Friday, February 3, 2012

A casual gamer in a hardcore world - Part 2

Several days ago, I wrote about getting a different perspective on the games that influence what I'm trying to create. I wanted to follow up and talk about a few more things that I noticed while watching my fiancee play Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.

I plan to go into a little more detail this time with each issue, describing a way that I think would work to counteract the negative side of things. Anyway, picking up where I left off...

Not at all like a dice game in this context.
When looking through the special abilities, there was no way of telling how much damage a skill would do. I sympathize here, because it's a frustration I've experienced too while playing these games. The only hint available to how much damage would be done is the mana cost per use of the ability, and possibly how difficult it was to acquire. Even a simple rating for abilities like a scale from one to five stars would greatly improve the player's confidence that the ability chosen is the right one for the job. It's completely trial and error, which isn't inherently fun. People would argue that they have fun with systems like this, but it's only because they have to deal with the system in the first place that it "grows on them" - implementing a rating system would solve the problem before it's a problem.

Another game mechanic that was unclear was how the character would react to being exposed to water. One of the first rooms has a lot of water between platforms, with enemies constantly popping up to make sure it's not too easy to get to the other side. Again, an issue solved by trial and error, when you fall into the water for the first time (probably an accident), you see that the character safely floats in water. It's nice that the learning process here happens so very quickly, but the player shouldn't have to dive in to see what happens. It's tricky to think about how it could have been explained beforehand without explicitly telling the player "you float in water", but maybe water should be introduced for the first time a bit later in the game, and there could be some handwaving before the player gets there. Something like having another character say to him "don't forget to tread water if you need to cross a lake"...that's pretty bad writing, but it just popped into my head.

Just as a note about this, to really drive home the point of not knowing what to expect from water as even a seasoned veteran of the genre, in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which was the first Castlevania series game to use this style), water causes great harm to the player for every second he remains in it until acquiring special abilities late in the game.

The low ceiling makes it impossible to avoid the water here. Sink or swim!
The game is divided into rooms, each of which can be multiple screens wide or high, but the transition from room to room is a quick fade out and back as you cross the threshold into the next room. This presented an issue with rooms that were entered by jumping up through a hole in the ceiling area, because it was necessary to continue jumping and aiming in the correct direction to stay in the next room. A simple fix for this issue would be adding already-implemented "drop floors" in these places, that is, a platform that the character can fall through by crouching before pressing the jump button.

The way I look at it, these things may not necessarily take away from the fun of the game, but they certainly don't add to it. Look, I'm not saying that these game elements don't have their charms, but it really seems like there's a little bit of game designer vs. player going on here. It's the designer's job to make sure the player is challenged, but fighting the game mechanics isn't anywhere near as fun as fighting through challenging enemies and solving challenging puzzles.

There's still more to come, so tune in next time for more insight on how to hopefully use the past as a map to the future.

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