Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Your game experience

In this post I'd like to discuss another design lesson that can be learned from Mirror's Edge. One essential thing to know when you are creating a game for a player is to keep in mind the time of experience that you are trying to create. The game's major shortcoming was in not being more direct in the type of experience it was trying to create. This in no small part stemmed from its combat mechanics.

Before I begin, I must state that the combat controls in the game were unwieldy, and in this case the first person camera really was a shortcoming of the game design. Martial arts fighting from a first person perspective in games simply doesn't work, because a key point of martial arts is having a very clear picture of the position of your body (and its limbs) in relation to the person you are fighting. But the clunky combat mechanics were not the only problem that they presented to the experience presented by the game as a whole.

This was not a good idea

One part of the problem with the combat in Mirror's Edge is that it was never entirely clear how you were supposed to deal with enemies. At certain points you would be told "You gotta run, Faith" or "You'll need to take them out if you want to keep going", but at other points you were on your own. The problem was that in many of these cases, the game really wanted you to make a decision one way or the other, but it frequently took a few deaths of trial and error if you made the wrong choice.

In some circumstances, the enemy was too spread out and too numerous for you to tackle. A few deaths later, the player would (potentially) come to that conclusion and simply make a break for it. If not... then it either took a good amount of luck or more deaths before they could move on. In other situations, the player was forced to take down their enemies because the level design required the the police or guards be dispatched before Faith could make it to her destination. These situations occurred often enough that it could cause a reasonable amount of frustration for the player.

Fight or flight? I don't know, the game won't tell me.

Adding to this was the trouble was that Faith wasn't made to fight, and she certainly wasn't portrayed as a ruthless killer who would happily pick up a weapon and gun her way through enemies. There wasn't even any sort of ammunition counter, and Faith moved noticably slower when carrying anything apart from a pistol. If you attempted to play Faith as a semi-pacifist who would only use non-lethal means to take down her opponents, some segments of the game were extremely difficult. The loading screens within the game and the information presented to you suggested that using Faith's runner and martial arts abilities were the ideal means of dispatching her opponents.

Some may argue that I'm reading too much into this situation, but Mirror's Edge gave you a pre-defined protagonist. Faith wasn't Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, and wasn't presented as a character who would kill everyone in her way, even if the gameplay allowed the player to do that on occasion. Again, it's an issue of consistency, and the Faith that we're presented with as part of the game, and the Faith that the player can potentially play come across as two very different people.

Faith even tries to save someone who just tried to kill her...

The problem with Mirror's Edge and combat is that the game wasn't sure what it wanted to be. It succeeded at being a parkour platformer with a reasonable amount of style, but the combat interludes made the game feel clunky and unpolished. The game tried to spread is content too thinly across the ground, and failed in the area that didn't match up with the overall theme of the game. Had it tried to simply stick to what it did best, it might have been more favourably received by players.

Game designers can learn from this. Know your audience and know your core mechanics. You need to know what type of experience you are trying to deliver to the player and make sure that the various gameplay elements that you are creating support that experience. If you're making a first person shooter, your gun mechanics should be spot on, and your environments and scenarios should represent the style and setting of the game. If you're making a fighting game, the character moves should be smooth and responsive. If you're making an RPG, should offer the player a variety of skills and tactics for combat, and give them an interesting story befitting the hero the player is controlling.

Don't let the player be confused by your game. Let them know what they are getting, and use every tool at your disposal to give them that experience. Your game will be better for it, and the players will appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. I stopped playing once I got to the freighter because the game suddenly decided it was a shooter after spending the entirety of the game to that point that I was no good at fighting and should run through anything. Threw the whole thing out of whack which is a shame because I basically enjoyed the rest of it.