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Thread: Keeping the player on track

  1. #1
    Registered: Jan 2001
    Location: Pushing my luck with Dromed

    Keeping the player on track

    I recently played a very good FM campaign, with a great atmosphere and plot. Unfortunately for me I missed a key which was required for get the first objective completed. There was a scroll right next to it but it was nothing to do with the key. I wasn't exactly rushing around and not seeing things. There's a secret switch in this room that I had no trouble spotting. The key was in shadow, over a dark coloured part of the table's texture. I, however, was fully lit, and I was trying to keep knockouts to a minimum so I didn't want to stay there for too long.

    The result was that I carried on looking around, assuming I'd find the place I needed to go to. When I got to the place and found it locked, I wasn't too concerned because that's just a part of the usual gameplay. Eventually it seemed like I'd been everywhere and that was when the frustration started.

    I searched the thread for that FM and found one post asking about it, along with that infuriating edit we've all seen at some point: Never mind, I found it.

    Anyway, now that I've got that out of my system, it would be interesting to see your suggestions for allowing the player to keep making progress without making things too easy. I think for essential objects, the challenge for the player should be in exploring the map and avoiding the AI. No matter what we do though, sometimes an object or place will be missed.

    Any thoughts on a good way a mission to detect that the player is struggling? E.g. using some kind of long timer to add extra clues or help if the player hasn't found a certain item after a certain time? If a key is needed, and not picked up within, say, half an hour of entering the building, a copy could be put on the belt of a conscious AI.

  2. #2
    Registered: Nov 2001
    Location: uk
    It does depend a lot on what you're making, where the player can go and what obstacles you're placing between them and where they want to go. In terms of FMs I've had any involvement in or started building and abandoned though I think the key is internal consistency and maintaining suspension of disbelief, if you've got a point where the player isn't entirely sure where they should be going or how to get there it should be obvious to them if they stop and think about it.

    I remember watching a video of someone playing Rose Cottage and they were stuck, but they'd explored the space that was available, knew what was around them and were quickly able to work out what the thing they'd missed was at which point it's a case of thinking about the environment around them and where that object was likely to be. As it happens I think we made that particular totally not a key because it's not shaped like one less obviously visible than it ought to be but that that was an object you'd need and the setting it was found in were reasonably straightforward to work out.

    If it's clear which AI is which and who would have a key to the place in question then you shouldn't need to do anything magical about it? Distinct skins, meshes, voices and readables combined with a readable world enable the player to figure these things out

  3. #3
    Registered: May 2017
    Location: USA
    For missions where there are several crucial/unique items, I think one of the most important things the author can do, is make sure that the map slowly expands around the player. Scouring a massive region for one item is a drag, and even if the player probably *should* have seen it earlier, it’s up to the author to limit this possibility.

    If my mobility is hindered until I find the object, it becomes much less tedious—and it’s an early signal: “hey taffer; search your surroundings more closely!”

    Of course, the trade off is that you want the player to have lots of space to explore. I think rose cottage and ominous bequest both do a good job of balancing this trade off. Library of Babel probably ”expands around the player” more so than any other mission out there (at the expense of perhaps a little too much linearity).

    In contrast, missions like “mirror of return” or mission 4 of “black frog” (while great missions) often throw the player into an enormous expanse without much guidance or insight into what they should be accomplishing in each space.

    If a mission is huge and exploration-centric, I think it’s typically better if there aren’t many crucial/unique items. However some strong clues can overcome this issue, if executed well.

    Just my thoughts on the subject
    Last edited by trefoilknot; 27th Jan 2020 at 22:36.

  4. #4
    Registered: Jan 2006
    Location: On the tip of your tongue.
    Yeah it's about finding the balance between limiting where the player can go while not feeling like you're limiting where the player can go. Much easier said than done - see the criticisms of most of my missions.

    It's easy to either make the mission overwhelming because you can go anywhere but have no idea what part of anywhere is actually the right way, or make the mission very obviously linear with jarring roadblocks. In my experience, very few missions hit that sweet spot in the middle.

    Some things are, or should be, obvious. The better hidden something is, the smaller the area the player has to search should be. If you want the player to have to find a tiny secret switch, you need to either trap them in a small area (e.g. if it's a trap in a tomb), or use readables to limit the search area - e.g. references to a secret passage inside someone's bedroom, so players know they have to search in the bedroom.

    A lot of problems can be solved by having clearer objectives. If the idea of a level is to have players explore the space, let them go anywhere, but make their goal incredibly well-signposted - clear objectives, nice big arrow on the map, that kind of thing. If players know exactly where they are supposed to go, it takes the pressure off and allows them to explore the non-essential bits without worrying about missing things. (e.g. Life of the Party).

    A lot of missions fall into the trap of gating the player without telling them why or how to proceed. You hit a locked door, but there's no indication that this is actually where you need to be, or where the key is. In the worst case, the mission becomes more like a convoluted join-the-dots puzzle searching for keys and puzzle pieces, rather than fun exploration gameplay.

  5. #5
    Registered: Oct 2001
    Location: 0x0x0
    As designers we tend to suck at seeing our mission(s) as a new player would. Can't be helped. Just the nature of the beast. One thing I tried to keep in mind was to make important things easier to see/do than my first impulse/idea would have led me. So...grey key on a grey shelf? NO! We have red and orange right? Use one of them. Garrett needs too find a secret panel? It doesn't need to scream "here I am" from across the room but upon more than a cursory glance perhaps something looks amiss. Garrett is a master thief and has just about seen it all by now. I know it's satisfying to blend a secret door so perfectly that even you can't see it but what are we trying to accomplish here? Make things easier on the player than you might consider at first. Testers can help balance things back towards the difficult should your work prove a little bit too remedial thief 101. So in general, hand out more clues than you think are necessary and make things easier to spot.

    Now as designers the one thing we have no excuse for screwing up is brush work and how it affects the players movement through space, the most simplistic element of game-play. Persistent player position and Alt-G are there for a reason. I played missions and wondered if the designer ever once dropped into game mode. That's a lovely set of steps you've built, but have you ever tried to walk up them yourself? Yeah, that's what I thought. You know what I love about small rooms with lots of furniture? No, it's not being unable to walk on the floor. Wow, what a HUGE maze! Wait what? Not a single clue or even a stack count of apples to aid in navigation!!! Sign me the fuck up for that!

  6. #6
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Lost in the BSP...
    Might as well ask that uncooperative Sun to move over 5 degrees so you can get that perfect tan! In other words, you're asking the impossible keeping random taffers on track.

    Lots of good points. Big open explorative missions beg for lots of freedom, but that doesn't mean you can gate players in specific areas. Lots of large areas of exploration are fine, but then when it comes to guiding the players to certain things, or keeping others locked off, work fine in suddenly small isolated areas. If you make it to where a player has to go from this one little area, all the way back to another isolated section and grab a specific "key" of some kind, only to get a key behind the first locked door at the other area, then take that key to another place because another area requires a key... you've lost most players at this point. Narratives directing players to find a key for something specific, even if it's just to offer suggestions on who might have used it last, or who might currently be carrying it, or offer a couple of ideas..

    I hated having lockpicks that could just open everything, or most things, but they sure came in handy for getting into areas that had an elusive key.

    So, in conclusion, I have no idea. It's all about balance, but so many people like different stuff, so it's almost impossible to make a "perfect setup". Wish I had more to offer, but that's about it. It ain't easy. :-(

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