Finding the Middleground

by Steve Bowler on January 29, 2008 · 1 comment

in design

Rules are a crazy thing. Sometimes they are there to set boundaries on a game in order to define the objectives, and sometimes they are hindrances to better gameplay. I used to think that games needed to be defined by a very focused, pointed rule set. Aim the player towards one end of a spectrum or another. Make sure they either choose speed or strength. Are they a fighter or a mage?

But playing PGR4 I realize just how wrong I may have been. Granted, there are cases where segregating objectives via hard and fast rule sets will be welcome, but PGR4* found a way to push the player back towards the middle and achieve something much more worthwhile.

PGR1 and 2’s rule sets were extremely exclusionary. You either raced against cars for a win, and hoped to eek out a few kudos in the process (which seemed to hurt your chances for winning at the time), or you raced in races that were pure kudos, and had little to do with speed and cornering, and were never against other vehicles.

If I had to graph it, it would look something like this:

Kinda disparate

But PGR4 does something different. The designers figured out all of these other fun games that can live somewhere in between those two objectives:

And there's more than there was room to list here

It seems obvious once you put it in a graph, I guess. And there’s way more than just those. Not only that, they are way more fun and balanced than the previous game type iterations. I’d much rather play Superstar than just the straight up Kudos races from previous iterations, and admittedly, the new Cone Sprint is also more fun than the original variation. Hell, even the racing is more fun now as I think they’ve tuned drifting a bit so it’s not as detrimental as it was earlier.

The bottom line is that it has me much more entertained than previous game iterations, and as a consumer I’m much more likely to turn my rental into a purchase at the end of the week. It’s literally been the career mode in combination with these new “middle ground” racing modes that’s done it.

I don’t think the takeaway here is for developers to try and water down their gameplay from their core feature sets; rather if you find your gameplay becoming stale and stagnant, see if by tweaking a few rules you can’t find some new (and possibly even better) fun in between your core feature goals.

*I’ve heard many of these new rule sets/games were found in PGR3, but I skipped that title, so I haven’t seen them ’till just now. Also, I should have removed “Kudos” from the PGR3/4 graph, as there are no “just get kudos” matches, at least that I’ve seen.

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