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Bad Design 3

posted on April 19th, 2006 by jay

It’s been a while since the last entry in this series. Last time, and the time before that, I promised Gladius, Second Sight and Kingdom Hearts, so here they are in all their poorly designed glory.

Blah blah blah blah blah.

Gladius: Irrelevant Plot — We always hurt the ones we love, but I cannot ignore that the setup of this game made any plot unnecessary. I have a friend who believes plot in all strategy RPGs is unnecessary. I disagree, but not in Gladius’ case. There are two major problems with the game’s plot, neither of which is that it’s poorly written. Nearly all of the dialog is based in the history of the regions and of the arenas. Back story in a game can be very enriching, but not when there is hardly any active story. I would be impressed if anyone actually read every single dialog box in the game since I am generally very patient and I still skipped half of them. I’d be even more impressed if someone could remember all the details about all the arenas. It’s nigh impossible because the game gives you all flesh but no bone to wrap it around.

The second plot problem is that it only vaguely impacts what you are currently doing in the game. It loosely sets up the region you’re fighting in, but ultimately whatever may happen in the plot, you know you will just end up fighting in more arenas. Sorceress’ see great potential in you? On to an arena battle! You meet a barbarian queen? Off to the arena! An ancient evil is being resurrected? To the arena! The plot never has to set up context for the battles, which is what the storyline usually does in other strategy RPGs. I think this is why plots work in other SRPGs. Only when the story is useful to the player can he identify the text boxes that bombard him as fun and not homework, and once the storyline becomes fun and interesting, characters and drama can be laid over it and it will actually matter to the player.

The physics may be off, but at least your character has the mental ability to warp polygons.

Second Sight: Terrible Physics — When I walk into a metal garbage can, it usually stays pretty still, but I jump up and down in pain. In Second Sight, nearly every object you can manipulate with your mental powers reacts to your touch by being forcefully knocked away. Even if garbage cans, chairs, chests, etc weighed nearly nothing this would be terrible physics. This box of tissues on my desk doesn’t weigh very much but when I smack it merely slides a little. It’s like they neglected weight, friction, and made your character as strong as the Hulk (which explains why a punch or two kills a guard). I assume Free Radical did this in order to subtly tell the player, “LOOK! IT’S AN OBJECT YOU CAN MANIPULATE WITH YOUR POWERS!”

Then to complete the broken physics engine they developed, when you release an object that you’ve got hovering with your mind power it will fly much further than it should. Gravity is pretty strong but game designers have been ignoring it for decades and that’s usually fine. It isn’t fine, though, if you’re making a semi-realistic game that depends greatly on a good physics engine.

Kingdom Hearts: Not Enough Information for a specific mechanic — This game asks some questions in the beginning of the game that sets how quickly your character levels up, only I did not know this while answering. Ultima style questions that determine your class, or questions that allow your input because they change the story are both good things in RPGs, but what Kingdom Hearts does is not. Instead of allowing the player to simply select the difficulty level of the game they are offered esoteric questions. Imagine the screen brightness being determined this way, or the sound being stereo or mono. Difficulty should be clearly under the player’s control.

Next time I’ll take a look at a flaw in Final Fantasy X. No, it’s not the dialog, the fact that the bad guy is named Sin, the egregiously bad character design, the lack of a world map, or even that an underwater sports game takes place in only two dimensions.

3 Comments

  1. Golden Jew said on April 25, 2006:

    Although I find some of this stuff anally nitpicky, what the question I have is: did any of these developers actually run any of this stuff by gamers (ie the consumer) in the development process? So many of games are just absolutely assinine in the errors, poor interface, or just plain insanity they put in, it makes you wonder what sort of groupthink occured in the design room to allow terrible physics engines and horrible story lines to occur. Or perhaps worse, it was a conscious decision for mediocrity.

  2. jay said on May 2, 2006:

    It’s probably similar to the terrible movie phenomenon. When you’re that close it’s very hard to see the truth. By the time you realize what you’re making has big problems too much money and time has already been spent to do anything but finish and sell the product. With games specifially, I tend to blame publishers. Though designers would probably take years with each game if the publishers didn’t demand them on a deadline.

  3. Stefan said on May 3, 2006:

    But even moreso with a game than with a film, you have the ability to offer test-runs to a small subset of your audience throughout development, which is something very few people seem to do.

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