Book II: Epic Gameplay

I am archiving older pieces I have written on other sites, making this the definitive home for all my work. This is one of several I am porting over from my GameDev.Net user journal. Enjoy!

I've spent most of today playing God of War. What an incredible game! In the very first chapter you fight agains a three-headed hydra on the deck of a ship, in the midst of a stormy gale. This sense of the epic carries through the entire game (I'm just under a third of the way through it, based on the chapter outlines I've seen), as when you come to Athens and face all manner of creatures and see titans in the distance. You get to kill Medusa and use her head to temporarily turn enemies to stone!

The action is visceral and fluid, the controls are responsive, the cutscenes are a welcome respite as well as entertaining and informative... this has to be the best game I've ever played in terms of bang for buck, and considering that I bought my PStwo just for this game, that's a whole lotta bucks!

What really sets God of War apart, however, is the way minigames are integrated into core gameplay. Many of your opponents are much larger than you, and generally can not simply be killed by your blows. You have to plunge your sword into the minotaur's head, for instance, or rip off the heads of Gorgons. You kill the three-headed hydra by first pinning down the two smaller heads, then bashing the big head against the ship's mast to turn it into a spike and impaling it there!

All this is accomplished by rhythm game-style "follow the on-screen icon/action" sequences. After weakening certain enemies, a button will appear over their heads. Press this button to initiate a kill sequence. In the case of minotaur, tap the circle button fast enough; with the Gorgons, rotate the left analog stick like the instructions on screen.

These systems stagger rewards (each kill is a psychological reward, in addition to the power-ups that they yield) as well as break up the monotony of the primary mode of play. In addition, you interact with environmental elements and solve puzzles of acceptable difficulty, but those are never so tedious or lengthy as to let you forget that you're here for one thing only: to kill Ares, the God of War.

Now that we're done with the review, playing Jade Empire and God of War has really sent me back to the drawing board in terms of how I approach games and their design. The control mechanic does not necessarily have to directly mimic the avatar action, though it helps, and these "impulse" control inputs can be very satisfying and friendly to older gamers who are less well-versed or physically adept at furiously pounding on the buttons (I have to adopt a wierd two-handed grip to beat the "rapid press" minigames).

Minor hybridizations of input, mission and level design can yield immense improvement in the overall user experience, but is this "product mix" a subjective or experimental quantity? Can we quantify and qualify the factors at work here?

I'm getting better at Jade Empire, and even feel inclined to give KOTOR another shot. Don't know if I will yet, though; there's just too much talking in Jade Empire!