Monday, July 7, 2008

Game Invader : Idiotic game design decisions

Mass Effect's MAKO. Grrrrrrrrrrr. And no, that's not the engine noise.

If you've driven the MAKO in Bioware's Mass Effect, you're probably aware that it's an annoying, frustrating part of the game that mostly distracts from the core gameplay.

Most of the gamers who played Mass Effect are fans of Bioware and their brand of gripping storytelling, great characters and tense, tactical battles. The last thing they'd want to be doing is driving a crappy-handling armoured vehicle and indulging in pointless rail shooting sequences that interuupt the gameplay they shelled out sixty dollars for. And yet, for some reason, Bioware thought it was a good idea to force them to do exactly that.

Time after time, we see inexplicable features and minigames like this finding their way into the games we love, making us love them a bit less. Jumping puzzles in Half-Life. Monkey Combat in Monkey Island 4.

The excuse usually trotted out is 'genre blending'. Introducing aspects from different genres into a game to give gamers more value for money. Nonsense!

Don't get me wrong, there are games that do just this, and do it brilliantly. The Zelda games have been blending elements of adventure, role-playing and action into a delectable package for years. Games like Shenmue and Sid Meier's Pirates! are also shining examples where gameplay from different genres are used to add to the core gameplay, instead of detracting from it.

However, these are titles where the gameplay has been conceived with genre-blending in mind. It's quite different from shoehorning elements into a game with the misguided intentions of 'adding' something to the experience. Plus, unless you're a Shigeru Myamoto, Sid Meier or Yu Suzuki, it isn't easy.

Let's face it – action gamers want action. Racing gamers want to race. Role-players want story, character development and number-crunching stats. Adventure loyalists want clues and mysteries. That's the reason they spend hard-earned coin on the games that they want to play.

So it's stupid to force features on them that they don't want. Adding silly minigames or tacked-on features don't attract new audiences, but certainly annoy, and ultimately alienate the core market. Whether such suggestions come from ill-informed marketing suits or overambitious game designers is anybody's guess, but it's inarguably a cartload of bovine manure.

Which is why the great designers avoid it. Imagine if Sid Meier had said “Hey guys – let's add a fighting minigame to resolve combat in Civilization IV!”. Or if Bungie had tried to add some puzzle solving into Halo 3. Those great games would certainly have been diminished, not enhanced by such meddling, and the designers probably knew that.

The FPS genre has probably understood this best in recent years. Which is why it's probably the most thriving and vibrant of all – with the most quality titles coming out in the recent past. Games like Half Life 2, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and even Bioshock, for all their storytelling skills, are shooters at heart. It's the gunplay that counts, the action that makes gamers rave and crave.
And think about the horrors! Baldur's Gate 3 with platform jumping elements to attract Daxter fans! God of War 3 with a checkers minigame to appeal to board game fans! Forza Motorsport 3 with a lame-ass storyline! The mind shudders with fear.

I'm not against attempting to broaden the scope of games – I just believe it should only be attempted by the most skilled and visionary of designers. Er . . except Peter Molyneux, that is.


  1. It's's been a while since I checked the blog out. Just trying to catch up with everything -

    Great article although I must disagree about this paragraph.

    "Let's face it – action gamers want action. Racing gamers want to race. Role-players want story, character development and number-crunching stats. Aventure loyalists want clues and mysteries. That's the reason they spend hard-earned coin on the games that they want to play. "

    Using myself as an example, I am exactly the opposite. I get bored with too much action, too much racing, too many clues and mysteries. Part of the reason game designers mix it up a bit, is pacing. The standard load level, destroy 20,000 zombies and load next level works just as well (serious sam anyone?) however, there are folks out there that gets a little tired of the redudancy. I appreciate the occasional diversion from the theme or genre. I think it makes it a little less predictable .

    On the other hand, I agree with putting them in just for the sake of "genre-blending". It takes a certain skill to divert someone just a bit, but still keep them focussed and interested enough in the main focus of the game.

    Rockstar is a perfect example of doing it well. The production of GTA is a perfect example. The variety of gameplay offered is what kept me going to ultimately finish the game.

    AXe out.

  2. Axe,

    Well, GTA is a bad example - because the hybrid nature of the gameplay and all the different cool things you can do are exactly what makes the game what it is - in this case it's not a case of tacking on features to an existing genre, but evolving a new genre altogether.

    Having said that, I agree with what you're saying about gameplay becoming repetitive or boring - just that it needs to be well done, and fit within the purview of the game. The Warthog driving sequences in HALO are a good example of broadening the scope of an FPS with some variety, but variety that enhances the gameplay.

    I still think lame-ass sequence-matching minigames such as those in Mass Effect do nothing to add to the gameplay, and indeed detract from it. They're annoying - and I'm willing to bet that for every gamer who enjoyed the diversion, there were hundreds who hated it. The very same style of quick button sequence matching minigame works well in Shenmue or God of War because it's done well, and it fits within the game's scope and style.

    The article in any case never says that this should never be done - just that it should only be done by good designers who can pull it off.

    Not like Wachowski Brothers :P

  3. Or like that Daikatana guy...hehe!

    GTA actually is not any kind of new genre. It falls under the plain and simple "Action Adventure" genre.

    The sheer scope of it makes one beleive it is a completely new genre, which semantically could always be debated.

    Take KOTOR - what about the pod racing mini games? What about that crazy card game they had (I forget the name)? GTA has just taken that and extended it to the max. The core of GTA still remains shoot down bad guys.

    And yes, I think the Wachowski brothers should never be designing games. Hell, after the last Matrix movie, maybe they should just retire and eat cake.