Game design feedback

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Panoptic Blur
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Game design feedback

Post by Panoptic Blur » Aug 3rd, 2012, 05:27

A thread in which gamers give reasoned feedback about game design. Preferably where a preference is backed up by some rationale or discussion of gameplay effects.
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Panoptic Blur
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Joined: Sep 6th, 2010, 02:44

Re: Game design feedback

Post by Panoptic Blur » Aug 3rd, 2012, 06:06

On cameras and viewpoints:

TL;DR - Any camera implementation is likely to have implementational imperfections... but designers can improve the gameplay experience for gamers by reducing the number of challenges, or by implementing features that minimize these imperfections. Implementing challenges that specifically rely on the imperfections of the camera (and thereby bumping up the difficulty purely by an artifact of the game) is likely to degrade the gameplay experience for gamers, unless it's carefully handled.

Cameras are hard to get right. The game worlds are often 3D, and the designer has to express that on a 2D screen. Putting the camera viewpoint in the player character's viewpoint (as is the case with Blood and most shooter games) immediately cuts out the problems with moving the camera around, as most players are inherently familiar with FPS mouselook.

In platformer or adventure games, designers often go for a 3rd-person perspective, with an external camera - often over-the-shoulder, or an adjustable array of camera angles. One of the earliest true 3D games, Jedi Knight, allowed an optional external camera, to help with the lightsaber duel swordplay - Super Mario 64 was another early pioneer for the platformer/exploration game genre.

The problem with 3rd-person camera design is that the camera itself becomes an added point of complexity. In addition to moving the character around, the player now has to manipulate the camera too. Something as simple as walking up a flight of stairs can become very challenging if the controls favor an up-down-left-right direction scheme, but the cameras are stuck on diagonal directions instead. Likewise, the character can end up looking in a direction that the player cannot see - and this then means the player has an artificial knowledge deficit that would have been avoided if the game were first-person viewpoint.

In a 2D plane, this can be as common as taking damage from an attack that you cannot see because it's offscreen, but which your character could easily have seen because they're facing in that direction. In a 3D volume, this can be even more disconcerting - imagine the many games where your character can swim or fly in three dimensions. In first-person view, this is easy to do: you merely need a button for "speed up", another for "slow down" and mouselook can do the rest. But in a third-person view, this is usually insufficient, because the player can only estimate which direction the character is facing. If you turn your character 90° to the right, your character is now headed in a direction which is imperfectly expressed by the camera. Essentially, you're swimming or flying blind until the camera once again gets behind the character.

A 3D game with an external camera therefore needs proper implementation to allow the player to react as they could have done in first-person. Most 3D third-person games will allow camera shifting, but the process is inherently slower than merely looking around in first-person. For this reason, many third-person games tend towards genres that favor a slower, more thorough style of gameplay (such as exploration, puzzle solving, and mobility) rather than combat, racing, or other time-intensive tasks (where the added lag of controlling the camera can mean the difference between success and failure).

Third-person games that require combat, racing, or other time-intensive tasks therefore automatically saddle the player with an artificially inflated challenge. Including these types of challenges in a third-person game is therefore subject to a few disclaimers:

1. Implement an in-game feature that reduces the inherent disadvantage of the third-person camera viewpoint. In Zelda games, they allowed a form of auto-aim to lock-on to your enemies, making it easier for your character to remain facing those enemies wherever they went (and thus making melee attacks always face the enemy). For missile attacks, they implemented the auto-aim lock-on in an intentionally imperfect way, because it only ever fires at the enemy's current location, so a quickly-dodging enemy can side step an attack. The missile attack lock-on was admittedly imperfect, but it ultimately worked out because of a third method (outlined in point 2. below) which removed those imperfections. Both of these are acceptable workarounds, such that combat is usually a fairly smooth and intuitive event, despite the 3D camera. (Oddly enough, for an exploration game, movement is usually more of a frustrating experience than combat - and once again because movement has no assisting features to deal with the camera quirks whereas combat does.) Without assistance, however, a third-person viewpoint game needs either a toggled first-person feature for fine aiming, or a toggled view over the shoulder of the character (often with a false-line-of-sight which actually leads to the player, not the character, as is the case with Gears of War).

2. Provide an optional first-person viewpoint. It's that simple - not all players know how to manipulate a camera, but all players know how to look around in first-person. Giving the players more choice in something as essential as how they view the world is unlikely to result in player frustration. Zelda's missile combat also allowed the player a toggled first-person mode with no auto-aim nor any lock-on (which is entirely dependent on the player's own inherent skill). It had different qualities from its third-person assisted lock-on missile attack mode, but it made the game accessible to players who preferred to rely on their own deflection shooting skills, rather than an assisted lock-on mode that tended to automatically miss fast opponents. There are benefits to having a third-person camera view - primarily to do with improved peripheral vision and better situational awareness. But when the exact "center of the target" is crucial information (as is the case for racing games and shooting games, where the exact direction you're pointing in is the whole purpose of the game) there is no excuse for not including a first-person viewpoint.

3. If you're going to design your game with challenges that rely on third-person camera complexities for their difficulty, then at least relegate those particular sequences to optional "100% completionist" type challenges. Don't leave them in the main quest portion of a game, unless you've extensively playtested it and made sure that non-completionist players won't give up en masse. If a player is required to pass through a test of skill which is made unreasonably difficult purely through operation of a camera quirk, the player will rapidly become aware of the fact that their skill is not being tested fairly - and they will feel that the designer has put in an arbitrary constraint which would not be present in a first-person viewpoint game. A designer who relegates these types of challenges to "completionist" plot points will sidestep much of the potential for player frustration, simply by making them optional. If you want to complete the game's main quest, you're likely to have a different level of commitment (and tolerance for frustration) than if you wanted to collect every last power-up and solve every last optional quest. Many players subscribe to the "give me your hardest challenges - I want to challenge myself" mindset... but if a designer makes challenges like that mandatory to completing the main game, then they've just effectively shut out the demographic of gamers that doesn't think like that. Keeping those challenges in the optional quest objectives will give the hardcore completionists something to test themselves against, while not depriving average gamers from the game's central experience.

As a final note, I understand that studios spend time and money designing their central characters. There is focus group, market research, and advertising currency spent in designing, promoting, and portraying the characters in these games. And I understand that players get the best view of these characters in games where the camera is third-person... because in a first-person game, you rarely see the protagonist besides their hands and sleeves. I get that - but at the same time, if you decide to design your game wholly in the third-person view, and therefore decide to deprive your players of a first-person viewpoint (as was the case for the Gears of War shooter series), you'll need a better reasoning than "well, we spent all this money on designing the character and so we'll damn well make sure the players look at him a lot". Designers should err on the side of including more choice, not less - and definitely not on hampering one of the game genre's central premises (i.e. that players can see where they're shooting in a shooting game) purely because of character vanity.


More thoughts to come later.
"All right, I'm going to ask you a series of questions. Just relax and answer them as simply as you can."

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