Too Much Freedom?
By Jamis "Kayin" Eichenauer
One of the many things wrong with games today is the fact is there is
total exploration of a limited world. Most 3-D games today boast that the
worlds are huge and explorable, most older games are much more limited
- to a one dimensional, side-scrolling level or even a single screen. But
the best games then could give the user complete control over everything
that happened in that limited space and a good sense of potential power
over that of a vast, 3-D world in which you feel powerless and small.
The limited environment of older games also gave the designer more freedom
to plan exactly how the user will come to interact with the world, either
enimies or levels. A huge explorable area in a modern game might mean that
the design can be no more in-depth than "here is a world, here are
some bad guys, go kill them" like in Super Mario 64. In fact, to get
any control at all over the user's interaction with a world, you seem to
need to constrain freedom, such as in a game like Sonic the Hedgehog.
In Joust, for instance, you could fly anywhere you wanted to - you
had full run of the entire game universe, as small as it was. At the same
time, however, players could only interact with ostriches in about seven
distinct areas. Thus, the designer could take the time to tweak the game
to ensure the interaction would be just as he wanted it to be. Contrast
to this is Quake, an otherwise great game that has a few flaws, namely
the fact that you can save the game at any spot and constantly, and keep
re-loading, and pass the level without any tension of skill involved whatsoever.
Purely the result in which, it seems the user has way too much freedom
over what happens with given obstacles.
To some degree, this seems like a trade-off - the more freedom you give
the user, the less control the designer has over what exactly happens when
the user faces a given enemy or obstacle. But classic games, given to the
fact that technology was very limited, gave designers as much freedom as
they wanted within one area. A good example of this is Joust.
The lesson of this is simple: If you want to make a classic game, offer
gamers a small world, a world in which they have total limited freedom,
and somehow figure out a way to control how the player will interact with
this world. Easier said than done, I'm sure, but there is one genre that
seems to be doing this perfectly everytime, and that is fighting games
and RPG's. Street Fighter Alpha 2 is a perfect example of this. Inside
the ring, you can do anything you want - except really get away from your
opponent. And in RPG's such as Chrono Trigger, the worlds you could explore
was vast - yet you felt as if you were still being guided until you did
what the designer had in mind for you to do. Tombraider is very good with
this also, in the sense that you had 3-D freedom, but the world wasn't
hugely vast and there was only one way to go onward, and many puzzles had
to be solved a certain way.
So the point of this article seems to sum up to one thing: Make the user
"feel" as if he/she has total freedom in the world he/she is
in, but yet have it set up so that you control exactly how a person interacts
with a certain event. If you get the formula right, well - move over iD,
Epic and Microsoft, because there's a new big boy on the block, straight
from a gamer's garage.
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