So after my recent post about games being stupid, I found out about a tweet from game design expert and all round clever person Jennifer Scheurle. She asked developers to share the secret mechanics they’d put in their games to promote a certain feeling or reaction from players.
It turns out that games may be really rather clever thanks to some smart thinking from those smarty pants designers. From a feeling of intensity to keeping you engaged in a game you may not enjoy, it seems that some game designers have thought of great ways to manipulate the player’s experience from behind the scenes. Here are just a few of those tricks.
Rubber banding – Racing games
Let’s start with one that many gamers are aware of. Rubber banding is a trick used in racing games to ensure the race is somewhat close, regardless of the player skill level. Should the player get too far ahead, then the AI opponents get a little extra speed and control to keep up and maintain the tension of the race. On the other hand, should the player fall too far behind, then the reverse happens, giving the player a chance to catch up. In my opinion this isn’t such a bad thing in most single player racers, but does paint something of a false picture of your own ability level if you choose to take your skills online.
Now, I haven’t played a Mario Kart game for a long time, but I can imagine that rubber banding + blue shell = utter rage. Does the AI get to use the blue shell? If so I can see this being a horrible way to end a race.
You live longer when your health is low – DOOM, amongst others
There’s nothing quite like surviving a boss encounter, or wading through a horde of enemies with just the last sliver of health remaining. “I can’t believe I made it!” you might think. “How did that last explosion not kill me?!” your brain my cry. Well there’s a good reason for it in a number of games apparently. That last little bit of health lasts longer than the rest. The ones mentioned in the above thread are Assassin’s Creed and DOOM.
As your health drains away, you can suddenly take a few extra hits before finally succumbing to your assailants. This is to give you that “just made it” feeling of barely making it out alive more regularly than you might by just playing as normal. A cheap trick perhaps, but one that can certainly make encounter exciting. Until you know they’re tricking you anyway.
Two Brains – Alien: Isolation
I love this one. Alien: Isolation was trouser-browningly terrifying at times, with the titular xenomorph liable to appear at the most inopportune moment. I’ve mentioned before that my wife yelled “OH SH*T!” whilst watching me play this as the alien slithered out of a vent right in front of me. The xenomorph’s AI was praised in many reviews, for constantly giving you the sense of being hunted, and that the alien was using its senses realistically in an effort to find you. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the alien has TWO BRAINS!
This is an interesting AI trick. The alien has two brains, one that knows exactly where you are, and one that has no idea. The first brain gives hints to the second about your location. This prevents the alien for making a bee-line for you whilst also avoiding it from wandering off aimlessly. This maintains the tension of being hunted and prevents you from ever feeling truly safe. The downside is sometimes you can be caught out when you thought you were well hidden. And occasionally you can be standing out in the open and not be spotted. Not flawless but still pretty cool.
You get buffs the first time you play online – Gears of War
Gears of War can be pretty tough in competitive multiplayer. Take it from me (I’m terrible), it’s quite possible to play a match and get absolutely nothing from it which can be pretty disheartening. As it happens, the developers found this to be true as well. According to them, 90% of players would not play online again if they didn’t get any kills in their first game.
To counter this and to try to keep players invested, in your first online game, you get additional health and damage over your more experienced opponents.. This advantage obviously helps you feel successful and to carry on playing. These bonuses gradually get reduced over time to ease you into the game proper. A nice idea, but it may suffer from the similar rubber banding issue of expecting to be far more skillful than you are, and getting destroyed once the training wheels are taken off. On the other hand, the gradually reduction in bonuses may help players get used to the game over time. Either way, it’s a nice way of keeping weaker players playing.
Coyote Time – Platform games
An interesting one this, and one I don’t really understand. This is named for the legendary Wile E. Coyote and his ability to hover in the air before plummeting to his (none) death when running off a cliff. In many platformers, you can do exactly this. Your button press for jumping will still work for a split second after running off the edge of a platform, allowing you to jump in mid air to an extent.
I wonder if this is related to reaction time added to time taken for the button to be fully pressed. I can’t really understand why this would exist in most platforming games beyond that, but it’s quite interesting that so many platform games use this, even to this day.
A couple of other ones that I found interesting were in Bioshock and System Shock. In the former when enemies appear, their first bullet will always miss to give you a chance to react whilst still making the enemies seem like a threat. In the latter your final bullet in a weapon does double damage to hopefully finish off that enemy you were taking on. This is somewhat like the “last sliver of health” tweak mentioned earlier.
Do you find any of these particularly interesting? Better yet, does knowledge of any of these make you view the games or your experiences in a different light? Let me know!