I’ve been wanting to update, but haven’t had anything significant to say about the games I’m playing. They’re all good, though. Let me run down those.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
As far as arcade racers go, this one is great. Magnificent sense of speed and power. I’m feeling a little limited, though – a lot of the game is based around its “Autolog” social system, but none of my friends have purchased it. As a single-player game, it’s somewhat bland – you have to do the races the game has available, and there are way too few of the awesome, combat-heavy Hot Pursuit and Interceptor missions, and way too many Preview and Time Trial events. Those events are just basic “Get to the finish line in X amount of time” races, and they’re definitely the weakest part of the career mode. Right now I’m just grinding to unlock new cars, and grinding is never how you want people to describe your gameplay.
It’s tremendous what they’ve done with LBP2. Sometimes I have difficulty getting into it – knowing how it works can remove some of the magic. It’s one thing to fight a giant mech in a game, and figure out that it shoots three times, charges its laser, then exposes its weak point. Somehow it’s different in LBP, when I know that the enemy isn’t really an enemy, but a collection of parts following simple instructions, and it’s just doing that attack pattern with no intelligence. It’s the same gameplay, though, so I’m trying to focus on that. The story mode is really good, and it actually makes sense and has a story (although I’m still not sure why we needed Huge Spaceship, it seems to exist only to blow up).
Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to do for my first level. The blank canvas is intimidating!
EA Sports Active 2
I just started a workout with this, but I’m hoping it will stick with me.
Wii Fit was way too slow, too balance-oriented, too childish. The individual activities were interesting, but I didn’t feel like I could get a workout that way, especially when it takes almost as long as the exercise itself to get started, get your score, listen to your trainer, etc. When I’m working out, I want to just get hit by one thing after another, no time to rest.
I got that with My Fitness Coach, and worked out with that for a while. I fell out of practice, though…and I think it’s because of the lack of progression. My Fitness Coach didn’t feel like it was keeping track of me, or working me toward a goal, or anything. I would fire it up, do a workout, turn it off, and not feel like I was really accomplishing anything. It didn’t help that the game literally wasn’t tracking me at all; I could start a workout and leave, and it wouldn’t know the difference.
EA Sports Active 2 seems like a good mix, with the clean interface and 1:1 tracking of Wii Fit, combined with the intense workouts of My Fitness Coach, and then adding some training programs and online functionality on top of that. I’m just starting a 9-week course…let’s see how it goes!
Problem: Non-host players have no control over multiplayer.
There’s something for everyone in Burnout Paradise! There’s online races, stunt runs, demolition derbies, and the team-based ‘Cops and Robbers’ multiplayer, as well as things to discover and challenges to complete based on the number of players in the game.
The problem is that only the host can determine which activities everyone will be playing. The other players have no power over the game – they can’t suggest activities, vote for what to do next, or veto the host’s choices. The best they can do is to call out their choices on voice chat, or spam the host with text messages.
This weakens the game’s multiplayer mode, because everybody wants to be the host in order to complete their list of multiplayer challenges. So instead of 10 awesome games filled with 8 players, you would be more likely to see 30 games with 2-3 players each. This makes the online play seem much more sparse than it actually is.
Nowadays, I have only a few challenges that I’m still trying to do. The only way to get anything done in Burnout is to start an online game, then go away and do something else for an hour or two. When I come back, if I’m lucky, there will be 4-5 players still in the game, and then I can start a challenge, and hope that everybody doesn’t immediately drop. Sound lame? It is.
Solution: Allow FPS-style nominations and voting.
Burnout Paradise just needs to implement systems that allow players to have a voice, similar to what you might see in a FPS. Between events, players can access the list of available activities and challenges, and suggest one to be the next event. The game takes all the suggestions, chooses one randomly, then puts it up to a vote. Players can use up and down on the D-Pad to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ If half the players vote ‘No,’ then the event is cancelled, and the next random suggestion is put to a vote. Otherwise it starts immediately, with the player who suggested it in control of the event setup. (In other words: if nobody votes, it’s assumed that the suggestion passes.)
In order to prevent griefing with this system, players can also nominate other players in order to kick them from the game. The same voting system applies, and if a majority votes ‘Yes,’ the player is kicked from the game and prevented from rejoining for a few minutes. (In other words: If nobody votes, it’s assumed that the kick attempt fails.)
The system isn’t perfect – a bloc of 3-4 players voting together can control the game – but it gives players a greater incentive to just choose ‘Easy Drive’ and join a random online game, knowing that they’ll be able to exert some control over the game events. A player can now expect to be able to make some progress on their list of challenges, or to be able to get into a good race, without needing to host the game themselves and just hope that enough players show up.
Problem: Difficulty curve based on optional exploration
The single-player mode of Brütal Legend features a number of scripted storyline battles, interspersed with periods of activity where the player can roam around the game world, earning upgrades and finding hidden statues to increase their life and power. Hidden solos also give the player new abilities that can turn the tide of battle.
However, the player is not required to explore, and may move on to the next story mission at any time. The game’s difficulty is based on the assumption that the player has explored and earned some upgrades, so moving on too quickly can throw the player in over their head, causing the storyline missions to become difficult and frustrating. This problem is compounded by the story of Brütal Legend – it’s excellent, engaging, and well-written. As a player, I found myself much more interested in advancing the main plotline than spending time improving my character.
Solution: NPCs judge the player’s strength and offer advice
Brütal Legend needs to gate the player somehow, to encourage them not to bite off more than they can chew – but without making the restriction obvious. To do so, we’ll use the strength of the existing storyline, by having the warning come from the NPCs.
When the player talks to an NPC to start a storyline mission, the game checks how many upgrades they’ve found. If they haven’t found enough Bound Serpents, Fire Tributes, or Solos, the NPC will encourage them that they need to scout out the area further.
The player then has a choice: they can attempt the storyline mission, or choose to explore more. If they choose to attempt the mission, the NPC tells them that it’s suicide, but doesn’t otherwise get in their way.
If the player chooses to explore more, the NPC mentions that they saw some kind of relic or power-up that Eddie should go check out. The location is marked on the player’s map, meaning that even the most exploration-challenged player will never be totally stuck in the game. With any luck, the player will also discover a few other power-ups while they’re out in the world.
By having the NPC give this warning, it ties the need for exploration into the main plotline. The NPCs of Brütal Legend are supposed to be experienced warriors, and it makes sense for them to give battle advice to Eddie. If the player has become invested in the storyline and respects their NPC allies, they should be more likely to heed their warnings and strengthen themselves, staying closer to the game’s intended difficulty curve.