Prerequisite Automation

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If you do A and B then you can try doing C. Oh, but you have to do A and B every time you want to do C. No, you can’t skip those parts. It’s core gameplay!

Seriously, what’s the deal with this? Can’t I prove to you that I’m capable of these tasks? I mean, collect some statistics on my performance or something. Even degrade it by 10%, or 50% for that matter, just let me use MY performance for the “auto calculate” instead of the developer’s expectations or the AI’s abilities.

I’ve already written on this topic before. Hopefully this article will offer another angle of approach to the concept of not wasting the player’s time.

This cropped up a lot for me in “Lords of the Realm II” castle sieges. My brothers and I developed a sophisticated technique wherein we could capture a top-tier castle with a handful of archers and mace-men. Perhaps you developed this same method yourself. That this was possible was not infuriating; That this was possible was exhilarating. What was infuriating was that the game refused to acknowledge our astounding accomplishment. If I pressed the “let me command the battle myself” button and spent an hour, I could take the castle and loose 1% of my guys. If I pressed the “auto-resolve” button, I would probably loose my whole army with nothing to show for it.

This doesn’t work quite as well for games focused on skill and execution. If you automated the skill required, where would the game be? Imagine a Guitar Hero, or Bejeweled, or Super Hexagon that gave you a “use previous performance” button and then ran on autopilot at your previously demonstrated level of skill. What would be the point of playing? Granted, you could keep leveling up your “demonstrated level of skill” and then sit back and enjoy watching the game play itself. This seems like it would take a lot of the enjoyment out, or at least disenchant the concept that the player is building worthwhile skills. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I’ll grant that it’s probably not what that kind of game is going for.

And, once the player has proven themselves competent at the prerequisites, the game shouldn’t bother them with it. Sure, if you like those things you can go back and play them, but it should default to just abstracting that all away. Remember when you used to count each square on the Monopoly board? Remember the first time you realized that the board is eleven squares to a side, and that simple arithmetic would allow you to skip the counting the jump straight to the destination square? What if one of the rules of the game was “you must count each space every time you move”, pointlessly wasting the players time? It feels like a lot of video games are doing just this.

So, if your game requires levels of depth, actions built on actions and choices built on choices, do what you can to remember when the player has proved themselves. This is the conceptual core behind “leveling mechanics” which too often are used to merely increase the player’s avatar potency instead of save the player time. Require the player to demonstrate their ability, but once they have shown a consistent level of skill, remember the fact.

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