The fifth installment of the Grand Theft Auto series was published a month ago on September 17th 2013 and is already a huge commercial success, grossing $800 million in the first 24h after release. Video game reviews are unanimous, it’s a visual masterpiece, but is it really a videogame masterpiece? Continue reading
On Saturday, June 2nd 2012, I attended an event that made me redefine my concept of “fun party”. I’ve never been too keen on going to dance party, because I seldom found them fun or enjoyable from my standpoint. But something about this one made me reconsider, and I didn’t quite put the finger on it until I arrived at the NYC Decentralized Dance Party.
I was trying to make a simple random world generator for a geopolitical game yet to be done. I needed continent divided into territories and sea territories between them. I didn’t know at that point that I would solve a known mathematical problem.
I was invited by the NY Sci-Fi and Fantasy Meetup groop to see the premiere of Lockout last evening. I had no real expectations from the movie, all I knew before seeing it was its poster and the fact that Luc Besson was involved in its production. I was hoping that seeing this movie for free would help enjoying it but eventually it didn’t. At all.
WARNING : May contain spoiler, but can you spoil what is already spoilt ?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against randomness at all. It’s just pure randomness that is a fun-killer. If you don’t provide a way to tip the balance in your favor, it just seems unfair, because you remember losses easier than wins. Human reaction.
Example : Fallout combat system for ranged weapons with a hit ratio that you can increase by getting closer to the target, using a scope or taking more time to aim. All those options make risky shots a choice from the player, not an unfair random number generation by a senseless machine.
Counter-example : Item collection in My Country. Even if the game provides the list of actions that may give you a certain item, you can’t be sure you’re doing the right thing or the list is accurate unless you finally get the item. As long as you don’t get it, you’re frustrated because you don’t really know why it’s not produced. Is it the chances that are low by design, or is the list of actions to get the item wrong ?
Another example is Battle for Wesnoth combat system based on a Hit ratio. Any unit has fixed chances of dealing a fixed amount of damage, so it’s all or nothing. Numerous posts have been written on the game forums by players complaining that the random number generator (RNG) was favoring the enemy at their expense. The game developer team even hired a mathematician to prove that the RNG was unbiased but it didn’t help, complaints kept flowing. Of course, they missed the point, which is that a miss is more psychological harmful to the player than a hit is. After all, a warrior is supposed to hit its enemies.
Sequels in video game follows the same dilemma that in the movie picture industry : what to remove from the first opus, what to keep to maintain the spirit and what to add to make it exciting again. The bottom line is, whatever you choose, people will get disappointed and/or angry. Decisions on features will only change which people you will annoy. In the video game industry, I guess that it boils down to the following alternative:
If you change too much, long-time fans of the first installment will rant about the so-called “lost spirit” of the series. You will attract curious new players to your game, and they will be able to play the previous game if they enjoyed the new one, because it won’t be a copycat. And you’ll get the chance to win the long time fans back with the next game of the series.
If you change too few, long-time fans of the first installment will rant about the so-called “lack of creativity” of the series. You will attract curious new players to your game, but they will feel awkward playing previous game, because this will be the same game, but with less features. Next time you’ll announce a new game in the serie, expectations won’t be that much from either group of players.
Example : Dungeon Keeper series, both games are worth playing, Civilization series [fr], with the I-II-III being fairly identical, while the IV and the V being slightly different from each other.
Counter-example : Original Fallout series, playing the first game after the second is just a waste of time (or for the story only), Constructor series, with Street Wars (Constructor Underworld) being Constructor but better, or Anno series [fr], whose graphic enhancements doesn’t completely cover the lack of new game concept in each and every sequel.
Game designers are sometimes tempted to offer players a way to start over again the game while they maintain their first run. This is a great feature if the game offers multiple choices and big decisions processes. That way the players can explore different facets of the game and keeps enjoying the game over and over again.
Of course, if the second run is too close from the first, it’ll just seem a waste of time. And a faint attempt from the game makers to artificially over-extend the game lifetime at the expense of new features, which is often bad received.
Example : EVE Online‘s alternate characters are a great way to explore the rich skill tree of the game.
Disclaimer : I’ve been a video game player for more than 20 years now, and even though I’m not myself a professionnal game designer, I’ve slowly built up over the time a sort of game design philosophy based on my gaming experience. These tips are ordered by arrival in my mind to write them up, there is no priority whatsoever.
I’m a huge fan of late productions of Bullfrog Productions game studio. Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Populous, Syndicate… You name it, I love it (or I never played it). I was pretty sad when I found out that the studio closed his doors to merge with Electronic Arts.
Since then, I have been longing to play spiritual sequels of those great game. Alas, each and every games inspired from these classics disappointed me (you can read a comparison I wrote in french about Theme Hospital and Hospital Tycoon here). Even when Peter Molyneux was in charge, like for Black and White, I’m never been as thrilled as I was with Bullfrog’s productions.
Then I dived in Facebook “social” games. I found out that most of them don’t meet my quality criterias except for a few like TrainStation, but it didn’t bother me much until I tried three specific games: Simply Hospital, Rollercoaster Mania and Dungeon Overlord. All three share cruel resemblances with old Bullfrog titles and that caught my eye.
I’ve already ranted about Facebook games, hey, I even made a comparison table between a few Facebook games. But not everything is bad, and TrainStation is one of the few games that truly leverages Facebook “friend” network and stays addictive beyond the first 30 minutes of play.