In the first part of a new GameCareerGuide series, Good Games, Bad Design, Eric-Jon Rossel Tairne takes a critical look
at Konami's NES classic Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Of this new article series, writes Tairne:
"A successful game environment does four things:
1. it teaches about the player's relationship with the environment;
2. in doing so, it directs and focuses the player's behavior;
3. generally it obscures this manipulation from the player; and so
4. through the invoked behavior it evokes in the player a certain mood or mindset.
If the player doesn't know why he picks the routes and actions he does, yet in picking those routes and actions he comes to adopt the intended perspective, you have successfully communicated. Think of all the moments in Half-Life 2 where you think you're being clever under pressure, and you're actually choosing the only possible path -- or how The Legend of Zelda keeps you on-track by making the woods scary and dangerous, so that you will tend to leave them until you're stronger and more experienced."
In specific for this installment, Tairne takes the level design of the third Castlevania
game to task:
"Unlike either of its predecessors, there is little reward for being observant and exploring, and the game lacks those little reward beats and that clear direction that builds momentum. The architecture is full of empty spaces, meaningless flourishes, and padding. Creatures are tossed around with little thought as to placement. The branching paths and multiple characters are new, but compared to the focused, driving architecture of the original Castlevania, there is little psychology to the design. So those ideas rather go to waste, as the game never clearly builds on them."
However, there's good to be found, too. The entire analysis, which goes into much greater depth and comes complete with maps that illustrate the principles being discussed, is live now
on Gamasutra's education-focused sister site, GameCareerGuide.