Game Philosopher

The philosophy of games and gaming

Archive for the ‘Principles’ Category

To save or not to save?

Posted by gamephilosopher on October 25, 2006

When designing games in my head, I’m often torn as to how to handle saving. I like to push for what I see as realism, but balance that with keeping the game fun.

I remember when Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption came out several years ago. It had a pretty bad save mechanism where you had to go back to your “home base” to save the game. That meant that the entire time you were out on missions, you couldnt save at all.

This was incredibly annoying as a player because it’s inevitable that you’re going to die at some point in time during a mission. On the other hand, if I was designing the game to immerse the player in the world of vampires, I might want to emphasize the lack of safety that a vampire may feel when he is out there amongst the humans. Further, that he must return to his lair in order to rest and heal himself.

I was reading a review of the game (probably PC Gamer) and it said something like, “PC GAME DESIGNERS, there is absolutely no excuse for not allowing your players to save whenever they want to.” At the time, I agreed.

In this case, the need for realism gets in the way of gaming. You WANT to have a fun time playing the game, and playing over parts you’ve done three times already because you’ve died tends to not be fun anymore.

But then how do you instill fear into the player? The rationale behind fear is that you are afraid of losing something — your life, your wallet, job, whatever. If you could reload in real life, would you be afraid if someone pulled a gun out on you on a dark street? Why should you fear what you can easily go back and avoid?

Let’s explore some strategies for saving.
Single Save Slot – Older games had this where you could save and load at will, but you didnt have a whole list of saved games you could reload — you only had one slot. That meant that you could save before a boss battle or before trying something stupid, but you couldnt go back to a game you saved 2 days ago and try a different plot branch – you had to replay the game to do that.

In my opinion, it’s a pretty good way to ensure you don’t focus on protecting your ass by saving constantly, but it can lead to really bad situations where you’re too low on health to continue and dont have any saved games to go back to. Perhaps you could combine this strategy with the next one.

Checkpoints – Final Fantasy 7 and Anachronox are 2 of the many games that used checkpoints as a saving model, including most console games. It’s not a bad way to go, but I often found that the checkpoints were either nowhere near where I died, causing me to have to redo scenarios or they were tell-tale signs that I was about to hit a boss or a really tough area. Some games just saved your progress at the beginning of each new level, so no matter where you died in it, you only had to redo that one level. Again, lots of replay.

Skill Level – Hitman allowed you to pick a skill level at the beginning of the game that would determine in several different ways how hard the game would be. One of the variables across the skill levels was the number of saved game credits you were given at the beginning of each level. So, easy skill level allowed 10 saves per level, while hard only had 3. If you were really good, you could save your credits for later levels where you may need more than your allotment. If you used them up, you had to start the level over again.

Sands of Time – The latest 3 Prince of Persia games introduced a nice way to ensure you don’t have to reload every time something goes wrong. You could rewind time for about 10 seconds and undo your mistakes. You had to kill enemies to earn credits to rewind and if you didn’t have any more credits you couldnt rewind. Further, you had to wait after rewinding time to refill your rewind counter, or else you’d only be able to rewind for a shorter amount of time. You also had checkpoints at each level, so if you screwed up your rewinding and really died, you only had to go back to the beginning of the level.

Progression only – I dont really have an accurate title for this one ūüôā But its essentially that you live with your mistakes and you don’t have the option of going back, only continuing onward with the choices that have been made. This is similar to the single save slot approach, but you don’t really have the option to save and load, only to continue on. This is best illustrated in Indigo Prophecy/Farenheit and Mount and Blade. (I’ll review Mount and Blade shortly)

So there you have it. Several of the variations on saving. So how do you design a save game system without discouraging the player and without allowing the player to become complacent with the welfare of the character? Discuss.

Posted in Principles | 5 Comments »

Weekend Discussion: How Important is the Interface?

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 30, 2006

Who’s going to go first?

Since I’m going to be doing other things this weekend, how about I post a discussion topic and you all spend your time discussing it?

How important is the interface to you? Would you still play a great game if it had a bad interface? Would you even be able to call it a great game if it did? Is more feedback from the interface in the form of menus and statistics always a good thing?

Are you always looking for the same kind of things in your menu systems and controls or do you think they vary by game?

To me, the way I interact with the game, the controls, the menus – they’re all very important. I find that the more intuitive the controls are and the more feedback I get from the game, the better. GTA San Andreas’ multitude of statistics about my game so far was a great way to see how well I was playing, and really keep me interested in getting into all sorts of challenges with myself to see if i could beat my high scores.

Posted in Discussion, Principles | 1 Comment »

Gaming Principles: Immersion

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 29, 2006

I was thinking the other day about a game I have played and beaten several times called Dream Web. One of the things that attracts me to this game is the immersion that it creates. What’s even more interesting is that the game isn’t very complex or graphically spectacular, so I wonder why it is that I am reminded of it constantly and feel so drawn to play it again.

I can see already that this article is going to spawn off a few tangential articles…

One of the things that I remember vividly about the game is that, while the graphics were not very great even at release, the environments had enough detail that you spent a good amount of time looking around and absorbing what the scene was offering. I found myself feeling like I was really there because I could relate to the scene.

On a side note, comparing the game to Oblivion, you realize that every house in Oblivion looks largely the same, despite differences in layout. With Dream Web, you can only actually get into 2 or 3 houses, so the feel of immersion that being in a home would bring doesn’t get stale.

I think what I’m discovering is that to get immersion, you don’t actually NEED complexity. I don’t have to be able to interact with every little gadget in the room, but it does need to be destinct and original. Perhaps it’s like those people who inherit a lot of money and buy a big house but don’t have enough money to furnish it — if you make the game-world big, you have to be prepared to fill it with interesting, realistic things and not just variations on a theme.

Moving on, one of the things that I still remember to this day is the sound of the rain storms. The game definately paid attention to what the player was hearing and how it complimented the game. Many games these days have weather effects, but they’re random, so they never intentionally match with the game’s plot. *slight spoiler* In Dream Web, after you’ve killed your first person, you wake up in a dirty alley in the pouring rain.¬† It just feels right – that it should be thindering and raining and dirty and slightly saddening. You’ve just gone from a guy with bad dreams, to a guy with bad dreams who’s killing people. There are other sounds that I remember from that game. The ambient music in the game has a real airy sort of feel to it – almost like someone exhaling. I found it to be a really immersive touch once I related the music to breathing.

In my opinion, sound is very undervalued in games. There are some very immersive things you can do with sound, and very little is actually done. Probably because people tend to focus on graphics as being the most important part of a video game, and it’s much easier to show a customer how great a game looks rather than how great it sounds.

Thinking of another very immersive game, System Shock, I remember there were actually times in both the original and its sequel where I actually got scared. I would say that you’d have to be pretty immersed in a game in order for it to scare you.

But why does System Shock scare me but Painkiller or some other horror game doesn’t? I think the System Shock series had a different way of scaring you which was a little more immersive – first, it was a little more realistic to think of yourself as a weak, confused hacker lost on a spaceship that has been taken over by a rogue AI than a motorcycle man blasting flying demons with an incendiary shotgun, like in Painkiller.

Part of immersion is the player’s ability to relate to the player-character’s situation. If you make the circumstances incredibly outlandish, the player doesn’t have the ability to think as if they would if they were actually in the situation. Too many “leaps of faith” break immersion.

OPEN FOR COMMENTS: What kind of things break immersion? If the immersion-breaker is necessary for the plot, how can the situation be designed so it has less of a negative impact?

=Linkage to Mobygames for further reading: Dream Web, System Shock 1, System Shock 2=

Posted in Great Games, Principles, websites | 2 Comments »

Do you really want realism?

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 12, 2006

Every time a Role Playing Game comes out, someone is screaming about realism and how it’s not realistic when this happens and it would be more realistic if that happened. Well let me ask you something. Do you really want realism? Let’s talk about a few things.

Above all, you want the game to be fun, right? Well the problem is that real life isn’t fun in the same way that a game is fun.

Think for a second if you were playing a game based on The Fellowship of the Ring book and it was very realistic. Would you want to spend the day walking? No spiders attacking or magical caves to explore, just walking. That would be realistic, but extremely boring. Part of what made the book exciting was that the plot was being revealed to you word by word, and you feared for the lives of the party members. Think about the beginning of Frodo’s adventure when the 4 hobbits have just left the Shire.

While reading the book, you were excited because you were rooting for the hobbits.

If you were Frodo in real life, you’d be scared to death of the prospect of being found.

If you were playing the game, you would be bored by the prospect of being found.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that there’s a big disconnect between what you may find fun or exciting in real life and what you find to be fun while playing a game.

I’m sorry if I sound a little obtuse – I understand that the lack of mounted combat in Oblivion was nothing short of a tragedy; there definately are exceptions.

The last time I complained to myself about lack of realism in a game I got what is known as a “Fed-ex quest” which is where you are given an item and asked to deliver it to some other person in a different town. All you have to do is take the item and walk over to the other person and give it to them. For that you get some money, experience, or a reward of some kind.

Now that’s not really that realistic, is it? I don’t even know this guy and he’s giving me his sacred vial of angel semen to deliver to the Shaman by the lake, and on top of all that, the Shaman is going to know about this arrangement and have money and/or a reward waiting? Come on people, lets be more realistic.

Ok, let’s talk about how we could inject some realism into the situation.

We could get to know the guy before he trusts us with handling his sacred artifacts!?! In real life, how do you get to know someone? Have a beer with them? Get them hired on at your job so you hang out more? Go bowling? Where does the line get drawn where you stop playing a game and start playing a real life simulator? Would you really want to listen to his blabbering about his wife and kids, lawn, house, dog, whatever or would you just end up clicking right past it?
How about having to go back to the quest-giver for your reward instead of expecting it at your destination? This is actually not a bad idea, but it forces you to travel all the way back to the beginning of your quest to complete it – something some people may find tedious and therefore not fun.

I think the actual solution is to not HAVE Fed-Ex quests at all, but then we lose out on a lot of oppotunities for quests and this makes game designers unhappy.

Also remember that quests in the beginning of a game are designed to be easy and quick so you can finish them in such a way that you are constantly gratified so you continue playing and don’t stop playing.

I’m rambling here, so I’ll sum up. Remember next time you complain about the lack of reality in your game that you may just be asking for something you’re really not willing to play, and that someone probably has thought about this thoroughly before you and hasn’t come up with anything better.

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Gaming Principles: Progression

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 1, 2006

Think of every game you’ve ever played and I think you’ll realize that a basic theme is present in all of them. Progression, or progress (however you want to think of it) has a part in every game we play. A game will always present you with something new, whether you’re on a soccer field, playing chutes and ladders or Grand Theft Auto.

Now that we have the basic idea down, let’s think a little about what that effect progression, or perhaps the player’s need for progression affects how a game plays.

The first thing I think of is skill levels. Just about every first person shooter has a level of difficulty which determines how many enemies there are, how prevalent power-ups are, time limits, amounts or difficulty of puzzles and many others. Adjusting this property affects how quickly and easily a player progresses.

Often times, the resistance to progression is the same. You either battle the computer, or since the advent of multiplayer, battle another human. The man vs. man or man vs. nature themes in literature sound very similar.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a game that focused on Man vs Himself? You would have to do something once, then do it over again, but this time, the computer employed the skils, strategies, tactics that you used the first time. This would force you to adapt, to improve on your skills because each subsequent try would require your improvement.

Discuss and don’t be afraid to dig this topic up even if it’s old.

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Gaming Principles: Introduction

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 1, 2006

The Gaming Principles series has the goal of identifying what makes¬†something a game and why a person enjoys playing it. Without identifying what a game really is, it’s very hard to objectively say what’s so great about a game or why one game succeeded where another failed. Since games are about personal entertainment, it’s very easy to say that a game is crap because you don’t like it, but to discuss the game or write a review about it requires a much deeper understanding.

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