Thoughts on Game Design

Recently, I decided to go back through my collection and play Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. It’s a good game, but it sparked a thought process on proper game design.

I feel like the point a game’s design has failed is when you’ve actively got to fight the controls or the mechanics of the game to succeed.

In Metroid Prime 2, most of the threatening enemies have an ability to break your lock-on targetting. This stops you from being able to do dodges and from aiming at them. It’s usually tied to their big attacks which makes it quite a bit worse. It’s still a good game, but the usage of this tactic detracts from the enjoyment of it.

In the TMNT game for NES, there’s an infamous one-gap-wide space between two platforms that you’ve got to cross right under a roof. Anyone who was willing to play the game this far probably remembers it, as every time you try to jump it, you immediately fall. You have to just casually stroll across the gap in a way that’s quite non-intuitive. While the game designer might have thought it was a great mini-puzzle, it’s a good example of what not to do.

In the rather godawful Sub-Zero Mythologies for the N64, there are several jumps that exist entirely to be annoying due to the game’s wall-cling mechanic. There’s no reason to do this! This is an absolutely terrible idea. If you’re not providing the player with a challenge in a task and merely inconveniencing them, don’t do it.

Conversely, however, a system CAN be non-intuitive and still provide a valuable playing experience. In the PS2 title God Hand, the player will first experience disorientation and confusion based on the game’s mechanics. After you’ve passed the initial non-intuitiveness, a rich playing experience unfolds. This isn’t to say that it’s a good thing to have a non-intuitive system with depth, but it can be a non-dealbreaker.

To use God Hand as a branch to another subject, fairness is something else to strive for. There is no attack in God Hand that’s unfair. If you’re hit by something, it’s directly the fault of the player and it serves to provide an incentive to improve your abilities for future attempts at fighting the enemy.

The game Super Punch-Out!! for SNES is one of my favorite games of all time, and it shows this off extremely well. Almost every attack in the game is telegraphed and has a definite means of counterattacking. This doesn’t mean the game’s easy, however! It merely encourages the player to analyze the opponent’s technique through trial and error and give a sense of accomplishment after dealing with an obstacle.

Fighting games are a mixed bag. There are many mechanics in them that’re good, such as telegraphed attacks, mixed blocking methods to provide a challenge in defense, and characters often requiring separate playing mechanics to deal with.

However, they’re also home to some of the worst mechanics in modern gaming. Take Zangief, for instance, in Street Fighter 4. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s got a grab that comes out nearly instantly and can be done immediately on getting up after being knocked down, making being next to him a very risky proposal indeed. He’s also got a mechanic called Super Armor, something often seen in the genre. It means that, where you’d normally be able to knock him out of an attack he’ll instead get a free attack on you if you’re crazy enough to  give it a try.

If you’re a game designer, you should analyze the things you create carefully and think… “Is this fair? Is this a challenge? Is it a challenge because of obfuscated mechanics?” You can improve your game’s mechanics and gameplay by doing this.

Extra material: Konjak is a fantastic designer and you should check out his games. Legend of Princess is one of the best fangames ever made. He brings up many fantastic points. If you’re used to thinking of fighting games as a place to mash buttons, check this video out. It explains the varied mechanics involved in King of Fighters. I didn’t explain hitboxes, but this video shows off how fantastic the ones in Street Fighter 3 are. Blue’s your vulnerable area, green’s what can actually do damage. Look how tiny the hitbox on the fireball is! There’s lots of data on hitboxes on the internet, but I feel like the best made hitboxes are the ones that you really just don’t have to look up, the ones that are naturally obvious. Compare this to in which the hitboxes are just completely ruined.

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