Thursday, June 13, 2013

Alternate ... for what ?

Reading again the "Alternate Path" post from Kirby Kid (on my cybook, from his 4-years archive) raised the question "Why would players put the effort to follow your alternate route  ?" ... And it seemed to be a deeper question that I'd have thought at first.

It boils down to rewards you can offer to a player, and their value. I bet you wouldn't quite feel thankful to the game designer if an alternate route you found by careful exploration led to a mayhem of fireballs, then to a bunch of spikey monster falling from above ... just to discover a "recover health now" item and an exit to level 1-2.

Dans son article sur les chemins alternatifs, Richard Terell nous fait une synthèse des règles qui semblent définir le fonctionnement des chemins alternatifs dans la série Metroïd. 1) les alternatives sont moins fréquentes que les "sorties normales". 2) les alternatives doivent être masquées, et si possible réservées au joueur maîtrisant mieux les mécanismes du jeu. 3) le joueur sur un chemin de traverse doit pouvoir se rendre compte d'où il est par rapport au monde normal. Dans son incarnation ultime, un chemin alternatif peut même se révéler un tel raccourci qu'il évite complètement certaines parties du jeu. Moi, je n'ai encore jamais joué à un métroïd, mais ce dernier élément me fait immédiatement penser à la Star Road de Mario World et à la "technique secrète" de Hero Core qui permet de se frotter au boss final sans avoir affronté aucun des boss intermédiaires!

Things you could receive that would be really worthy of your effort are

made it possible.
  • Control over your avatar's destiny. Whether or not some level is mandatory, whether you need to pass this boss. Shortcuts are an obvious representative of this.
  • Control over your #1 ennemy. I don't necessarily mean the final boss, but the #1 source of contrary motion in the game, the one thing that you're always fighting against. In Mario, this is gravity and this is why P-wings, feather cape, super leaf and blue yoshi a such a high reward in the series.
  • Control over your playtime. Extending through 1-UPs, control through save points or codes.
  • Forgiveness for player's mistakes, either past (health recovery) or future (potions, shields, starman).
  • Make the impossible possible. Grant unique abilities. I think about the Hammer Bros. suit.

Mais au fond, que cacher dans son passage secret qui en fasse un détour qui vaut la peine ? Il y a bien sûr le raccourci, qui est une des façons de contrôler ce qui est nécessaire et ce qui est optionnel dans le jeu. Dans le raccourci, c'est le designer qui prend la décision "on garde le niveau 2-5 à sa difficulté actuelle, mais la porte d'entrée permet aussi d'aller directement au 3/4 du niveau. Ça vous va ?". SMB3 offrait des jokers (nuages, boîte à musique, flûte, etc) qui permettait au joueur de décider quelles bataille il allait éviter pour un contrôle encore plus grand.

Le deuxième type de récompense est un contrôle supplémentaire sur le comportement de l'avatar. Il y a les power-ups qui sont nécessaires pour accéder à certaines parties du jeu, et ceux qui conservent vos capacités d'origine, mais en les modulant. Nager mieux, planer en tombant ... plus on touche au coeur du gameplay (la gravité dans un Mario), et plus l'effet est important.

When thinking about it, the closer you are to the core mechanic of your game, the most likely your 'secret' will be important in the eyes of the player. I also note that the same type of thing may have a different impact depending on whether you're given on the time where you can use the item.

Same heal feature, with modulated effect in time.

 Heal now, Heal later, Heal whenever you want, auto-Heal when truly needed or get additional heal forever. The same function -- healing -- but the more control you have over its timing, the greatest it feels. Sorry for picking SMB3 again, but it offers the same range of effect on level skipping. With its unique "overworld", the player receives many items to skip levels through hammers (enable access to pipes), cloud (fly over a level, but it remains closed, so you're better succeed on the level just after), music boxes (stun Hammer Bros. and skip encounters). Even the traditional "welcome to the warp zone" (which always happens at specific location) is replaced with a warp whistle (warp whenever you're bored with your current game).

SMB3 also offered similar timing control with power-ups. Some are given immediately, other are given as playcards that the player stocks and use before entering levels. nSMB wii used a fairly similar technique. nSMB and SMW had even finer control with the ability for the player to summon one power-up whenever you want -- but just one. Feel like this final bowser battle would be too difficult for you ? Just make sure you stock an Ultra Mushroom before entering the castle.

Other approaches have been tempted by game designers, such as alternative endings, mini-games and such. It is however more dangerous to go that way. An alternative ending needs to be quite carefully crafted so that the players feel rewarded for it. It works fairly well in Cave Story, where saving the character you emotionally engaged with sounds worth the effort. It failed in Commander Keen : Goodbye galaxy, imho, where all your effort in finding and beating the secret level just ends up into a low joke.

Same goes for a minigame. Why would "whack-a-mole" game be a "reward" for exploring in a platforming game ? You need a franchise that is terribly strong for that to work. Rayman 1 on PC offered a homebrew-quality arcanoïd clone when you beat the platformer. That's so much disconnected ! So cheap compared to the whole stock of P-Wings you'd get for beating Bowser in SMB3! But of course, Rayman lacked a "floor skill", so if you've reached Mr. Dark, you have nothing left to explore because you needed to collect all the cages to be allowed in Candy Castle.

I do feel, though, that for a game where mystery is a significant part of the game design, unveiling back-stories could be perceived as a worthy reward. I'd just make sure that those extra material can be "consumed" when the player feels so (i.e. available through the game's main menu) rather than forced as a cut scene.


PypeBros said...

Oh, make sure you don't miss Sequence breaking post from Richard, btw.

PypeBros said...

Et pour un jeu mettant l'accent sur l'exploration non-linéaire, des objets tels que cartes, boussoles magiques peuvent être vus comme très précieux. L'autre élément qui mériterait un détour serait un moyen de se téléporter vers un emplacement intéressant. ça peut être un portail magique caché, mais ça peut aussi être un relai de téléporteur à utiliser à installer à sa guise dans le jeu.