Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Not Again!

There are many annoying things about video games. However, if we can pinpoint these problems, designers will have a much better time weeding them out. Most of them can be classified into six main groups.

1. Micromanaging - Too complicated!

This problem arises when there are too many things for the player to consider. It usually plagues strategy games requiring the setting of millions of little variables. However, this effect is usually desired in editors; users love to be in control of exactly how levels work. Designers should strive to allow players to control things without having to customize every single variable in order to play.

2. Stagnation - Boring!

Stagnation occurs when the player is bored. Nothing is happening. One way this can arise is when a player is just standing in one spot; the solution is for the game to detect this and send out an enemy to get things moving. Another place this can happen is on poorly designed boss levels. Anyone remember the first boss in Metroid Prime? All you had to do was strafe around it and fire at will. It quickly got boring because the boss's health started so high you had to strafe-and-fire forever and a day. One way this problem can be solved is by designing "modal" bosses: the boss changes strategies depending on its health level. It starts out easy, but as its health drops to 75% or so it starts to get more difficult, until it gets so hard (at levels around 10% health remaining) that the player can barely hold on.

Metroid Prime's first boss (not shown) caused stagnation and boredom for some players.

3. Seemingly Insurmountable Obstacles - Too hard!

The original Halo suffered from this problem in early beta tests. Players would walk over to a door and try to open it, not knowing it was broken and couldn't be opened. They would spend several minutes pushing all the buttons trying to figure out how to open the stupid door! Later versions featured a message after a few seconds explaining the broken door, and then the camera would pan to show a different door that the user could use.

The original Halo had seemingly insurmountable obstacles in early beta tests. They were later removed.

4. Loopholes - Too easy!

This problem is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the above problem: in this case there are certain strategies that guarantee success. An old game called MazeWar had this problem: a player could back into a dead end, wait for another player to walk by, and blast them before they got a chance to blink. The player would sit there and rack up points while the other guys would walk right into the trap and not even know what had hit them. The solution to this problem is lots and lots of playtesting. Only by playing the game over and over again can designers find loopholes.

5. Arbitrary Events - Confusing!

When designers use lots of random numbers in determining the outcomes of player actions, they run into this problem. As the player struggles to understand the rules governing game behavior, these efforts are constantly thwarted by the game's random number generator. Eventually the player will abandon the game for something else.

6. Predictability - Stupid!

At the other end of the spectrum is being able to predict exactly what will happen in a game. For some games (i.e. strategy games) this effect is desirable, but in other games (i.e. first person shooters) it makes the game boring and pointless. Enter the Matrix suffered from this problem: the player could always tell how the enemies would respond and this made it too simple for even a novice player.

Enter the Matrix suffered greatly from predictability.

As you can see, none of these problems involved graphic quality. Halo and Enter the Matrix both had excellent graphics, but this didn't solve their problems. The designers had to work hard on them (or didn't, as was the case with Enter the Matrix) to fix them.

Can you think of problems that don't fit in these categories? Click the "comments so far" link below and tell us about it!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Importance of Editors

In this article I've decided to talk about something that many gamers tend to take for granted, but are actually very important to a games success. When gamers can actually edit the game and set it up how they want to, make their own weapons, levels, and sometimes even custom enemies, it really draws the gamers together into a community where they exchange their mods and try each other's creations out.

Not only does this improve the gamers' experience of the game as a whole, it also improves the replayability factor; that is, it makes the game funner (I know it isn't a word) and better the second and third times around instead of the game being boring and getting thrown away after it is beaten for the first time. Now the gamers can play it again and again and it won't be boring because it is never the same.

An even more important capability editors add to a game is expansion. Even if the editors are originally designed for the use of the gamers, the capability of the game to accept new levels, weapons, and other content can open new avenues for game expansion packs released by the game developers.

As you can see, game editors are quite important for a games success. Can you think of other uses for editors and why they are important to include in a game? Click the "comments" link below and tell us about it!