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The Anatomy of a Bad Game
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The Anatomy of a Bad Game

May 31, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Our next point of bad design is mechanic conflict, which is designing the game's content in direct conflict with the mechanics of the game. The act of cleaning a bathroom with nothing but a toothbrush is a real world example of mechanic conflict. The toothbrush, while a tool used for cleaning, is nowhere suitable to the task at hand.

Last year's Dark Souls had a balance issue brought on by a conflict with the mechanics of the game and an item. In order to properly aim magic attacks, players must use the lock-on feature to target enemies. A few enemies in the game wear an item called the "fog ring". The ring makes the wearer translucent and prevents lock-ons, even if the attacker is aiming right at the wearer.

The problem with this item is that it is in direct conflict with the mechanics of magic attacks -- rendering them useless whenever the player runs into someone wearing the ring. Because of complaints from gamers, the designers decided to take a second look at this item and alter its functionality with a patch.

You may be noticing a similarity between rule-breaking and mechanic conflicts, as both involve a conflict in design. The difference is that rule-breaking occurs between two participants, such as the player and the designer, while mechanic conflicts occur between the mechanics of the game.

Another example comes from Dante's Inferno and how it tried to capitalize on God of War's design. One of the major differences between God of War and other action games was in the range of the character's attacks. Most action games before God of War gave characters a narrow window, meant for attacking single enemies quickly.

God of War changed that by making Kratos attack with slow but wide attacks, allowing him to fight multiple enemies at once. The consequence of this design made it harder to fight single enemies due to how slow Kratos attacks and the time he is locked into the combo. The designers of God of War saw this and made it so that many attacks can stun the enemy, preventing them from attacking Kratos while in his combo chain, which was a workaround for the conflict.

Dante's Inferno

In Dante's Inferno, however, the designers slipped up on this point and the conflict between mechanics slipped in. One of the early enemies the player meets is a female demon whose main attack follows the same pattern: a brief charge up period followed by a dash in the player's direction. If the demon connects with the dash, she automatically goes into a small combo that the player cannot break. Normally, when the player hits a monster a few times with an attack, it will stun them, allowing the player to continue the assault. However, with these female demons, once they go into their charge animation, they cannot be stopped unless they are killed.

Here, we had a conflict between the mechanic of an enemy's attack pattern, and the player's ability to stop attacks. Mechanic conflict can also affect larger-scale games like strategy titles, and can become a conflict between systems. Many turn based strategy titles are made up of multiple systems of gameplay: economic, defense, and offense among others. Making getting the balance right like trying to balance a skyscraper: if one element is out of alignment, then the whole thing falls apart.

A common criticism of most city-builder games is how the combat system never feels as fleshed out as the other systems in the game. Most often, combat is very bare bones and feels like a separate system, compared to the integration of the other systems.

Perhaps the most prominent examples of mechanic conflict come from one of the least favored sections in games: the escort/protect mission. The problems with these sections are that since the missions occur rarely in a game, they are not properly balanced with the rest of the design. In action games, designers run into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation with the conflicts with the combat system.

If the character uses fast, narrow attacks, then they won't be able to hit waves of enemies and a few will slip by to bash the escorted character. However, give the player slower but wider attacks, and then if the player misses they'll be stuck waiting for the animation to end while enemies have free reign. The enemy AI doesn't help, as often they are designed to ignore the player and focus on the objective, which makes distracting the enemy impossible. With escort missions, the escorted usually have simple AI and have no regard for staying out of harm's way, which adds more trouble to the task at hand.

One of the few times where having to escort a NPC was acceptable was in the game Ico. What made it work was that the game was designed from the start with the escort mechanic in mind, and it was properly integrated into the game.

Conflicts in mechanics stem from the designer trying to keep the gameplay fresh and continue to build up from the beginning. However, while playing it safe can work, it can lead to another element of a bad game.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

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