Nier: Automata has the unenviable job of merging open-world RPG design with hack-and-slash combat. These two directions don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but sometimes the designers need to take a side. Platinum Games is practically the face of the spectacle fighter genre, so it’s no surprise that they lean towards their comfort zone when the option is available. This divide can be noticed in one of the most mundane details: how the characters jump.
WARNING: Mild spoilers for Nier: Automata, footage from a boss battle is used to illustrate a point.read more
In my previous essay on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I talked about how the reboot series will rarely force players to go through a combat area that they had previously completed, in order to maintain the illusion of having many choices. The latest DLC, A Criminal Past, goes against this hypothesis. You start in block A of a prison complex and must make your way to block B, which is nearly identical. Why would they break their previously established pattern?read more
Now that every single game has parkour, it’s hard to appreciate how innovative the original Mirror’s Edge was. The designers had to break the ingrained assumption that enemies are meant to be defeated, and instead incentivize players to run away while somehow making them feel badass and powerful for doing so. When you encounter hostile cops for the first time, the level uses several creative tricks that nudge players to play the game differently than they would play any other game.read more
Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t the first maliciously monetized mobile game to have rerolling, and it certainly won’t be the last. Like other “gacha” games, you spend in-game currency to get a random character for your team. Some characters are objectively better than others, and when you start the game for the first time you get a large chunk of these currencies. This results in the phenomenon of rerolling, where people will uninstall the game and constantly retry their first time until they get a very powerful hero. Why would a game designer ever want such a thing?read more
Back when the Arkham series was going at full blast, it seemed inevitable that its freeflow combat system would get copied and used in all sorts of games, from Mad Max to Shadow of Mordor. Now, we can see that it hasn’t happened. Developers have learned the limitations of what freeflow combat can and can’t do, and a lot of that is tied to how it relies on an overloaded dodge maneuver. One single mechanic can skew the design of a whole series in a suboptimal direction.read more
Overcooked is a game that lives and dies by its level design. The basic game mechanics are so simple that one would wonder if it was even possible to build a game around them. To maintain a feeling of “simple-but-difficult” the designers make heavy usage of special disruptions in the levels. Most of the time, these disruptions really sell the game and make it a lot more fun. Sometimes, they don’t.read more
Thumper is a “rhythm violence” game where you are a space beetle and you are confronting a maniacal giant head from the future. It doesn’t make much sense from the description, and even though Thumper is best described as a rhythm game it’s a bit of a stretch. Most rhythm games don’t offer many opportunities for decision making, whereas Thumper is designed around giving the player a little bit of control over their fate, and then toying with that amount over the course of your wild ride.read more
LISA is a strong example of what I would call a recent indie movement in “ironic games.” This category covers titles like Undertale or Goat Simulator where a lot of the enjoyment comes from the way that the game subverts expectations. Cynical gamers think they have seen everything, and then these ironic games come and do something completely stupid, but it’s so unexpected that it works. One moment in LISA particularly stuck out to me in regards to this: the two minute climb.
WARNING: Minor spoilers for LISA, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Psychonauts.read more
Dungeon Fighter Online is a game where you go to dungeons and you fight and it’s online. Fighting in dungeons is fun, but the online part means that the game is filled with boring MMO tropes like questing and farming and crafting. This disconnect inspired the very first design essay I’ve ever written, but DFO has recently introduced a “seasonal server” which promises pure challenging arcade action without the grind. One new mechanic introduced in the seasonal server is the action gauge, which is theoretically a great idea, but DFO was clearly not built with it from the ground up and this sometimes causes problems.read more
Alessa “Heartache” Roberti was my best scout. She forged bravely ahead through unknown territory, fearless of any aliens ahead of her. When firefights broke out, she snuck around the side through concealment to clinch the killing blow on a crucial target, only to slink back into the shadows and do it all over again. But then she developed an addiction to grenades and wanted nothing more than to toss them around all day long. How was I supposed to balance a sneaky assassin with an explosive pyromaniac?read more