Friday, November 20, 2015


"As you all know, the key to victory is the element of surprise. Surprise!"
 - Rear Brigadier 25-star General Major Webelo Zap Brannigan

It's been over a decade and that's still one of the funniest one-liners I've ever heard. Must be why so many game designers try to emulate old Zap. Anyway:

That's a vampire about to ice me in Skyrim. Context: the Elder Scrolls games are great worlds for exploring, but combat has always been rather dull. To spice things up and force the game to force me to actually drink some of the thousands of potions I've been alchemizing, I've been steadily ramping up the difficulty. At the start of the game I'd actually had to lower it since I kept running into mobs with two-handers which would lop me noggin off with a single blow. Then gradually as I got stronger it got boring so now at "Master" difficulty it's... still boring, and also frustrating. Half the things in the game are so weak I one-shot them. The other half are so strong they one-shot me. How do you tell them apart? You can't! Random mob #417 turns out to be the biggest badass in Tamriel, and you won't know it until you see your health bar disappear.

I complained about this when talking about Icewind Dale some time ago. You'd walk past a random empty area and have monsters teleport on top of you and insta-gib your casters.
More recently, I've been having the same experience in Warhammer 40k: Armageddon. There is no way to scout. The game's mechanics are solid as a whole but mission structure proves a sad grind of re-loading your last save because you have no way of knowing where to direct your forces.
This was one crucial difference between Half-Life and the likes of Doom, HL's careful introduction of various enemies by showing you those enemies butchering hapless NPCs. It wasn't just window dressing, but offering the player a chance to see how those enemies move and shoot and plan accordingly. Doom 3 simply dropped monsters on top of you. Even that became painfully trite, as it was so overused that you absolutely knew that after picking up an ammo pack you had to immediately turn around to shoot the monster which inevitably teleported in behind you.
Examples of such idiocy abound.

Quicksave/quickload. Replay value. That's called replay value, right?

Look, it's hard to keep single-player games exciting. AI opponents' behavior almost always resolves down toward the pathetically repetitive. Surprises are useful but truly good games foreshadow new elements or changes in pacing or difficulty to allow the player to anticipate and prepare for, y'know, the good stuff coming up ahead. It's good that every once in a while some opponent's power rating is over 9000, but there's no excitement in just randomly getting hit by a 9000-power nuke. Preparation, planning and foresight are not dirty words. You don't have to design games only for fast-fingered, slow-brained mouthbreathers with backwards baseball caps. Scout units, sound cues, cutscenes, aura perception, divination spells, satellite imaging, visual cues as to your opponent's weapons and armor, maps, mission briefings or maybe just a scouter, call it what you will but players need to be allowed to invest resources and effort into at least gathering some hint of their enemies' position, strengths and weaknesses.

Otherwise, you may as well just be dropping anvils on them.

No comments:

Post a Comment