This should be an option not a requirement

That’s what I find myself saying over and over again as I play more and more games. Though this issue isn’t exclusive to the games of today, of course not, it just so happens to be that I now have a more complete understanding of what I want from games, and I suspect that many other people are in the same page as me.

“This should be an option not a requirement” is a design snafu that always rears it’s head when the designer suddenly decided to make things harder for the player. For example, imagine a game where you have to kill your enemies. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Well, it’s going to get harder: Now imagine that you have a standard way of killing them (say, filling them with your space bullets until they die) and then another way that involves some extra resource, has some random aspect to it and deals a lot more damage if done right (otherwise it does nothing, so it’s always a gamble). Good? Well, now please raise your hands all of you who detest it when the designer suddenly throws at you an enemy that can only be damaged with this secondary, more difficult to pull off, attack.

Oh, but wait, this secondary attack doesn’t have to be random in order to be a pain in the backside, of course not, in fact, all it has to do to get under our skin is take far too much time to pull off.

Mmmhhh, but isn’t figuring out how to kill a certain enemy part of the fun? You know, mixing things up is one of those things all designers must do to entertain the player. Fair enough, that’s a reasonable statement although a little bit too generalized, but I’ll roll with it. Let me just list a few of the things that can go wrong with it if the designer doesn’t know what she’s doing:

  1. The player is completely disoriented because something that used to work now doesn’t and there weren’t any warnings prior to encountering this particular new enemy.
  2. It’s a process of trial and error in which the player will be wasting her time until she finally bumps into the right solution.
  3. If there’s only one solution to the battle, there’s no decision making, there’s nothing fun about changing attacks if the difference is purely cosmetic. It’s just a game of “guess what the designer is thinking”.
  4. If all of the above is true, it can get worse: the battle can also take a lot more time than usual.

So, worst case scenario, it’s a battle that takes the player by surprise at first and then once the solution is found, it turns into a normal battle that just takes longer to end. There’s nothing interesting about it, just a change of pace for the worse: everything slows to a crawl.

Now, how can we take this concept of having enemies resistant to certain types of attacks and make them better (or, heaven forbid, “fun”)? Here’s what I think can fix this issue:

  1. There’s a clear correlation between the type of enemy and the resistance to attacks. A perfect example of this is Pokemon: Certain types of attacks are good against certain enemies and bad against others, and what determines this is the type of the pokemon and the type of attacks, that’s all the information you need. Of course, the Pokemon way is only one of the many ways to do it, but it’s the most well-known example I can come up with.
  2. Everything has a weakness and a resitance, no exceptions. No, not even boss battles. Again: Pokemon.
  3. Knowing your oponnent’s weaknesses doesn’t translate into an instant win, otherwise the battles are already decided before they even begin, and that’s not very interesting. Another consequence is that of spamming the same attack over and over. Pokemon… isn’t the perfect example of this, due to the limited amount of attacks, but it gets close. Ultimately, this one is a balancing issue.
  4. The enemies don’t have a strategic advantage over the player due to the abusive use of resistances. I’m freaking tired of not being able to use blind, confuse, slow, sleep, petrify, etc, on bosses, but them doing one attacks, ONE ATTACK and inflicting all my party members with every ailment on this face of the earth. Geez guys, don’t you think that’s a little unfair? Way to respet your players!

It might seem that I’m referring to only shooters and RPGs here, and that’s because I am doing exactly that, but I think this design snafu can become a lot more generalized…. I just don’t know how. Oh well, maybe the inspiration will strike later.

Aaaaaand that’s about it for today.

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7 thoughts on “This should be an option not a requirement

  1. Actually, if the image had been honorably appropriated, it would have been bought and paid for through iStockPhoto. Since it wasn’t, and was stolen from our site, that not only violates the honor of benefiting from someone else’s pain (hey, I paid for that) and also placing yourself in jeopardy by admitting to iStock you have a photo of theirs that you didn’t pay for.

    Uncool, dude. The photos don’t cost that much. Pony up like the rest of us do.

    Oh, and nice post!

  2. Diego Doumecq

    Photo? What photo? There’s no photo, I don’t see any photo. Do you see any?

    Heh, sorry about that, I didn’t know it was from iStockPhoto. Consider it removed.
    (I should probably start using flickr instead of google images to search for appropriate pictures…)

  3. It’s necesary in a game have easy rules that allows know the weakness of the enemies in every situation, because the game turns in a more dinamic game.

    Would be very interesting if the game its based on events each time that you want to kill a NPC. An example would be that once you break the stik of a wizard then he can transform into a snake, but if you break his amulet then he can tarnsform into a wolf. The main idea would be that you can defeat easily the wolves OR the snakes. Another idea would be that if it happens in a moon light, then the events changes betwen them. Of that mode the player it’s bound to think before act.

    I think that way it’s more interesting because give to the player the posibility to learn.

    Greetings.

  4. Diego Doumecq

    Those are fine examples of how to do weaknesses, but you do have to be careful that these surface as part of exploration lead by the player and not out of pure necessity (i.e. you can’t kill the wizard until he turns into a frog, but if he turns into a wolf you’re more than screwed, etc, etc)

  5. Yes, you`re right. I think the main idea is a balance betwen a strategic path where exist dead ends and a strategic path where exist diferent options. The player must put effort to not fall into a dead end and must elaborate a particular strategy according to his personality.

    A good example (warning: out of context XD) is RTS games where strategy its the main idea. For the games that requires habilities, we can combine them both and the game would be something like “strategic habilities” where if I fight versus the snake then I need dominate the jump hability most than other habilities, but if I fight versus the wolve then I need dominate the block hability most than other habilities, and so on.

    So, I think that the main decisions needs the biggest consequences like “I will break his stick or his amulet?

    The players will be better for some strategies and some habilities, then differents player will use different paths.

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