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Obstacles as Puzzles vs. Emergent Gameplay...

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I love River City Ransom to death. I've worked out a strategy that beats the game on the easy setting in 15 minutes and the hard setting in slightly over 25, depending on how I do against the Dragon Twins. One of the things I like so much about it is that for the most part, you and your enemies fight in the same way. The skill occurs in where and when you choose to attack; sure, the AI can be cheated on in a number of ways, and sometimes one of you has an attack the other doesn't, but in an even fight on flat ground, every victory is a challenge. Similarly, the items and terrain can be used to your advantage, but can also go against you; kicking a crate into a wall and having it bounce back and knock you down and kill you is always frustrating, but the same goes for your foes too. And while jumping to very high areas doesn't help you fight enemies, if you want to bypass them it's the best way. My roommate got Viewtiful Joe, and having heard many rave reviews about it, I tried it out for myself, and I realized that I didn't like it for one major reason: The fights were not fights in the sense that RCR had fights. One of the promoted features of the game is that "every enemy is a puzzle," and indeed they are. In fact, all that every fight in the game consists of is knowing what attacks to use when and then repeating them over and over until you move on to the next enemy. Since this and a few platform sequences and gimmicky puzzles(use your slow power to make the water droplets bigger OMG) is the entire game, I'm left feeling like the appearance of the game is just a hollow shell. It's been so tightly designed that I can't feel like I'm really doing anything playing it. When I play RCR the game allows me enough freedom to try different strategies; not so with Joe. The best way through has already been set out for you. I don't necessarily think that a tight design is bad, because I can enjoy classic games where the gameplay is all about simple, repetitive tests of skill; the problem is the *illusion* of a more complex game, where you are given dozens of options for any situation, that actually reduces to a much simpler one with fluff that you must memorize added on. It reminds me of bad strategy game design; in lieu of real strategic options, you are given lots of different features that needlessly complicate things. "50 resource types! 200 kinds of units, and build your own!" Is the game any better because of that? Probably not. People also say Joe is a really challenging game. And it is, the first time around. My roommate took most of the week to get to the 6th episode of the game, where he got stuck on the boss there. After at least 100 attempts or so and lots of swearing, he started over from the beginning the next day, made it to the same boss in an afternoon, and finally beat him. I started playing Prince of Persia 1 again recently(cause of that Flash game promoting the new one for PS2) and encountered the same effect: First times are tough, but after that it gets easy. The difference, though, is that POP was designed much more simply and with a smaller range of skills that you must master completely to make it through the game. Joe throws new things at you left and right the whole way through, instead of using the old ones in more sophisticated ways. I don't think Joe is a terrible game; I just don't like the core design path it took. It does very well for that, and will probably be remembered at least by a few, but it feels like a double-cross to look complex and play simple, considering that Capcom has made plenty of great one-on-one fighting games with depth, and then wastes an opportunity to apply its fighting game talent onto a platformer core by simplifying the fighting to a set of small puzzles. Comments? I haven't found anyone protesting like me yet, but maybe I'm just in the minority. Edit: Cut the title cause it was too long... [edited by - RTF on October 14, 2003 11:10:21 PM]

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Not sure how to respond to this, hmm.

I totally agree with you in making games be somewhat open ended in as far as your options as a player. I'm a big fan of Deus Ex, and other similarly styled games, where you almost have complete freedom in how you play the game. In good strategy games, one person may have one strategy, and someone else can have a totally different strategy, and both players may be able to compete on a level with each other. Neither of the strategys is "wrong".

Yet again, I LOOOOOVE VJ, it probably has the best use of slow motion I've ever seen in a game, and playing a beat-em up for the first time in years definately makes me happy. Most of the puzzles have little replay value, but they are some of the more original puzzles I've seen in a while as well. I don't know, the game is just fun. And I'm still finding new strategies as a play and new ways to line up combos and get more points etc.

So, heh, Im in the middle of this one. I hate being stuck in the middle

Both emergent gameplay and tight designing have been around since the begining. I don't think either one will die, because some of us just like seeing the entertainment others can give us and not having to find our own. Emergent gameplay is harder to pull off right. You can't sit down and go, "I'm going to create some emergent gameplay." It happens as a result of the rest of the design. The best emergent gameplay will be things that you as a designer didn't think about while designing.

Anyway, I could go on for a while about this but I dont want to, and I dont know how to end so, bye hehe.

Oh. I love RCR too, but the problem I had with it was that it felt like the same exact thing over and over again. There isn't enough variety to me. Maybe it would help with better graphics*, I don't know, but I get kind of bored after a while doing the exact same things over and over. It doesn't feel like that with Joe for me. Maybe it felt like that for you?

Maybe the emergent gameplay didn't show up for me. That is one major aspect of emergent gameplay - sometimes, it works for some and not for others If you're way-of-playing is the one methodology that doesn't work for the game, the illusion is shattered.

*edit: I must be really tired to say something like this hehe. I play nethack for gosh sakes. graphics are a very small part of the equation and I dont like/not like games based on graphics.

[edited by - saluk on October 15, 2003 1:25:21 AM]

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Yes, I agree that the final judgement probably rests more in who''s playing the game.

This is a very interesting area, though. I know for a fact that my enjoyment is highly dependent on smaller aspects as well as larger ones, and it''s only to some extent a matter of a tight design vs. an emergent one - creating a good example of either one is a difficult feat. I like adventure games a lot, even though they are almost forced to have a very tight design.

I think what it is, though, that gets me frustrated about VJ is that the design is both tight and repetitive, and then ALSO covers itself in a veil of great effects. I don''t feel like I can explore in any way, and the levels always rely on multiple scenes with the same kinds of enemy seen more than once, but it''s fun to watch. Yet, in some ways, I think I would feel more comfortable if the game DIDN''T look as good as it does. Or do I trick myself by assuming that some of the annoyances I had with the game previously would disappear if it were reduced to, say, NES-level graphics?

After more thought, I realize I really wouldn''t like it, still. The reason is actually fairly simple, and has to do with a finer aspect of design than the general tight/emergent perspective: VJ, in general, as predictable as a clock. I want an unpredicatable game. Not completely, of course - rules and settings should stick around, but the possibility for something unbelievable to happen, something that is the exception to the rule, is what should always be there.

And a lot of games do this, knowingly or unknowingly. RCR does it because of the crazy physics and AI that allow for sudden reversals in any fight. Games that aren''t necessarily emergent by design do this, because they allow sufficent player skill to open up new possibilities. But like I''ve said before, skill in VJ is a matter of doing the same things faster. No clever shortcuts to let you knock out your opponents are offered, whether in general or in specific areas. I play DDR, and while the steps are all the same, it''s entirely up to you how you go about making them; there is no bonus for stepping on an arrow a certain way, so that while people usually end up adopting the "best" strategy, there are plenty of cases where the best isn''t needed.

At the farthest end it comes down to control; I want to be able to find unique ways to go through my path of destruction, and I''m disappointed when games could, but don''t let me do that. It makes my fantasies more mundane and my use of the game as a tool to project my own dreams on severely hampered when they get crushed in that way.

I still have no obvious solution, but I think I''m once again learning something by babbling about game design in long, poorly structured forum-essays that are as much to help me as others. Funny how that happens.

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Ya, it''d be nice to see more emergent gameplay. Games are way too tightly scripted. Most game makers seem to want to make a movie instead of a game. I wish they would. Just go out and buy a DV camera, guys. Live your dream. Quit forcing me to die, reload, die, reload etc until I finally figure out what you were thinking when you designed this particular puzzle or level.

And I can''t get past the helicopter in Viewtiful Joe. I suck

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