The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Fundamentals of game design: Limiting the player

In thinking about my earlier comments in this section, I realise I’ve taken a few things for granted, and assumed that the readership would understand why I was doing what I was doing without my actually explaining it. So I’m going to take a digression into more basic principles of design to try to add some life to my earlier comments. Let’s start with when I said this:

"The attack must be successful to cool anything, as in it needs to hit a mob and do some damage (this is to prevent the situation where standing in a corner and swinging your sword between fights just replaces waiting for your magic meter to fill)."

So, wait (this is me being the Devil’s Advocate, so picture me with pointy red horns and a forked tail and possibly the darker, sinister version of a copy of all the news that’s fit to print and pertains to gays), why not just have all attacks at all times cool skills and give players the option of standing around and doing essentially nothing between fights if that’s what they want? It’s a free country, and here’s this greasy motherfucker telling me I can’t stand around and swing my sword?

Fact is, if that were allowed, it would create a situation where the optimal play is to waste time doing nothing between fights. Why is that bad? I mean, isn’t the optimal play in Final Fantasy to wander around fighting imps outside Coneria until you’re level 99? The difference is scale. Nobody but complete loons will grind to max level on the easiest mobs in an RPG because it would take goddamn years. I know — I did that once in Zelda II. But if you set up a situation where killing thirty seconds between pulls improves your situation greatly, nearly nobody will be able to resist the temptation. Who wouldn’t trade thirty seconds for full power? And, sure, if you do it once, no big deal. But over and over again? Now the impression people will take out of your game is "well, that’s kind of a neat game, but what’s with all the damn waiting?"

This is a problem inherent to all games that use a time metric for the resource system. It was a problem in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (less so in other recent Castlevanias because they’re just really easy), it was a problem in Final Fantasy XII, and (I’ll come right out and say it!) it’s a problem in World of Warcraft (though alleviated somewhat by food and water). The fact is that waiting isn’t fun. Everybody knows that. And if you create a system that encourages waiting, then players are going to do it, just to get that edge. And you have to balance the game expecting that they’ve done that. Every encounter needs to be designed and pitched expecting the players to have full command of all their resources.

This is why it’s important sometimes to prevent the player from doing certain things. By limiting the player’s ability to do boring things, you make the game more fun. And one of my primary goals with my resource system is to make every step fun; I want using skills to be fun, and I want recharging them to be fun.

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | My secret project | no comments