds to a halt, all enemies back away and let you do the deed. Like, huh? If you're going to do this for absolve or punish, then do the same thing with health wells. While I'm trying to get health from a well, all enemies should back off until I'm done. But, the designers didn't do this. So, the game does this for Absolve or Punish, but not when getting health. So, you can't get health from a well during a battle because an enemy will hit you and stop you. Again, wrong design.

Again, the point of a game is to be fun, not frustrating.

Hodge Podge

This game uses a mix mash of ideas all thrown into this game. You have the standard fight areas, you have Absolve or Punish, you have the wells, the doors you attack to open them and several other things I will let you discover if you choose to play. A lot of discordant ideas put together that don't really work as a cohesive whole.


This is the only place where this game shines. And shines does it ever. This game is absolutely gorgeous and stunning. The graphics completely hold up even under the most intense and fastest moving scenes. No chop, not tearing, nothing. Someone put a lot of work into making sure the graphics were as fluid as you could make them. On top of the fluid graphics, the texture maps are perfect, the lighting is perfect and the motion capture and lip movements have to be some of the best I've seen. This game easily gets a 10 in graphics. If every game looked and was as smooth as Dante's Inferno, it'd at least make the game somewhat more palatable. Dante's Inferno raises the bar in graphics on the Xbox 360. I haven't seen graphics look this good on the Xbox 360 ever. In fact, it looks so good, I'd swear it was on the PS3.

The smoke and fire effects are amazingly well done. I have to applaud the designers for the effort put into the graphics. It's too bad the graphics design team basically wasted their effort on such a mediocre title.


The voiceovers are reasonably well done. It definitely sounds like hired actors. The music is good, but not inspiring. I've heard much better music in games than here.


The controls work, but are odd in places. I would have preferred a more standard control layout, but the way it is set up works ok for this game. The controls are reasonably responsive, but overall it doesn't really help the gameplay much. The one place where there is an issue is when the RB flag appears on the screen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So, when you expect an RB symbol to appear, it doesn't.

Note, the default layout puts a darting move on the right stick instead of camera movement. While I would call Visceral on 'Messing with a good thing', it seems to work ok in this game. I would have preferred a camera control on this stick, but the way that it is seems to work well enough.


I can't really recommend this game. It's an average game that feels like a movie tie-in. It doesn't feel as rushed as most movie tie-ins (mostly because of the graphics subsystem). But, the game play is frustrating as are the boss levels. This is yet another in the endless stream of irritating boss battle games. Overall, I'm getting rather tired of this genre because it's basically the same things rehashed. There has to be some other way to play a game that doesn't involve boss battles to progress. In fact, I'd prefer puzzles to boss battles. Puzzles at least challenge the mind and make you think. Boss battles are mindless chopping, jumping and using combos. Give me something that challenges the mind over mindless gaming any day.

  • Sound: 8/10 (slightly better than average)
  • Graphics: 10/10 (easily the best I've seen for this genre)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (average, weak in places)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (too much glitz, not enough story)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 7/10 (odd movement control on the right stick)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (no replay value)
  • Play Value: $5 (recommend renting)
  • Overall: 5.5/10 (nothing new here, even as perfect as the graphics are).