Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rigidity of Play

My memory has always sucked. I can't memorize anything-- names, faces, numbers, events, it all goes in a fog. I was never any good at memorizing Capcom's long moves lists for their fighters, nor memorizing boss attack patterns to ready my parries in the right order. Heck, I still can't always remember with accuracy which element defeats which in Lost Odyssey. Was it wind vs earth or water? Last week while playing a particular level of PixelJunk Monsters I was reminded of why I tend to dislike games that rely on memorization and trial and error.

For those who haven't played PixelJunk Monsters or any tower defense game, the gameplay primarily consists of placing defensive structures around a home-base and the game testing your defenses by sending wave after wave of pillaging monsters against you.

The level that soured me was one where only four defensive placements were available, each had to be correctly configured for the particular variety of monster that it would face at any given time, which is intended to be a hectic experience for the player. What pained me about this level is the fact that not only is it unforgiving of mistakes, defensive towers have to match the monsters they're fighting, but the game itself is not very forthcoming about the particular variety of monster you will face. You may know the next monster will be shielded, but what type of shield and the best counter to their defense is only discovered through trial and error. This wouldn't be too annoying except for the fact that the more difficult monsters only arrive after around a dozen minutes have passed in gameplay, making each failure and restart an annoying process of wading through monsters you've already determined the method to defeat until you finally reach the wave that bested you last (there are 20 waves).

After a few attempts at this level I finally threw up my hands in disgust. Although basic memorization and pattern recognition in games are staples of the industry, personally I wish the days of memorization as a gameplay challenge would be long gone. Where is the skill in an long and aggravating loop of trial and error? Shouldn't a game be more clever in challenging me than resorting to methods of play from years past? I'm all for a tactical challenge, and limiting your defensive options definitely made the level fresh from an initial perspective, but the game itself should strive to allow players to break from any specific rigid solution and instead allow them to use their skills and creativity to beat the level in their own way, making the experience truly interactive and personal.

1 comment:

Steve Toyama said...

Just remember that wind over time will erode the earth/mountains. And wind/oxygen will only feed fire. The one I don't understand is Rock > Water...Why?!