Monday, May 11, 2009
My appearance on the new episode of Big Red Potion is up in which we discuss Death in Gaming. Despite some technical difficulties, I think we all had a great time recording and covered a lot of interesting ground. Give it a listen!
Here are some of my thoughts after suffering through listening to my own voice:
I think Sinan really hit the nail on the head, when he said so-called "gamey" games need some kind of loss condition, whereas if a game is meant to be more of an experience, death is seen as an impediment. I cited Zack and Wiki on the show, but upon further reflection, a greater example of this would be the Phoenix Wright series. Those games are essentially digital graphic novels and the fact that there even is a loss condition at all impedes their pacing tremendously. If you lose a case, you'll be sent back to the beginning of the chapter, which can take several hours of skipping through text to get back to where you were. Of course, no one ever actually loses those games as you can save at any time (unless you're unfortunate enough to save right before losing your last point), so it's baffling why they even bothered to allow you to lose in the first place. It would work infinitely better if the judge simply continued shaming you when presenting the wrong piece of evidence, so you could stay in the game at all times, worry free, as it would just be a shortcut to having to save and reload all the time. I don't wish to make broad generalizations about an entire nation, but Japan does have a reputation for being a little less progressive in game design on the whole. I find that having game-overs in Phoenix Wright (and Zack and Wiki) to be remnants of this oldschool design philosophy unceremoniously placed unto a a genre that never needed it (just look at the old LucasArts adventures, as Joe wisely noted).
To elaborate on my point about JRPGs- I don't believe the genre shouldn't feature death. The genre has its inheritance in pen-and-paper games, which are very "gamey" by nature, so they require a loss condition. What I meant was that I wished RPGs let you keep all your loot and exp, so it wouldn't make you feel like the last half-hour plus was all for naught upon dying. Or perhaps just have an option as to whether to keep all your exp, as I dislike the idea of the game making itself easier in case the player may not want that. Again; different variables based on how hardcore an experience the player wants. I disliked the gamey aspects of Persona 4, but otherwise liked the experience and just wanted to press forward. Others may want a stricter challenge. I think there may have been a little confusion as to what I was talking about there.
Going with the idea of varying levels of entry, Steve had a fantastic suggestion that we discussed the night before, then absent-mindedly forgot to bring up on the show. Since he doesn't have a blog of his own, I will surmise it here: He suggested that certain games maybe not have a game over, but rather a ranking system to show how many times you "died." Something like Ikaruga comes to mind where you can unlock infinite lives after a certain amount of play, but if you really want to achieve high score status, you'll have to get especially skilled at the game. I've found that Geometry Wars 2 does an amazing job at making a single-player experience social via its friends only leaderboard. Imagine if a game like Uncharted had no death penalty, which would quasi make sense as it's such a narrative-based game and a lot of players may just want to play it for the story (though they'd have to come up with some ridiculous reason for why Nathan could constantly be resurrected), yet it could offer great incentives for replay value if you could replay individual chapters for high scores based on number of times "killed," headshots, time completed, etc, etc...
At any rate, I hope you all enjoyed the podcast and I'd be curious to hear other opinion on ways that death can either help or hinder a certain type of game.