rant

Game Over. Insert Coin.

The balance between carrot and stick, reward and punishment, in game design was so much simpler back in the arcade.

Take the gamer's money and give them a limited number of chances to progress, usually called "lives" since failure nearly always means death. When the player runs out of lives, they can pay to keep playing if they agree within a given time period. If not, the game resets itself to the start.

In some ways, it's a magnificently simple and beautiful state of affairs compared to what PC and console gaming has become, where the entire price of a game, hardware included, is bought and paid for in advance, and "pay for play" means online access fees and MMO subscriptions.

How, in an environment where you can't hit the gamer in the pocketbook for failing to demonstrate the requisite skills, can you punish them? Should you even try? Arcade games were designed to be "finished" only by the best of the best, but today's story-driven, cinematic AAA titles cost millions to make-- is it wise to reveal the entirety of one's design only to a select few? Might that not tempt designers to leave the ending out (I'm glancing in your direction, Halo 2, and yours, too, Indigo Prophecy) and focus energies on the beginning-- the part that most reviewers will see?

Is death in games supposed to be punitive, or is it there only to prevent the player from progressing through the game until they've demonstrated a certain minimum level of proficiency? If it is supposed to be punitive, what does it say about designers' opinions of their own game if the worst punishment they can come up with is playing the game more? Isn't the idea of dying, the message of failure, more important than the actual consequences? Or is it? Can a game design aspire to have replayability and still consider repeat play as a punishment for dying? What other punishments can there be? Should there be any punishments at all? Can any punishment be as useful or effective as requiring the player to insert another quarter, and if not, should gaming return to the arcade model, or should it abandon player punishment altogether?

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Hey Narcogen,

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HBO today points to an interesting blog entry by an English teacher in Korea, playing Halo 3 (apparently for the first time or nearly so) in Korean without English subtitles, and so without much insight into the story or what the player is supposed to do:

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OldNick is at it again, this time wondering if sometimes less is more, if somehow the Halo series became something a bit less by trying to become something a lot more.

Perhaps this is what Jason Jones meant about Halo 1's "beautiful simplicity" compared to Halo 2 (and, one would assume, Halo 3).

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Despite the grumpy and dissatisfied tone I seem to have established in this blog, in vilifying various Bungie design decisions, I certainly don't regret the time I've spent playing, reading, thinking and writing about the Halo series. Now that the trilogy is done, however, and we've had time to digest Halo 3, I think it's time to start putting the whole experience into some kind of perspective. In previous entries I've talked mainly about technical factors in level design, gameplay and story construction.

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I've said it once and I'll say it again. Halo 3's maps plain suck. They're bad in just about every way. With the soon to be released DLC I'm hoping and praying that Bungie can redeem themselves and even get me interested in Halo 3 again. So what do I think is wrong with Halo 3's maps? Well read on.

There has to be some attention given to the make up a Halo game here. It's an interesting thing to consider Halo 1 maps in relation to those that had vehicles. Only the two big maps (Blood Gulch and Sidewinder) had them and the rest of the maps played without vehicles.

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I'm returning to a fundamental theme of my first entry: the tension between the need (or desire) to tell a story in a particular way, and the need to keep the player involved and immersed - by maintaining the consistency and believability of the game-world. Once again I have specific Halo examples in mind - the boss-battles in Halo 2, and Halo 3. Obviously, this means Halo 3 Campaign spoilers, so stop reading here if this is a problem for you.

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Well, I just got Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, and figured out that Nintendo still uses the life system. Now, I don't really support this system for a couple of reasons, which I will tell you. Firstly, let me describe how Galaxy's system works, this being a primarily a halo forum. Basically, you get an extra life (1-Up) by getting either green mushrooms, or, 50 of the game's currencies, Star Bits and Coins. You lose all Coins when you die, but you don't lose any Star Bits.

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Im sure all of you halo 3 fans have gotten al the skulls, well i havent! and thats becuz i cant figure out how to get the catch skull. Ive spent freaking like 3 houre doing every atempt to get the skull, if you HAVE gotten the skull plz send me the directions clearly, and well spoken, TYVM

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For those who have played all the halo games have you heard the woeds 'wort wort wort' from an elite in halo 2 but unsure on 3 :(

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Next-Gen editor Colin Campbell takes a firm stance on behalf of publishers against game retailers that sell used games, calling the practice 'parasitic':

Used game sales are, in fact, a separate business to the game industry, one that is parasitical and offers little or no benefits to the business as a whole. If you look at the share-of-effort or the share-of-investment or the share-of-creativity that goes into making a game and bringing it to market, you have to wonder if this is a system that anyone could describe as being fair and just.

Predictably a lot of gamers find this position offensive. I do, and I don't even buy used games. I think if you buy a console game in a box and you want to sell it at some point, you should be free to do so. If a retailer wishes to assume the risk associated with used stock, and their clients are willing to buy it, more power to them. Calling the practice parasitic is simply missing the point. It's the kind of mentality that leads executives to take "sales we didn't make" and call it "lost revenue". It is disingenuous.

However I think the real problem here is one that Campbell's editorial doesn't even bother to tackle: which is that the fault for this practice falls squarely with the developers and publishers and with no one else.

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The questionable claim that "Halo 3 changed game development" made in this article over at GameGuide spurred OldNick into posting action again. What OldNick does think Bungie has a chance to teach the industry is how to coordinate large development teams-- a trend that seems destined to continue as development budgets soar ever higher.

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An article entitled [url=http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/482/how_halo_3_changed_game_.php]"How Halo 3 Changed Game Development"[/url] has recently drawn some (rather sceptical) attention [url=http://halo.bungie.org/news.html?item=21601]at HBO[/url] and here [url=http://rampancy.net/story/bungie/10/01/2008/Did_Halo_3_Change_Game_Devel... Rampa

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OldNick is at it again. His latest blog entry is about Bungie's controversial story addition to Halo 2, the playable Arbiter-- and how his omission from Halo 3 may have been a crowd-pleasing move that left the game with a less rich story.

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Let me start by giving credit where it's due. The line of thought explored here grew from a discussion on the [url=http://carnage.bungie.org/haloforum/halo.forum.pl?read=858222]HBO forum[/url], which was itself inspired by a [url=http://jparish.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=8551185&publicUserId=5379721]tho... article[/url] from 1UP's Jeremy Parish.

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