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

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