Game design and player agency

Player agency, the ability to execute will, is key to game experiences. When a game forces something upon you, particularly something you can reasonably expect to be easily rid of, then it lessens the experience.

Some examples:
If you are forced to keep a bag of bait that you never want to use then it constantly gets in the way via your user-interface (UI). So a good game would allow the player to drop all pieces of the inventory. Removing gear ought not be done via standard play mode, eg. first-person shooting view. It is better done through an inventory screen so it’s not accidentally done in combat.

Control is agency

Automatic use of cover. I understand that this is a console gaming issue mostly but considering how console-ports retain this feature on PC it seems pertinent. Just put in the lean keys and let the player use cover.

Backpacks that you cannot drop. This is an old one. Sure you might lose your entire inventory yet it’s what soldiers do if they’re ambushed. Backpack can get you killed if it slows you down.

Unavailable items that show up all over fallen foes yet are not lootable. You’d just take it off the fallen and fix it, or cobble it together from the other fallen that have the same gear.

Over riding animations, uninterruptable effects, can sometimes be in games specifically to prevent player agency. A stun effect doesn’t need to lock out control when it could make your vision monochromatic and randomly skew your control sensitivity for a time.

There are methods to put in effects without removing player agency. Designers take heed.

Game design and player agency

RPGs Require Art

Inspiring art is a benchmark for a quality product in the RPG industry. Without a captivating cover the book relies on marketing and reputation to reach players. For the private publisher this requires budget. Cover-quality art is about $1000 per piece from pro-artists. It will be a gamble if the cover-art alone can net you sales to recoup those costs.

What does this say about the people we sell RPG product to?

They are visually driven. The branding of RPGs is around the imagination of the artist who illustrate the product. It also says, to me, that we gamers are far less imaginative than we believe.

Peace and giggles.

RPGs Require Art

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Game Engine Candidate for Ultimate Sandbox

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (hereafter COD4: MW).

If COD4: MW is highly moddable then the skilled people that did big-mods for STALKER need to grab it and make a total conversion to a sandbox game. My time and inclination for doing such things has passed so I live in hope of someone else providing (sad as it is). Unfortunately I’ve read that the COD4: MW engine uses spawning to create enemies. I’m sure that can be rectified. Spawning is the elephant in the loungeroom of FPS games. The whole concept is flawed. Everything that was not already in the environment has to come from outside the environment. It doesn’t have to ‘fully’ exist in the sense that it is rendered but it should be reacting to the environment with AI. The environment should also be reacting to it! (see Sandbox Shooter: Emergent Genre) This can be done algorithmically or simulated: doesn’t matter as long as the new enemies/allies/critters come from outside the environment and then work their way in. It may involve them being spawned at certain points but with thought it can be done with internal consistency and not look like the kind of cheap-magic-trick that it is in most games.

Consider terrain as borders. A tunnel is a great example. Prior to more ‘bandits’ being spawned an animation of torches coming down a tunnel can be a logically consistent warning that ‘bandits’ are about to spawn at the mouth of the tunnel. I digress into sandbox design, again.

COD4: MW has all the game engine elements that would support the ultimate Sandbox Shooter with today’s technology. Playable wounding (if you don’t fall over, then you’ll survive if you’re not wounded again for a number of seconds), fantastic ballistics (allowing easy penetration of cinder-blocks with  7.62mm weapons for example, 5.56mm has a harder time and pistol rounds don’t), great environments, and good sound-engine.

If I was to pick any engine that existed it would be this one for a sandbox shooter. Rendering is excellent and the physics engine is fantastic. There’s rumours of a sequel in October this year that will add RPG elements. The unfortunate thing is that the environment is not dynamically destructible. I’ve seen shooting of a single cinder-block with over 60 rounds of 7.62mm and the cinder-block is still there: it should be gone. If the engine could cater for destructible environment it would be the perfect base for the Sandbox Shooter.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Game Engine Candidate for Ultimate Sandbox