The Unbearable Awesomeness Of Being

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

You Still Can't Get Ye Flask

Whenever I get 'normal' people to play text adventures (or for the more pedantically inclined, 'interactive fiction'), they reject it as soon as they discover the computer won't understand 'grab the left glove from atop the fireplace' even if you add 'please' at the end. These are usually the same people that have no issue with the hundreds of buildings on MMORPGs that have apparently painted-on doors.

I've been playing City of Heroes recently, and it constantly impresses me with its simple design. Not simple in a good way, mind you: The palette of game actions is incredibly limited. You can attack villains with an array of 30 or so powers with various flashy effects, heal friends with a few other powers, open doors, find clues, jump up objects for the occasional badge bonus and.... that's it. I was surprised to find that you can make enemies fall in lava and get hurt: That's how low of an expectation I had for the game.

What do we learn from this? After twenty years of gamemaking, the designer's bag of tricks continues tiny as ever. Granted, many games are purposefully limited in this way: for example Tetris wouldn't be better if you could turn the blocks 45 degrees or choose what block you can drop; you're supposed to do the best you can with what the computer throws at you. But the new wave of games, so to say, seems to stick with these limitations more out of tradition or lack of creativity than to offer a challenge to players. Is there any reason why you shouldn't be able to talk a group of monsters into surrendering or throw a car at them or use their fallen comrades as blunt weapons? Of course there is - the programmers didn't add that.

If game companies spent nearly as much on adding gameplay value to their games as they do crafting beautiful threedimensional scenery and generic fantasy plots, we'd reach the skies. GTA and Metal Gear Solid would look like Pac-Man. (Which, in fifteen years or so, has not been improved upon.)


  • One of the games I used to like, which I think ye could get flasks, was called Myst.

    I would love it if in CoH, I could even have an effect on the missions. There's 2 or 3 missions where what you do has an actual effect on whether you win or lose. (Cape Mission, War Wall Defender and the hideous 10-minute timed Praetorian mission).

    People complained the cape mission was too hard, so they made it so easy that even an empathy defender can brawl his way through it. So, you can't actually have a whole lot of getting ye flask because enough players will complain when they mess up and the game says "Hah, loser, ye broke ye flask."

    Now, from the programming perspective, we know that even making a text-based game to that degree of detail is difficult. I'm pretty sure CoH was made on a shoestring budget and they needed to rush the game out at the time they did or they would have gone under.

    To me, what makes the game fun is the group of people I've met and their characters.. so CoH is my 3D superhero MUD.

    There was a thing about Spore, where the programmers, rather than designing static stuff, allegedly made it so the game allows the player to create content. That might have a future, if they can get it going. It says a lot that CoH's most beloved feature isn't actually the gameplay, but the physical character creation.

    By Blogger Ellis, at 3/21/2005 7:24 AM  

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