When Games Go Wrong (again?)

We've all been playing a game when suddenly the phone rings or the smoke from the kitchen reaches your nose and you have to run out of the room to deal with the situation. With the fire abated you return to your unpaused game to find, nothing much has happened......

You still finished the race and you weren't in last, the gaggle of Stormtroopers failed to even take you down to half life. That's right kids! I'm talking about lazy game design.

It must have happened to you, when you realise that if you play a particular game by running through trying to pull off awesome combos you will die once or twice but if you walk slowly just using kick you still reach the end with full health. For me, this really ruins a game, destroying the illusions that a) You were any good at the game in the first place and b) That the virtual world you are is one full of unique characters not mindless robots programmed to run up to you and try to kill you. How many set pieces do you know that on the first time round seem mind blowing but on the second and third times round it seems all a bit procedural. Good examples are the beach landing in Medal of Honor somedy somedy, the Pearl Harbour attack in Medal of Honor Rising Sun and the "destroy the bridge with the big tank on it" bit in the original Red Faction. I know I've had fun breaking set pieces by moving on to the next section too fast for the game or getting into a position behind where the enemy spawns in. What, at first, you thought was a really difficult section is actually showed to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Worse are the set pieces in which, you actually don't have an effect. In FPS these are normally bits involving spacecraft or airplanes. Every time you play a level you shoot at the aircraft eventually bringing it down in a spiral of smoke. The one time you don't fire at it you realise that it's scripted to always go down in a spiral of smoke.

More classic examples are Dynasty Warriors and Timesplitters. In Dynasty Warriors hundreds of guys surround your hero, you panic, flailing weapons wildy; 100 dead, 200 dead, 300 dead. The noise of war deafening to your ears. However, if you just put the pad down you'll see that although there are hundreds of guys surrounding you, they very lethargically try to hit you , each warrior politely waiting for someone else to hit you before having a go. In Timesplitters, depsite the fact it was made Game of the Year 2006 by the World's Second Greatest Videogames Blog, COM players will run up to you, stop, then take three paces back before firing at you. If you are playing the game as frantically as you think it should be, you don't notice. Take a step back and you'll see that it's all over-engineered for you to win.

Command and Conquer is a good one too. You knew that if you could just defend your base for an hour, you could then just walk into the enemy base that'll be guarded by two dogs and a jeep. The enemy aren't programmed to fight an ongoing war or battle which is why playing RTS against someone is so much more fun.

Driving games can be guilty of it too. Especially, those ones that use an invisible tractor beam to auto-right your vehicle when you are deliberately trying to turn around and drive the wrong way. If you are playing a driving game and can't manage to face the right way perhaps you should practice a bit more or get some professional advice.

Lazy game design makes you feel like you are good at a game but essentially it's all a bit easy. But how would it be otherwise? It seems almost peverse that enemy AI has to be toned down or that you fare worse in a game because you are trying too hard. If the AI was programmed to just find you and kill you, most games would be way too hard. Instead they are programmed to take cover as well, run away for a bit, rarely use grenades etc.

Some games try to cunningly mask how easy they are by introducing a massive difficulty spike that makes you think, wow this bit is hard. In fact the rest of the game was very easy and by comparison the spiked section is hard. Or they use the multiple re-spawn get out, step up Kingdom Hearts 2, to make the game seem difficult or harder just because of the sheer numbers of enemies to defeat.

So what's the solution? Programming enemies to just hunt you out and shoot you or to drive consistent perfect laps makes games too hard. Programming enemies to be a bit retarded or programming in occasional errors can work but runs the risk of shattering the illusion of the virtual world.

Some games opt for a setting your own difficulty challenge. For example GTA or Final Fantasy. You can decide whether to go to Ammu-Nation, buy some hardware, and a body vest and then find a sturdy vehicle to go on a mission. Alternatively, you can go in with a handgun and rely on a bit of luck and skill. Final Fantasy gives you freedom to progress with the game however you want but you won't get far with all your guys on level 9. Similarly, you could punch above your weight with some clever ability and skill combinations. I don't particularly agree with level dependent MMORPGs i.e. "You can only attempt this at level 50". But this may be an effective way of crowd control rather than forcing 'the grind' to progress in a MMORPG.

Besides, breaking a game or finding it's faults is all part of the fun. It's gamers' nature to try things from all angles and report it or moan about it to the community, be it, to real life gaming friends or on message boards. If you don't believe me then look at all the FAQs, forums, speed runs, glitches, easter eggs and reviews on the internet criticising or acclaiming games.

What shouldn't happen in games is that it is easier to not die than to die or fail. We've all being playing a game, made a mistake and then left the character to get beaten to death by enemies in order to restart at the checkpoint. Then it takes a while. Then a bit more. Then too long. Then even longer. It should not be easier to succeed than it is to fail, unless of course you're playing one of those 'experimental games'. That doesn't have objectives or a life bar or noises when you collect 100 of things. You know, like Second Life, in which case, fuck off.



dr wo 69 said…
C.o.D 3, quite, quite lazy. You would think a "next gen" title would have better design, first time through you nip from a bit of cover to behind a treeline then outflank the bosch dahhh theres still more, wave after wave of soldiers that Hitler is just throwing at the good 'ole Americans because they fought the whole war. Second time I leggged it to the bunker in plain view and half the german army simply didn't turn up that day (possibly due to snow). Shit.

And the British get the worst most turd of a useless shite spuddy gun ever programmed. Double shit.

Can't complain game was a free promo copy.

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