Sense of progression

December 19, 2010 | Filed under: game design

Increasingly I find myself drawn to games that have a sense of progression, a feeling of permanence, or some other ‘value’ beyond the immediate sensation of fun. I guess I’m a pretty ambitious, and long-term thinking person, so that naturally spills out into my gaming habits. I want my gaming time to be an investment.

Generally, my games have failed in this area. The very name of GSB suggests that it is pointless, a one-off bit of fun, to be enjoyed purely for the spectacle and the giggles. There is a high score table for the survival mode, but there are no achievements. There are unlockable items, but not a huge proportion of the options are locked. The game is more like a chest full of toys, than it is a linear, scripted and proscribed ladder.

Obviously there are gamers who prefer that. You’ve probably seen Dara O Brian lamenting the fact that he buys a game, but isn’t allowed to play it?

However, although I have some sympathy with that view, I also think that the worst cases of it can be worked around. I always remember my frustration in the D-Day landings part of Medal of Honor. After 15 deaths, I thought “Why the hell doesn’t the game kick in a script where a nearby soldier drags me to safety at this point? We all know I failed metaphorically here, so let me continue with the fun.”

The design of my next game is very much in flux, it’s more like GSB than any other of my other games, but it is not a straight GSB sequel or spin-off. It might be, in some ways, a bit simpler, but it will also have a lot more possibilities in others. It will have more of a feeling of progression than GSB did, and I am pretty sure it will be all the better for it.

6 Responses to “Sense of progression”

  1. Kdansky says:

    He’s certainly right with his examples. It’s DIAS gameplay (“Do It Again, Stupid”). Which works for games like Super Meat Boy, where you can retry every jump in a matter of seconds, and getting better at it is 99% of the fun to be had. If you want a movie, don’t play Meat Boy.

    His examples are not so much about “not being able to continue” but rather about “This was a boring and tedious piece of gameplay. I’d rather not play it at all.” which has zero to do with progress or learning, and everything with quality.

  2. Benji says:

    For me personally, the ‘achievement unlocked’ meta-gaming craze has a little bit passed me by. I just looked through all the games I’ve played on my xbox-360, and there is only one that i’ve even come close to unlocking all of the achievements (and that’s borderlands which just gave ’em out, lol). For some, I know the draw is there to get every last achievement…but for me, it really takes something special to keep me coming back. If I can see through a game’s core mechanics to the drab underneath, I don’t care what the production value was…I’m shutting it off the second I can’t stand anymore and never coming back.

    Some good recent examples of this are Red Dead Redemption, Force Unleashed II, and for an indie example: Scrap Metal. The achievements just aren’t enough to make me ever turn the game back on again, regardless of how much money I spent on it – I just don’t care to be frustrated while I’m gaming, it’s just not why I game.

    I clearly can’t speak for everybody, or even probably for most, but there is definitely a quadrant of your market that doesn’t give a hoot about achievements, cliff. We’re looking for a real, gratuitous game experience …and if that just so happens to include achievements, wonderful, but please make it an afterthought!

    My greatest gaming ‘achievement’ was beating x-com: ufo defense on any of the freaking difficulty levels. The game was so insanely hard, but it kept you coming back for a reason. Make a game with that reason Cliff, we know you’ve got it in you again :)

  3. Lance says:

    I guess I’m kind of middle of the road. I’m not an achievement junkie, but occasionally I might see one or more achievements that interest me. They sound fun so I’m willing to give it a shot. What I don’t like are the ” killed 1 Bajillion s on difficulty” achievements. I don’t want to grind to get an achievement. I like achievements that are either for doing something extraordinary, or for reaching certain milestones. I also enjoy “oddball” achievements ( completed using only a toothpick and a rubber chicken!). They make me laugh, and give players something crazy to try. You’re laughing so hard that it doesn’t feel like a grind even though we might try it 3-4 times.

    I guess at the end of the day, achievements are nice, and I like having them, but I don’t play the game strictly to get all the achievements. I play because I like the gameplay. The achievements are certainly playing second fiddle here…

  4. Andrew says:

    My preference are RPG achievements, the best (for me) being Dungeons and Dragons games – the SSR Goldbax and Bioware Infinity Engine games were instant classics. They had fun stories that you wanted to see to the end, and constant rewards in the form of player characters gaining new levels.

  5. Benji says:

    By the way, massive job being included in the steam indie flight pack deal – I hope that gets you some more exposure!

  6. I was never a huge fan of achievements and kinda laughed them off when they first rolled around. Years ago I’d do things in games to amuse/challenge myself that might be an achievement today, like going through a game using only the weakest weapon, trying not to kill anything unless necesary. I just finished adding achievements into my own game, there are 6 which are grindy, but I kept the numbers low on purpose. Some achievements you kinda wind up doing naturally, and the rest require you to set up situations or cause harm to yourself and finish a stage alive. I like how they turned out.

    As for game content withholding, that’s bullcrap and has bugged the hell out of me for years. I like a good challenge for sure, but some stuff is just to time consuming. Personally I just ask the player the first time the game is loaded if they want to unlock all the content, that way they can play how they wish. They already payed for the thing, they shouldn’t have to spend mega time to see everything it has to offer unless it’s to their liking.