Category Archives: Game Design
The Hero’s Journey is a narrative structure first described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and later refined for modern age by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. Campbell noticed and described patterns in our myths and stories, of the hero/heroine leaving their ordinary world to go onto adventure, and after going through trials and crises, coming back home a transformed person.
It’s a very archetypal structure that one can notice in many stories: The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and thousands upon thousands of other works, including games. And I think why we as people are intrinsically drawn to this sort of narrative structure, is essentially because it’s about striding to a goal, facing challenges and getting to the lowest point upon the way, but eventually overcoming them and becoming a better person as a result. It’s what we encounter and go through in our daily lives, even though we might not realize it at first.
A few years ago, I played Badland on mobile by my fiancee’s recommendation, and I had tons of fun – it’s a great game. Beautiful art, simple controls yet challenging levels, and when you play it you really get into the state of flow as you try to make perfect runs. So I was really curious when I learned that the game would get a console/PC port, titled ‘Game of the Year Edition’. And thanks to it appearing among the PSN+ games, I got to try the port out.
So this is going to be my last Assassin’s Creed blog-post for a considerable while. I think I will write about the movie when it comes out, but don’t expect to see any Assassin’s Creed content until the release of the next big console title. That said, there will be articles about other games (so keep checking my site if you’re interested in it!), and this post is going to be a big one. I am very fond of the Assassin’s Creed series, as you probably have guessed. I’ve been interested in it ever since I saw its reveal in 2006. So what I’m going to say might raise eyebrows, WTFs, and other confusion among the fan community, but I think it’s a topic that should be discussed. Assassin’s Creed is not, and has never been, a social stealth game or series.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is a curious beast. I don’t think it offers a well-put narrative, main campaign, or a cohesive overall experience. And the implementation of Assassin turned Templar concept is underwhelming at best. It does, however, offer some amazing side-content. It’s an Assassin’s Creed game where you just enjoy travelling around the world, exploring, and completing very well-designed side missions and activities. Including getting quite a lot of collectibles, which is the main topic of my today’s post.
I talked quite a bit on the topic of cohesive wholesome open-world experiences on examples of Assassin’s Creed, from the positive examples of Brotherhood and Black Flag, to a somewhat more incoherent example of Revelations. But today I want to talk about an example of cohesiveness lacking at all, which can’t be fixed by removing some elements or features or polishing it up.
There’s some Assassin’s Creed games that I could use as examples. There’s Rogue that’s indecisive about what it wants to be as it mixes the Assassin and Templar experiences in various degrees of success. There’s Assassin’s Creed III which was so ambitious that in the end quite a lot of different parts of the game ended up somewhat lacking. But the game that I want to focus on for this topic is Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag at the moment of writing this post is my most favourite game of the franchise. It’s just so well-crafted, from mission design to narrative, world, how it all connects together. And maybe it doesn’t fix all the flaws inherited from other games (like the still very easy combat system), but as I’ve mentioned a couple times before, it’s not a barrier for some amazing experience and in my opinion Black Flag delivers it. The game is really a ’Best of Assassin’s Creed’ collection, combining all the strengths of previous titles in one cohesive package. But today I want to talk about the narrative themes of the game, as well as how they connect to gameplay.
Assassin’s Creed III was the game that essentially kickstarted me blogging, as I talked about the design of its different levels. That series of posts was pretty popular among the Assassin’s Creed community, though to be honest I tried to reread it and I think it’s just better if I don’t open up my writings from several years ago, because it makes me want to faceplant myself into the table (even if from outside perspective there’s no real reason to). On the plus side, that impulse at least shows that I’ve gained experience over the years.
Now I come back to Assassin’s Creed III in this ongoing blog post series I write based on the whole franchise, and the topic of mission design as well (though not any single mission in particular). I think the game is very suited for studying the principles of open-world level design, and not because it excels at it. When you take the game as a whole – it doesn’t. But it does have plenty of both positive and negative examples of open-world missions, which means their analysis provides very useful learnings that I’m going to share with you right now.
Most of the time game development is looked at from the perspective of building. A plan is made, foundation is created, then a carcass, then everything is properly put into that carcass. The terminology used is reminiscent of building as well. And in that context, cutting features out is something very undesirable. It’s like we’re constructing a modern top of the line skyscraper but for one reason or another have to build it without proper air conditioning. And whenever features are being brainstormed, most of the time it’s about what to add.
I firmly believe that what we as game developers do is create experiences for our players. And all the different areas of the game, – cool gameplay, technology, narrative, audio – feeds into those experiences. How the wooshing sound of Hearthstone cards when you move them helps with that feeling of a physical card game. How the different sound cues of Left 4 Dead depending on the special zombie nearby influence the teamwork aspect of the game. How controls themselves are used as a narrative tool in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. And a game is valued best when it all works as a whole.
There are many tools we can use to create emotional arcs for the player, as well as the character(s) of the game. The list consists of, but is not limited to, narrative structure, visual design, level design, gameplay mechanics, and many other things. In this particular post, though, I want to explore how weapon progression can play a big role in providing a certain emotional experience, on the example of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Be warned, there will be spoilers.