Sunday, January 23, 2011

List of Game Design Stupidity: The Escort Mission (Dead Space 2)

I decided to title each blog post with the topic in question, which in this case is The List of Game Design Stupidity: The Escort Mission, and then also mention the game I'm currently playing (Dead Space 2).

I'm only about 30 minutes into Dead Space 2 and it's not terrible. I was never a huge fan of the first game, though it was rather enjoyable. For the most part it was pretty good, but it did break one of the items on the The List of Game Design Stupidity, as referenced in my very first post on this blog. Because of this rule being broken, the game irritated me enough to make me quit playing it. Now, while we'll discuss The Escort Mission in this article, I'm still fine tuning the List itself, so I can't really reveal the entire thing at this time. The List itself will be comprised of at least two sections. Section A will be General Stupidity & Annoyances; Section B will be called Dealbreakers.  Incidentally, the topic in question - The Escort Mission - is at the very top of the Dealbreakers section. It's Cardinal Rule #1. It is one of the most important rules of game design and as such, it should NEVER be broken so as to avoid a blight on the game's legacy.

What is an Escort Mission? Well, it's simple. In the game you're playing, your character or avatar in-game is tasked with escorting another character - usually an NPC - to another point in the game world. Now, this doesn't include searching missions, key finding missions or even 'carry the bomb to the end of the corridor' missions. Escorting is exactly that which it depicts. You literally guide or accompany a character, pet, item, or vehicle to another point in the game. What makes this even more of a Dealbreaker is when the game requires you to protect the NPC in question. Can the character defend himself? Rarely. Does the character start the Escort Mission with only half health? Usually. Will the character run into a battlefield only to get shot up because of poor AI/Collision detection? Always. The least game designers could do (because they can't come up with anything better) is to make the NPC able to defend him/her/itself while following you. Give them a gun, or maybe don't let them take damage. I have to look out for #1 when I'm trying to destroy that base full of the enemy - I don't need to be worried that some dipstick NPC is going to get his face shot off. These types of missions do not make a fun game. They detract, and as I've stated before; it's a Dealbreaker.

Unfortunately, Escort Missions can be implemented in a vast number of ways in a video game.  There's the typical 'get character X to point Y in the game without getting him/her killed/damaged', but there are also the 'protection' missions, which are just an offshoot (and not a very creative offshoot, by the way) of the original Escort Mission archetype. Well, what are these offshoots, then?

Did you ever play Dead Space? There are 2 or 3 points in the game where you play a game of "Asteroids" using the ship's main cannon.  You must protect the ship you're on by taking manual control of the main cannon and destroying incoming debris and asteroids.  What makes this one even more asinine is that you spend most of the previous trekking through the ship trying to get the AUTOMATED cannon to fire - and you end up having to take manual control, thus making all of that hard work you just finished completely and utterly pointless. (Editor's Note: This situation touches on another topic of discussion, called the Continuity/Theory rule on the list. This will be discussed at a later time.) To make matters worse, the ship you are protecting doesn't start with 100% 'health,' so you're doomed from the get-go. This doesn't make me go 'whee I'm having fun.'

A similar type of mission can be found in Gears of War 2 toward the end of the game. You are tasked with defending a few radio towers while countless Locust throngs attack on several sides at the same time.  Even though there's an entire COG army ready and available to do it, you and your team alone are tasked with defending these towers. And of course, no one seems to know it's happening so they don't help you.

These two situations are perfect examples of the 'evolution' of the Escort Mission. We play games to get to the next checkpoint without dying, or to collect that Magic Sword to defeat Ganon. We don't play games so we can play baby sitter or follow the leader, or to protect the ship/building we're currently in. It's a space ship. In the future. It should have shields. I don't need to play Asteroids, I need to kill Necromorphs. For that, Dead Space 1 and Gears of War 2 are games that I never finished, nor care to finish. I don't care what the story is - if the game pisses me off enough, I'll quit.  No one likes Escort Missions. I guarantee it.

Rule #1 on the Dealbreakers section of the List of Game Design Stupidity states: Do not under any circumstances put an Escort Mission in your game.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Video Game Stupidity

Welcome to the Video Game Stupidity blog. The purpose of this journal will be to describe, vent about, discuss, work through and hopefully help to alleviate some of the dumber things gamers experience in their video games and computer entertainment. We've all been there, unfortunately. We've all been playing a game we've spent our money (or in some cases, bandwidth) acquiring and have enjoyed them - for the most part. But the problem is we encounter something that is just hideously ridiculous in our beloved game. Maybe the game has terrible control. Maybe the physics are all messed up. Maybe the camera is more of a hindrance than helpful. Maybe they changed a foundational element about the game in one of the many sequels that aren't as good as the original. Either way, the game in question is ruined and it makes you not want to play. At least that's how it happens in my case.

But why would I let a single thing like X or Y ruin an entire game for me, you may ask.  Well, the problem is this; I'm in my mid 30's, and I've been playing video games since I was about 6 when my uncle got me my first Atari 2600.  Since that Atari, I've owned many game consoles ranging from the ColecoVision to the Neo*Geo Home system to the newer generation systems and even several Arcade cabinets.  I once considered myself a 'hardcore' gamer, but I don't any longer.  I don't mean to say one can get 'too old' for video games, (I don't believe that can happen) but I do like to think that I've 'grown up' when it comes to gaming. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I do like to have a "Halo Weekend" with my friends, but most of the time, I play casually.  I also like to play a game to 'get through' it so I can find out the entire story. I don't care about difficulty, or achievements. Sometimes I'll play the game on the easy setting so I can just enjoy the game and get the entire story. But some games prevent you from the 'entire experience' unless you play on the highest difficulty. That's not fun for me, and we'll talk about that in a future post.  I also don't usually play online.  In fact, the only reason I even have Xbox Live currently is so I can use Netflix, not to 'pwn n00bz' on Halo (I'm not even that good). I don't have the time and/or patience to play in-depth games too... er... in depth, I guess you could say.  I have become a casual gamer. When I do play video games, it might be for an hour or two at a stretch. Sometimes I might get into a game and play on a Saturday morning. I may not even realize I've been playing all morning. I'll 'wake up' about 12PM and realize I've wasted the entire morning in my underware in front of my TV with a game controller in my hand, but those times are few and far between now.

I seem to find many faults that 'break' games for me. These faults take me out of the game world, or just ruin the illusion.  There are some standards I have personally set for video games and if these standards are not met (with some wiggle room) I will stop playing, no matter if I haven't reached the conclusion or if I'm at that last level. I_don't_care.  Once a game pisses me off enough, it's over.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that we are no longer in the infancy of video gaming and/or game design. We are in the 7th generation of home game consoles. We are now in 2011, and the first multi-game or 'modular cartridge' console was released in 1977 - that's nearly 34 years ago.  Game designers have had plenty of time to perfect their techniques and design methods. For the most part, this has proved true. We've gotten plenty of brilliant games in the last 30 years, but we've also gotten some real stinkers - and unfortunately, we've gotten some 'good' games that have been ruined by Video Game Stupidity. This blog is here to talk about some of the inconsistencies in videogames, game design, or game 'theory', as it were.  The word 'theory' might not have been the best way to describe what I mean, but what I mean is this. Let's say we're playing a game that is supposed to be 'scary'. The game F.E.A.R. is a good example here. It's supposed to be a 'scary' game, but most of the 'scare' tactics used in the game are simple "BOOGAH BOOGAH BOOGAH!!" moments.  I.E. - Long periods of walking through silent corridors only to have a monster/badguy loudly burst through a door with weapons ablaze. That's not scary. It's annoying. But what some designers 'discovered,' was if they made the hallway DARK enough, it amplifies the illusion of danger and makes the game 'better.' Well I'm here to clear something up about that concept.


You know what making your game 'dark' accomplishes? It makes me turn up the brightness on my TV or your game options so I can see where I'm going.  It doesn't scare the player, it blinds them. that does not make your game better. It makes it worse, and it makes me not want to play it.

The darkness situation brings me to the subject of: The List of Game Design Stupidity, as I've come to call it.  I'm not going to give the list out just yet, since this is only the first post on this blog, but we'll discuss the list in due time. Feel free to check in every once in a while to find out more.  I may not post here every day, since I don't play games all that much anymore but I will post when I have something to describe, or I feel like revealing one of the items on the list.