My game du jour is still StarCraft II. As I mentioned in my recent review of the game, I tend to play co-operatively; “Linithiari” and I have a run of around 150 games logged now, almost always playing against the AI. It continues to be an exciting, amusing and educational experience for both of us, having played with each race in turn.
While the single-player campaign teaches players how to play with Terran forces, the Zerg and Protoss are left largely to individual experience. Co-operative play really helps in this regard, as two players can easily share new insight and support each other when exploring new and dangerous tactics, all within a social environment. Toying with the game and its rules is a much more frustrating experience when playing alone. Given my overall lack of skill with RTS (real-time strategy), this is why I consider co-operative modes to be a must in this type of game.
Events during our 4-hour play session last night shed some new light on the way I play this game: uniquely, because no other RTS has offered me achievements in the same way StarCraft II does. “Lini” and I are well-accustomed to achievements, having played World of Warcraft together for over a year too (I reviewed his achievements as his “Coffindodger” alias back in August). We’re as guilty as any other ‘achiever’-type player when it comes to chasing these achievements down. Why else would we subject ourselves to ‘/hug’ emoting on every critter we see, or gathering countless cooking recipes in order to be declared “Lunch Lady”? This sort of behaviour continues in StarCraft II, but in such a way that it literally keeps us hooked.
I’ve been playing StarCraft II for a few weeks now, and I am impressed. This is the first Blizzard ‘RTS’ (real-time strategy) game I’ve played, and it’s easily changed my perspective on the genre and modern-day gaming. I’ve long enjoyed RTS games, but have typically played the same titles for a few years at a time. My experience of RTS games is pretty limited as a result. I tend to fare poorly in single-player games, and have usually leaned on co-operative modes for fun instead.
StarCraft II is beset by an audience of keen veterans; this much I knew from the beginning. Though I was excited about the game prior to its release, it was really only because the game looked glitzy and because I’d come to enjoy Blizzard games through my time in World of Warcraft. I haven’t played the first game, or any of its fantasy counterparts in the Warcraft series. Fortunately the game has been designed with newcomers in mind, and while the online matches can be a hostile place indeed, the single-player campaign serves up some friendly scenarios to help orientate us.
I took part in Deborah Todd’s fantastic workshop way back at GLS 5, buying Game Design: from Blue Sky to Green Light as it closed. I’m finding it a refreshingly unique and informative take on the subject.
Todd’s chapter on plot and narratives has me particularly thoughtful. In writing about what she calls the ‘”and then” syndrome’, she compares cause-and-effect plots with the disconnected structures of much weaker narratives. It seems obvious that a cause-and-effect plot will, on the whole, make for a much more interactive and exciting game plot.
“Because the player does this, the enemies respond thus…”
…and so the player is involved more in each decision.
Many games do express this in at least a simple fashion. A cut-scene may show us that because the player reached the bomb and disabled it in time, their character lives and the building remains in tact. The enemy plot has thus been foiled. I have, however, seen games in which the bomb disarmament (or similar objective) was taken out of the player’s control, and all they were asked to do was make it from ‘A’ to ‘B’ within a time limit. The climactic events from then on were in keeping with the overall pace of that mission, but the player was robbed of any part in them.
This plot device owes a lot to film and other, non-interactive media. On the face of it, the game narrative would be less fun if the player completed a white-knuckle dash to the bomb, only to be shown a mini-game or some other form of ‘quick-time event’ (see Shenmue, Fahrenheit) whose presence slows the game down. Worse still, failing this crucial event will likely mean them running the obstacle course again, robbing this climax of all thrill.
Still, I can’t help feeling that this is inappropriate design; it has certainly been implemented in some quite disappointing games.
One such game is City of the Daleks – first instalment of Doctor Who: the Adventure Games. Overall I was impressed with the game: it offers 2 hours of authentic adventure in the Doctor Who universe, with some drama to embarrass many a ‘AAA’ title. It’s let down by its ending, however.
Some spoilers for Doctor Who: the Adventure Games may follow: