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Stanshall

Curious Game Design Choices

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I've just finished a Japanese vertical shmup called RNX -Raijin- and it is baffling in many, many ways.

 

In the first instance, it's a campaign based shmup with around fifty stages. This is unusual in a genre which tends towards short completion time with a focus on replayability, memorisation and high score chasing. That's fine, though, not a problem in itself. The issue is that the pacing is frankly mental. Some of these stages take less than a minute or so to 'complete', and have only a very small handful of enemies, if any at all. Some take five minutes and some could take hours. Yep. If you do die and press Continue, it simply restarts so depending on the stage, be prepared to sit through a good couple of minutes of unskippable, inane intro chat every single time before any enemies appear. This is most frustrating on boss stages. 

 

As you progress, rather than present you with more challenging patterns or more bullets, enemies simply become sponges and when I hit the first difficulty spike, I spent half an hour on a single boss fight before quitting out due to boredom. Even though I didn't die, I was doing only a couple of pixels worth of damage to the health bar per minute and after all that time, I still only took the boss down to around two thirds health. I hit similar spikes half a dozen times in the campaign. 

 

Unusually again for the genre, these bullet sponges mean you need to grind previous stages to level up your ship. By collecting gems which are released by certain enemies, you will level up a series of attributes which include light, dark, fire, physical and some other shit. You don't choose which attributes to upgrade but as these fill up, your ship slowly levels up. This very gradually adds to your damage output but does nothing else that I can decipher. The game explains none of this. As I said, some stages feature almost no enemies and grant you almost no reward whatsoever, and they may also only feature a few lines of dialogue. I have no idea why they exist. But back to the grind...

 

Remarkably, you don't level up more quickly at lower levels - you level up more slowly. Since you can't destroy enemies as quickly, you get fewer upgrade gems than later on in the game. As a saving grace, this means that you will level up a little more quickly for a little while as you approach the Lvl 99 cap, though this is still slow. The most lucrative stage I found added two levels to my ship each time and took around five minutes. After twenty or so levels, it plateaued which meant that I had to grind previously less lucrative stages to continue to level up, only more slowly. Now, there is supposedly a system here based around the gem colours available in different stages but it's so opaque and obscure and inconsistent that I found it better to just grind the same few stages regardless of the gem colours.

 

Beyond this, there is a choice of three ships. I read in one review that they are more powerful against different bosses but my own experience says otherwise. Only the overall level seems to make any difference to your damage output or defences. I gave up on levelling two of the three ships when I realised this was not a rock/paper/scissors thing. Further to this strange lack of differentiation is that on the ship selection screen, you can press a button to transform your ship from a standard aircraft to a mech design. This doesn't affect the game in any way and doesn't carry over to the actual gameplay or even the visual design within the level. I have no idea why they paid someone to make this decision or to create the designs or do the animation.

 

It also has an ongoing, incredibly confusing anime type storyline. While the animated intro sets the scene, the actual story is told during each stage via talking heads in the top right of the screen. The voices are only in Japanese so you have to read to follow what's happening but of course, this is playing out while you're tackling a sometimes extremely difficult bullet hell shooting game. I have no idea what happened in the story. When I finished the game with Level 32A, it sent me to the credits sequence. Great. I loaded back up to play 32B which played out almost identically but with one or two different lines of dialogue during the fight. Why did anyone...I mean, what...? Oh, forget it. And yet, weirdly, despite the $40 price tag and the godawful unintentional slowdown at times, I did enjoy it in a way and it played really well at its best. Coming from some of the folk who worked on Raiden, it could have been a polished, focused game built around replayability and flashy visuals and multiple weapons, but what we got is one of the most curious things I've ever played, and I will never quite understand how they got to that point. 

 

---

 

Now, this thread could become a simple list of whinges (like this post) but I rather hope it might highlight some interesting or puzzling choices that stand out in a medium full of cookie cutter design decisions.

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Two for me. These are both great games but each had design decisions which annoyed me.

 

God Hand

 

God Hand's default difficulty had a dynamic modifier attached. In short, the better you did, the harder the game became. This was communicated in the bottom left hand corner with a 'level' indicator.

 

maxresdefault.jpg

 

Levels were 1, 2, 3 and Die. Now this was a tough game, even on levels 1 and 2. Start to do well, and you're rewarded with levels 3 and Die, whereby things become insane. Get hit a few times on those levels, and your level drops back.

 

In practice, the average person spends all your time working their way up to 3/Die, before getting battered back down to 1/2. Whilst I don't dislike dynamic difficulty in some circumstances, I hated it in this game. Especially since God Hand is such a replayable game. If it had four set, unchanging difficulties I think it would have worked much better.

 

Vanquish

 

Vanquish is a fantastic game in almost every way, but I really didn't like the weapon upgrade system.

 

1269933505-3_preview.jpg

 

Basically, it had weapon upgrade cubes, which would upgrade your current weapon, and is fine. This accounted for some of the upgrades.

 

It also had - however - a system whereby if you pick up a weapon, and the weapon in your inventory is filled with ammo, it would get a partial upgrade. Now in order to get all your weapons upgraded, it was necessary to take advantage of this. But to do so, you basically had to avoid using whichever weapon you wanted to upgrade. And that was likely one of your favourites. So the game was effectively discouraging you from using your favourite weapons, which is crazy. I never understood the design decision and it always slightly sullied my view of the game.

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New Super Mario Bros 2 on 3DS had a StreetPass high-score mode where you chose a set of three levels and tried to collect as many coins as possible. Reaching the top of the stage's flagpole doubled your overall score up to three times. Your score and stage choices would be sent to others via StreetPass to compete against.

 

For whatever reason Nintendo capped the maximum score at 30,000 coins. This meant that almost every other player just chose a set of three stages which allowed them to easily hit that limit and the mode was essentially redundant.

 

A shame because optimising your route was actually loads of fun.

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Speaking of Vanquish, the general design on the environmental details, characters and enemies is all extremely similar, lending it a confusing look like Michael Bay's Transformers where you can't tell what's happening. 

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1 hour ago, Ste Pickford said:

I've just started playing Red Dead Redemption 2, and, well...all the controls and UI.

I must have played it for more than 100 hours and while I got more confident, I was never 100% about whether I was going to interact with someone or pull a gun on them. Also - I never figured out how to permanently equip weapons without them disappearing back onto the horse.

 

It’s worth persevering with though.

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12 hours ago, Monkeyspill said:

I must have played it for more than 100 hours and while I got more confident, I was never 100% about whether I was going to interact with someone or pull a gun on them. Also - I never figured out how to permanently equip weapons without them disappearing back onto the horse.

 

It’s worth persevering with though.

 

I'm only a few hours in, but I think it's clicked with me, in theory, at least, what's happening.  When a prompt for R2 pops up with the name of an NPC, pressing R2 focuses on that character and you can interact.  But, before the prompt appears, pressing R2 shoots at them.  So you're learning the game, the prompts are telling you to press R2 when you want to interact with someone, and you get confident, thinking you now know the controls, and press R2 as you get near someone you want to interact with, but before the prompt has appeared, and shoot them.  


I think that's right, anyway.  And even though I've worked that out, it's really hard to not press R2 intuitively before the prompt appears.

 

Absolutely insane design.

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1 hour ago, Ste Pickford said:

 

I'm only a few hours in, but I think it's clicked with me, in theory, at least, what's happening.  When a prompt for R2 pops up with the name of an NPC, pressing R2 focuses on that character and you can interact.  But, before the prompt appears, pressing R2 shoots at them.  So you're learning the game, the prompts are telling you to press R2 when you want to interact with someone, and you get confident, thinking you now know the controls, and press R2 as you get near someone you want to interact with, but before the prompt has appeared, and shoot them.  


I think that's right, anyway.  And even though I've worked that out, it's really hard to not press R2 intuitively before the prompt appears.

 

Absolutely insane design.

That’s basically it, but it still tripped me up.

 

And selecting items in the menu is madness. Hold a shoulder button to keep the menu open, press the other shoulder button to cycle menu screens, hold the stick (accurately) in the right direction, another button to cycle items in a group, let go of all buttons at exactly the same time to use item. Even David Cage isn’t that insane.

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13 hours ago, Monkeyspill said:

I must have played it for more than 100 hours and while I got more confident, I was never 100% about whether I was going to interact with someone or pull a gun on them.

 

I have the same problem in real life, to be fair.

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Bungie/MS nailed console matchmaking way back in 2004. With a system where you can group up with your mates and then all get taken into a game together at the press of a button.

 

Then why in the name of Odin, did DICE/EA on various releases over the years decide that they knew better. Instead of the simple elegant system above random Battlefield games (not all of them bizarrely) and the first Battlefront had a system where you would group up with friends, the party leader would start a game, they'd get in then the game would essentially fire off invites to the rest of the group and they,d have to hope and pray that they could also get in before the server filled up. Even if they were lucky and got in they might end up on the opposite team.

 

How the hell does a system like that even get beyond the earliest planning meetings?

 

 

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2 hours ago, Ste Pickford said:

 

I'm only a few hours in, but I think it's clicked with me, in theory, at least, what's happening.  When a prompt for R2 pops up with the name of an NPC, pressing R2 focuses on that character and you can interact.  But, before the prompt appears, pressing R2 shoots at them.  So you're learning the game, the prompts are telling you to press R2 when you want to interact with someone, and you get confident, thinking you now know the controls, and press R2 as you get near someone you want to interact with, but before the prompt has appeared, and shoot them.  


I think that's right, anyway.  And even though I've worked that out, it's really hard to not press R2 intuitively before the prompt appears.

 

Absolutely insane design.

 

I don't understand this - on the Xbox, I only ever used the left trigger to focus on a person. The right trigger was always either fire weapon, or draw weapon (if holstered). 

 

Is the PS version different?

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1 hour ago, Monkeyspill said:

That’s basically it, but it still tripped me up.

 

And selecting items in the menu is madness. Hold a shoulder button to keep the menu open, press the other shoulder button to cycle menu screens, hold the stick (accurately) in the right direction, another button to cycle items in a group, let go of all buttons at exactly the same time to use item. Even David Cage isn’t that insane.

 

What's shitter about the radial menu is that it doesn't contain everything in your satchel, including things you'd presumably want to use a radial menu for.

 

Want to eat a biscuit? Radial menu.

 

Want to eat some game? Satchel menu. You won't find it in the radial.

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The character, Conrad Verner, in the Mass Effect games.

 

He's a direct piss-take of gamers as a whole. The developers had a lot of fun with him (and his sister, in Andromeda). 

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20 hours ago, GamesGamesGames said:

I came to like it in the context of the game, but always felt the universal ammo of Deus Ex: Invisible War to be a curious design choice.

Limit grinding. Think of all the various combos of choices you’d need once you take ammo into account. Was likely a conscious choice to focus on acquiring skills and weapons instead of endlessly sweeping (quite small) environments for varied pickups 

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One strange design choice that I am ambivalent about is the use of difficulty levels in Diablo 3, and the expectation that you micro-manage them. I'd normally play games on "Normal" or equivalent, but in Diablo this level is so ridiculously lacking in challenge it's laughable. So what you end up doing is constantly bumping the level up and down (like you are tuning the game yourself) to try to find the sweet spot for the challenge you personally want. I don't like this as I am not quite sure if I am supposed to be able to beat it at that level or not. I like being set a challenge and pushing myself to meet it. Similar idea is Smash Bros. risk slider (is that in the new one?)

 

I get that it allows you to pick your own risk/reward ratio, but it seems too ill-defined and loose to me. Anyone got any thoughts on it?

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17 hours ago, Ste Pickford said:

I've just started playing Red Dead Redemption 2, and, well...all the controls and UI.

 

And the pacing, and structure.

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The Final Fantasy IX remaster on PS4 wisely sticks to the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original, but then cocks it up by forcing two horrendous looking smudged grey bars on either side of the screen, with no option for simple black ones. It sounds silly but it made the whole thing unplayable for me.

 

Spoiler

FINAL_FANTASY_IX_20170919210900.thumb.jpg.7c9abf13968df682e25749b61bb600f9.jpg

 

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6 hours ago, Monkeyspill said:

That’s basically it, but it still tripped me up.

 

And selecting items in the menu is madness. Hold a shoulder button to keep the menu open, press the other shoulder button to cycle menu screens, hold the stick (accurately) in the right direction, another button to cycle items in a group, let go of all buttons at exactly the same time to use item. Even David Cage isn’t that insane.

 

I think you only need to let go of the shoulder button you pressed to open the menu. Still madness though.

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3 hours ago, SozzlyJoe said:

One strange design choice that I am ambivalent about is the use of difficulty levels in Diablo 3, and the expectation that you micro-manage them. I'd normally play games on "Normal" or equivalent, but in Diablo this level is so ridiculously lacking in challenge it's laughable. So what you end up doing is constantly bumping the level up and down (like you are tuning the game yourself) to try to find the sweet spot for the challenge you personally want. I don't like this as I am not quite sure if I am supposed to be able to beat it at that level or not.

 

I don't know how far you've gotten, but the challenge in Diablo 3 is indeed not beating the game, but beating its content at higher and higher difficulties. Once you're through the story and into the endgame content, you just keep turning the difficulty up and up and up and up. How high can you go? That's the challenge: it's essentially infinitely scalable in that sense.

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BOTW. When opening a chest then realising your inventory was full. Why didn't they let you choose something to drop without having to come out of it, open inventory, drop item and then reopen the chest. Quite annoying. 

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1 hour ago, Camel said:

 

I think you only need to let go of the shoulder button you pressed to open the menu. Still madness though.

Yes, but you can’t stop pressing on the stick in whatever diagonal direction you’re pushing or it will deselect the square on the wheel. So you have to let go of that at the same time as the shoulder button. It’s like a game in itself.

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2 hours ago, Monkeyspill said:

Yes, but you can’t stop pressing on the stick in whatever diagonal direction you’re pushing or it will deselect the square on the wheel. So you have to let go of that at the same time as the shoulder button. It’s like a game in itself.

 

You don't have to let go of it at the same time though do you, even your description of how to do it doesn't make that a requirement. You need to keep holding the direction until you've let go of the shoulder button, but you don't have to release everything at bang on the same time, just shoulder button first. This doesn't excuse it from being fucking shit either way, of course. 

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IIRC in one of the Silent Hill games you couldn't invert the Y-axis? I can't remember whether it was more or less scary when you spent most of the time looking at either the floor or the ceiling.

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How about a 48-minute day/ night cycle in a “cowboy simulator focusing on realism.” Nothing is more jarring and frankly, fucking annoying, to be exploring the great outdoors, enjoying the nighttime view of the land while hiking up a fucking mountain, and watching a time-lapse of the sunrise occur before your very eyes.

 

There is also this shit fucking thing that occurs at daybreak where the sun “switches on” at the end of the night cycle. It’s like someone has thrown on a fucking prison spotlight. Not only that, but it’s always super fucking bright at night to the point where it can be hard to determine if it’s 3am or just a cloudy afternoon. I have my brightness turned down too. 

 

Also so the light source for the sun and moon appears to be about fifteen feet above Arthur’s head, rather than many miles away, outside the atmosphere, on the other side of a fucking vacuum. 

 

However, I’d forgive all of that if a day took 24 hours. It’s really gripping to make a journey in the dead of night, sneaking into cabins to raid supplies by lantern light, and less so to leave the cabin and discover you must have been in there about 8 hours because it’s dawn now. It’s super exciting to raid an enemy camp in the pitch black but not so much when dawn breaks as you’re halfway through.

 

i know it’s supposed to represent the compression of the game world and make it feel like journeys are these epic long things, but I fucking hate it and I have since GTA III. 

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About the UI points everyone is raising, surely a design decision is something the devs have consciously decided upon, not just they dun goofed designing their interface. Like in Monster Hunter (a game positively full of curious design decisions) where your character will pause to emote after taking a recovery potion. It's annoying, but you see why they might have done it - to add an extra bit of risk prevent you spamming them mid-fight. Or how Fallout makes you walk really ruddy slowly when overencumbered. Annoying, but makes a kind of sense. Best one was Demon's Souls, which had adaptive difficulty and where the more you died, the harder the game got. That was because they just wanted to fuck with ya.

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On 11/02/2019 at 12:19, Fry Crayola said:

 

I don't understand this - on the Xbox, I only ever used the left trigger to focus on a person. The right trigger was always either fire weapon, or draw weapon (if holstered). 

 

Is the PS version different?

 

No, it's L2 just like the left trigger to focus on an NPC. 

It's -- you know -- not actually that complex at all. But I like the idea of Ste Pickford getting frustrated at the game by wandering the world mass-murdering everyone accidentally. 

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Bioshock Infinite’s Halo-style weapon limit - in a straight shooter like Halo it wouldn’t be a big deal, but when Infinite has a weapon upgrade system as well, weapon slots become much more valuable. Why would you pick up that enemy weapon when it’s going to be so much worse than the ones you’ve been upgrading? How can you experiment with different guns without giving yourself a massive handicap later? And if you can only carry so much, why doesn’t Elizabeth open a tear to an abandoned house where you can put these weapons? :P 

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2 hours ago, morcs said:

IIRC in one of the Silent Hill games you couldn't invert the Y-axis? I can't remember whether it was more or less scary when you spent most of the time looking at either the floor or the ceiling.

 

Second Sight lacked invert controls too. Which was odd, given the high level of customisability (in controls and other game options) in the two TimeSplitters games released either side of it.

 

https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-05-06-retrospective-second-sight

Quote

"Everyone mentions the invert thing," says Doak, ruefully.

 

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