Game Design

Why Did Hitman Fail?

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Though we as gamers got a great game and it still sold decent, I see this yet another case of business considerations destroying the game design choices and messing with the customer experience, like those devs so focused on pirating that they implement DRM that pisses off their paying customers (respect for GoG for pushing against that with business sense).

In Hitman I felt it too every time when after paying the full season pass game I was repeatedly forced against my will to connect to their servers and experience that extra wait/problems/the thus designed repetition gameplay, particularly the artificial structuring of the replays for episodic gameplay: it diminishes the value the customers get out of their gameplay. Plus in being greedy that way I think they lost a lot of potential customers which only got 1-3 episodes and never got the rest. This makes me think of games like GTA 4 & 5, granted huge games, which I hear stats say most people never finish, yet that’s no problem because 1) the people who do finish them feel they got great value 2) those who didn’t got a unique experience of a huge scale with a taste of much more. Now imagine they would’ve had monetization in the forefront (as i’d suspect they’re transitioning to), and had made chunks. Then group 1) would’ve gotten a butchered experienced, with locked areas and never become the huge advocates, and would’ve gave off worse reviews and group 2) would only buy 5-10h of gameplay because after that they already got the taste and lost interest. At least that’s what I imagine would happen. But with Hitman in particular it felt that while it was a great game by the devs, there were definitely management people there who had monetization rather than customer satisfaction as their highest priority and that could be felt in many game design influencing choices.

PS: since he mentions it in the video, yes, i’m one of those, i fully subscribe to being an admirer of the original Watch Dogs which I purchased multiple times and incredibly disappointed in how they destroyed their integrity and credibility with Watch Dogs 2 in order to make it more “mass market” (yes, you can feel that strong push, from the politically correct black hero, to the very safe subjects to dumbing it down for the masses). And I get why it’s so hard for the devs to tell, because I bought Watch Dogs 2 on preorder full price, based on the credibility of Watch Dogs 1, and yet now due to the big disappointment in 2 I will be much less likely to do that for 3 even though they might return to the origins. It’s hard for the devs to tell, similar story with Assassin’s Creed, but yet as a gamer I can tell when something is driven by a desire to make sales/get social hi-fives or a desire to create something wonderful. I’m always encouraged when I see this pattern, of the game which got the critical praise and media doesn’t sell so well as I feel there’s some justice in the universe after all and the customers are in fact smarter than the sales people take them for in recognizing a genuine thing from a quick cash push.

Design Implications of Free 2 Play

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This is to me just one of many examples of the perverse and subtly horrible consequence that free to play and MMOs have on the game design & user experience. I put them together because both have certain fundamental genetically unavoidable properties which developers repeatedly pretend don’t exist or promise that their specific games won’t suffer from them, yet due to these innate characteristics both introduce mutations into gameplay which tend to corrupt the goal of making games fun and enjoyable for the player and into something else, a building resentment monster growing under the surface, as the games logically choose not to cater to the player’s needs and joys but rather to the constraints of their genetics.

In the case of free to play of hiding monetization and thus subtly perverting the gameplay design choices, and in the case of MMOs because even if they don’t run on a subscription model they must cater to the satisfaction of not one player but many players, and thus can’t bring the fantasies and joys of one, because they must always balance for the others not to find it unfair, which cripples them. Take for example The Elder Scrolls online, a game which i think in terms of production, content, audience and pedigree has many great things, yet even when it goes back to Morrowind, with so much potential and such a big fan-base, not just the presence of the other players trivializes the experience and contradicts the narrative told but logically also subtle design decisions made for this purpose thus make the game less fun than it could’ve been.

In the cases of multiplayer we have seen over the years some better than others solutions (Dead Island/Dying Light allowed me to play singleplayer until i accidentally shattered my own immersion by lifting the curtain and seeing others in my world destroying quests, exploration and immersion), yet in the free to play arena I see things even worse, which is why I still believe the best strategy for player enjoying their experience and developers still getting their money is simply stealing the modern “free to play” naming/PR  and instead mixing it with the old demo-model, eg parts/regions which are free, and parts which are payed. This way the free parts can be designed without compromises in the experience & player satisfaction, without all those subtle perverting tweaks meant to incentivize the free to play model. Of course even doing this I can imagine differences between a bad and an excellent game as to how subtly this is done, how it takes the lessons learned in recent years from “free to play” to integrate the content in an organic way. Otherwise we end up with what I’ve seen all to many times: two radically different games hiding under the same hood, contradicting each other in design and goals.

 

The problem is ultimate in my opinion: you can’t serve two masters, and you can see that on many such games, having in different states two different and contradictory design structures. One which is fun, one which is frustrating. And ironically I’ve seen many tragedies where even the player who decides to pay hoping to return the game to a fun state no longer can because the design incentives are already so deeply baked into the cake that they can’t be eliminated. It saddened me but I actually played free to play games which were pretty good in parts, and I wanted to thank/pay the developers for that… but paying them broke the game in another way, and there were actually games in which it was logical not to pay the developers because you ruined your own experience. This I find tragic and perverse on both accounts, for the players as they are no longer sure what/when they’re buying, if they’re getting fun or frustration, and of course for the developers, as they put so much work/money/effort/development time and then don’t get adequately rewarded for their effort, and often due to logical consequences of their own designs.

 

PS: i’m playing among others Zelda: Breath of the Wild currently, and it’s a fun (if creepy) mental experiment to think of all the ways in which that game would’ve been destroyed, and all my minor complaints would’ve mutated into horrible throw the game into a junk bin, if it had been designed with free to play in mind. There too I see my theory/model being self consistent: even keeping the same amount of content, rather than pervert the whole world and experience with a free to play, adjusting the crafting/currency system and/or the monsters for grinding and micro-transactions, is to my mind a much bigger horrible evil that they could’ve done than to have the initial plateau or regions free to play but keeping the same consistent design.

 

So, spurred by that video, this has been a little essay of mine trying to put down my thoughts over the past years on the free to play model. I  think it’s hard enough to make a game that pleases the critical players… but that task is made not just much harder but possibly impossible by in essence making what is two games, with two contradicting sets of values and design choices. I find it a huge betrayal when the final game you buy is radically different than what you tried out… and yet this is what keeps happening.

I’ve seen this many times and I’m afraid I’ll see it many times more, because to paraphrase the british tv series Hustle: people like to get something for nothing, so we’ll keep giving them nothing for something.

Full Throttle Remastered

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I received this game as an epic b-day present from Raul Bugner (shoutout thaaaanks!) on my 17th. It was aamazing! I remember how I had some close friends over and we played some Worms Armageddon but then everybody left in the evening and I was left alone with this gem. The next thing I remember is semi-trembling from cold/lack of sleep happily watching the credits roll (with exploding bunnies?) around 6-7am, noticing that the sun had risen on the window to my left and that it had become light outside. What a night!

PS: sooo cool when he says they were inspired by Another World / Out of this World! So much respect for that tiny but huge game old game.

Titanic: Honor and Glory

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It is the year 1912, and you’ve somehow found your way aboard the largest man-made mobile structure on Earth.  Naturally, because it’s a plague-free couple of years, you find time to wander around the ship, bask in its beauty, and overall enjoy the view.

Oh, wait, all of this is about to be on the ocean floor in a matter of hours (spoiler alert).

The dedicated people at Vintage Digital Revival LLC are hard at work recreating the Titanic, down to every last watertight[citation heavily needed] bulkhead. Seriously.

The project is still in its infancy (the game engine seems to be at default settings based on some glitches caused by detail culling in UE4), and at this stage (much like Cameron’s “Titanic”) is devoid of characters. Gameplay should feature both a ship exploration mode, and a story mode.

It is estimated to be available for purchase somewhere in 2018, so sit tight.

There are 2 demos available for download on the developers’ website (alongside a beautiful gallery of in-game shots). The devs recommend having a whopping 8 GiB of system RAM, but it’s worth it.

Blighttown Eulogy

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Interesting perspective.

Environmental Showcasing [Just Cause 3]

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I find that this game has taken a brilliant game design choice to invite the players to admire the good looking environments, which are at times quite beautiful. Often times I see games which have in fact fantastic art assets, but because they have no gameplay associated to seeing them many twitch players miss them. This simple gampley (could just as well have been collecting points) combined with the challenge of gliding invites me to go close and go into a mood of calm and observation paying attention to the surroundings.

 

Star Wars – Knights of The Old Republic (Apeiron HD Remake)

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Are all these video game (and movie) reboots making you feel left out? Don’t worry! Chances are you’ve enjoyed the first two games set in The Old Republic times, and maybe even had a daydream about them being remade.

Dream no more; a small, independent team decided to step up, and treat KOTOR to a nice shine and polish, featuring modern models and shaders, and a first-person mode, among many other goodies.

Don’t forget to check their progress over here.

At the time of writing (August, 2016), Apeiron has not yet received a cease & desist. Good for them.

History & Game Design [GDC]

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Very interesting talk. As a lover of history it was particularly interesting to me the tweaks, bends and compromises that have to be made on history to make it more entertaining/commercial. I particularly found interesting the story at 21:30 as I happened to have known a bit about the subject from a T. Sowell historical book where he argued against the mainstream view of exploitative colonialism saying it just wasn’t profitable to trade with undeveloped nations. The story about religious schisms was also very interesting, as well as the tough decision to cut out some aspects of the simulation.

These games some I’ve played, the others I I always feel guilty I haven’t played yet as I know i’d love them, I just get so much more tempted by others. I guess I’m also waiting for “the one” that will draw me fully back into the genre. I’m hoping for a new trade simulation, with more historical scope, maybe Patrician 5++. At times I thought it might be something like a new Anno game, but then I’m put off by exactly such compromises on historical or reality as he talks about when he brings in silly propagandist marxism, as when I got the impression the game was geared towards the most advanced energy source being the oh so very politically correct solar power or such things. I hope more and more this genre will do what Game of Thrones did for the movie industry which is go into the territory of tough choices with some plausibility even if they’re not so “pretty”… but that of course would harm profitability so I kinda doubt it. From what I’ve been seeing with civilization 6 too I get the impression they went into the kiddy/simplify/mainstream direction. Hope I’m wrong, but It turned that way with 5 too, and they abandoned a lot of the more complex mechanics they pioneered in the 4 addons. Still watching the genre hopefully…

The Memorable Great Bridge

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This bridge is one of the places that sticks in my memory among the strongest in the wonderful world of Dying Light. It’s a testimony to Techland’s amazing masterpiece that it isn’t even part of the main questline but encountered in a few (awesome) secondary stories, should you find them, and should you feel like doing them, or simply like going there because it looked interesting. I love the feeling of discovery to find something so big and interesting inviting but not forcing you to explore (and in multiple stages of “secret”)… how amazing!

I can only hope that the new Assassin’s Creed will learn from this and make the leap into first person on this level of quality, and whenever I think of the Mirror’s Edge games, which i should’ve so loved (first person, exploring worlds!!!) I think what a shame they haven’t managed to create worlds nearly as beautiful or intricate or alive or open or inviting to explore as this. And since I’m already making “enemies” of fans of other games, I should also mention that the much praised new Doom game which is so praised for secrets and exploration has not just a much worse environment navigation system with many surfaces that seem climbable being invisible walls and the world not being nearly as interesting (although it should, being an original world as opposed to boring old contemporary reality!) but also having to lamely point out “you found a secret” and give counters and numbers to motivate, while Dying Light invites exploration with aristocratic elegance, with visual cues, with stories, with curiosity, and having whole huge amazing areas as “secrets” yet not feeling the need to brag about it.

So much respect for Techland!

Enemies with Souls

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happy somebody is raising such questions from inside the industry. We’ve got to mature and have less meaningless fillers. I’m fine with the content, but it could be much more dramatic with more meaning in my opinion.

Insights from VR

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Not excited about VR but this talk has some quite interesting insights about both the human body and mind as well as game design decisions so I thought I’d quickly post it.

Skywind – Official Development Video #4

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Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaan this project is so amazing!!!! I really hope these guys manage to bring it to completion!!! It would be sooooo cool to walk the lands of Morrowind again with this much love given!

Doom 2 quick re-impressions

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A funny game to play for Christmas, I know, but I was so excited to find it released on the ps3 as a collection I had to buy it and play it a bit, and one thing lead to another, great fun ensued for days… and i finished it again. So, this is interestingly enough a review… 20 years later.

+ very interesting game designs, variety in level designs

-, –  some puzzles feel a bit arbitrary, and some I found totally unreasonable, being about as hidden as a secret level, except being mandatory for the main game

+ original puzzles making use of gradually built up previously introduced elements. One example that comes to mind is the original tunnel of barrels level which forces you to think of a quick and alternative solution to not be caught in the chains of explosions

-,- obviously very aged graphics for somebody who’s never lived those times

+ i would say the game aged pretty good, still being fun in 2015, of course if one is willing to look over the huge graphical changes in these years

+, – I didn’t remember the game had so many puzzles. I mean i remembered the shooting, but not how often i got stuck and wondered around either aimlessly or trying to figure out things. This is a plus as it creates pacing, moments of quiet to emphasize those of action, but can also be a minus as some puzzles are in my opinion a bit too hidden

+ pretty decent midi music

-, – inconsistent use of visuals: some textures sometimes signified they can be triggered/would move, while at other times the same things didn’t do anything and were just decorative. I understand the need but it was confusing.

+ a lot of content to explore. I didn’t remember there was so much to explore, even stuff that felt optional, and alternate routes! Impressive!

+, + something that i miss in modern shooters, i loved that all through the game there was a lot of advancing and exploration, covering huge distances. (yeah, i feel there’s a drought in such shooters, i’d love to play more FPSs)

 

All in all I’ve had great fun replaying it, of course largely due to the memories, but to my surprise I found that having forgotten >60% of it i also had a large feeling of discovery and surprise, which was very enjoyable. Compensating for the huge time elapsed since launche and/or with some nostalgia sprinkled on top i’d give it a 2.5 on a -5 to 5 scale. Those who are willing to give it a chance might have some fun.

Places of Horror

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Nice analysis. I also see some interesting correlations with the types of horror.

Fears for (of?) Dark Souls 3 PVP

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My fear is that in catering to the wishes of PvP players they will alienate world exploration and storytelling and atmosphere players like me & my friends. I play for the deep world, the mature story, and the feeling of exploration, and i’m afraid such a focus on invasions will destroy the atmosphere of solitude and alienation in a strange world taht souls games have traditionally given, and result in the kind of time wasting that the MMOs create. What i see in this video is very mmo-ish, with a lot of time wasted from my point of view, not advancing or exploring the world, not getting new story, just going back and forth playing multiplayer. The fear of this in review videos is what had me delay trying out Dark Souls 1 for many years, and now i’m having the same fear with DS3. Not that long ago i went back after DS2 & before Bloodborne to Demonsouls, and although it felt it’s difficulty balancing brokend due to the empty servers, at the same time that gave it so much atmosphere. I’m fearing that with every iteration i’ve seen the souls games have gone more and more from a singleplayer game with a bit of ghost messages to increase the “purgatory” feeling, to destiny style obligatory 3 player co-ops and multiplayer grinding, which i find to be a huge shame. My wife has recently gotten the courage to play a whole new DS2 character from the beginning all by herself and there too i see the same thing: whenever she’s exploring the world, and slowly (and paranoically carefully) advancing there’s joy and fulfilment from the game, while the invasions are frustration creators and feel like cheats from tha game just to have you waste more time or to force you to play multiplayer even if you hate it as taht’s the only way to adjust the difficulty curve.

In addition to all the things said above, the reasons for those of us appreaciating story and lore immersion with atmosphere, there’s the health percentage you mentioned. I feel 70% of health is waaaay too much for an invader of an already insecure and afraid player. If it was only on players who want it, sure, but i know people like myself who just want to play through the game, and they’re mostly more on the rookie side, already having needed persuasion to give this punishing game a try on the promise of exploration big world. What i mean to argue is that here is a self-selection problem: the invaded are the meak/shey/world explorers, likely on their first playthrough, while the invaders are likely veteran bloody players, on their 3rd + playthrough, and while the invaded are barely figuring out the controls and the basic weapons the invaders are using game exploit type tricks, having had gathered all the items in the game and mixing fatal combos of different items. So in my opinion 50% would be the maximum the invaders should have since they are actively trying to destroy the game experience of somebody else and i hope the developers will be smart enough to protect their customers from such experience destroyers, just like in general one assumes on social sites and netwroks/forums that spammers and those who insult others will get admin punishment. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t have anything against consenting adults invading eachother, they can have all the multiplayer fun they want… but they have to be for people who want that, the difference between sex & rape is the consent, and i hope From Software will be careful or risk creaing a world more inviting to the rapists and discouraging those who just want to explore an interesting universe and hear some deep and moving stories with interesting characters and well thought out world-background.

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