January 31, 2009

The power of fiction

(Or, the new Prince of Persia has everyone fooled)

It's very common for a game's fiction to provide context to a game's mechanics, or to guide the design of those mechanics to be more intuitive. Recently, I've seen that i can also affect people's perception of what those mechanics acutally are.

Since Prince of Persia came out, people have been raving, complaining, and generally fixating on the fact that the prince "can't die."

The thing is, there is a death mechanic in this game, and it works almost exactly in the same way it always has: the prince fails at a challenge, dies, and is transported back to his most recent checkpoint.

There is one important mechanical  difference in the new version, which is that the checkpoints are much closer together than they used to be, occurring more or less any time the prince isn't platforming. The distance between checkpoints gets much longer toward the end of the game, but at their worst they're orders of magnitude more frequent than they've been in previous games.

There is also one important fictional difference: when the prince dies, there is a short death cutscene that shows Elika's hand grabbing his hand, providing the fiction that she's saved him from death:

If that cutscene showed the prince's head exploding, and big red text saying YOU HAVE DIED, the game's new checkpoint mechanic would still be making the game much easier, but would people still be making such a big deal out of it?

That 2 second cutscene is probably the most powerful usage of fiction I've ever seen.


Lorpius Prime said...

This is an interesting perspective on the game mechanic, and not one that I've ever really thought of before.

However, I'm not sure that I can agree that all the people complaining about the lack of "death" in Prince of Persia are being fooled. If you care about the story of a game just as much as the gameplay, then the nature of the "fiction" it uses becomes important. Prince of Persia may use a very similar death/failure mechanic to other games, but it's still telling a *story* where the Prince *cannot* die, which affects its dramatic value.

Personally though, I do think it's a lot more fun than having big red letters appear to insult my gameplay skills before respawning me.

Mike Darga said...

That's true. I was mainly addressing the people who were discussing the mechanic from a difficulty point of view. It certainly is much better for morale.