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?


  1. What happens when you place a node that has an intersection, but one of the paths doesn't go anywhere? Does the path still connect?

  2. Drawback #1 is going to be found in any character progression system that can be "rerolled" at any time by the player. The typical solution is to lock in player choices so that min/maxing must be done for the general case rather than for each encounter. The main argument against this solution is that it discourages experimentation on the part of the player since they will be wary of trying out abilities they aren't familiar with.

    Drawback #2 is a general problem with all character progression systems, especially those that seek to offer ability choices that alter the way players "play" the game. The task of the designer when implementing such a system is to make sure that there are no bad choices, which is quite a difficult problem. Abilities that are bad choices or abilities that are "must have" choices should be avoided. The bad choices should just be scrapped and the "must have" choices need to be given the player in a different manner.

    Either of the two drawbacks aren't necessarily problems with the character progression system as described as I think these are problems to be considered outside of the system.

  3. Jon: Yes it still connects.

    Jason: Interesting point with "rerolling": I've seen this topic pop up in a bunch of game discussions recently, and I've always wondered whether this day and age, whether re-rolling character should still be considered a game mechanic, or more of a given feature. Sometimes I feel that there are games that benefit more from re-rolling only to let players try out more stuff before committing to their path.