3/24/2013

Godmode and an Astronaut's imagination

On Friday I have ran across an article on godmode that Adrian Chmielarz wrote on The Astronauts blog. I happen to disagree with majority of statements of this gamedev veteran. Even though, as a noob, I might be way out of my league, for the first time in my blogging career I am going to write an article that's a reply to an article. I will be loosing my virginity here, so I'll try to be gentle with myself.

Adrian brings some interesting arguments to the table. He claims that the power of imagination itself can be enough to generate the feeling of danger. He reminds us the childhood imaginary danger games and suggests that by using the same mechanisms we can design games in which you cannot die, but you still are afraid to die. That's true. Imagination can do that. But lets ask ourselves one question - why would a designer limit himself to just imagination? These imaginary danger games lacked the "death simulation feedback" not because it was the core of their design. It was the lack of technology. If kids on the playground had a portable and harmless device that could - let's say - freeze one of them for one minute when he/she touches the floor, I am more than sure they would be using it for "the floor is lava" game. Why do children prefer to play with water guns when they can be shooting from their fingers? Because it gives them an experience closer to the "real thing". For the same reason when they are older they switch to ASG or Paintball if they are still interested in this kind of fun. Following the logic of "why let the player die when he can just imagine he's dying?" we can ask another series of similar questions: "why install force feedback in a gamepad when player can just imagine he got hit?" or going further "why design a cRPG when pen and paper work so well?"


Another point he's making is how naming the difficulties can be misleading. The discussion on that is nearly pure semantics. I myself see nothing wrong with naming the difficulties however the game desingers want. Hey! After all, since the first shooters, these difficulty names were used to show off creativity or to interact with the player even before the game started. They are a part of game design and making some universal pattern out of them would not only be impossible, but also pretty boring. The name of "normal" mode might be unfortunate, true, but I don't see hundreds of players complaining that they couldn't do it on normal difficulty and therefore feel humiliated by the game. After all, what "normal" difficulty means is far more intuitive than "insomnia" or "daydream". Having problems with "normal" difficulty is pretty much like blaming Coldplay for not freezing their audience.


The thing I most disagre with, however, is the concept that games have their experience and gameplay sides. This is the first time in my life where I see someone dividing the game on such level. This - call me paranoid - means pretty much excluding gameplay from the experience. If we take out the whole gameplay out of a game, the experience we are left with will be something between a black screen and a movie, depending on a game type.

Fortunately, a few lines later Adrian promises "but wait, it gets better." And it really does. I can agree with the big chunk of the article that follows. I agree, that including godmode cheat in a game could be a good idea. I agree, it can help many people experience at least a part of a game. It will exclude death as a gameplay tool, but yes, it will make the game more accessible to people who would otherwise never try it. Including a very easy mode isn't that uncommon either. The first difficulty level in Diablo III lets you die only if you leave your character in the middle of a group of mobs and go pee. Loosing on the lowest difficulty in StarCraft II probably requires killing your units yourself. The difference between Bioshock's vita chambers and a godmode is a half a minute walk from the chamber to the place you "died" at last time.

On the other hand, let's look at the potential dangers of introducing godmode in a game. Let's say all developers agree with Adrian and from now on all the games have an embedded godmode. What happens? 
- All the laziest game reviewers will beat these games on godmode, not being able to say anything about learning curve or difficulty level. 
- Game designers will have to start taking into account that lots of the players will be playing on godmode, so the godmode needs to provide some kind of interesting features as well. Features that can often conflict with features of the "regular" gameplay. In some cases, they would be designing two games.
- A number of players that would normally end a game in a regular mode will just turn on the godmode to check off another game and move on to the next title, never really experiencing the depth of gameplay.
- The sites selling game trainers go out of business :)

I cannot agree that "Godmode is good for everybody". Sure, there are types of games, where godmode is pretty much a given, like oldschool adventure games. But imagine any strategy game with godmode: you just take the few units you had in the beginning and run through the map. End of gameplay. Imagine Gears of War in godmode: why use cover system when you can just rambo forward? Imagine... No, you don't even have to imagine. Look at the infinity mode in Bejeweled: it turns a simple logical game into infinite clicking into colors that makes it completely pointless. Lastly, imagine Dark Souls in godmode: Prepare to die! Oh, wait, you're immortal? Sorry dude, your whole experience is fucked. 


Sure, I have completely nothing against games having cheat codes. If someone wants to have infinite cash, all upgrades, all weapons, fly, clip through walls or be just invincible - let them have it! But at the same time, not making a game mode out of it gives them a clear message - this is not the way the designers intended this game to be played. You will probably still have fun, but don't blame anyone if you happen to ruin the experience for yourself.

Whether I agree with Adrian's article or not has nothing to do with the fact that The Astronauts blog has a number of interesting articles that challenge the way we think about games or at least provoke a discussion. And hey - I let myself get provoked, so they are succeeding! :)


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