Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Path: Game Design Review

The Path is a horror which I recently mentioned in my recent games are art guest post which I found I hadn't yet reviewed!

So here's my impression of The Path. I'm a bit divided over whether to recommend the game. let me explain why.

Design wise the first problem with the game is that it doesn't tell you how to accomplish the 'goal'. Now I had read about the game before hand in the reviews and knew that I had to leave the Path to truly experience the game. The first time I chose a character, I spent about 40 minutes trying to figure out what to do. I knew I had to wander off the path but I didn't realise what to do to trigger the 'bad' endings.

Finally I figured out that to do this you have to go to a location and NOT move for several seconds to interact with your character's personal 'wolf'. Of course, this required lots of unlearning as most games will have an 'action' button to allow you to interact with objects in the environment but the game never explicitly tells you to NOT move. I wasted nearly an hour on this. Once I figured that out, progress was fairly quick.

Every girls losing' story goes like this:
1) You wander off the path
2) You can visit or discover various significant important places (this is optional)
3) You have to meet your personal wolf
4) You awaken just in front of grandma's house tired and go through grandma's house, what you see depends on how many optional places you discovered.
5) The girl meets defeat.

The entire game is metaphorical and atmospheric and well crafted in that respect. However, aside from the annoying 'not moving' learning issue which I think really needs to be explained better, the game part of this game is a bit too easy and not very exciting at all. It feels more like a collection of short horror mini-episodes combined with a bit of item hunting then a proper game. Rather than exploring possibilities, there is really only one 'Path' in the game.

From a gaming critic's point of view the atmosphere is top notch,the sound and graphics convey exactly the way it should be on the other hand I feel that the artistic nature almost feels like a step back in many ways. No real dialogue, implied characterisation, spooky effects and a distinct lack of interaction.

As a gamer, rather than revelling the interactive nature of the game medium it seems to try and live up to the expectations of the 'art world' rather than trying to aspire and utilise the best tools of the medium (interactivity). I think games like Gabriel Knight, American Mcgee's Alice, Grim Fandango, Indigo Prophecy, the Thief series and the Resident Evil service do the genre a better service in this respect.

For me The Path although good in some respects feels like a warning sign to game developers: "Don't try to live up to art for the sake of art". Otherwise, what you get is a game with good animation, good atmosphere but limited shallow gameplay. Weighing your other available games, the normal price of The Path of $10 seems quite expensive for a game you could finish in less than 3 hours compared to other horror games like Amensia: The Dark Descent.

I have also played the other two games by the creators; The Graveyard and Fatale and they pretty much suffer from the same problem as this game. I'll probably go into detail into them in follow up post.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time: Game Design Review

I bought this game because of the rave reviews (some reviewers giving them as high as 80%). On paper the game sounds great but my reality when playing this game was very different. For me the emphasis on the 'physics' of the game ends up just very very very clumsy. I got up to the ice cave level which is half way through the game and I said 'stop, I'm not having fun at all'. Three months later, I tried to play this again and still wasn't having fun and so I reluctantly deleted it.

Let me expand the problem:
The goal of the game is to get your time travelling chair to the end of the level.
You can't stick the chair in your backpack so you you have to create a 'car'. You do this by combining two wheels and the time travelling chair. So far so good. But then you realise the car physics is 'realistic' and the power of the wheels + chair isn't very good at all. This makes climbing even moderate slopes a real challenge.

You can also freely attach and angle any of your items to any other part of another item, so if you think sticking the tyres on the nose of the chair or the back of the chair will improve the way its driven, you can do so. In practice, if position the tyres wrongly you'll find yourself driving on one wheel which creates an extreme imbalance and will cause the entire car to flip eventually or if you just miss attaching the tyre to just a right place you'll end up accidentally attaching the tire to the top of the chair which makes it usless.

Later on you'll have an umbrella, propellars and spring. The propellars allow you to fly, the spring allows you to jump and the umbrella to glide. But once again, you can attach and angle these items pretty much anywhere which in my opinion exacerbates the above problem as you fiddle around with your car. For example you should attach the spring to the bottom of the car or tyre but attach it to the wrong place on the car and you'll sit the spring between the tyre and the ground meaning your car won't drive anywhere as the tyre is no longer in contact with the ground.

Overall almost 80% of my game time was done trying to figure how to flip and then reorganise my car to get through simple slopes and jumps. Not in the fun way but more in the sense of "dammit my car fell apart again and now I have reorganise it".

You have to be careful when repositioning one part, particularly the wheels because meddle too much and the whole damn thing falls apart because the effects of gravity aren't paused when you're building your car!

Very frustrating.

In a normal game, a character that can jump would have easily cleared these areas in under a minute. But because of this emphasis on car building I have to clumsily fumble my way around trying to build something that will clear the platforms trying to fight the inertia of the various parts as they try to fall apart before I make simple modifications.

I can't stress enough how completely unfun the game is despite what other reviews say.

Here's what I think the game makers need to do to fix this game:
a) Increase the 'power' of the wheels. The inability to drive up gentle slopes is terrible!
b) Drop the 'free-form building' and make it a snap-together-to-build game. The body and wheels of the car should be automatically positioned for you. You'll never going to find a use for putting the body underneath the car wheels so why not have it automatically positioned there. Furthermore, reduce the points where you can attach the propellers and umbrella and springs. This will reduce the construction frustration I felt as I continually watched my car fall to pieces every single time because of this adherence to 'realistic' physics where the tyres and chair threatened to collapse all the time!
c) Build the levels around the snap-to-build method as above to ensure gameplay is challenging but completable rather than the 'hit-and-miss' it is currently.
d) Allow the main character to jump.
e) Change the core goal of the mission to something else. The core goal in every mission is to deliver the time machine chair to the end of the level. Due to the above mentioned problems, I just wasn't having fun. I wonder if there could be different missions like 'fix the machine', 'defeat all the robots' or 'defend the house' instead.
f) Make better use of the rewind time mechanic - The time mechanic is pretty much just a straight forward gameplay mechanism which replaces saving and loading during a level. In essence you rewind to any point in the recent past and continue from there. It works but I wonder if there is a better way to use this similar to "Braid".
g) Allow us to build more items - Why not allow us to create some different machines rather than just a car? Maybe a catapult? Maybe a microwave ray gun? Maybe some sort of robotic decoy on wheels?

I try very hard to reveal the positive aspects of each game and provide reasons why they were good examples of game design but despite the funny characters and good cartoonish graphics this simply doesn't have any good game design points. I feel really let down because this could have been "The incredible machine" on wheels with some interesting time travel but instead turns out to be a train wreck of micro-problems.

I really hate to rag on about this especially for a New Zealand game company (since I'm a NZ citizen) but seriously don't buy this game unless you've tried the demo and are absolutely sure you're happy with the short comings.

I do welcome the designers to contact me since they are in NZ. Preferably via Linkedin or Twitter.