Thursday, July 28, 2005

Curveball Design

Over at Zen of Design, Damion Schubert muses about all the bad endings in games. Of course, as a designer, he focuses on the badly designed endings (as opposed to poorly written endings to the stories). When you think about it, it does seem like an awful lot of great games end with curveball design elements.
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of Half-Life
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of God of War
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of Psychonauts
  • The jumping puzzle at... wait a minute...

Ok... so maybe we should just expect a jumping puzzle at the end of every game. Seriously though, the thing that's so jarring about these jumping puzzles is that they come at the end of games that aren't about jumping (except maybe Psychonauts, but I hear that that puzzle is insanely hard compared to the rest of the game). I can imagine that these design choices are made to provide challenge and perhaps urgency to the end of the game, but having to adjust to a new mode of play can kill any momentum that the player has going, which can destroy immersion and cause frustration.

Schubert suggests that twists in the design might be more elegant. Adding a new layer or wrinkle to existing mechanics would challenge the player without breaking immersion or causing unnecessary frustration. Since the player has spent the entire game learning and mastering a set of mechanics, it makes sense to maintain that learning curve (or even reward it) with additional variations rather than completely new challenges. You don't want to make the player feel like a beginner after they've played your game for 12 hours.

That said, is there any time when a complete curveball game mechanic actually works near the end of a game? Any examples (I haven't come up with one yet)?


At 10:40 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

I agree. I think you've also hit on the problem with a lot of jumping puzzles in general, which is that they have a tendency to destroy immersion and cause frustration, since making a single mistake--especially in the jumping puzzles at the end of games--usually results in certain death. Few things besides this "sudden death" style of gameplay are better at destroying my suspension of disbelief. Even American McGee's Alice, for instance, featured jumping puzzles throughout--most of them non-fatal--but the very end was still annoying, because it was sudden death.

One of the few endings that threw a curve-ball at me, but that I still enjoyed immensely, was Halo's. This might fall under your category of "adding a new layer or wrinkle to existing gameplay", since it essentially took the existing gameplay and put it in the context of a "race against time" with a reasonable time limit that made for just the right level of dramatic tension and challenge (for me, at least).

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

GamersWithJobs has a short piece comparing curveball design with human sexual response. Funny stuff.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger ofsr2eezg04cjgv said...

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