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.

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