The Perfect Game – Part 2: Achievement

When making a game you have to hook people in.  You need to make them feel like they are progressing.  I touched on this a little bit while talking about storyline, but I think people need a little more more of an obvious indicator.

To discuss this I’m going to use 5 FPS games as examples: Halo, Half Life2, Half Life2: Episode 2, Morrowind and Oblivion.  And explain a little bit about how one can gauge their progress through the game.  None of these games have a perfect progress indicator though.

I believe there are a couple of different ways that one can determine how far through the game there are, even if it is only a relative position.  I will now list them

Story

From the story, some people may be able to deduce their position through the game.  This is a guess at best.  In Half Life 2: Episode 2, the point of the game is to get to “White Forrest”.  Theres not much indication, aside from characters in game telling you that you are ‘close’, as to how far from White Forrest you are.  In Half Life 2 though, after a while you were trying to head to the tower in the center of the city, you could basically look up and see how close you were to the tower.  With Halo, you could make some guesses about how far you were through the game, if you think about the storyline in comparison to other stories.

It’s like going to the movies and not knowing how long the movie will go for.  You can make guesses based on the common storylines, you can say “it’s been going for a while, it has to be over soon”, but at the end of the day these are just guesses, as sometimes there can be a big twist in the storyline which can make it end sooner or even later.

Of course in games like Morrowind and Oblivion (which are open ended and have very protracted main storylines) you’ve pretty much got no idea how far through you are or what is about to happen next.

In Morrowind your goal was to become the Nevrine (I might’ve spelt that wrong) and Kill Daggoth Ur, and from the beginning you could see that, you could also tell that for the earlier parts of the game you were strong enough to run in and kill him.  I only played Oblivion for a bit, but I was still unsure what the final goal was (I know it was to close all the Oblivion Gates and save the kingdom, but I didn’t know much more specific than that).  The auto leveling system too (which has be criticised by almost everyone) throws you off balance too.  In Morrowind you knew you we getting further through the game cause your character was getting strong, but this was harder to judge in Oblivion as everything else scaled with you.  This leads on to my next topic….

Weapons

Another naive measure of how far through the game you are is what weapons/items/abilities you have so far.  We’ve probably all responded to the question of how far through a game we are with “I just got the rocket launcher”.

This measure is based on the fact that the designers try to lay the game out in such a way that just as you are getting bored and losing interest they dangle a new weapon in front of you.  Overall it’s not a horrible measure for some games, but it’s not extremely consistent.  Sometimes the breaks between getting those last weapons will take a lot longer than the earlier ones.  In some games you lose all you weapons at one point, which puts the whole system off balance.  In others you will get all your weapons at the beginning.  In games like Halo, Morrowind and Oblivion this really doesn’t work though.  As you can’t really see what weapons you are going to get later on, or you have access to whatever weapons are required for the situation.

Levels

The previous two paragraphs discussed very indirect ways of discovering your progress, but there are also some more obvious ways of showing it, the first is to show all of the levels at the beginning of the game but show them as locked.  Ok, this doesn’t work for games like Morrowind and Oblivion, but something to this affect was used in Halo and the Half Life2 games.  You could see what levels you had completed and what levels you have to go.  Some games simply show you the levels that you have completed, and people make guesses based on the size of the screen where the levels are displayed, but these guesses are usually wrong.

Having a direct indicator is quite handy, and showing the levels you have compelted (and allowing you to go back to them) is a good feature in any linear game.

Achievements/Milestones

Some games allow you to track your achievements.  This can be things ranging from completion of levels to things like items collected or side missions completed, all the way down to things like how many steps you have taken or how far you have travelled.  These are quite handy in games that aren’t so linear and are also fun just to look at and see how much you have acheived.  Half Life 2: Episode 2 (and the newer games of the source engine) contain goals/acheivements, some of these are things that you have to do to progres through the game.  Others are things that could be considered “side missions” or just a bit of fun (like killing x people with the car/objects or stepping on all the bugs).  Morrowind keeps track of things like how many portals you have closed down (which I believe is more related to the main quest than simple statistics).

 The best part about these sorts of things (and the reason that I like them) is that they can often be much smaller than completing a level and they can give the game some replay value.  These sorts of things are especcially useful in free roaming or open ended games, as it gives you a measure of how much of the content you have experienced.

Looking Back

What is the point of all this?  Basically, accountability.  When you have finished playing a game you want to be able to look back and say “wow, I accomplished something”.  While most people will laugh at this (especcially those like Bec who think games are pointless), this is the main reason we have games, to play them.  Once we are finished, we want to be able to see that the time went somewhere, even if it is just some ticks in a couple of boxes within the game (I personally keep a spreadsheet of all the games I have and have started/completed).

When this factor of acheivement isn’t present, the other flaws in the game become present.  When playing World Of Warcraftit was quite easy to see your progress in the beginning, you are constantly leveling up and getting better items.  But when you hit 60 (back in the day) and have run all the 5 mans to death that progression disappears (especcially when you get caught in the “casual void” which I will discuss in the future) and you start to wonder why you are playing the game.

This leads us to the moral of the story:

A good game should have progression indicators.  The player should be able to see that they are progressing (or not progressing) through the game.  They should be able to see that for the time they are putting in they are getting something out.

This idea can be tied in with a rewards system (which will be the topic of a future post) to keep people interested and progressing through the game.

Stay tuned for more posts in the future… one day… I promise!

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