I’ve been playing Prototype lately and while I’m not very far, I definitely have some issues with it. It’s weird, I feel like a lot of games out there are sloppy on their low level mechanics and I wonder why? Some could say its gameplay programming while others could say it’s time constraints, but I know Prototype had enough time to deliver the basics properly.
I was expecting the avatar to move smoothly in the environment and I was disappointed. I think the best example is their jump mechanic. It’s a “jump on release” kind of thing, which is totally fine in itself but the timing is all wrong. When standing still and pressing the button, the avatar goes down and when released, there’s a small delay before he actually jump. Even worst, nothing occurs when we run and press the jump button. The avatar doesn’t even go down a bit while running to give some feedback and when you release to jump forward, there’s a delay of almost half a second before the jump occur. This kind of stuff is happening a lot and it broke the fantasy for me.
Some see those things as details and they enjoy the game anyway, but I see them as the hidden problems most players will still perceive without knowing. Player’s perception is a fascinating thing and it is the source of serious design problems. It’s quite simple, designers are trying to create an experience and to achieve that goal they need a game simulation. A simulation in three axes:
C = Context
I = Inputs
Players react to combinations of systems, each at a particular state. They do so through the influence of the game narrative context, their in-game condition as well as their real condition outside of the game: are they tired, unhappy, sad, drunk or anything of this kind… Then they’ll make a decision by providing inputs which will affect the systems states again.
Providing a game simulation is easy and it is only the beginning. We must understand the various moments this simulation offers and how they should be realized. Each game moment is a single point in a simulation that will be perceived differently by all players. This is important because in the end, the desired game experience is the product of each player’s perception towards the various game moments and how they were interconnected.
This means experiences occur at every level which makes it ridiculously hard for designers to control what they deliver.
Every game designer understands this in one form or another but accepting it is the hard part. Deciding your avatar will jump is one thing, but to know which game moments will involve jumping is what the real job is. Understanding that is key to realize and design your jump properly. Most great games deliver each mechanics for a specific type of key moment and focus only on that to make sure they can deliver the experience they want in the end. This is what Prototype fails at doing…
To be honest, I am also a bit tired to see games delivering only one layer through their mechanics. We are always using different objectives and environments to provide variety in our low level experiences, but what about the mechanics? Would it be possible to have organic mechanics that would take into account the context just like the player perceives it while he plays? What if jumping was changing depending on narrative context or other factors, would that provide new rich experiences? Imagine mechanics taking into account what happened before a given moment, how it affected the avatar and the player. Would that provide something new and would it help us reinforce what the player might perceive?
I think it would, but I also see games failing to deliver the very basic low level requirements. Still, that doesn’t prevent anyone from pushing the boundaries a little bit. Hopefully this is making sense to some of you…