Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Designer Notebook: Bad Reload

I'm burning through my backlog right now, and one of the games I really wanted to get to was Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon.  The prequel, EDF 2017, was an exceptional "B" game that knew it's place in the gaming landscape: done on a shoestring budget, it knows it won't win awards with the story or graphics, so it relied on having a solid a simple gameplay loop to hook players in.  

At first glance, it's not much of a game either: bugs are dumb, there's no strategy other than shoot, and some of the enemies seems overpowered or borderline absurd.  But give it a few minutes, and it becomes very clear why it works: it's the perfect stress relief, turn off your brain kind of game.  It's about empowering the player in blowing stuff up as fast as they can, and with the least amount of hinderance to blowing stuff up.  As a shooter, there's no cover, there's no reload (reloading comes in when your gun is out of bullets/ammo), there's no recoil, and there's no other fluffy stuff like rebounding health meter to deal with.

Then I booted up Insect Armageddon, and I saw this...

Yup, an active reload mechanic.  Why?

The simplicity of EDF 2017 was that even as simple as reloading was taken out of your hands: run out of bullets = reload.  Giving the player a choice in allowing addition reload on their own term sounds like a good way to increase depth, but why go on to add active reload?

Well, for one, it was probably the cool thing to do: "Gears of War did it, so you should too", but it's implemented clumsily and wrong here.  Let's pinpoint what Gears does with it's reload, and then lets look back at EDF:IA:

In Gears of War:

  • Each gun has their own reload bar (where the optimal location for active reload works)
  • Two windows: The Active Reload window, and the "close enough" window.
  • Each gun's total reload length is different from each other
  • Failing to reload the gun leads to a visual/audio queue that is obvious to the player.
In EDF: Insect Armageddon:
  • All guns have the same reload bar (and, always in the middle of the entire bar)
  • There is no "close enough" window: failing it means an automatic wait
  • No visible queue on failure (ironically, an audio queue on success)
Outside of this barebone analysis of the actual mechanic, there's also the overall design of how it works with the rest of the game (which is the biggest fault here).  In Gears of War, the Active Reload works as a bonus, allowing players to get out of cover quicker and shoot more (also to note, the average guns will have a reload length of under 2 seconds even in failed active reload); in EDF, the reload acts as a "minimizing punishment" option, cutting down the absolutely lengthy reload to somewhat more tolerable time.  More importantly, since you're dealing with a much higher enemy count, no cover, more "swarming" (where the AI rushes towards you), and no effective way to melee on close range, players in EDF will be motivated to run away from battle to reload, the opposite of Active Reload was trying to achieve.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bad Game/Good Idea: Morph X

Today I'm starting a new category of posts: "Bad Game/Good Idea".  A category of posts devoted to talking about bad games and the good ideas that often gets ignored because of how bad the game was.  Like other sections, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers and will warn so if they arise. So here comes the first game, and oh boy, it's a bad one.

I bought Morph X after being pressured into getting because "I buy only shitty games when it's $5" (thanks Surya), and man, is it a terrible game. Visually, it looks like crap; The soldier AI sees through walls and has unlimited line of sight and never misses (borderline cheap), respawns indefinitely behind monster closets; melee combat animation doesn't look like they connect, encouraging players to mash buttons for results; level design is a garbled mess; objective is almost always unclear; mechanics and controls were never explained... The list goes on and on...

But buried under this miserable pile of crap lies this one gem:

Morph X's character growth system revolves around the idea that you're collecting these gems as your DNA mutates (again, unexplained). The tiles are made up of various connection shapes, and the objective is to connect a red node and a green node to receive the benefit of that power up.  Since players are limited by a random set of tiles that they obtain in the game, they're encouraged to mess around with this grid to optimize how the nodes are connected so that they have extra tiles for even more nodes.   Since the player can choose between anyone of the six powers available to level up (and re-assign at any point), you can quickly see how a player can customize one power over the other as the situation arise.  Personally, I think I've spent more time on these screens than the actual game itself (which possibly says something about the base shooting/melee mechanics).

Mind you, while this character growth mechanic is interesting and potentially offer large variety, it does have a few drawback:

1) Players who do want to min/max stats will repeatedly enter this screen just to optimize their power, which will break gameplay flow.  If the designer's intention was for a player to be immersed in the actual gameplay, this system serves to break that immersion.

2) Difficulty scaling: since players can now choose to strengthen any power they want, does the AI adjust accordingly? Or is it merely an illusion of choice, where you tell players that you can choose not to play with night vision, even though it's practically necessary?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Administrative Stuff: The Long Hiatus

...and I'm back.

I've been tied up in the last month with a) trying to rush through a project without success, b) learning new things c) general laziness, which is why I didn't end up posting a whole lot.  I also didn't get to play much new games during that time either, which kinda gave way to not having any new content to write about.  In fact, I just realized I was going to write a bit more about E3 (which I didn't).  Guess I was that disgusted with all three presentations that I figured there's no point in writing about it.

Well, a new idea just popped into my head, and I guess it might as well be time for me to write a bunch of stuff, so look forward to a post coming tomorrow.