8 June 2010

Regenerating health and infinite bad guys: A recipe for boredom?

In the years since Halo was first released regenerating health has become very popular in many first person and third person games - we've even discussed it on the podcast - but the last few games i've played that included this mechanic began to bore me pretty quickly. I think that i identified the problem: infinitely respawning enemies combined with a lack of AI challenge.

When you're given a game you want to be challenged at least slightly by the enemies at all points of the game. You want to be able to beat down enemies because of your skill (especially the enemies you faced at the start of the game during the latter part of the game) not because they're easy at all points in the game. At some point it becomes a shooting gallery and your god-like character has virtually no resistance with the exception of certain insta-kill situations.

Take the most recent example i played of this type of game, Wolfenstein (2009). The game was pretty good. There were weapon upgrades as well as power upgrades all set within a hub world that allowed limited exploration and collection of items. I really enjoyed it to begin with but after a few hours i'd grown bored due to the 4 types of enemies acting very predictably. They never did anything except advance on me and take cover so they died pretty easily. This meant that my character had infinite health and infinite ammo on at least two weapons as you could just travel around the hub world exterminating the zombie Nazis* and collecting their dropped weaponry. The fact that you get really cool-looking super weapons was lost on me because apart from one or two notable instances there just was no reason to use them and, since the ammo for those was scarce, i tended to save them until those particular instances occurred (there's three i can think of).

This is not to say i didn't die. The game itself has a difficulty though i would call some of the developer's tactics a little cheap or underhanded.

  • The way i'd fix this** would be to have limited enemies like there are when you're actually on a mission. Killing a thousand Nazis in the city made no sense. I'm a good soldier but not that good... and eventually tactics and strategy would result in the Nazis pulling out of the city and just bombarding it into ashes and rubble. That's what logic would say - rather than just sending legions of peons to their inevitable deaths. To help with this new mechanic i'd make it more difficult to have a head-on approach. Your allies in the two factions of the game would become very important then: do a mission to curry favour and then ask them for a diversion or for safe passage through espionage into enemy territory.

  • I'd design the levels to allow flanking by having the linear path dotted with arenas (something that this game lacked) as was previously seen in Halo itself. Allow movement within a space so that the player and the enemies can use it to their advantage.

    One particularly underused feature in Wolfenstein (or at least i thought) was the being able to walk through certain walls that had a black sun icon stencilled onto them. There was no reason for the stencil to be there in modern achitecture that i could think of and the mechanic tended to be used very sparingly to tackle obvious obstacles such as reaching a document in a locked room etc. I would have preferred this ability to be more universal in its application to the battlefield arenas whereby the player could use it to disappear and then reappear elsewhere. A real beneficial ability rather than what i ended up using it for: spotting enemy targets when they were poorly outlined against the background.

  • I'd make some of the AI enemies have the same powers as me but not better than me. Especially if they're supposed to have "equal" amulets or suits or whatever. Give them improved AI routines to allow smarter thinking by assessing the situation (e.g. their and my health, their and my ammo and the surrounding allies on both their and my sides) than their dumb but cannon fodder-esque minions. There's nothing worse than having your super-powered guy only able to use his powers for 4 seconds when the enemy are able to use them indefinitely. Allow room for players to invent their own tactics on the fly by making the enemies use their powers and then have to recharge and then taking advantage of that.

So what do you think? Does this type of gameplay bore you? What would do or want to fix in a game like that?

*There are no zombies in the game, just bog-standard AI.
** I enjoyed Wolfenstein for what it was - which was certainly not a bad game.

No comments: