SID MEIER: One of the responsibilities I thinkwe have as designers is to protect the player… from themselves Whenever a designer makes a game, they‘llhave certain ideas for what would be the most enjoyable or interesting way for a playerto approach things.
For example, Jake Solomon reckons that XCOMis at its best when the player is taking risks.
He told Rock Paper Shotgun: “Risks are what lead to loss and what lead to triumph”.
But players will often have other ideas, becausemany will simply gravitate towards strategies that will most likely lead to success – regardlessof how enjoyable those strategies might actually be – so they grind, they use repetitive tactics, and they play slowly and cautiously.
As Civilization 4 designer Soren Johnson putsit, “given the opportunity, players will optimise the fun out of a game”.
He was talking more about exploits, but I think the quote still works.
And this is kinda what happened in XCOM: playersrarely took risks, because why would you? Instead, they found much more success whenthey moved slowly, played cautiously, and overused the overwatch ability – meaning theyoften ended up playing each mission in largely the same, risk-averse way.
But the awesome thing about design is thatthe game’s developers can tweak things, to make sure players approach the game inthe way they think would be most interesting.
The question is – what’s the best way todo this? The most obvious answer would be toadd some kind of system that will stop the unwanted behaviour from occurring.
And that’s what exactly Firaxis did whenit decided to introduce turn-limits to standard missions in XCOM 2.
Many of the game’s missions will have somekind of time limit – hack the network in 8 turns, destroy the relay in 6 turns, extractthe VIP in 12 turns.
And if you don’t finish that objective withinthe turn limit, the mission is failed.
And this means that inching slowly acrossthe map like in XCOM 1 is now massively discouraged, and the player is forced to move more quicklyand take more risks.
A very similar thing happened in the makingof Spelunky.
Creator Derek Yu says “I never intendedSpelunky players to collect every piece of treasure, get every item, or explore everyroom each time they play.
Instead, I wanted to force them to make difficultdecisions and experience both the satisfaction of choosing correctly and the regret of choosingpoorly.
” So, he added the deadly ghost enemy whichappears at about two and a half minutes into every level to put pressure on the playerand discourage them from dawdling around.
Now both of these decisions had the intendedeffect – but they were also both met with some amount of controversy.
Spelunky less so – that’s a long time tospend in one level.
Besides, the ghost doesn’t actually killyou.
You can still run away and finish the stage.
But many XCOM 2 players hated the turn limits, and even made mods to rip them out of thegame.
“I didn't expect people to have such a strongreaction to the timers, ” says Solomon.
And turn limits were greatly reduced in thegame’s expansion, War of the Chosen.
So, what went wrong? Well, there’s a bunch of things.
Many people simply just enjoyed playing cautiouslyin the first game, and expected to do so in the sequel.
And Solomon suggests that “maybe there’sa clumsy thematic wrapper on the turn-timer”.
But one thing is clear: some players willalways react negatively to punishment.
And, in XCOM 2, the fact that refusing tospeed up and take risks will see you fail the mission at hand, means that these playersfelt that the game was punishing them for playing in a certain way.
And there’s a famous story about World ofWarcraft – which I’ve never played so excuse me if I screw this up – but in the story, Blizzard didn’t want people to play the game for too long – so they introduced a systemin the beta where the longer you played, the fewer experience points you’d get for killingmonsters and whatnot.
But players hated it.
They hated seeing the numbers going down.
It felt like a punishment for playing thegame.
So Blizzard did something pretty clever: theyflipped the system on its head.
Now, players can build up a rest bonus wheneverthey’re not playing the game, and then get an experience points boost when they nextlog in.
It’s essentially the same numbers, saysBlizzard, but making it a reward rather than a penalty made it much more agreeable to fans.
So, it’s often better to encourage the behaviouryou want, than discourage the behaviour you don’t.
Instead of punishing a player who is too slow, reward a player who finishes the level quickly.
And there are loads of good ways to encourageplayer behaviour.
It starts with the fundamental, moment-to-momentgameplay, where designers can tweak the game’s most basic mechanics to push players towardsa certain style of play.
Take the latest DOOM, where the designerswanted to promote an aggressive sort of “push forward combat”.
One way id Software achieved this was throughthe glory kill mechanic which provided plenty of compelling reasons to close in on yourfoes, instead of running away and firing from a safe distance.
This move instantly kills an enemy, it doesn’tuse any ammunition, and it showers the player with useful health pick-ups.
And so, despite years of FPS games trainingplayers to run away and hide behind cover, in DOOM, players spend much of the game racingheadfirst towards demons.
Likewise, Bloodborne encouraged players tobe more aggressive than they were in Dark Souls by adding the rally mechanic which letsyou recover health if you strike an enemy within a few seconds of taking damage.
Players are less likely to back off and waitfor an opening if they have a chance to win back some health with a quick, aggressiveattack.
Other examples of this sort of immediate encouragement might include the Burnout games, where you gather much-needed boost by doing all sorts of fun things like driving close to other cars and racing into oncoming traffic.
You’ve gotta drive dangerously to win.
And Hyper Light Drifter, where the only wayto recharge your gun is to slash bad guys with your sword, encouraging you to get upclose and personal with enemies.
Encouragement can also be baked into moreabstract, overarching systems like scores.
In most character action games, you can finishthe stage even if you’re pretty sloppy and rely on the same few tactics for the wholegame.
But you’ll end up with a crappy grade atthe end of the level.
To get a better grade, you need to play inthe way that the designers intended.
So, for a game like Devil May Cry which isall about being stylish, you’ll get better grades – plus, some handy items – if you usevaried and more difficult attacks, and use your guns to keep the combo ticking along.
Likewise, Tony Hawk’s makes you connectup different tricks to keep your combo going, and will give fewer points each time you repeata move.
In all of these games, the only way to geta high score is to play in the most stylish and interesting way possible, and to use the full extent of the game’s mechanics.
Rewards like experience points and achievementscan also be used for this purpose, because the designer gets to choose exactly what sortof activities or challenges the player must do to earn those points, and can tailor thisto reward players for taking actions that fit the game’s intended experience.
GRAYSON HUNT: Ooh, son of a mother.
Tech is wild.
This cocky leash is grading my performance.
Now, this is not to say that games shouldnever discourage, punish, or penalise people.
This will always have a place in games.
But for those games that do focus on negativeenforcement, they should be wary of pushing the slider from discouraging a playstyle, to practicallyforcing you not to use it.
Not to beat a dead horse, but playing fastin XCOM 2’s timed missions is not just the best way to play – but, basically, the onlyway to play.
Because forcing a very specific playstyleis difficult to pull off.
I’m sure we’ve all played stealth gameswhere getting spotted by enemies leads to instant failure.
And sure, this makes you play in a stealthy, ninja-like manner, and doesn’t allow you to just Rambo your way through the game withsuperior fire power, but it’s also annoying, and it gets rid of exciting moments like whereyou get spotted but manage to escape and go back into hiding.
So the goal is not necessarily to shut downtactics that can lead to uninteresting playstyles.
For example, if players are spending too muchtime hiding safely behind cover in a shooter, when you’d prefer them to run around thebattlefield, you don’t have to remove cover entirely.
It’s more often about keeping this stuffas a valid tactic for certain situations – but tweaking them so the player will not abuseor completely rely on them.
So, you can discourage players from abusingcover by having enemies throw in grenades or having cover break over time.
Or you could encourage players to stay outof cover by giving them points for fighting out in the open.
And to go back to the stealth example, thereare better ways to encourage stealthy play than just insta-failing players who get spotted.
You could discourage direct attacks by makingthe player very weak.
In the Arkham games, Batman is useless againstenemies with guns, so punching the crap out of guards during the stealth bits is a badtactic, but you can stay alive long enough to grapple hook your way back to safety.
Or you could encourage stealth by using thescoring systems mentioned earlier.
In Hitman, the only way to get a high score, or finish many of the challenges like Silent Assassin, is to play in the most sneaky waypossible.
Never get seen, hide the bodies, delete thecamera recordings, and so on.
Or, one less obvious way to tackle it, isto make players more aware that direct attacks are not the focus of the game.
With Mark of the Ninja, lead designer NelsAnderson said that the game originally had an in-depth combat system with different stancesand parries and whatnot, but this level of depth signalled to the player that directcombat was may more important than it actually was.
By reducing the combat to something much moresimple, players now understood that direct attacks were not point.
Anderson explained this on the podcast DesignerNotes, NELS ANDERSON: People would try to sneak, they would fail, and then they’d just Rambo through the rest of the level.
It’s like: okay, we just need to pair thisdown, get rid of as much of it as possible, make it really simple.
And once we just kept pairing it down to, the amount of presence it had in the design was about proportional to how important wethought it should be, that’s when it sat about right.
So, designers should know how they wantplayers to approach their game.
Perhaps stylishly, or stealthily, or whiletaking risks, or using the full extent of the mechanics, or just feeling like a demonmurdering machine.
Whatever they think is most fun, or interesting, or thematically relevant.
But if a player can reach their goals – frommicroscopic targets like “get health” or “defeat an enemy”, to longer-term goalslike “reach the end of the level” or “earn a new skill point” – if players can reachthose goals more easily through ways that don’t match that intention, and are actuallypretty boring, then the game might have a problem.
Locking off that easier route is certainlyone way of going about it, but forcing players to meet your vision and punishing them forplaying otherwise, is fraught with difficulty.
And so while I personally understand and evenappreciate XCOM 2’s turn timers in the broad strokes, I’m not surprised that they were metwith controversy.
So, it’s often better to encourage and incentivisea player to see the game in the best possible light.
To allow for other playstyle, but give rewards, high scores, easy kills, and handy resources when the player is meeting that intended experience.
Now, please, this is definitely not as easy as I’mmaking it sound.
There are plenty of pitfalls to think aboutand some of the most controversial and disliked mechanics are those that were initially designedto encourage or discourage a certain way of playing.
But when used really well, this type of designcan subtly push a player towards having the best possible experience, and, like Sid says, protect players.
Hey, thanks for watching! I hope you found this one interesting.
I love seeing all the differnet ways that designerstry to encourage and discourage different behaviours, and it’s fascinating to seehow successful they end up being.
I’d love to hear your examples from gamesyou’ve played.
Or games you’ve made, if you’re a designer.
Leave ‘em in the comments below, if youlike.
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