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The Philosophical Basis of Exploration Cues in Game Design

Republished from The GameSaver, whose purpose it is to use objective philosophical analysis to save the video game industry from imploding.

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…it’s your game. You decide how you want to play, I mean, we’re not the ones who are going to tell you how to play...” – Mathieu Ferland, senior producer at Ubisoft Montreal, describing the design philosophy of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Obviously you can’t instruct people on how to enjoy art.” – Lisa Foiles, video game commentator (and former “All That” star) stating what she believes to be a truism relevant to a gamer’s choosing how (and whether) to explore a game world.

Together, these two quotations represent a malignant viewpoint stretching from video game designer to video game player. The second quote comes from one of Kotaku’s (few) intellectual features now roughly a year old. It is the perfect encapsulation of the average person’s view of art. Because this view is so widespread, what I am about to say is tragically controversial: there is an objectively correct way to read books, watch movies, view paintings, and play games. Read the rest of this entry

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Mercenaries should all wear Ponytails

I hope Tom forgives me for pushing this Just Gamers post down, but I couldn’t resist commenting about something I’ve noticed in Metroid: Other M. Initially, I wanted to save the comment for some future review, but frankly, who knows when I’m ever going to put my hands on that game .

If there is one thing that bothers me about games in particular is when functionality is dropped for the sake of a possibly interesting design. I’ve always been an advocate of the opposite: that form should follow function. Even if the form in question is Mario’s cap and its function is merely to give Miyamoto an excuse not to draw hair with pixels.

So, I was trying to find something interesting at Kotaku today (and it wasn’t easy) when I came across the picture of Samus used in the Japanese box art.

That’s so stupid, I thought. Samus shouldn’t use her hair inside her helmet like that: it might go into her eyes in a critical battle or something. It’s dangerous! A skilled mercenary should know better. Read the rest of this entry

Can The Headshot Be Replaced?

“Headshots are ruining games. Think about the arsenal they give you in Splinter Cell. Think about the remote camera, the sticky mines, the grenades, and EMPs, and all this other stuff, shotguns and assault rifles…and you went through the entire game using the default pistol and then the upgraded version of the default pistol, ’cause it’s silenced and you can shoot guys in the head with it really well…all of the spots where you are not being seen by anyone the right answer every single time is shoot that guy in the head…it is ruining games.” – Jeff Gerstmann

Quote taken from Jon Porter’s post over at Bitmob.

I have a confession. I have a confession, and I’m not sure I can explain it, but here it is: I have an addiction to crunch. That visceral feeling, a shot of adrenaline, that rush of blood. I can’t get enough of it. The rasp of your feet when Limbo’s protagonist slides over a mound of earth, Nathan Drake jumping over an impossible abyss only to land in a perfect grapple…there’s a thousand small moments that exist so vividly in my mind, that I can feel in my bones, that I can swear last a lifetime. None of these moments, however, can match the perfection of a single moment: and that’s getting a headshot in Gears.

It’s not a crunch like any other, because it exists on every possible plane. You see it, the skull pops off in this perfect arc: gruesome, but poetic, in this macabre sort of way. You feel it, that perfect surge of rumble, of feedback. And the soundbite! It should be a requirement for any game with a headshot to implement the same soundbite: there’s nothing else out there that gives you the same satisfaction as hearing a Gears 2 headshot.

And the thing is, it’s not like popping bubblewrap or smashing a watermelon with a baseball bat: you’ve got to earn the high. You’ve got to fight for it. In all the FPS games I’ve played, Gears has to be the hardest game to land a headshot in if only because of craptastic connections, and Marcus’ pin-size head doesn’t help the fact that the hitbox for the headshot is questionable. Couple this with the competition of multiplayer and a Gears player’s penchant for masochism, and you’ve got yourself a reward of the highest order.

Of course, this can be said of any game: try searching for Modern Warfare or Battlefield footage on YouTube, and try to find a video that’s not a montage of headshots. Truth is, nearly everyone who plays FPS games are addicted to headshots. Sure, it’s an efficient way of taking an opponent out: most shots to the head do more damage than bodyshots. I’m convinced it has less to do with a player’s desire to get rid of enemies as fast as possible as it does with a semblance of the headshot high.

Think about it. Sure, you can kill a guy. You can do this in a variety of ways, pinpointing a wide array of locations on the body. But there’s a tinge of humiliation that occurs when you best your opponent via headshot. You’re not just killing them, depriving them of bodily function: you’re taking them out completely, their mind is yours to claim as well. You’re turning off the lights, laying claim to body and soul. You have absolute power over them, and all because you managed to dispatch one or two well-placed shots. Power negotiations between players of opposite teams are never more apparent than that search for the infamous BOOM HEADSHOT.

In this way, I can see Jeff’s criticisms clearly: players can become obsessed with the headshot, but it’s because it’s efficient and it feels great, a testament of prowess. No one wants to just “win” when they’re playing against other people (or enemy AI), they want to prove they’re better, they’re faster, they’re stronger. The headshot embodies all those things simply and as elegantly as designers have managed to implement so far. The fact that some games, like Battlefield, give you bonus points for achieving a headshot, isn’t helping, either.

So then the question would be, can you replace the headshot? Is there a way to one-up it, as it were?

Read the rest of this entry