Posted: Thu 20 Jan - 03:17 (2011) Post subject: Looking at Mass Effect 2 design decisions and why they work
Tim Tavernier wrote:
Actually, there is a sciencetific way to say that Mass Effect 2 is actually boring and it's conversation wheel is actually limiting options to player.
Method 1: sales. Mass Effect 2 sold less then number one and that one didn't so hot. Also both suffer from the traditional "hype-spike" syndrome indicating no appeal to a wider audience thus signalling that the game as a game must be broken.
Method 2: Using analysis methods from Behaviorology (Lawrence E. Fraley, Behaviorology: the natural science of Human Behavior), which is a Natural Science closely linked with Biology and Neurology. The explanation goes as follows: when people in general play games, their brains go into "game-mode", activating taught contingencies that is inherent to playing games: player control, player growth and player authorship.
Player control consists of the player need to have control within the game based on the mechanics of the game. Anything that breaks this control will become a negative reinforcer towards playing the game. Mass Effect 2 is full of this and even divides player control in such a way that the entire experience is inconsistent and incohesive. This is done by the repeating actions of "get on ship, get missions, do mission, get on ship". From a developer perspective this is handy, it streamlines design of the levels. But the player doesn't care about that stuff, they want a fulfilling experience (customer perspective always trumps developer perspective). Also the adding of cutscenes in the middle of "experienced gameplay" takes away player control. All in all, this makes the game very boring for the average core-gamer.
Player growth is something Mass Effect does to a certain extent but very superficial. Biggest bump in the road here is its cover-based shooting system. This system doesn't leave much room to learn new skills compared to the older more arcade-ish shootergames (including Modern Warfare 2 in certain extent). Simple mechanics that create many possibilities creates player growth trough improving skills and that works as a positive reinforcer, also the giving of more possibilities as the game progresses (Diablo 2 and WoW are great examples in this regard). Mass Effect 2 doesn't do this but actually piles on new mechanics (shallowy worked out) in hopes to distract the player long enough. Here's a hint Bioware: No we do not find scanning planets fun!
The biggest violation Mass Effect 2 does is in Player Authorship. The more Narratologic and artistic inclined ones will probably deny it but scientifically speaking, any type of story creating happens within the players brain. The game just sends out signals that the human body can pick up trough its senses and the processes those on the basis of it's genetic base and its thaught contingencies which is then transformed into cognitive patterns for communication purposes. That final end product is what we call story and was formed by the player, not the author.
The moral choice mechanic is actually a badly designed mechanic that only allows two options with actual benefit. Also the story options are far too limited. People can easily see that their not choosing something but are just selecting between the author's imposed narrative choice number 1 or 2. this goes against thousands of years of passed trough play-behavior where children are allowed to do whatever they want. Have cowboys with lasers? no problem! There's a reason why Animal Crossing DS or The Sims sold over 10 millions copies and this game didn't. This last bit is a big reason why.
In short, Mass Effect 2 actually has a lot going to discourage players of finishing the game. Now before someone goes on a tirade and say they love the game and so forth. What I just postulated applies to the 80% other types of gamers out there who's expectation and value scale haven't moved more to story-elements and production values to maintain a sense of "gamer" identity. And if you're on this site...you are doing that (I know, I finished Mass Effect 2 and found if after 4 missions a very nicely put technical game but boring as hell).