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More comments on level docs

May 5, 2009

The docs keep coming, and so do the comments.

Mission design notes:

  • Let me feel like a hero or a bad ass. If I have just saved someone’s life, please give me the ever-elusive kudo. Don’t have the guy say that he’ll do what I need him to do if only I do X for him now that I’ve rescued him. In every situation, there is a way to make the player feel like they’ve done something great (or that they are on their way toward it).
  • Don’t set people up for the death/reload. If you find yourself planning a mission which has death as its default fail state, consider it again. There has to be another way. So, instead of having the NPC sink and die in the quicksand, it’s okay to have the NPC say, “I’m not going that way. I think there’s something else we can do here.”
  • Hire a writer so that your dialogue sounds better than that.
  • Don’t needlessly blockade or blockade illogically. If you have a desire to keep the player somewhere, think of some means to blockade them other than the “door locks behind you” or other metaphors to that effect. Random, spontaneous herds of creatures that provide a combat too difficult to pass = blockades.
  • Instead of withholding something, why not offer something? It is a very subtle distinction, but the line between frustration and happiness. This is an interesting moment in a lot of games where the player actually feels like you’re getting in his way instead of providing him opportunity. So, instead of saying, I am not giving you Y until you do X, treat Y as a reward. I know this is so incredibly subtle, but the difference in terms of play reception is night and day.
  • Make me more than a UPS driver. A lot of  missions are basically delivery missions where we’re sending the player out to get something and bring it back. We’re not doing this to advance the player, but rather the plot.  It’s compounded in that we’re not actually making him feel like any kind of hero or bad ass for doing so. He feels like a UPS driver. Think of things that the player can do where he feels a degree of agency, like he’s doing the right thing and knowing that it’s dangerous, but doing it anyway. The difference between Animal Crossing and most other games is that the Fedex quests in AC progresses play. In all other games, it usually is used to hold you off.
  • Avoid insulting me. If my character is a peon in the game, and I’m talking to an NPC, please don’ thave him treat me like I suck. I know that it fits with the narrative, but unless I’ve got something else going on where I know he’ll get his, too, this sets the stage for player irritation. Ironically, I am rarely bothered when PCs in positions of power want to be opportunistic with my peon self. Then, I feel like I’m being given an opportunity vs. a judgment.
  • Give me the power. Along the lines of the previous note, consider an instance where buddy NPC won’t do something until I do X. Notice who has the power here. Him. When designing, consider for a moment if there’s not a way for you to take that power – if I do X, then he will be compelled to/forced to, etc. Again, subtle thing.
  • Don’t walk with me or direct me. If the next stage of play requires us to go to location X, have the NPC tell me that he will meet me there. That way, I am free to explore at my own pace without someone (who will likely get shot or otherwise whacked) by my side at all times. This also gives me freedom to explore some side missions you might have left for me out there.
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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Clemenstation permalink
    May 6, 2009 9:18 am

    This is pretty specific, but I think it’s a worthwhile point. Yahtzee mentions it in his Zero Punctuation review of Siren Blood Curse:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/696-Siren-Blood-Curse

    If you are playing through a section and the end point is a scene where you are killed/badly wounded, it is incredibly frustrating to die en route to this conclusion and have to reload, only to go slightly further the second time and get insta-killed in a cut scene. Wouldn’t it make more sense, not to mention alleviate frustration, if having the player die in-game had the same result (progression, rather than replay)?

    Somewhat related, with the largest offenders being JRPGs, is the ‘unbeatable boss’. You know, that boss that you’re supposed to lose to for plot purposes, only there’s no indication that you can’t beat him until you’ve used up all your good items and wasted half an hour struggling against inevitable defeat. Extra-sly is the inclusion of tough boss who is manifested as an ‘unbeatable boss’, so you give up and let them beat you, only to find out that you were supposed to win and get a ‘You’ve Died’ fail screen. It’s a bit of a shell game, and it’s disingenuous to the player most of the time.

  2. May 6, 2009 5:06 pm

    While I completely agree with the reduction of endless UPS quests, it is very difficult to come up with quests that aren’t either fetch quests, talk quests or kill X quests. This problem is only exacerbated when you are making a huge RPG like Oblibvion.

    I would love to see some ideas for alternative quests, because so many quests end up boiling down to go to location X collect Y and return. The trick is normally to dress them up in fancy story.

    I think the problem stems (apart from the obvious, coming up with loads of quests that are different is time consuming) from the fact people don’t want to have to think a lot about each quest. If they can just skim the text, find what they have to collect and go, then that is fine. Often when people are playing RPGs, they don’t want to solve puzzles, develop plans, investigate mysteries etc. All of these could all create much more interesting quests, but without them, the designer has very few tools with which to make the quest.

    The player is instead happy to do the mundane as it is all about the world that these quests let them explore, the story that they advance and their character they can develop.

  3. May 12, 2009 10:37 pm

    “Make me more than a UPS driver.”

    How does this fit in with the whole thing about Lord of the Rings being essentially a FedEx quest? Where is the distinction between “good” and “bad” questing?

  4. May 12, 2009 10:47 pm

    @ai864 – the difference is the same as the one between most games an Animal Crossing. Each mission in LotR takes you forward – it’s all forward moving. In many games, it’s a roadblock. I’d love to give you the key to the kingdom, but FIRST, you’ll need to deliver these 90 packages for me. While delivering 10 of those 90, you’ll discover that they will also need something for you to do, and…

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