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On pacing and "freedom that isn't really useful": In Crysis, we had a lot of pacing issues, which we sometimes didn't even realize because we had a lot of other crucial things to do. It sounds silly, but we really did get to that point, where we were saying, "We'll fix the pacing later, fix it later, fix it later -- oh my God. Now we have to do it."
We then had to make some harsh design calls. There's a level with the player riding in a Jeep driven by Prophet. That level had decisions made with the best intentions, but also driven by the reality of our situation, with people clamoring, "Get it out the door!"
That level was designed around an experience where you can drive wherever you want, you can get out, or you can stop. In that kind of level, you have to make sure that there is actually fun to be had throughout, and there is something to do when you get out of the vehicle. At the minimum, players need weapons to pick up throughout the level, or you just stand there with no weapons, and then you die. Where's the fun in that? That's an example of freedom that isn't really useful.
In Warhead, we designed those vehicle sections with two approaches in mind. We started with the main vehicle path along a road, then we expanded it outward. We would say, here we want to have an action bubble where the player can stop, and we would tell the designer to be sure there are weapons around, that AI is properly set up and can call in reinforcements -- all the basic rules we set up in Crysis for infantry combat had to be present throughout vehicle levels as well.
Once we learned that language, those design guidelines and design rules, we filtered it through the vision of the Skyes character -- things have to blow up, and the player needs the right tools and the right opportunity for that to happen, if the player chooses. Meanwhile, we had to keep the rules from Crysis, allowing the player to play more stealthily from a distance. That was our challenge as a studio; hopefully, we succeeded.
Even with vehicle levels, you can do the whole thing on foot -- just forget the vehicle, and go action bubble to action bubble as the Predator. Everybody should play the game however he or she wants to -- we tried to cover all the potential approaches somebody would want to take.
On the balance between guidance and freedom: From a creative standpoint, it's okay to guide players. It's not okay to force them, but you can make strong suggestions. For example, when we started working on the hovercraft level, we had a gun on the vehicle. What we didn't want players to do was to stop and shoot too often.
Because we had aliens, of course people stopped and tried to shoot the aliens with the mounted weapons. The result was that the challenging driving section turned into a challenging shooting section, and players were crashing all the time.
We decided to just take away the gun from the hovercraft. At first, everybody said, "No! You can't do that!" But then, we noticed that driving, not killing the aliens, became the challenge, and that's what we wanted. It suggests strongly that you should keep driving, because you don't have a gun. If you insist, you can get out, but the main path is driving the hovercraft.
We discussed player guidance versus player freedom endlessly -- back and forth, up and down. We debated every decision. When we did Crysis, we had very set rules at the beginning: Never force the player to do anything, and never take control away from the player.
In principle, those are good rules, but in some cases it's okay to bend the rules a bit, or to provide a viable alternative to the player.
For example, it's okay to tell people, "I would suggest you drive a vehicle" -- but don't kill them when they get out of the vehicle, or provide no other alternative to driving a vehicle. Otherwise, you're teaching by dying, which is a bad design mechanic.