Saturday, September 23, 2006

Helping the player out

Fellow game designer and long time friend David Sirlin wrote an article talking about the difficulty in balancing single player games. I recently re-read it the other day and it got me to thinking about some of the tricks that we as designers do to help make the game more enjoyable. I’m sure that a lot of people don’t even pick up on these subtleties. Not realizing them is usually for the better though as it helps keep the player within the game space.

Wunderkind Nick Inabnit aka “NKI” also posted a translation of a throwing chart for Street Fighter 2 the other day. Not only does it have how much damage each character’s throw inflicts but it also has a great column entitled, ‘Behind’. Which confused me at first because I thought it meant throwing the player from behind as opposed to toward.

However since the first version of Street Fighter 2 (1991) if a player had lost the first round, during the second round they would get a slight damage boost when throwing the opponent. Unfortunately I don’t know if that damage boost gets applied to normal attacks or special moves but it looks like if you lost the first round – time to start throwing the opponent more than usual!

Click here to read the chart and other various tidbits that NKI has translated – it’s all really great stuff.

I find it amazing that even back then designers were thinking about how to help out players – regardless of single player or multiplayer. It got me to thinking about some of the things we have done on God of War to help the player out which I’m sure most people never even realized.

The Low Life Health Orb
Normally when you kill a creature you get a predetermined set of orbs based on how you killed the creature. However when Kratos is low on health when the creature dies, the game will also create a health orb. It’s not a huge chunk of health but it helps the player from dying often.

Health boost on Restart

This was a controversial decision but one that I’m ultimately glad we put in. What would happen is that the player would enter an area and have X amount of health. If that area was a certain challenge such as a hard fight or whatever, the player could potentially have been checkpointed with 5% of health and arguably never complete the challenge. So when the player dies and they restart we bump up the player’s health just a tad bit.

These ‘tricks’ are not unique to God of War as I can think of a ton of other games that do these and more. Some games have the player unable to die at all or give them so many extra lives the player doesn’t feel penalized so bad for dying. The Super Mario Bros series immediately comes to mind when I think of having a ton of extra lives for no real reason. When implemented well, such as the Street Fighter example, I think they help keep the game fun for everyone involved.


Robyrt said...

Your intuition appears to be right on this - I've played / watched God of War at least 10 times and I thought the health orbs appearing on enemy death was just a random chance. I love the health increase on death - it was jarring to discover it was happening the first time, but it's a great effect. (The 'switch to easy mode?' prompt is totally unnecessary, btw, since those systems are in place.)

Of course, what made me notice the system in the first place was that all those "help out the player" things started triggering at platforming segments where they had no business being. It should be fairly easy to set a value for each checkpoint that tells whether it is a platforming or battle point, so that people won't accidentally switch to easy mode in order to get through a jumping puzzle (I've seen it happen twice).

s said...

Man I love this stuff, thx. I only worked on one fighting game so far but it was definately a unique and interesting experience.

Ryan J. Downey said...

Your blog just gets doper and doper.

Ruben C. said...

This is the first time I read your blog and I'm glad I did. This blog seems to be just as interesting as Cory's. I'm looking forward to future posts.
By the way, I love the idea of a low life health orb, I just hope it doesn't make the game too easy. Either way I'm sure you guys will make God Mode a real bitch.

Derek Daniels said...


thanks man! By the way - the low health orb (actually everything in this post) is in god of war 1. So if you never noticed it in part 1 then I guess we did a good job of implementing it.

Glad to see a new face and hope you stick around.

Eric said...

Wow. That work with the chart and your insight are awesome. It's the science, er, Algorithms, behind the art behind game. Rad stuff.

JM said...

"The Super Mario Bros series immediately comes to mind when I think of having a ton of extra lives for no real reason."

Haha--That made me laugh. (For reals.)