For quite a while I’ve been recognizing a trend in the way nintendo designs some of it’s games. I’ve mentioned it before but it seems I’m not the only one noticing it. As of late, games like Zelda, Pokemon and now Metroid follow a very simple formula:
- The first time through, guide the player from place to place. Locked doors, ridiculously broken paths and rude people blocking every single possible alternate path. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
- Pepper the experience with cutscenes to make up for the loss in exploration. In case of emergency, throw in a long conversation about nothing that explains a tiny bit of story just for the sake of having the player read your beautiful prose.
- Prolong the tutorials as much as possible, make them unskippable and be sure to insult the player’s intelligence if necessary.
- After the credits roll, let the player finally go about the world however he or she pleases. Go ahead! Explore all the places you’ve already been to, just to get all the thingies you couldn’t get to before that only amount to basic rewards that could have been VERY helpful the first time through the game.
I realize that that wasn’t a very … objective description of this trend but I can’t help getting mad about it. I can see why they are bastardizing their franchises, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the direction they’re going.
Look, I get it, players can get lost if you don’t make it clear where to go. But you know what? Just outright telling them where to go every single chance you get is not the perfect solution, far from it. It’s just lazy. It’s an easy solution to a difficult problem that insults the player’s intelligence just to make sure everyone gets to the end of the game. And still, not everybody does get to the end because of various reasons. They may not have the time, some other game might catch their attention… or maybe they’re just tired of following the directions of the game designers, yearning to be free and to express themselves. To play.
Let me know how does this idea sound: Let the player do whatever he or she wants. If you make everything within the game interesting and build systems that point out the interesting things you can do, why not trust the player?
After all, Fallout 1 and 2 did this exact thing and they weren’t exactly punished for it. They’re remembered as classics for a reason: Because they did what almost no other game dared to: They let the player play and explore at their own pace. Sure, it was a hostile world and the way the player is introduced to it could use some work. We know these two games aren’t perfect… but they’ve aged well because we’ve not seen any other games with the same philosophy, save for a few exceptions that I’m not currently aware of.
I just get mad because there’s so much that can be done with that same philosophy of design. Many years have passed since that game came out and we’ve grown as an industry, our tools have matured and our knowledge about design has been increasingly growing in the last few years, thanks in no small part to the indie movement.
But we are still clinging to the same rotten way to circumvent a single (yet difficult) problem.
Nintendo… please, man up.