Trying to make a point.
As I said in the last post, I don’t like that much to break apart the experience of the player by creating Game Modes inside the main game mechanic.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong or something. Actually, game modes inside the main game mechanic are very useful, but I think that in most games those changes in modes aren’t that coherent with the main mechanic.
But, what’s a game mode anyway and why I’m introducing the term? first of all, a game mode is what you think it is: those options the game gives the player to try different experiences. Single and multiplayer versions of the same game are game modes; each variation of those modes are modes as well, for example, in the multiplayer case Survival, Capture the Flag etc. are game modes. However, it goes further. If you played Bioshock you should remember that you can hack some machines in the game, in order to do it the player has to solve a Pipemania like game. That’s a change of game mode, the kind I’m interested in.
(Buying stuff in the vending machines are also game modes. In that case, the gameplay is reduced to resource managament and trading.)
Any change in the game mechanics is a change in game mode: Driving vehicles in an FPS when the main goal is to go on foot is a game mode, dressing your avatar or arraging your assets in an RPG are game modes, and so on.
Some games are quite good at merging game modes. Bioshock is one of them. Half Life 2 also does quite well, and I know you could name several games that do it well.
Other games just suck at it. Why they suck? making quite obvious that the game has changed of mode. Tha breaks the experience. What happens in Bioshock is that those changes in game modes are so alined to the central story and mechanic that they don’t look out of place at all, even when the change in mechanic is quite deep.
Game modes are a good thing, but what I think that happens most of the times is a lack of effort in making them transparent for the player in comparisson to the main mechanic.
On the other hand, A thing I didn’t like in Portal 2 is the way Valve separated each room. I wrote it in my review about the game, that was an easy way to keep the design simple, but also was a way to waste a great opportunity to improve over the experience of the first game. The player didn’t have the freedom to use the portal gun as he likes in order to explore puzzle, environmets, whatever. Again, it was a way to maintain the design goals fairly restricted (or that seems to me).
That, again, is not a bad thing. There is a lot of stuff to consider. For example, maintaining the puzzles separated helps to create an well balanced interest curve: each puzzle is a raising in intereste, each hallway between them is a way to lower the interest, and thats the whole idea. But even though, I think they missed a very good opportunity.
A game that does separate very good each puzzle is Limbo. It’s actually a game very similar in structure to Portal: the character meets a challenge every few steps (and nothing happens in between, most of the times), but I think that the art direction and the mood is well alined to those empty spaces the game has, at least in a better way that Portal 2 does it (and both Portal to be honest).
The german expresionism aesthetics of Limbo justifies those moments of tension where nothing actually happens in the game.
I think that at the very end is a matter of taste. Each game I have mentioned are games I’m actually very influenced by. I love those games. These are observations about the things that, in general, I don’t like that much about game design.
So, going back to the point I’m trying to make: is there a way to include game modes in a mechanic without breaking apart the main experience? is there a way to include puzzle like games where in a more homogeneus way? well, the answer is yes. Half Life 2 and Bioshock are examples of it, and as I said, Limbo justifies a lot of those things.
The main purpose with Dark Recon is to find a way to do it differently. We don’t have the resources to apply the techniques of the game above mentioned, so we have another problem at hand, and as you may recall, game design is about problem solving.
How we can avoid separate game modes and puzzle separation in a game? That’s what we are trying to answer in the design of Dark Recon.
I insist, game modes aren’t a bad thing, this is just a goal we are setting to ourselves given the conditions where we are developing this game.
In the next entry I’m going to share how are we trying to fulfill this design goal.