Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Beginning of the End

Because I think I may be writing slightly too much for these weekly posts, I shall endeavor to shorten them slightly from now on.

"To be continued... ". "Congratulations on your new high score of .... ". "You died. The End". "Gameover". Do some of these sound familiar? For me, yes they do. They reflect upon an expression, usually facial but sometimes even verbal, that I sometimes possess when I reach the end of a game I have played through. Usually the feeling is positive or mutual, but sometimes it is rather negative.

Bad game endings are like bad movie endings (and especially like bad game movie endings). You can base your entire view of the game simply on the ending. Usually a game that you have stuck with until the end is one that keeps you interested to an extent through some sort of aspect, whether it be the action or the story. Therefore when such games reach their epic conclusions and we are presented with what appears to be a half-assed, last minute scratch attempt finale (usually due to lack of funding or pushing developer deadlines) one cannot help but feel a bit ripped off. Bad endings can alter one's entire opinion of the game, even if most of the game was actually pretty good. It is important that game designer's understand that the end of a game, or even the end conditions for a level, match, skirmish or battle are not only conclusive narratively, but also clear, defined and to be expected.

Perhaps however, more important than game ends are actually game beginnings. Starting conditions and information for games (excluding plot) should be given to the user at a steady, need-to-know basis to avoid both distracting the player unnecessarily (i.e. in combat) or drowning them in too much irrelevant data. An excellent method for achieving this could be done by including a form of tutorial early on within the game, especially if the game is plot driven. The user will accomplish learning objectives concurrently alongside playing through the actual game. This is both a useful and time saving design choice as it removes the need for a separate tutorial level or area as well as forcing the player to learn the game while playing through it properly (instead of skipping the tutorial). It is also important that the player can actually perform the tasks early on in a new game as frustration can be an instant turn off for gamers. Keeping the user in an interested (and not confused) state is an essential method to keeping them interested in the game and wanting to play it more.

It is through this information that it is my opinion that most new games should be played by the user at their own comfortable pace, instead of thrown straight into the heat and expected to perform or compete. Whether this is achieved through difficulty levels, match-making (skill/gear based) or even statistical achievements (aka. TF2 stats) should be left up to the game designer to decide.

Oh, and if you are going to have a game that has an ending, make sure it wasn't written on the toilet 5 minutes before work at a company that's going bankrupt. Not a good idea.

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