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Monday, February 02, 2004

Comments

Andy Smith

I just had a comment to add to Jim Vessella's question,

Jim Vessella asked: "[F]or MMORPG's, why don't companies sell the box for a minimum price, and rely on making money from the subscriptions.

I have talked to many people who have developed and are developing MMOs and the biggest reason cited by them, universally even, for selling the games for standard game price is that, in America, the consumer feels an obligation to play the game for atleast their free month once they bought it, to avoid feeling like Jim feels and getting "stuck with a worthless piece of software."
The reason this is important is almost all MMOs have something of a learning curve and if the consumer doesn't get far enough into the story line, or doesn't even learn how to play, they won't become hooked enough to spend a year+ on the game.

Badman

Real shame about Ico...I understand that you must be very time-poor, and Ico does have some difficult sections that you'll have to retry a few times to get right, but it was worth it (at least to me). Finishing Ico was one of the most satisfying game experiences I've ever had, and it's sad to me that the game sold so poorly.

Scott Miller

Ico is an example of a nearly perfect game, with one or two poor design choices sinking its own ship. It came this close [two fingers held two inches apart] to immortal greatness. A save-anywhere feature would have saved it, or a better save station system with saves positioned right before difficult sections.

Back when it came out, I heard from several co-workers that Metroid Prime also had a frustrating save system, and so I never even bothered trying that game. At any one time, there are so many games on my list to play that it doesn't take much to knock a game off the list. When I play a game I like to play the game, and not fight the interface (with a poor camera system), replay long sections (poor save system), or struggle past sections that suddenly jump in difficulty well beyond the previous section of game (as often happens with a boss fight). If a developer gives me a reason to not stop playing their game -- or not even try it -- I happily accept their offer and move on to the next game. I love it when a developer gives me a reason to skip their game -- my time is very short, after all.

Sadly, they too often oblige me.

Mark Ventura

" A save-anywhere feature would have saved it, or a better save station system with saves positioned right before difficult sections."

This is the kind of thing that I find inscrutable and disappointing. I would think by now that things like this would be standard.

Mike D

Was Ico's save system really "poorly designed" or was it merely inconsistent with your PC gaming sensibilities? I haven't played Ico so I can't really argue on that point, but I can comment on Metroid Prime.

I'm a PC gamer first and foremost, but I accept the "fail-and-replay" dynamic that is inherent to the arcade/console gaming tradition, even with its occasional frustration. But rather than being a mere convention, as some in the PC crowd might suggest, it's also an interesting way to add some strategy to an action/adventure game. I believe that frustration (frustration here being caused by failing a part of the game and having to start over) is either an oversight on the developer's part or a conscious game design decision, and I think the latter fits Metroid Prime pretty well. Finding save-rooms was always in the back of your mind as you explored an area, and as you progressed through the game, you not only had to think tactically about surviving combat and solving puzzles, but you also had to consider strategy in terms of the save-room locations. For example, players had to think about how wise it might be to progress through the game too far without finding a new save-room or retreating to the nearest known save-room just to be safe. However minor you might consider this element of strategy, beating Metroid Prime wouldn't be quite the accomplishment it was if players had been allowed to quick-save on a whim.

All too often I've been disappointed by PC games that allow me to save too often. Saving one's game should be seen as an element of the gameplay and, viewed as such, I tend to viciously exploit this resource as if it were ammo or a powerup. If your game isn't designed to pose difficult and dangerous tactical scenarios from moment-to-moment, might not a quick-save feature make your game too easy or too routine? Half-life is an example of a game that did it right. You could quick-save any time you wanted, but every single moment-to-moment encounter with an NPC had the potential to be deadly. Even with quick-saving every 30 seconds, you could get slaughtered by a grunt or alien in a span of 3 seconds if you weren't playing smart. When I play less deadly games that seemed to add quick-saving merely as a convention (and perhaps as a shortcut around proper balancing), I often feel shortchanged.

In my opinion, Metroid Prime was an incredibly well-paced and intricately structured game that displayed a balance and foresight that I've yet to see in another game. To cast it aside because the save-game method is a challenging strategic element of the gameplay and not an infinite resource to be exploited by the player is a mistake.

Pup

Ico is by far my favorite game ever. I can't recall any portions that were terribly difficult that required a great reinvestment of time if you failed. Maybe that's just nostalgia kicking in. Still, I'd highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to someone looking for examples of how to tell a very emotionally involving character-based story on a shoestring budget. The whole game took my breath away, from beginning to end.

Nathan McKenzie

My biggest problem with Ico was that there were times when the solution to a puzzle seemed to rely on knowing to do things with the controls that the game never taught you to do. Not too often, but occassionally (particularly certain context-sensitive uses of the "call to Yorda" button which standing by novel architecture). Extremely beautiful and well-crafted game, though. Any idea of how they could have sold it better, Scott? I've been pondering that for a while. Is Ico just the sort of game no one is interested in, or were there specific things about the way they sold it?

And I never had a problem with the save system in Metroid Prime, but I could see myself being frustrated with it if I were any less skilled at that sort of game - so that's a really fine line. I think the system enhanced my experience (I would have had a lot less satisfaction if I had been saving every 3 seconds), but it has a flipside. Not sure what the solution is on that front, though.

Scott Miller

Ico suffers in several ways. And one of those ways is that it lacks a easily communicate subject, such as gangsters, aliens, WW2, etc. What is Ico about? It's about saving a princess, but how do you describe it beyond that? It's not easy. And that's a problem that hurts the buzz potential of this game. A lot of people say, "Wow, Ico is great, you've gotta try it," but it's hard to say exactly why it's great. It's just a difficult game to explain because it's so unique, from the horned character you play, the unusual mix of action and puzzle solving, the way you must always protect the girl, and to the graphic style.

In effect, this game was burdened by its own ambition.

As far as the game industry goes, Ico was an emotional masterpiece (I've heard), and it's sad that due to a few design mistakes and it's out-there concept, that it will go under-appreciated.

Jeff Lindsay

-- ADoomedMarine asked: "How about writing about how hard it is nowadays to start up a gaming developing company (or even publishing) compared to say 10 years ago."


I felt it should be pointed out that the handheld market is somewhat resembling the game industry in its younger years. Teams are back down to 2 or 3 people on some titles because the platforms are much simpler, as PCs were in the early 90's. It might be a good idea for a new development studio to develop for these devices because they're much less expensive to develop for.

You still have to deal with modern publishing and licensing issues, and developing for the Nintendo GBA, for example, is still pretty expensive. There are, however, some devices that allow anybody to develop for them, like the Tapwave Zodiac.

Brad Renfro

In terms of theme and gameplay, how different was ICO from, say, Zelda? Original fantasy setting, generic melee combat, platforming mixed with puzzles, etc. Would a Zelda game sell poorly if it weren't for its legacy? What clear marketing hooks does it have that were absent in ICO?

About the saving...it's weird to think that, despite playing video games for pleasure, a player would hate replaying parts of it (albeit due to failure). That playing a game is so much about plowing through content rather than enjoying the moments provided by superior gameplay. Anyone remember starting Super Mario Bros. from the very first level at every sitting?

Jeffool

Hey Brad, I do indeed remember the opening level of Mario like the back of my hand, but for me then it wasn't so much about the world I was adventuring through, as it was a near Tetris-like feat of zen gaming. Unlike Zelda, which changed it up just enough to give more of an adventure feeling. But yup, I admit it, until the 16bit consoles, there were much fewer times I felt like I was 'in' the game (compared to today). Though I'm sure that's understandable to a degree.

I haven't played Ico (or Rez, I know, shame on me as a gamer), but I've loved every Zelda game except 2 for NES with the SNES Link to the Past being my favorite and the N64's Ocarina of time being a close second.

But what I intended to post about was drudging through content to get to the good pieces. The instant you said that, one game popped to mind. Halo. I feel that that game, like few others, alternated "Look at me, I'm beautiful!" with "Nothing to see here folks, move along." with an insane frequency. Of course the major gripe is the copy & paste interiors. With the major moments of grandeur being some of the outside levels. No doubt once I beat it some levels I've never played since.

Jeff Lindsay

Mmmm... yeah, but as games have gotten more complex, it's more likely for the player to see a loss or "game over" as the game's fault (ie bugs etc) which makes starting over a frustration. It's even worse when something else in the game is frustrating that you have to go through again after starting over... *cough* cutscenes *cough*

Shahar Eldar

The lack of saving in games doesnt just result in you replaying an "enjoyable" puzzle it allso results in the loss of progress you rightfully earned, this sense of loss is the problem with a save system.
I have played ico, rez, and zelda. the diffrence between ICO and Zelda is pretty big,
Zelda is basically a type of platformer similar to Castlevania and Metroid where the game is an action game, with a side dish of collecting necesary items to preform actions which allow you to open up more areas and get more action for more items (each new item bestows a new skill, opening up the ability to explore new areas of the game)

ico on the other hand, is a skill based puzzle game, with an extra "hook" in the form of Yorba, the princess. the game is a platforming puzzle game (think the original prince of persia... or the current one) where traversing the environment from point A to point B is the puzzle. you have to do so while guiding a very realistic "other" along with you, (Yorba) whome you can only communicate with through gestures and shouts. Oh and she is constantly being attacked by strange shadow creatures, which you have to fend off of her, the nature of which has to do with the great story of the game so I wont reveal it :)

anyways, so while zelda is mostly inventory based, and oriented towards exploration of the game world, ICO creates a sense of charecter in Yorba through her interaction with you, with the puzzles and guidance providing a context for the personal elements.

(rez on the other hand as a game is offtopic, but worthy of mentioning in any gaming conversation, it's just synesthetic joy made into a shooter)

Blake Grant

A couple opinions on save systems. I personally much prefer any game with save-anywhere. While I agree that you should be playing the game to enjoy the game, not just push your way through the content (and hence, replaying a section shouldn't be such a bad thing), there are alot of games that force you to go through alot of monotonous stuff over and over again just because you can't save after its over. My biggest example is XIII. That game annoyed the hell out of me. Make me watch a 5 minute in-game cutscene (which requires me to walk around no less, so I can't even go watch TV or something while I wait for it to finish for the 6th time) or replay a tediously boring and easy segment of the game, then immediately give me a time limit to complete a hard task, or just throw alot of difficulties ahead of me, which end up requiring multiple attempts, and forcing me to go back through the slow, boring segments again just to get another attempt. That's what I call pissing your player off, and making them much more likely to just throw the game down in frustration and quit. I did beat XIII, but I was bitching about it constantly as I did it. The game was fun when it was fun, but it went out of its way to annoy you.

So, point 1 is if you have an auto-save/checkpoint system instead of a save-anywhere system, make sure those checkpoints are placed intelligently. That means ALWAYS after a cutscene, and preferably also after some tedious easy task (such as walking a few miles with nothing to do, or waiting around for something to happen).

For point 2 I'm going to pick on the Final Fantasy games (and the many, many games like them). I really enjoyed FF7, but I knew that if I sat down to play it that I would have to have a good bit of time available to do so. Why? Because who knows when I would make it to the next checkpoint. I like to be able to play games for 30 mins here or there sometimes, but with FF, there's no guarantee that you will see a checkpoint within 30 mins. You often can't even go back to an old one because ever 2 steps you'll get into another battle. So my second request is that you should always be able to quit the game and save where you are unless the checkpoints are really close between and easy to get back to.

I don't think that games necessarily need to let people quick-save and quick-load. I do agree that that can detract from the game. But if you don't, make sure you put the time and effort in to make sure the player will be able to enjoy your game at his/her leisure, and not become frustrated by a bad save system.

Greg Findlay

Quick save has it's draw backs as well. If you think replaying a difficult part is bad how about forcing a player to replay and extended period of gameplay? If anyone has played Tactics Ogre for the GBA you may have run into this.

Tactic Ogre is a turn based strategy (and very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics). In Tactics Ogre, you can save at any time when your on the world map in a save game slot (you get three) and at any point during a battle in a quick save slot (you get one for all three games). You cannot how-ever, quick save during the warmup time before the battle actually starts, where you can modify what your character is wearing and such. This comes into play later in my story.

In order to get to the final battle you have to go through a sequence of 3 maps, never going back to the world map screen. You still have the quick save slot so (but you still can quick save). So I happily played through all those levels quick saving when ever I had to go and do something else and coming back to the game later. Took me about 4 days to get through those three battle with about 3-4 hours of game time. Since you can't get back to the world map after each of the battles I would quick save at the beginning of each battle right after the warm up. Now comes the problem. When fighting the final boss for the game there is a specific weapon you need in order to break a barrier so that you can do damage to him. I didn't have any characters who were the right class to use the weapon at the time (you can change classes instantly in the warm-up period how-ever) and the game happily let me keep playing. So I'm fighting the last boss and I can't do any damage to him. There is even a sequence in the battle explaining that you need that weapon to do damage. I've just quick saved so that I can't change my weapons unless I go back and redo the three levels that took me 4 days to complete.

It's a fun game and fairly well designed but after a player has committed enough time to the game to get that far, why would decide to do that to them?

Nathan McKenzie

For save-anywhere / checkpoints, I'm really, really enjoying Prince of Persia. The checkpoints seem to be very sensibly placed, and the ability to rewind time (but built in as a game mechanic) is very cool. It seems almost like a middle ground between giving the player lives and save anywhere, and it really works for me, anyway. And I'm actually feeling satisfied at overcoming challenges in the game (which is normally my big reservation about games that rely too heavily on save anywhere). It probably doesn't hurt that the game itself is actively fun to play, for me, so redoing small sections is more of a pleasure than a chore.

I really liked the auto-saving checkpoints in Halo as well (although I wish they had kept a back log of your last 3 or 4 autosaves at any given point).

One thing that really struck me about Halo and its save system was that it tended to save right before I had committed myself to a particular strategy for a given battle. So, when I died in Halo, I was very often returned to a location where I was just deciding which way I was going to respond to a given attack wave. If the strategy I had picked previously didn't seem to work well, I could try a different approach. It made dying feel less annoying and more interesting to me, and it helped make me feel more satisfied when I overcame battles.

I think when a player has to do all saving him or herself, it's very easy to save at points where you're already more or less committed to some plan of action, and you basically just have to retry your plan of attack over and over and over until you happen to pull through.

Logo

I think most games should have save anywhere but there are exceptions.

Metroid Prime and Ico I feel both fall under such exceptions.

If you can save anywhere in ICO what is the challenge. Don't think you can make a jump? Well save and try. Want to risk doing something crazy, save and give it a go! Without combat challenges it would just seem silly to me to allow you to save all the time. Not being able to save all the time makes you feel more like the main character. If you can save anywhere what do you care what happens to him you can just load again. However if you can't save it then you care if he dies or not.

Metroid Prime isn't as good of a game for the system and saves right before bosses would be nice but with the grinding your health down system of MP as you travel further from save points meant you need to keep on your toes and not just load it if you take too much damage from an enemy. I remember entering certain rooms and taking subsantial damage due to poor playing. Low on health and far from save points I'd be legitamately concerned for Samus and worried about getting to a save point. Can it be fustrating when you go back so far? Yes, but it also adds an element to the game.

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