长文，Troy Goodfellow和Soren Johnson谈策略游戏设计
1. 随机地图——这点对我来说非常重要。虽然《命令与征服3》之类的游戏包含众多地图，或者《地球帝国III》等游戏设有优美地图，但这些都比不上随机性，虽然这更多像是《 帝国时代》中的模式随机性。《文明》游戏、《帝国主义》或《战斗任务》存在的一大优点是，你无法知晓自己即将探寻的内容。若你制作的是款历史战斗游戏，或是大型策略游 戏，这显然缺乏可行性，但随机地图确实会给原本略显呆板的游戏带来持久生命力。
2. 翻转工具提示——这是非常重要的界面创新。我们没有理由不融入此元素。它们能够起到指导效果，提供屏幕视觉内容以外的信息。这些工具可令玩家无需查看指南或在线百科 全书。
3. 清晰图解——这是另一界面元素，但屏幕所呈现的元素应保持相同。若你融入英雄元素，确保其突出呈现（游戏邦注：如《Rise of Legends》）。为什么我总是把自己的小型 骑兵和枪骑兵混淆起来，或是把弓箭手和杰出弓箭手混淆起来？NATO符号的优点在于，你总能够知晓各单元的具体类型。玩家不会将机动式的大炮和盔甲混淆起来。《地球帝国III 》采用夸张的动画式单元，旨在避免这种情况（该游戏的第二个系列存在此问题）。有人觉得这是个失误；但我觉得这种做法很好。
4. 多种有效初始选择——你无法真正消除“构建顺序”心理，但你可以采取措施消除这所带来的影响（游戏邦注：通过不在游戏初始要求所有玩家都进行相同操作）。套用Geryk 法则：“若你制作的是二战题材的游戏，游戏包含入侵法国的唯一最佳方式，那么你就应该在入侵法国后开始游戏。”关于这点，我们能够采取的一个策略是确保游戏各方的表现 截然不同（如《Age of Mythology》和《Rise of Legends》），因为这令我们需要重新评估在地图中遇到的对象。另一方式就是提供适用于各类玩家的多种玩法（如《Europa Universalis》和《文明》）。若你发现所有测试者都以几乎相同的方式开始游戏，也许你就需要重新考虑设计。
5. 分层策略元素——这不适合RTS和战争游戏，但对有关4x的内容来说必不可少。我这里的意思是游戏包含不止一组的爱/恨，和平/战争关系。若和平和战争是可选项，那么游戏 应该允许玩家准备战争，在和平阶段放松自己。战争不应莫名其妙地出现；若游戏突然呈现战争内容，要立即说明其中原因。充满矛盾元素的游戏在此表现突出，《文明IV》也非 常不错。而《帝国主义》在此的表现则非常惨淡，游戏融入相当简单的策略机制。Slitherine的大型策略游戏在此也是惨不忍睹。《Total War》游戏在策略方面略显武断，其制造 战争的原因只是不想玩家太过轻松地获胜。
6. 真正的超级武器——这主要针对RTS玩家。我喜欢超级武器。但它们不应只是技术层面上的最大型武器，而应具有活动性，不应只是结合4-5个正常单位的威力。玩家应无法轻松 获得这些武器，但若他们愿意掏钱，就能够随意摧毁其他游戏物件。
7. 包含恢复期的非一次性特殊能量——这是另一RTS元素，有点像《神话时代》中的超级武器：泰坦巨神。一次性能量存在的问题是（游戏邦注：就如《AoM》多数竞赛所存在的问 题），你得承受未能派上用场的风险。总体来说，保护和射击之间的紧张氛围是非常巧妙的设计，除非你过早射出Zeus的闪电球，这样强大魔法就会消失。扩张赋予Atlantis无穷 尽的能量及恢复期。《帝国时代III》让你能够在最后阶段更新若干卡片，这是很好的折中方案。如今恢复期已似乎已变成游戏设计法则。
8. TCP/IP和LAN连接——我清楚运用Gamespy或EAOnline等网络多人平台的益处所在。它令社区凝聚起来，能够轻松追踪玩家数据。但应确保TCP/IP和LAN具有可行性，而不是可能 性。我常发现自己难以访问支持TCP/IP技术的游戏，这令我怀疑这些游戏究竟有无经过合理测试。但游戏不妨提供LAN或直接网络连接，因为用户常常会忘记登陆密码。
Troy S. Goodfellow曾列举了他认为策略游戏中最有价值的8个功能，受此启发，我开始思考相反的问题：哪些是我讨厌不断看到的游戏设计问题呢？
游戏设计师最普遍犯下的错误是担心游戏的硬核性不足。这种担心往往会导致硬核游戏传统设计的出现，比如限制性的保存系统和无法解锁的内容。对于那些只是想要靠游戏来娱 乐的主流玩家来说，这种设计毫无用处，只是流畅游戏体验的绊脚石而已。如果你觉得自己的游戏需要通过限制性保存系统来创造紧张感，你可以这么做，但只能将其放入较高难 度等级中。如果要使游戏同时适合休闲和硬核玩家，难度等级是关键，《文明》通过多个难度等级来让各种不同的粉丝感受到游戏的乐趣。而不设置难度等级可能会摧毁整款游戏 ，《Trauma Center》（游戏邦注：DS版本）便是个绝妙的例证。这款游戏精巧地利用了DS的触摸屏，但是线性化的挑战在第4或第5个关卡时变得过于困难，多数人只玩了数个小时 便难以继续进展下去。这款游戏采用限时通关系统，所以开发团队只需数天的时间便能够制作出难度系统，比如增加通关时间来降低难度。如果《Trauma Center》设置了难度等级 ，或许能够获得同《Elite Beat Agents》相似的成功，后者的触摸屏游戏区分设计了各难度等级。
近期我花了许多时间玩老式DS地下城游戏《Etrian Odyssey》，这使我情不自禁地联想，以DS为平台重新制作《博德之门》或《Legacy of the Ancients》会得到极为有趣的游戏 。不幸的是，游戏的界面使玩家无法跳过不必要的重复性任务。如果你想要出售自己的战利品，必须双击背包中的每件战利品进行确认！在长时间的冒险之后，往往会导致当你回 到城镇时需要按动将近100下的A键。“出售所有道具X”这样的选择便可以节省大量的时间。同样，作为典型的基于阵营的RPG游戏，到后期你的团队可以完胜某些低等级怪物。但 是，对于每场随机碰上的遭遇战，你仍然必须按个选择角色的“攻击”及其目标，即便这些怪物对你的团队毫无威胁。这样算下来，每次战斗你又要按动10次A键。如果在这些战斗 中加入“阵营自动攻击”的命令，无疑会节省我数个小时的时间。应当记住，玩家的时间是宝贵的。
无论你的游戏多么出众，玩家在一段时间后总会感到厌烦。所以，优秀的游戏应当采取些许必要措施，确保玩家可以通过更换设置来创造出不同的游戏体验。《英雄连》是款令人 称奇的战术RTS游戏，堪称该题材的里程碑之作，但游戏不支持轴心国之间的对战，甚至无法开展多方对战。这种设计选择或许符合二战的游戏背景，但这显然影响了游戏的玩法多 样性。在这方面设计较好的RTS游戏便是《帝国时代》系列。你不仅可以与任何文明、玩家和团队对战，还可以自行设计地图脚本。我还记得Firaxis程序员Mike Breitkreutz设计 的有趣地图Age of Kings，地图中几乎没有树木，到处都是石头和黄金，将整个游戏经济系列颠倒过来。多人游戏中甚至还可以选择控制同一个文明（游戏邦注：比如一个玩家控 制军事，另一个玩家控制经济）。这些精妙的设计延长了地图在玩家群体中的寿命。
在游戏设计中，利用更多的单位、建筑和诸如此类的东西来完成和丰富设计，这种诱惑是巨大的。事实上，我见过许多人将游戏描述为内容的集合体（游戏邦注：比如有多达18种 武器，68种怪物和29个关卡）。毫无疑问，这是种错误的想法。Sid说过，游戏设计是趣味决策的集合体，游戏中的“内容”不是用来填充空间，而是让你可以有效地执行决定。有 些游戏为玩家提供了过少的选项，但多数情况下，游戏往往提供了过多的选项。数量多少才是合适的呢？答案很简单，12正合适。当然，不存在万能的数值，但12是个值得考虑的 数量。从经验上看，这是玩家可以有序在脑中处理的最多选项数量。暴雪使用这个数值来确保RTS游戏不变得过于复杂。《星际争霸》中每个阵营平均有12种单位，《魔兽争霸3》 也是如此（游戏邦注：不计英雄数量），可以猜想《星际争霸2》也将是这种情况。事实上，暴雪已经声称，在游戏续作中将移除部分旧单位来为新单位腾出足够的空间。
保护代码和数据是个很自然的本能，毕竟你在项目上花了多年的时间，开发独特的功能，扩展题材范围。对许多开发商来说，公布游戏的内部代码是件很艰难的事情。但是，1年前 我们便对外公开了《文明4》的游戏和AI源代码，到现在成果相当出色。3个由粉丝制作的mod已被引入《超越刀锋》扩展包中，它们是Derek Paxton的《Fall from Heaven: Age of Ice》、Gabriele Trovato的《Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization》和Dale Kent的《WWII: The Road to War》。到现在为止，这些mod已经成为产品最强的功能之一。需要澄清 的是，如果我们没有公布源代码，这些mod可能不会如此富有深度或吸引力，甚至可能完全不会出现。我需要特别指出的是，这种方法适用于PC游戏开发商，我尤其呼吁策略游戏开 发商采取这种做法。出于某些方面的原因（游戏邦注：或许是缺乏像id这样的富有开创性的开发者），策略游戏开发商比起射击和RPG游戏需要mod制作。多数情况下，策略游戏mod
盗版对行业的危害不可估量，因而不可小觑。只有少数公司首脑敢像Brad Wardell那样勇敢，完全开放版权保护。因而，通过部分机制来杜绝偶然发生的盗版现象是可行的，但不 推荐开发商因此影响到用户体验。当考虑版权保护措施时，所需提出的最重要问题是：“这些附加的安全措施能否真正提升销售额？”比如，本地多人游戏便是个可开放的版块。 换句话说，盗版玩家可以加入由正版玩家开启的多人游戏。《星际争霸》让你可以制作只能加入LAN多人游戏的额外版本。允许非限制性LAN玩法也是我们针对《文明4》制定的非官 方政策。当你开启EXE文件时游戏会检测是否有光盘，但是当你开启游戏时不会检测。因而，4个好友可以通过1个光盘来享受多人游戏。我们不认为玩家会愿意仅仅因为想玩LAN多 人游戏而去购买光盘，这是极其罕见的情况。但是，我们希望这样的环境能够让新玩家接触到《文明》，受游戏粉丝的好友鼓动而购买游戏。在某些情况下，他们或许会想要尝试 单人游戏，这时他们就会付费购买。
在20世纪90年代末的某段时间，也就是《黑与白》被开发出的那段时间里，微界面游戏概念开始盛行。这种概念的想法是，界面会阻碍游戏接触更多主流受众。自那以后，我注意 到游戏逐渐将游戏机制隐藏起来，不让玩家察觉到。《帝国时代》于1999年发布，游戏公开了各个单位的成本和价值，并增设修改器。但是，在多数现代RTS游戏中，用户手册往往 不包含这些数字。我想要强调的是，不可借透明性之名，让玩家陷于复杂数学运算中。设计师应当思考的是，如何让界面带有两种层次：教程层次和参考层次。教程层次的对象是 首次玩游戏的用户，他们需要知道最基本的内容，比如如何建造坦克并利用其杀死对手。参考层次应当能够解答任何玩家有可能想到的有关游戏机制运行的问题。较好的做法是， 将这些信息放在独立的游戏内置资源中，比如ivilopedia。《传奇延续》使用的就是这种双界面想法。游戏中的多数弹出帮助窗口都有个“高级”模式，你可以通过按住按键来解 锁，该模式会给予你有关游戏潜在机制的更多细节。
本来我只想提前面7点，因为对我来说故事这个方面是最具争议的。对于游戏中故事的位置，许多人可能会反对我的看法，所以我先声明下，我知道自己可能是错误的。但是，我仍 然想要说下自己的观点。我不喜欢游戏中的故事。我不喜欢无聊乏味的过场动画。我不喜欢刻板的角色。我不喜欢自己无法控制的情节。我特别不喜欢游戏用毫无价值的对话阻挡 我快速前进的步伐（游戏邦注：日本游戏普遍如此）。但我真正讨厌的是与游戏并不相符的故事。比如，某些策略游戏的故事设计。毕竟，策略游戏是很古老的游戏。人类最先是 在双陆棋和象棋中察觉到游戏可玩性。策略游戏本身就是游中的“故事”。为RTS战役添加故事并非恰当的做法。如果《传奇延续》放弃创作基于故事的战役，延续《国家的崛起 》中征服世界的模式，那么或许游戏会变得更好。讽刺的是，我最喜欢玩的恰恰是《传奇延续》的战役模式。我喜欢只能在任务间的战略地图上获得技术和高级单位的设计，这让 核心RTS游戏变得更为简单。但是，我之所以喜欢战役，并不是因为故事。关键点在于，因为需要在游戏中增添故事，Big Huge Games失去了将核心RTS游戏同简单且可重复玩的策 略层面结合起来的机会。出现这种情况的并非只是这款游戏，几乎所有的RTS游戏开发商似乎都落入了同样的陷阱，我不知道究竟是什么原因。
The Eight Greatest Features
by Troy Goodfellow
Juuso at Gameproducer.net has just posted what he thinks are the 7 greatest things you can put in a game that would appeal to him. It’s a fairly wide ranging list, but I’d collapse his number 6 (reflective water) and 7 (details), since, for me, reflective water is a little detail. It’s nice, sure and adds reality to the unreal. But it’s not like it serves much purpose beyond that, just like his theoretical flocks of birds.
He asked others to write their seven greatest features, and, since I won’t be blogging for a couple of days, I thought I’d throw this out there for discussion.
Here are my eight greatest features for strategy games. Not every game needs to have all of these, but they are things that appeal to me. Why eight? Because I had seven but thought of another one and didn’t want to remove any of the others.
1. Random maps – This is huge for me. Even if you have a lot of maps like Command & Conquer 3 or really pretty maps like Empire Earth III, nothing beats randomness, even if it is patterned randomness like you find in Age of Empires. One of the great strengths of the Civ games, Imperialism or Combat Mission is that you never quite know what you are going to find. Sure, this isn’t really feasible if you are doing an historic battle or even some grand strategy games, but random maps add longevity to otherwise pedestrian games.
2. Rollover Tooltips – These is the most important interface innovation ever. There’s really no excuse not to use them. They can serve instructional purposes or provide detailed information beyond what’s visible on screen. They free the player from having to look for things in the manual or the online encyclopedia. Games that don’t use them start with a count of 0-2.
3. Clear Iconography – Okay, this is another interface thing, but stuff on screen shouldn’t look like other different stuff on the same screen. If you have hero units, make them stand out, like in Rise of Legends. And there’s no need to be subtle here, Creative Assembly, all right? Why the hell am I always mixing up my skirmish cavalry and my lancers, or my archers and my really good archers? The great thing about the NATO symbology is you always know what unit type is what. There’s no chance of mixing up your self-propelled artillery and your armor. Empire Earth III has moved to exaggerated, cartoonish units to get away from this sort of crap – it plagued the second game in the series. Some people think this is a mistake; I think it’s brilliant.
4. Multiple Valid Starting Options – You can’t really eliminate the “build order” mentality, but you can do a lot to reduce its influence by not forcing the same moves on everyone the moment the game opens. To quote one of the Laws of Geryk, “If you are making a game of World War II and there is one single best way to invade France, you should just start the game after the invasion of France.” One way to do this is to make each side in a game radically different (Age of Mythology, Rise of Legends) since this forces re-evaluation based on who you are facing on which map. Another way is to make different kinds of play immediately possible and viable for different sorts of players (Europa Universalis, Civilization). If you find all your beta testers start a game in exactly the same way, maybe you should rethink the design a little.
5. Layered Diplomacy – This doesn’t work for RTS and Wargames, but is necessary for anything approaching 4x. What I mean here is more than a love/hate, peace/war relationship. If peace and war are options, then preparation for war and relaxation during peace should be possible. War should rarely just pop out of nowhere; if there is a sudden declaration of war it should be immediately obvious why it happened. The Paradox games do this well, Civ IV does it well. Imperialism got it cold with a really simple diplomatic system. The Slitherine grand strategy games failed miserably on this level. The Total War games often seem arbitrary in their diplomatic side, creating wars just to keep you from winning another one too easily. (Yeah, yeah, balance of power. But three province Pontus doesn’t care about Carthage.)
6. Real Superweapons – This is for the RTS people. I love superweapons. But they have to be more than just the biggest weapon on the end of the tech tree. They should take effort to mobilize and then be more than a match for any four or five normal units. The effort involved should be enough to make rushing for them prohibitive, but if you are willing and able to make that investment, you should be able to just stomp things.
7. Special Powers with Cool downs, not one shots – Another RTS thing, and learned, like superweapons, from Age of Mythology: The Titans. The problem with one shot powers, like most of the races in AoM had, is that you run the risk of never using them. The tension between conservation and firing away is a good one, in principle, but if you fire too soon with Zeus’ lightning bolt, for example, that’s pretty much it. A powerful spell is gone. The expansion gave Atlantis powers with limited uses and a cool down period. Age of Empires III lets you refresh some cards in the final age, a fine compromise. Cool downs seem to be design law now, so hopefully the one and done is gone.
8. TCP/IP and LAN Connection – I understand the appeal of using proprietary internet multiplayer lobbies like Gamespy or EAOnline. It keeps a community together, makes it easier to track numbers of players and get ladders going. But please make TCP/IP and LAN not just possible but feasible. Considering how much difficulty I often have even getting a TCP/IP game going in those titles that support it, I wonder if it’s even tested properly. But let me LAN or do a direct internet connection. Because I always forget my login password.
8 Things Not To Do…
Inspired by Troy S. Goodfellow’s list of the Eight Greatest Features he values in strategy games, I started thinking about the opposite question: what are the greatest mistakes that I hate to see done over and over again in game design? In no particular order, here are my first four:
1. Hard-core game conventions
One of the most common pitfalls for a game designer is to fear that the game is not hard enough. This fear often leads to hard-core game conventions, like restrictive save systems and unlockable content, that only put roadblocks in the way of the mainstream gamer who is just looking to have a good time. If you feel your game needs the tension of a restrictive save system, go ahead and implement it… but only as a feature of a higher difficulty level. Difficulty levels are the key to making a game accessible to both the casual and the hard-core gamer; we could never seem to add enough difficulty levels to Civ to keep our wide variety of fans happy. Trauma Center (DS) is a good example of a great game that was ruined by having no difficulty levels whatsoever. The surgery game is a brilliant use of the DS touch-screen, but the linear challenges get so hard by the fourth or fifth level that most people get hopelessly stuck after only a couple hours. Considering that the levels were timed, it wouldn’t have taken them more than a week to implement a difficulty system that simply extended the time limits at the easier settings. A Trauma Center with difficulty levels would have enjoyed similar success to Elite Beat Agents – another great touch-screen game but one not afraid to let the player start at an easy difficulty level.
2. Repetitive interface tasks
I am currently enjoying the old-school dungeon crawler Etrian Odyssey quite a bit on my DS, enough so that I can’t help day-dreaming about how much fun it would be to remake Bard’s Tale or Legacy of the Ancients for the DS. Unfortunately, the game’s interface does a terrible job of enabling the player to skip over needlessly repetitive tasks. Want to sell your loot? You have to click on every single Hare Tail in your inventory not once, but twice for confirmation! After a long excursion, this can often lead to around 100 presses of the A button when you get back to town. A simple “sell all of item X” would be an invaluable time-saver. Likewise, as a typical party-based RPG, there comes a time when your group no longer has to fear the lower-level creatures. However, for every random encounters, you still have to select ‘Attack’ and target a creature for all five of your characters even though there is literally ZERO danger to your party. (That’s ten presses of the A button for those of you keeping score at home.) A “party auto-attack” command for these battles would
have saved me literally hours of play time. Always remember, your player’s time is valuable.
Fun Factor = Interesting Decisions / Actual Time Played.
(UPDATE: Yeah, so I blew this one. There is a “sell all” option in Etrian Odyssey, and it’s even shown on the interface. The point is still valid, but I targeted the wrong game.)
3. Limited play variety
No matter how good your game is, it is going to get stale after awhile. It’s a real shame when a great game doesn’t take the few extra steps necessary so that the player can mess around with the settings to create alternative play experiences. Company of Heroes is an incredible tactical RTS, a watershed moment for the genre – but there is no way to have an Axis vs. Axis battle or even a game with more than two sides. This design choice may fit the fiction of WWII, but it ignificantly reduced the game’s play variety. A good example of an RTS that got this right is the Age of Empires series. Not only could you mix- and-match any combination of civilizations and players and teams, but you could also design your own map scripts. I remember one interesting Age of Kings map designed by Mike Breitkreutz, a Firaxis programmer, that had almost no wood and tons of stone and gold, turning the game’s economy upside-down. You could even have multiple players controlling the same single civilization (one player could control the military, the other the economy, for example). Thus, I’ve played 2-vs-3 games of AoK where the sides with 2 civs was actually controlled by 4 players (and guess which side won?!?) These simple variations probably doubled the life-span of AoK amongst my group of friends.
4. Too much stuff
The temptation to pile extra units and buildings and whatnot onto to an already complete design is strong. Indeed, I have seen many people describe games as simply a collection of stuff (“18 Weapons! 68 Monsters! 29 Levels!”) Needless to say, this is a wrong-headed approach. A game design is a collection of interesting decisions, as Sid would say, and the “stuff” in the game is there not to fill space but to let you execute decisions. Games can provide too few options for the player but – more commonly – games provide too many. How many is just right? That’s simple enough to answer, it’s 12! (it’s definitely not 42…) OK, obviously there is no magic number, but 12 is a good figure to keep in mind. It’s an excellent rule-of-thumb for how many different options a player can keep in his or her mind before everything turns to mush. It’s the number Blizzard uses to make sure their RTS’s don’t get too complex. StarCraft averaged 12 units per side. So did WarCraft 3 (not counting heroes). And you can bet your bottom dollar that StarCraft 2 is going to be in that eighborhood as well. In fact, Blizzard has already announced that, for the sequel, they will be removing some of the old units to make room for the new ones.
5. Hidden code/data
Protecting your code and data is a very natural instinct – after all, you may have spent years working on the project, developing unique features, pushing the boundaries of the genre. Giving away the innards of your game is a hard step for many developers – especially executives – to take. Nonetheless, we released the game/AI source code for Civ 4 over a year ago, and – so far – the results have been fantastic. Three fan-made mods were included in the Beyond the Sword expansion – Derek Paxton’s Fall from Heaven: Age of Ice, Gabriele Trovato’s Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization, and Dale Kent’s WWII: The Road to War – and so far, these mods have been heralded as one of the product’s strongest features. To be clear, these mods would have been nowhere near as deep or compelling (or even possible) if we had not released our source code. I should specify that for many PC developers, I’m preaching to the choir, so I’d like to be very specific about which genre I am calling out – strategy games. For whatever reason (perhaps the lack of a pioneering developer like id?), strategy developers have been much more closed off to modding than their shooter and RPG brethren. Sure, there are exceptions, like Blizzard’s fantastic scenario editor for WarCraft 3, but by and large, strategy modders do not have many places to turn for platforms on which to work, which was one reason we felt compelled to focus on modding for Civ 4. Giving stuff away can feel good. It also feels smart.
6. Anti-piracy paranoia
The damage that piracy does to our industry is impossible to calculate but also impossible to ignore. Few company heads can be as brave as Brad Wardell and just leave out copy protection altogether. Thus, having some sort of mechanism to stop casual piracy is a given but what is not a given is the hoops companies will make their customers jump through just to be able to start the game. The most important question to ask when considering these protections is
“will this added security actually increase our sales?” A good place to be lenient, for example, is with local multi-player games – in other words, can players without the disk join a multi-player game hosted by a legitimate copy. Starcraft let you “spawn” extra copies of the game that could only join LAN multi-player games. (Interestingly, this is the same model that Ticket to Ride employs on the Net. It is always free to join a game but only paying customers can host.) Allowing unlimited LAN play was our unofficial policy for Civ 4 as well. The game does a disk check when you start the EXE but not when you actually launch the game; thus, a group of 4 friends could just pass one disk around for local multiplayer. We do not believe players are willing to buy extra discs just for the ability to play multiplayer at a LAN party, which are rare events. However, we would love for new players to be introduced to Civ in these environments, encouraged by their friends who are already fans. At some point, they are going to want to try single-player – in which case, it is time for a trip down to the local Best Buy.
7. Black box mechanics
Sometime during the late-90′s, around when Black & White was being developed, the concept of an interface-less game came into vogue. The idea was that interfaces were holding games back from larger, more mainstream audiences. Ever since then, I have noticed a discernible trend to hide game mechanics from the player. Age of Kings shipped in 1999 with an incredible reference card listing every cost, value, and modifier in the game. With most modern RTS’s, however, you’re lucky if the manual actually contains numbers. I want to emphasize that the answer here is not to bathe the players in complicated mathematics in the name of transparency. Instead, designers should think of their interfaces as having two levels: a teaching level and a reference level. The teaching level focuses on first-time players who need to know the basics, like how to build a tank and go kill the bad guys. The reference level should answer any question the player can think of about how a game mechanic works. It is perfectly fine, by the way, to put this info inside of a separate in-game resource, like the Civilopedia. Rise of Legends implemented an interesting version of this two-interfaces idea. Most of the popup help in the game had an “advanced” mode that you could unlock by holding down a key, giving you significantly more details about the game’s underlying mechanics.
8. Putting story in the wrong places
I was tempted to come up with 7 things not to do and just leave off the story one as I’m sure it’s my most controversial point. A bunch of people will disagree with me over the place of story in games, so let m just say up front that I know that I am wrong. I still want to make my point, though. I don’t like story in games. I don’t like the boring cut-scenes. I don’t like the stereotyped characters. I don’t like the plots that I have no control over (and, sorry, the Bioware you-are-either-God-or-Satan twists count too). I especially don’t like it when games stop me from fast-forwarding through the crappy
dialogue (I’m looking at you, Japan). But what I really hate is when a story gets stuck somewhere it really doesn’t belong. Like in a strategy game. After all, strategy games are the original games. Humans first discovered gameplay with backgammon and chess and go; it’s a noble tradition. The “story” in a strategy game is the game itself. Layering a story onto an RTS campaign is like putting a copy of Hamlet in my pie. I mean, sure, Hamlet is a great play, but my pie would also sure taste better without it! Put another way, how much better of a game would Rise of Legends have been (and it was already a great game) if they had given up on creating a story-based campaign and instead iterated on the cool Conquer-the-World mode from Rise of Nations? Ironically, the campaign mode was my favorite way to play RoL. I loved that you could only acquire technologies and advanced units on the strategic map between missions, which helped to simplify the core RTS game. However, I enjoyed the campaign in spite of the story, not because of it. The key point here is that, for the sake of chasing a story, Big Huge Games missed a big opportunity to match a great core RTS game with a simple, overarching strategy layer that could be infinitely replayable. They are not alone; almost every other RTS developer seems to be falling into the same trap, and I don’t know why.
Of course, if I ever made an RPG, I would probably name the bad guy Foozle, so what do I know?
Well, for better or worse, these are the eight things I hate seeing in games, especially strategy games. What about you?