It’s not difficult to find an article these days detailing the troubles facing the Japanese games industry. Things just aren’t as rosy as they used to be, and there’s plenty of finger-pointing as a result: budgets aren’t big enough, the cultural differences are too vast, software design methodologies aren’t properly utilized, the corporate world tends to stifle innovation, there’s a lack of outsourcing, the desire just isn’t there, etc.

While all these claims might be accurate to some extent, they’re high-level issues that no one can fix single-handedly. Instead of moping about them, I thought it might be a bit more constructive to offer some small, pragmatic advise. In a previous post I tried to do this with a certain localization issue, and now I’ll take a look an interface quirk common in many Japanese games: too many confirmation prompts.

As an example, continuing from a saved game in a typical modern title is fairly painless. Quite often a “Continue” option is the default selection on the title screen menu, and clicking it automatically loads the latest save file.

On the other hand, these are the steps required to resume my game of Resident Evil 5, one of the marquee current-gen titles developed in Japan:

  1. Entering the title screen menu immediately brings up a pop-up asking me to “Wait a moment…” followed by a message stating that there’s no storage device selected. This is accompanied by a “Yes/No” prompt asking me if I’d like to select one.
  2. Clicking “Yes” brings up the OS browser with the available options: hard-drive/memory card/the cloud. This requires me to scroll to my desired option and click it.
  3. Once the storage device is selected, a “Storage Device Configured” message appears along with an “OK” prompt that needs to manually dismissed.
  4. Following the previous prompt, a “Loading content…” message shows up and then a “Load successful.” message replaces it. This is accompanied by yet another “OK” prompt.
  5. When the title screen menu finally appears, the “PLAY GAME” option is selected by default. Clicking it takes me to the play game menu.
  6. On the play game menu, the “CONTINUE” option is selected by default. Clicking it takes me to an overview of the last save game.
  7. The save game overview displays a date stamp, the selected character, and some other miscellaneous info. It is accompanied by an “OK/Back” prompt.
  8. Clicking “OK” takes me to a network overview screen with various game options such as co-op settings and hit reactions. The default option is “START GAME”, and the screen is accompanied by an “OK/Back” prompt.
  9. Clicking “OK” takes me to a loading screen that’s quickly replaced by the inventory screen. Here the default option is “Organize” and I need to scroll down and click “Ready” to proceed.
  10. Clicking “Ready” brings up a confusingly labeled “Exit” confirmation with a “Yes/No” prompt. “Yes” is the default option, and clicking it finally loads my save game.
To put it mildly, this is overkill.

If it were only that easy.

A large part of Apple’s success is elegantly accommodating for the most common use case. This basically means that an interface caters to the functionality that’s used most often, while the elegance comes from avoiding extraneous options, prompts, and technically-minded messages (and presenting an aesthetically appealing UI, of course).

Looking at Resident Evil 5 through this lens, the above steps could be truncated and/or altered to provide a more streamlined way of loading the latest save game.

  1. The “Select a storage device?” screen shouldn’t be there. Instead, the game should automatically select a default storage device, or better yet, select all the available storage devices. If none are available, a warning message could be displayed on the title screen without requiring a separate modal popup.
  2. The OS device-selection pop-up should only appear if the user chooses to manually change the current storage device.
  3. The “Storage device configured.” message shouldn’t appear. There’s no point in flooding the user with text if everything went OK. These messages should only pop up if there are errors.
  4. Same as above; there’s no need to display a “Load successful.” message. The transition into the save state should make it obvious that the data was correctly retrieved.
  5. If a saved game was found, the default options should be “Continue.” This option should immediately load the latest save game from the selected storage device. Optionally, the game could check all the available storage device and automatically load the latest save file in order to avoid any extra management on the player’s part.
  6. The secondary play game menu isn’t necessary if the “Continue.” option loads the latest save game.
  7. The save game overview should be removed as it provides non-vital information when trying to load the latest save game. Instead, this data should be presented in the load-game interface where the player browses through multiple save files. Optionally, it could also be shown on the loading screen itself.
  8. The network settings screen should be removed as well since it provides non-vital options that are configured at the beginning of the campaign. There’s no pressing need to change these every time the game is loaded, and this functionality could still be provided via an in-game menu.
  9. The inventory screen is also superfluous to loading a save game — the save data should already contain the proper equipment information. Presumably the screen is there so that the player can change their loadout following a game-over, but in that case the inventory-customization screen should only appear following the actual death. Alternatively it could also be accessible in-game from the save-checkpoint.
  10. The “Ready” confirmation is horribly labeled as it’s an ambiguous descriptor. Is the player exiting the inventory screen, or the actual save game loading process (it’s the first one, but it always makes me stop and think)? The prompt itself is also unnecessary, especially after the nine preceding ones.

Two incessant prompts most Windows users should recognize.

Confirmations prompts in particular tend to be quite prevalent in Japanese titles. Of course these can be useful when it’s easy to hit the wrong button and the consequences of doing so are quite drastic, e.g., clicking the “close” button instead of the “maximize” button in a word processor after writing a lengthy, unsaved document. However, it’s rarely difficult to select the proper save-file in a game, and loading the incorrect one tends to waste only a short amount of time.

Despite this, Japanese developers seem paralysed with fear of the user accidentally selecting the wrong option. This only applies to UI-related interfaces, though; there’s no prompts for avoiding an accidental weapon-reload or putting a car into the wrong gear.

The convention also seems to be that “No” should be the default selection. I have no idea why this is the case, except to prevent the user from accidentally skipping through an important choice while blazing through a bunch pop-ups.

If that’s the assumption, then it speaks very poorly of the application flow as a whole. Perhaps the user wouldn’t be so quick to skip through these confirmations if there weren’t so many of them? And perhaps removing non-vital popups and prompts would provide a faster and sleeker way to get to the fun part of the game: the actual gameplay.

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Making it Better: Tokyo Jungle

Have you ever played a game that you really liked, but certain parts of it disappointed you (for the record, I totally dig Tom Francis’ proposed ending to BioShock)?

Did the lack of knowledge pertaining to the developer’s budget/timeline/goals/etc., stop you from thinking “Why didn’t they do it *this* way?”

If you’re passionate about a particular title, then probably not. And why should it? As the end-user, you ultimately care about your own experience, and a game’s faults might seem all the more painful if seemingly obvious and feasible changes could have eliminated them.

For me, that game is Tokyo Jungle, and here’s what I think would have made it better:


Let’s start with the easy, somewhat less subjective field of UI. I don’t think anyone reading this enjoys manually scrolling through the thousands of words that make up a typical EULA (and sometimes studios don’t even want to write their own). The fact that Tokyo Jungle pops up a EULA every time you start the damn game is infuriating. It shouldn’t be there at all, really, especially since its only online component is a global leaderboard.

The leaderboard is not all that great either. It takes a very long time to load, and it’s retrieved whenever you finish playing Survival mode. Why not do it in a separate thread and let the user move on? Or at least only force this path if the player has gotten a new high score? What makes the delay even more frustrating is that it needs to be endured in order to register all the unlockables of the playthrough. Simply quitting a game does not record any of the collected items, story mode pieces, etc., which should be saved instantly.

Finally, the world map is quite useful, but also somewhat confusing. Its most zoomed-in level is quite small and doesn’t clearly indicate accessible areas. The location-labels are a bit misleading as well since they contain a bar that fills up and an icon inside the right edge of the bar. At first I thought the fill indicated my dominance of the area (how many spots I marked with my animal), while the number of icons represented the amount of food within its borders.

Turns out it’s actually the fill that reflects the quantity of available food, and the icon is just a label for the fill. To make this indicator more intuitive, the icon should be outside the bar on its left side, or alternatively a “food” caption should be displayed within the fill.

Overall Gameplay

Aside from the herbivores’ double-jump and inability to consume other animals, there’s not a lot of mechanical variety between the various types of fauna. Sure, there are statistical differences, but the gameplay is exactly the same. Expect to see crocodiles scaling buildings by jumping from one extruding air conditioner to another. Creating custom gameplay for each animal would’ve been a sizeable undertaking, though, so I’ll give Tokyo Jungle a grudging pass here.

What’s less excusable is the stealth mechanic. For something that’s presented as a large part of the game — especially for those peaceful herbivores — there’s no clear way of telling what is an animal’s zone of awareness. This is exasperated by the fact that many animals spot you while they’re off-screen, especially in lower-left and lower-right corners of the view window due to the perspective of the camera.

The minimap helps to spot these potential threats, but not while it rains, and it’s more of a band-aid solution anyway. A circular outline for each animal’s field of vision would’ve helped, or at least some arrows on the edges of the screen indicating potential dangers. A further aid would be displaying the exact threat-level of each animal, and possibly a countdown timer showing how much longer before it reverts to a neutral state.

Toxicity can also be problematic to detect. Hiding inside of buildings or underneath bridges doesn’t seem to help when it’s raining, and contaminated food is hard to detect due to the very subtle purple visual that can blend in with the background. Simple icon indicators similar to the alert exclamations could have easily removed this ambiguity.

Surival vs. Story

Despite the annoyances mentioned above, Tokyo Jungle’s biggest failing is in how it handles its Survival and Story modes.

Tokyo Jungle was originally a retail game, and it’s painfully obvious that it was modified to fit a price tag. Story mode — the main campaign — consists of 14 short missions, and each one needs to be individually unlocked by grinding it out in Survival mode.

I suppose this approach greatly extends the overall playtime, but it’s quite frustrating to progress through the narrative one small step at a time after jumping through some hoops in a completely separate game mode. This is doubly perplexing as unlocking the story missions often involves a certain knowledge of the game’s mechanics, but those same mechanics are then explained in the unlocked missions. The whole arrangement reeks of a production change that was implemented late into the game’s development.

The story missions could use a few more checkpoints as well, but they’re quite fun as they contain lots of silly and amusing sequences that slowly unravel the game’s mystery: what happened to all the humans? It’s a neat premise, and it shouldn’t be so heavily gated (especially if it was a questionable way to justify the price since the game was released as an inexpensive downloadable title outside of Japan).

Instead, Story mode should be featured first and foremost, and the animals played/fought during its missions should then get unlocked in Survival mode.

Survival mode itself is an even bigger mess.

Its main goal is to live for 100 years and complete various side missions to get as high a score as possible. In order to provide variety and ensure that players get different scores, Survival mode employs randomization and high-threat events/encounters common to roguelikes. The problem is, all these gameplay systems conflict with each other.

Hunger is greatly boosted in comparison to Story mode (it takes 90-120 seconds to die of starvation) and the missions are on a strict time limit. This means you are constantly on the run if you hope to get a high score, which also doubles as the currency for unlocking new animals. Completing the side missions awards statistical bonuses and unlocks new costumes as well, providing further incentives to rush through the game.

This approach completely invalidates the stealth mechanic, makes exploration of the cool urban environment impractical, and prevents the player from messing around with fun, emergent events such as battle royales of bears fighting chickens fighting giraffes. The random toxic rains and food shortages add further frustration as they can make some of the side missions virtually impossible to complete.

A better approach would’ve been to tone down the unreasonable hunger meter and remove any other time pressures. Next, the randomization could be more prevalent, starting off each playthrough in a different area with a different mission set. New objectives could come in as old ones are completed, and the resulting pace would let players get comfortable with the game and experiment with its most fun components.

If this led to seemingly infinite playtimes, the randomization could be skewed to provide a gradually increasing challenge. Better yet, the statistically-boosted animals of other players could enter the gameworld as AI-controlled bosses to help crown the real king of the hill. Finally, new animals and costumes not present in Story mode could still be used as prizes for playing through Survival mode.

Agree? Disagree? Have any other examples of a game where certain design choices seemed downright baffling? If so, feel free to leave a comment!

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Minimap Rotation

Not too long ago I praised The Witcher for a plethora of things it did really well. The sequel’s not bad either, but its minimap is absolutely horrible. The main problem is that it rotates with the camera, and the lack of compass directions also exasperates the issue.

Rotating minimaps are great for following a linear path, which is why GPS devices use this design. The user hardly ever needs to worry about whether they’re driving South or South-East, but they need to accurately follow the generated route. Consequently, it’s a lot easier if the path is always facing the same direction as the car, i.e., if the arrow on the screen is pointing right, they need to make a right hand turn.

However, if the map doesn’t rotate, then driving South with an arrow pointing right actually means making a left-hand turn. To avoid this confusion and unnecessary work with mentally rotating the map, the view of GPS devices is synched to match that of the car.

FPS titles also tend to benefit from rotating minimaps. Their levels are often small or just linear, and it’s very helpful for the player to be synced with the minimap view. The reason for this is that split-second decisions often need to be made based on the immediate surroundings.

For example, if the player is following a team-mate turning right but there’s an enemy hiding just around the left corner, it’s beneficial to instantly know which direction to face in order to counter the ambush. Since FPS games also inherently don’t possess a floating camera, it’s that much more advantageous to be aware of what’s lurking beyond the player’s view as there’s no other way to peek around the scenery.

Static minimaps, on the other hand, are much more suitable for games with large areas that need to be traversed multiple times.

In these titles, it’s important to familiarize oneself with the layout of the land in order to travel through it efficiently. Goals are often described with compass directions in mind, and landmarks are used to aid in the building of a mental map for the overall area.

If the minimap constantly swings around, not only does it keep changing the direction north is pointing, but it also forces the player to digest a radically different topography each time they glance at the minimap. A static view is superior to this as it facilitates the parsing and memorization of an area’s layout. This in turn allows the player plot their own paths and comfortably maneauver through the game’s environments.

Of course some players are only used to one approach or the other, in which case why not simply include both options?

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Ultima IV Gameplay Narrative

The videogame equivalent of show, don’t tell is often said to be do, don’t show.” It’s good advice, and when applied it can make for some very powerful experiences, e.g., Braid’s ending.

Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult guideline.

Gameplay elements are rarely designed with narrative in mind. They’re limited in quantity and tend to be blunt instruments; the mechanics of walking and jumping can only go so far in conveying complex stories. Given this limited scope, it’s not surprising that gameplay is rarely used as the main vehicle for narrative.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar had a pretty good go at it, though.

UIV is the story of the Stranger’s rise to embody eight virtues principal to the game’s setting: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. On the surface, it’s a typical CRPG of the era: there’s exploration, statistical progression, item management, NPC conversations, and combat. The twist is how these elements are cleverly subverted for storytelling purposes.

Fairly common RPG activities such as opening random treasure chests, running away from battle, and being a smart alack to NPC’s can lower various virtue-scores.

Conversely, overpaying for goods (instead of haggling down their prices), letting monsters escape from battle (and losing potential experience points), and destroying the most powerful artifact in the game (which makes combat a breeze), increase virtue. A full list of these virtue-altering actions can be found here.

UIV’s main quest involves traversing the world in order to recover 8 virtue stones and runes, learn the mantras corresponding to each virtue, max-out all 8 virtue-scores, meditate at 8 virtue shrines, obtain the 3-part key, and finally discover the the word of passage.

Once these tasks are complete, the Avatar can descend into the abyss and place the virtue stones at their respective altars. A short quiz follows where the player is questioned about the virtues, and each correct answer displays a part of the codex-symbol. When the codex is fully unveiled, the player (presumably) gets to bask in its glory and return to the real world with newly gained knowledge and experience.

It’s not an overly complex story, and its scant plot-points are almost entirely non-linear, but the narrative is closely coupled with the gameplay. UIV achieves this through various design choices.

First, the game gives a concrete role for the player to embody. It’s all fine and good to “roll” a teetotaler, pyromaniac dwarf, but it’s not nearly as much fun if this persona is restricted to the player’s imagination. Becoming the Avatar is UIV’s sole objective, so the entire gameworld naturally revolves around the player’s ability to fill the Avatar’s shoes. In addition, this is a perpetual task that encourages the player to stay in-character throughout the experience.

Secondly, UIV grafts virtue-fulfillment entirely onto existing systems. This makes the learning curve less harsh and presents interesting handicaps for familiar gameplay, e.g., avoiding hostile wildlife might not yield immediate rewards, but it aids in gradually achieving the larger goal of Avatar-hood. Since these systems are also granular, they encompass numerous ways in which the virtue scores can be affected.

Furthermore, the approach greatly reduces implementation costs. Every virtue-altering instance is not a custom, one-time cutscene, but rather an action that’s optional and repeatable. In turn, the player can actively participate in the story by partially steering where, when, and how the virtues are tested. Since many events in the game also impact more than one virtue, the overall progression is quite open-ended.

Finally, the virtue system allows the player to fail. Hints are still dispensed throughout the game — and can be actively sought out — but it’s not necessary to be aware of all the rules right from the start. There’s no game over screen if virtue is lost; no invisible wall, or awkward text prompt, or an automatic checkpoint reload. The event is simply recorded, and retributions can be made later down the road.

This makes the path to Avatar-hood a potentially bumpy (and a more interesting) tale, and prevents the game from clumsily asserting itself and its limitations.

Lots more could have been done to polish the virtue system and to make it a larger part of the gameworld, but UIV remains notable for the way it allows the player to collaborate with a pre-existing script. This is also done largely through gameplay, and, at least in part, is the reason why so many people keep playing it to this day.

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The Witcher and Fisstech

The Witcher treads a lot of common ground when it comes to RPGs, but it does so with a distinct swagger. To illustrate this, here’s a quick story.

Early on in the game, the protagonist Gerlat can accept a quest to deliver a package into a quarantined city. When he finally makes his way in, he’s arrested and his possessions confiscated.

He eventually recovers them all, except for one: the mysterious bundle he was asked to smuggle.

Jethro, the city jailer, non-chalantly informs Geralt that he’s lucky not to be in more trouble. The package contained fisstech, an illegal drug similar in properties to cocaine. It quickly becomes obvious that Jethro himself is an addict and the confiscation wasn’t exactly legal.

Geralt can get his hands on more fisstech by dispatching Salamander troops, henchmen of main antagonist who tend to carry the illegal substance. The drug can then be used to bribe more information out of Jethro, shedding some light on the local crime syndicates.

Eventually it’s revealed that the Salamanders were trying to squeeze out their competition by framing Ramsmeat, a local crime boss, in hopes of Geralt going after him and the two sides weakening or eliminating each other.

Following a clash between the religious Order of the Flaming Rose and the Scoia’tael, a terrorist group (or a freedom-fighter one, depending on how you look at it), the Salamanders expand their operation into the swamps.

Various factions Geralt had dealt with in the past are affected by this: the woodcutters are slaughtered, numerous brickmakers are kidnapped and put into slave labour, and a large Salamander band move into the former Scoia’tael encampment.

When Geralt rescues the brickmakers, he discovers they were made to gather plants for fisstech production. The Salamander’s treasures even contain a book on swamp plants, the very same book Geralt had to have read in order to loot local flora.

Back in Vizima, Jethro requests that Geralt follow a lead on a fisstech pusher under the guise of cleaning up the streets. In reality, the jailer simply wants to secure the source of his addiction by cracking down on its suppliers.

The trail eventually leads Geralt to the sewers and an abandoned crypt where the Salamanders produce fisstech. Among their servants he finds a frightened alchemist who rewards Geralt with a potion-recipe if he promises not to report his slacking.

When the hideout is cleaned out, the crooked jailer and the city guard storm the area in order to secure the contraband. It’s at this time that Geralt bluntly tells Jethro that all the drugs better stay confiscated or he’ll come after the jailer next.

Finally, the documents Geralt retrieves from both the Salamander cells point him to the ultimate stronghold. As Geralt storms the base, a cutscene plays out showing a Salamander leader requesting more money following the group’s recent failures.

All these events make perfect sense from gameplay, plot, and setting perspectives. The slaves need proper skills and instructions, the bad guys require funding for their operations, and powerful factions constantly vie for supremacy.

Every element serves as a gear snugly connected to another, and when the switch is pulled, the machine doesn’t grind to a halt.

What’s more, the game itself is not homogenized. Fisstech doesn’t come across as a bullet point on a worldbuilding checklist that needs to be adhered to at every turn. It’s just part of the tapestry, and there’s a lot more of it to experience.

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The Thief’s Ring

“An ancient sapphire ring.
It subdues your presence, making it difficult to be detected by enemies.”

The description for the Thief’s Ring in Demon’s Souls is innocuous enough, but it’s one of the most useful items in the game.

When I first obtained it, I scoffed at its effects. I generally tend to be underwhelmed by “ancient and powerful artifacts” that serve as nothing more than marginal stat modifiers. I also wasn’t playing a stealthy character, so it seemed like a fairly useless trinket.

Demon’s Souls is a game where a small boost can have an enormous effect, though, and a few deaths later I quickly discovered the benefits of donning the Thief’s Ring.

There’s nothing magical about it, really — it simply does what it says — but its effects are very deliberately tied into the game world and its design.

Here a few examples:

Isolating Enemies

Unlike many 3rd person brawlers, the enemies in Demon’s Souls do not patiently wait for their turn to attack the player. As a result, it’s often important to draw away individuals from a group to take them on one-on-one.

The Thief’s Ring facilitates luring enemies by preventing the player from being pelted with projectiles during the approach. What’s more, the combat in Demon’s Souls requires a lot of movement, and the Thief’s Ring makes it less likely to draw the attention of more enemies while battling a solitary opponent.

Avoiding the Dragons

The ramparts of Castle Boletaria are patrolled by hostile dragons that roast anything in their sights. These sections are quite unforgiving, but the Thief’s Ring expands the window of safety between the dragons’ fiery onslaughts.

Slaying the Geckos

Crystal Geckos are timid creatures that are almost impossible to catch with a melee attack. They can spot the player from very far away, and if they do, they skitter back and fade out of existence. The Thief’s Ring slightly dulls their awareness, making it easier to catch them and the large quantities of minerals (used to upgrade armour and weapons) that they drop.

Boss Runs

Chances are that during most everyone’s first playthrough at least a few of the boss battles will not end in victory, but the Thief’s Ring makes it easier to give ’em another shot. Simply running past enemies is often a valid option, and equipping the ring lowers the duration/distance they’ll take into account when chasing the player.


Upon defeating a boss, the player can warp back to the boss’ lair from the Nexus hub. This not only provides a shortcut going forward, but it also allows the player to go back through a completed area in order to obtain more items and souls (the game’s equivalent of gold and experience).

What makes this backtracking different from playing through the same area from the start is that enemies tend to face only one direction. Combined with the Thief’s Ring, this makes it quite easy to sneak up on them and unleash a backstab, a special attack that deals extra damage and yields more souls.

Scaling the Shrine of Storms

Equipping the Thief’s Ring is practically the only way to travel up narrow mountain paths without being shredded by flying Storm Beasts.

Defeating the Old Hero

The blind boss of the Adjudicator Archstone is quite a fearsome opponent, but it’s actually quite easy to stay out of his reach with the Thief’s Ring equipped.

Invading Other Worlds

Player vs. Player combat is not greatly affected by the Thief’s Ring, but it does partially obscure the invader. This makes it more likely that the battle might begin with a sneaky backstab.

Even without any significant gameplay mutators, though, it’s still quite unsettling to see a swirling, red aura make a beeline for the player’s character.

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The Irresistible

Whenever an airship boss is defeated in Super Mario Bros. 3, a wand drops from the top of the screen. Picking it up is required to move on to the next world, but doing so in mid-air is not.

Despite this, jumping for the wand is a common behaviour. It’s fun to sync up Mario’s ascent with the wand’s descend, fascilitating a dramatic grab that culminates with Mario falling back down to earth and saving the day.

It’s a very satisfying moment, but there are no gameplay ramifications to simply letting the wand settle on the floor before picking it up. Jumping for it is simply hard to resist.

irresistible, adj.

  1. A representation of an optional action that does not result in any significant gameplay reward, yet is commonly carried out by a large percentage of players.

Let’s take a look at a couple more examples.

Mega Man

In the original Mega Man games, end-level bosses are always prefaced by an empty, single-screen room with two doors. These are a clear indicator that the end is just beyond the next turn, at which point many players choose to jump straight into the boss’ lair.

When Mega Man connects with the door, the action freezes as the entrance opens up and the screen scrolls to reveal the final segment of the map. There’s no reason to jump at the door, but it results in some areal acrobatics that firmly deposit Mega Man in the next area with punctuating, “It’s on!” flair.

Street Fighter III

Many fighting games used to disable collisions or simply cut-off player input whenever a round of combat ended. Street Fighter III was one of the first to buck the trend, enabling the victor to execute a few extra moves following his opponent’s loss. This proved quite satisfying as it allowed the winner to finish off a combo — a naturally stylish string of attacks. Furthermore, it represented a contrast to the rest of the game by providing a short window of time during which some free hits could be scored.

I don’t believe these “bonus shots” increased the super bar meter or affected the end-battle grade, but if they did, the rewards were minimal.

Metroid Prime

Doorways in Metroid Prime are triggered by the player shooting them, at which point they open up after a variable amount of time (usually between 0-6 seconds). The reason for this is to hide data being streamed in the background, which leaves the player largely idle. At this point, concern over whether the shot was registered — and plain frustration — tend to set in, resulting in more blasts bombarding the door.

Unlike the other two examples, this is more of a “get on with it” behaviour that helps to vent frustration rather than being satisfying in itself.

These irresistible actions seem to be largely accidental; as far as the games are concerned, there’s no reason for players to engage in them. They can be quite important to the overall experience, though, and once identified, they often become a defining part of a series or genre.

Are there any “irresistibles” you engage in on a frequent basis?

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Why Resident Evil 5’s Co-Op Worked so Well

Resident Evil 5 is notorious for its stiff controls, frustrating partner-AI, obtuse interface, questionable quicktime events, and an incredibly silly storyline. As one would expect, these elements don’t make for the most compelling single-player experience.

However, the game’s co-op mode is incredibly fun and rewarding.

For all its faults, Resident Evil 5 has some very high production values.

The Standard Co-op Setup

Most action games encourage players to work together by turning a Prisoner’s Dilemma into a Trust Dilemma, i.e., making it so that helping each other out is always the most beneficial course of action for everyone involved. To achieve this, friendly-fire and other possible sources of griefing are diminished or removed, enemies are tweaked to take on the firepower of multiple players, and player-goals are designed around non-competitive challenges, e.g., everyone gets an achievement for defeating the boss instead of one person getting an achievement for the most kills.

Healing a defenseless comrade is another common mechanic that ensures players try to help each other out. Letting a partner die diminishes the chance of success — or can even result in a game-over screen — so all members of a team can usually depend on friendly aid. This in turn fosters a reciprocal relationship facilitated by special indicators that display the location and status of everyone else in the group.

In addition to resuscitating nearly-defeated partners, RE5 also lets one player save the other from various health-draining, potentially-lethal grappling encounters.

Forcing gameplay-cooperation at specific script-points is common as well, e.g., having one player boost another to higher ground in order to proceed. While these sound good on paper, such statically-defined activities are rarely as satisfying as letting the players come up with their own strategy for traversing a level. With that said, scripted gateways serve to differentiate the gameplay and ensure that each player feels like part of the team.

All of these co-op elements are present in RE5, but there are many more as well.

All The Extras

A great example of something that’s conducive to cooperative play is RE5’s shared-healing mechanic. Whenever any healing item is used (except for the eggs), both characters get healed if they’re standing close to each other. This encourages players to communicate and plan rendezvous points in order to get the most value out of their reserves.

Communication is also made easier by the fact that all firearms come equipped with laser sights. Laser sights allow players to point directly at areas of interest simply by aiming at them. The visible laser-pointers reduce the amount of explaining needed for proper communication, and they’re cleverly implemented as they give a secondary function to an existing mechanic.

Looks like both of them could use a little healing.

Another interesting element is that both players must activate the map-exit in order to transition to the next area. Some players complained about this being a bit inconvenient, but I personally thought it was a great decision. Having a loading screen suddenly pop into view while sniping an enemy can be quite jarring. The wait mechanic prevents this from happening, and it allows both players to fully explore each area without feeling rushed.

Whenever one player activates the exit, his point-of-view also swirls around to show his teammate. This is a neat little touch as it informs the player to the whereabouts of his partner, which in turn let’s him quickly decide whether to stick around at the exit or go back into the field.

Money is another important asset in RE5, and here the game takes a cue from a various co-op RPGs. In order to prevent players from squabbling over treasure, both players simply receive the full monetary value of each collectible. While this is definitely not realistic, it prevents anyone from worrying about splitting the loot and keeps the focus on the action.

Finally, the level and enemy designs make it beneficial to communicate and devise on-the-spot tactics. Maps tend to be closed off arenas with multiple paths, and they allow players to split up and cover each other from different vantage points. This is especially important when fighting the more powerful enemies as attacking them from alternating directions helps expose their weak spots.

The above mechanics enhance the standard cooperative template, but there’s one more element that makes RE5 special.

From Good To Great

Each player has a 9-slot inventory, and all items take up a single slot. Some items can stack within a slot as well, but only up to a point.

While this might seem like plenty of space, the real estate is at a constant premium.

The 9-item inventory greatly affects how the game is played.

The weapons in RE5 are differentiated by their damage output, area of effect, firing rate, range, penetration, clip size, and chance of scoring a critical hit. The enemies and environments are well tuned to these attributes, creating situations where one firearm is much more useful than the others. Since each weapon also requires a custom ammo-type, it’s impossible for a single player to hoard all the goodies. Instead, each player must take on a specialized role.

For example, one player keeps a group of enemies at bay with a shotgun while the other snipes some archers in the background. Or one player pilots a vehicle while the other showers fast-moving opponents with a semi-automatic. Or one player leads a boss up a path with some explosive barrels, while the other uses his handgun to blow them up from above.

In addition to the standard firearms, though, the inventories must also accommodate healing items, armour jackets, and miscellaneous other collectibles such as proximity bombs and stun rods. It’s very easy to fill up the available slots, but the ability to trade items alleviates the issue.

Trading also encourages additional cooperation, especially when one player’s path leads him to stacks of ammo for the other player’s weapons. Although enemies never drop ammunition for weapons neither of the players possess, forking paths often force players to collect items they don’t really want. This in turn creates a unique flow to the game: an area is entered, its enemies are dispatched, the players scavenge for loot, and finally they regroup to heal up, trade, and get ready for the next challenge. The pattern doesn’t keep the players tightly tethered together, but it always brings them back to help each other out.

Successful cooperation is eventually rewarded with plenty of unlockable costumes and gameplay modifiers.

Like most co-op games, RE5 ultimately needs players to cooperate with each other; progress can’t be made if one person refuses to play along. If both people are on the same page, though, the game’s rich tactics and inter-player interactions elevate it above the co-op modes of its contemporaries.

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