Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

Improperly Enforcing Different Skill Sets

Most games train the player in a specific set of skills, and more engaging games condition the player to utilize them effectively. Some games will at some point, enforce upon the player a facet of gameplay that requires a completely different set of skills. Now sometimes this is fun! But far too often (especially in beat 'em ups, where game structure often goes dangerously neglected) the newly required skill set is not properly introduced to the player, and there is a harsh expectation that they should learn it and succeed with it, sometimes in high-pressure situations.  What's worse is that sometimes the newly required skill set is far less engaging, or even contradictory, to the skills the player has been developing up to that point.

A skill set that gets enforced without proper introduction: I mentioned this in my Castlevania combat analysis; the final boss of the game casts an effect on the play space that mires the players approach. The player must utilize a mechanic they have become familiar with, in this case switching the character's "combat mode". They must match the character's color-coded mode to the color of the effect on the ground in order to not get knocked down and away from the boss. You can see it in this video if you'd like. The problem here is that this is completely foreign from the mechanic's traditional usage, and it is most definitely in a high-pressure situation. Even the high level player in that video awkwardly navigates the effect in order to get within striking distance again. The expectation set at this moment is very inappropriate and I personally found it incredibly jarring.

 A skill set that gets enforced that is less engaging than the primary skill set: real-time space battles in Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space. I simply find this gameplay way less interesting and engaging than the primary skill set of equipping items correctly while moving from node to node. Luckily for Weird Worlds, the primary skill set is not very complex in itself, so it's not very jarring when combat occurs. It's more so just demotivating because it simply isn't as fun and the game doesn't require the pacing break since it only takes 5 to 20 minutes to play.

A skill set that is contradictory to the primary skill set: pretty much every puzzle in every God Of War game. Solving spatial puzzles and engaging in real-time combat couldn't be further apart from each other in terms of brain function, and I find it very frustrating. Primarily because I play God Of War to fight and not to solve trite puzzles, but also because the gear shift is simply irritating. It's like trying to verbally articulate a complex concept when you're full of adrenaline. I completely understand why there are puzzles! It's the same reason there are cutscenes and scenery shifts and quick time events; for pacing. Breaking up combat is pivotal in a game that's intended to be played for more than a short while, but I simply feel like there's much more optimal distance between combat and other activities.

A straightforward example of a game (or in this case a series of games) that properly utilizes different skill sets is the Prince Of Persia series. Its primary skill set is platforming but it breaks up that activity with real time combat. These activities are different enough from each other to provide the much needed pacing shift but similar enough to each other that you're not engaging a completely different set of functions in order to progress. Don't get me wrong, I'm fascinated by the idea of hybrid games that involve different skill sets! I just think there needs to be more harmony.

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  • Scott Macmillan


    • Ha! Thanks, bro! Now any thoughts on these here musings? ;)

  • You are awesome in comments.
    I definitely agree with the sentiment here in general, and the Weird Worlds example specifically. The combat in that game is extremely difficult and completely unrelated to the rest of the game. I find it interesting though that you find puzzles in a combat game (GoW) jarring, while you seem to like the combat in a puzzle platformer (PoP). Is this because of some combat bias on your part?

    I think what’s really going on is that the combat in PoP is simple and pretty brainless, so it works well to break up the platforming. The puzzles in GoW on the other hand can be pretty tricky or obtuse, so they require that you engage your brain on the task. I think this is the same reason why the Weird Worlds combat is unfun – it’s difficult and takes a lot of concentration, despite not being the core mechanic. It’s also way too risky for the kind of reward involved. It only becomes fun late in a game when you significantly outgun enemy ships, so you can sit back and just watch the particles fly.

    • GoW puzzles aren’t really jarring as much as they are irritating and that’s absolutely due to a bias. Any game where the mainstay is compelling combat better keep me in that state of mind; I love the adrenaline and losing it (as opposed to thinning it out a bit with a similar but less intense activity) makes me grumpy.

      I don’t necessarily think PoP combat is brainless but I definitely see what you mean and essentially agree. I think the main reason it’s not jarring is because you remain in the play space, and it plays and resolves quickly and stylishly; the very expectation set by the rest of the game experience.

  • I just found your blog recently (through a twitter retweet), and I’m really interested in what you’re doing. I’ve been wanting to start a similar side project, so it’s great to see you coming along with this. I’m looking forward to playing more advanced builds!

    About this post, I have found myself considering introduction of skillsets in several games before. I think Bastion and the God of War games do a very good job of introducing the skills. Bastion’s skill challenges were great for showing off different features of the weapons (throwing melee weapons, aiming the bow through multiple enemies, etc), and the God of War games give you sets of enemies to test skills/weapons on when you receive them.

    On the flipside, I wish more of the deep action games gave more insight into what weapons work best against which enemies. With Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, and DMC games, I usually feel lost about which weapons to use when unless I really dig in and do some research. I’d like to see more of those games reinforce higher level play (or at least hint at it) within the game.

    • Glad you found us! Welcome. :)

      I totally agree with you on both points. A good introduction to a mechanic is critical to the enjoyment of most players. My girlbro and fellow craftsbro Erin actually brought up the same idea after reading the post and reference a conversation she once had with an old Rare designer who worked on Banjo Kazooie. It sounds like they were incredibly conscious of exactly when and how new mechanics and challenges were introduced, and when I look back on that era of Rare games, it’s obvious this was something they cared about. If you want to make the 90% of people who don’t want a challenge haphazardly thrust upon them feel good about progressing in your game, this is definitely something that should be labored over.

      And there’s little I want more than a formal introduction to that deep insight in action games. Why these games don’t have practice modes (some of them do but it’s never the very complex ones) is beyond me. I want to be able to sit in a room with an enemy or two that either won’t die (or alternatively, continually respawn) so that I can familiarize myself with the game’s nuances in a low pressure environment. I want to learn about my weapons, learn about the enemies, try out all my mechanics, and etc. This kind of feature would eliminate a lot of the boundaries found in the attempt to play at a high level.

  • Manuel Ruiz

    Game looks very good!! And ima a RUIZ!!!!