Quantum Gardener

Bad design in computer games

I've been playing a lot of computer games on the Playstation 5 these past few weekends. It's been a good escape during lockdown and when the weather hasn't been too flash.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla has me thinking about good design and bad design in computer games. There are a couple of practices when don't need to be there at all and have an adverse effect on my experience.

Bad checkpointing

In the majority of computer games your character will die. Sometimes that means needing to go back to a previous saved position, but more often, means you return to the previous checkpoint - an earlier point where you are part-way through and can start again. The selection of checkpoint is wholly up to the developers and it can greatly impact the immersion of a game. Frequent checkpoints keep the game going and immersion high. Infrequent checkpoints, such as in "Souls" games mean a punsishing slog back to where you died. If you are not a highly capable player it can be hard and rage quitting is more likely.

Notwithstanding that the absolute sin of checkpointing is placing the player at a point they cannot return from. Imagine suddenly finding yourself unprepared in a boss battle. You don't have the heatlh reserves you need, or the ammunition for your weapons. It's not surprising that you'd die. Yet, to have the game return you back to exactly the same point... In some situations it can be a point of no return. In Valhalla I was able to eventually find a way past the big baddie I was up against. If I couldn't then it would have been 50+ hours invested in the game done and that is inexcusable. ^[OK, I am dramatising here as I could go back to an earlier save and would not have lost the whole time, yet it is so easily avoidable.]

Put me at the point just before the battle and give me a choice of when to engage, not after.

Something similar happened in a Call of Duty game I was playing when I had to use a particular type of ammunition to kill the baddies on the other side of a door. I didn't have it. Each time I was placed outside the door and without a way to get the ammunition. The resloution was to go back to an earlier save and play forward again.

In contrast Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart has near perfect checkpointing. The game flows.

Let me leave the store

Valhalla is the latest in a long line of role playing games that thinks I want to speak with the local storekeeper every time I enter the store to buy new gear or sell my loot. This is a case of old design carrying forward as some kind of weird tradition.

The typical steps are:

  1. Press button to engage storekeeper
  2. Select from a menu of trade or chat with storekeeper
  3. Transact
  4. Exit transactions
  5. Back to the menu in 2. and choose to trade or chat.
  6. Leave the store

It should be:

  1. Press button to engage storekeeper and if their story is at all relevant, play it to me
  2. Transact
  3. Exit transaction
  4. Leave the store

Too much focus on nothing and not on why I am there. In the scheme of things this is small but made larger because it occurs frequently.