Sunday, March 16, 2008

Witty blog title about Clear Interaction and Goals

Getting lost, getting stuck, not having the motivation to continue, running back to the start or simply missing some obviously important key or crystal located underneath an empty can of baked beans in woop woop land are all examples of unclear interactivity and gaming goals. The problem is that they are inherent in so many games, it ceases to be funny.

If you have ever found yourself victim to any of the above mentioned conditions (or any similar) then you can relate to this post. When immersed in a game only to find that you are either unable to continue for unknown reasons or to realize you need to travel all the way back to the start to do X thing, it is normal for frustration and annoyance to be the response. Gaming, something that should be enjoyable, is not something that should ideally contain these elements.

Two examples, both different, I will use to prove my point in this case. Soldier of Fortune 2, a game I had a great deal of fun with at LANs with friends back in the day, had an uncanny knack of kicking the player out onto the street in the singleplayer campaign. Although the maps were rather linear, the direction and even objectives in some of the locations were extremely vague. You would eventually find your way to the end by simply hugging walls and jumping on/opening everthing that looked like it could be interacted with. Passages that were blocked and could be 'cleared' via gunfire or explosive gave no visual indication other than being another random pile of crap in the corner. Although I eventually finished the game (and still had an immense amount of fun) it is a game that really didn't need to be so confusing, considering the Rambo style shooter that it is.

Below: SoF2. A very peaceful game.

Another game, and one that will draw both resentment and acknowledgment for discussing, is actually (unfortunately) World of Warcraft. As great a game as this is (and I am not being sarcastic when I say this) there are several major flaws in the quest and leveling system, particularly between levels 25-35. At this level, there is virtually no information on where you should quest next or where the heck you should head off to. I originally believed that this was simply a flaw in the Horde leveling scheme but I have also heard the same from many Alliance players. It is also (and I can back this up with evidence) the most common levels for people to stop playing the game. I know 3 individuals, two horde and one alliance, who all stopped leveling and playing the game at some point because of a lack of influence on where to move on to and motivation to keep playing. Fortunately these people did not obtain the crack like addiction that WoW can cause and although one of them returned briefly to level a further 10 levels later on, none of them continued playing the game.

Below: WoW - Desolace, the 'WTF am I doing here?' zone.

Despite this small flaw (and others involving PvP balance and the caters for casual/hardcore players), World of Warcraft is still (in my opinion) one of the best designed games in the history of gaming. Although I do not play the game anymore (may start again when WotLK comes out) I was motivated to level both a warlock and warrior to 70. This fact alone, as well as the fact that it is the most popular online game in the world, is why (despite my biffs with it) it is still one of the best games around.

However it is obvious that even the king of games suffers from unclear interaction and gaming goals. As a game designer, it is important to know that keeping the player aware, motivated and most of all directed are the most vital aspects to keeping them playing the game and enjoying it. Hopefully this knowledge can be passed on in future endeavors.

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