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Defining Boundaries: Creating Credible Obstacles In Games
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Defining Boundaries: Creating Credible Obstacles In Games


July 1, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next
 

Difficult to Understand

Our final barriers are intertwined with one another in some respects. Firstly we have the barrier which, to the player, makes little sense because they restrict movement with the simplest of objects.

We also have the "hold until needed" barrier which appears only when needed, usually as if by magic. The reason they are intertwined? Well, they're both difficult to comprehend, to be quite frank.

Let's firstly take a look at the barrier that, from the player's perspective, seems to make no sense. While our invisible barriers, unlockable doors and unbreakable barriers are frustrating, there is something almost infuriating about coming across an object that stops us simply because it is there to stop us.

A good example of this is the intriguing adventure game Lost: Via Domus. At the start of the game the player has to explore the beach and is able to happily walk over a number of objects.

However, if we look at figure 11, we can see that the player is simply blocked by a small pile of debris and luggage.


Figure 11 - Unbelievable barrier in Lost: Via Domus

This begs the question, how can the player be blocked by some luggage? This is even more frustrating because the player has to walk around the entire debris to get to the section marked with the white X. Why should the player be blocked in this fashion?

If, in real-life, we come across a suitcase which is in our way, we can either step over it or simply move it to the side. This is not the case in the game. By blocking the player in an area with nothing more than a small scattering of luggage simply makes the experience unbelievable.

This type of barrier fails both visibility and affordance rules. It fails on both accounts simply because it does not look like a barrier, so why should the player even consider it to be one? At no would anyone consider a small pile of luggage a credible barrier.

These should be avoided when designing our games simply because it is so out of character as to likely be ridiculed by the player.

Our other barrier, the one which magically appears, has been around for a long time and is found in games such as Kameo and 2008 top seller Devil May Cry 4, amongst many more. I'm talking about the barrier which simply appears out of nowhere so that the player cannot escape and must stay in this area and defeat the bad-guys. Successful removal of the said bad guys results in the barriers vanishing and the player is free to continue.

Kameo has a forest level where giant branches suddenly grow up from the ground and then go back in it when the bad guys are dead (good job the branches know all of this!) whilst Devil May Cry 4 has magically appearing red webs, as seen in figure 12, that halt progress. Again, this vanishes when everyone is killed.


Figure 12 - Mysterious red energy blocking your path in Devil May Cry 4

Do we really need these kinds of barriers? By now players tend to simply roll their eyes when these appear because it's such a cliché.

From a usability perspective it is detrimental to the play for three reasons:

1. The player knows what is about to happen, there is no longer the element of surprise
2. The player is now constricted in an area which seconds before was not constricted. Why?
3. The flow of the game becomes very disjointed

I personally cannot think of one reason why we should be using this style of barricade any more. Of course there may be times we wish to ensure the player is constrained within an area, but let us make it part of the environment and narration.

We want the player to always feel immersed within the game and by breaking up the flow such as this will see the player lose that immersion and lose any suspension of disbelief they actually held within the game.

A good example of how this type of barrier was done very well is the fantastic Gears of War. Here we have earthquakes which create huge chasms in the roads. Sure, this is all very convenient, but it works, it is part of the game and it fits in well to the game's overall style - of a world heavily damaged by the war with the Locust.


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