Could I Have My Control Back, Please?

by Steve Bowler on June 30, 2008 · 8 comments

in control,design


I was watching yet another video for Prototype today at work, marvelling how they all look exactly the same yet are claiming to show some new content, when I heard the Exec Producer or whoever it was bragging about how intelligent their Parkouring AI was. The AI for the Player character. The Player character who has environmental interaction AI.

Seriously, what the hell is happening to game design? I am all for making games more accessible to the masses, and taking away player frustration, but when did people cry out that player control and interaction weren’t fun anymore? Accessibility and Fun/Control don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Did developers mis-translate “NO MORE POINTLESS JUMPING PUZZLES PLZ K THX” to “we don’t want to have to exert ourselves to play your game anymore?” Because I think this is just starting to go too far. I don’t want my guy to automagically start running up walls. I don’t want to take a game that should make me feel like a god and water the controls down so far that all I have to do is push a stick in a direction and the character goes that way, regardless of the verticality or complexity of the surface.

Assassin’s Creed, for instance, took what should have felt like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time’s greatest parkouring challenges (which, for the record, gave me vertigo and crazy adrenaline jitters) and made me feel like I was an olympic gymnast playing on kindergarten playground equipment. There was zero challenge. The only thing you had to worry about was running straight off of a rooftop to your death (or rounding a corner and finding a guard). Climbing actually became a bit boring and even tedious. What, another tower which looks like it should be dangerous but isn’t that I have to climb? I found myself spamming the “A” button and holding the sprint button down just so that there was some semblance of danger.

Now, I can see some execs looking at Creed and thinking “hey, this sold well, we should emulate this shit.” Granted, the tech that allows you to scramble around in Creed is amazing. But it’s just not as fun as it should be. There is hardly any risk, and therefore, hardly any reward once a player gets over the fact that they can pretty much go anywhere they want to point their joystick. Scrambling on a wall requires pretty much the exact same interface as walking on the ground, once you’ve mounted it properly. And let’s be honest with each other here: walking is not terribly exhilarating.

Furthermore, at least in the circles I roll in, designers in general agree that Creed’s parkouring control leaves a lot to be desired, so it makes me wonder why Prototype would want to emulate that.

If you as a player feel that Creed and Prototype (or at least their videos) are the direction games should be heading in control-wise, take a look at this video, and ask yourself if it looks exciting to play:

Exciting? Yes. Unfortunately, the game is playing itself. There is nobody at the controls. The level is designed to push Mario (or in this case Luigi) around, which as amazing as that is, isn’t any fun to play. This is ultimately the direction this control scheme is headed in: a zero button push the joystick and your guy does everything for you level of interaction. Sure, it’s an extreme example, but it’s this “automatic” parkouring crap taken to the ultimate end. And as a developer I feel like we’re wasting an opportunity to give the player a sense of real accomplishment without raising the difficulty bar too much.

It’s a fine line we’re talking about here, certainly, but it’s my hope that developers in general will move a step back towards the “pointlessly difficult jumping puzzles” rather than the “game plays itself” direction it seems everyone’s currently headed in.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Mirror’s Edge, but I don’t have high hopes based on what I saw in the teaser vid.