April 1, 2009

Game Mechanics as Fun as Cheating

What is it about cheating at games that appeals to people so much? Having more information at your disposal than the competition? The feeling of complete confidence and indestructibility? The satisfaction of ruining somebody else's plans?

In many cases I think the pleasures of cheating are similar, or even identical to, the pleasures of being very good at the game. The fun of cheating is a surrogate for the fun of being skilled, presumably for players who would not be able to enjoy those feelings unaided.

I wrote yesterday about including cheat-like mechanics in your games as a method of neutralizing cheating players. Writing that post and reading some more about cheaters also reminded me of how those features that impersonate cheats can give players a rush of satisfaction in the same way that cheating would.

NetBat HUD (Battlefield 2142)

Battlefield 2142, much like Natural Selection, includes an elaborate HUD system which players can use to mark enemies, revealing them to their friends through walls or any other obstacle.

BF's is quite a bit more elaborate than NS's, and also ties into the map and minimap heavily. Several different abilities and unlocks provide players with different ways to get more information that they would normally have. These features do a lot to encourage teamwork, but they're also just very satisfying.

If a team activates a UAV scan, that team's players can temporarily see nearby enemies as red dots on their minimaps:

One of the central themes in 2142 is that of information as power, and the designers have found many different ways to give players the powerful feeling of temporary omniscience.

Flashbang (Various Shooters)

Some of my favorite weapons in online shooters are Flashbangs and Concussion Grenades. A perfectly thrown flashbang blinds its target and gives its owner a window of huge advantage over their enemy. A badly thrown flashbang can completely backfire, blinding the player who threw it and getting them killed.

In games with flashbangs, players learn to recognize the sound of an incoming flashbang and dive for cover. It's a great moment of terror that I always love.

Ubercharge (Team Fortress 2)

When I heard that Team Fortress 2 would be introducing a form of invulnerability to the game, I was really worried. It's exactly the kind of feature that can cancel out skill and become way too powerful. Ultimately, Ubers achieved Valve's stated goal of being a great stalemate breaker, and now that they've added more counters to them, they feel like just another interesting game mechanic.

Rushing into a fight as a near-unstoppable killing machine can be incredibly fun. It allows less-skilled players to have a moment of glory, it brings rounds to a close sooner, and it more or less completely won me over.

Don't forget to provide counters

The reason I like all of these examples is that each of them can be counteracted to some degree:
  • In 2142, players can disable the enemy's UAV emitter, choose to deploy their own UAV simultaneously, or to shoot down the enemy's UAV as it circles above.
  • In TF2, Ubered enemies can now be separated with a Compression Blast or stunned with the Sandman's baseball.
  • Flashbangs in shooters can often be seen coming, looked away from, or otherwise avoided. If the player who is assumed to be blind can actually see perfectly, the tables are turned on the flashbang's owner, who is now likely to be playing carelessly. Blinded players still also have a chance to get a lucky kill, for extra bragging rights.
I really believe in counters for almost everything in games, even if they're very hard to take advantage of. For example, if WoW's Paladin bubble had a .5 second cast time that could be interrupted, or only absorbed a set amount of damage before disappearing, it would also be on this list. Powerful abilities that can't be prevented or countered tend to be frustrating at best.

That may be a particular bias of mine, though, as I believe that all game mechanics should specifically encourage gameplay, and helplessness doesn't make for enjoyable gameplay.


Aaron Miller said...

In CoD4, you can't actively disable enemy UAVs, but you can choose UAV Jammer as one of your character's Perks. All of my characters use the UAV Jammer, but I've been surprised to find that most people choose something else for that Perk slot (Stopping Power, I'd guess).

I'm generally a reckless player. It surprises me that more cautious players favor increased damage over the element of surprise.

As for flashbangs, I've never heard them in a game. It might be possible to recognize them in mid-air in CoD4, but I've never developed that talent. In any case, I'm definitely a fan of mechanics which give players a second to consider their impending doom. That's one of the great things about Halo's sticky grenade... and the AI is designed to react as a player would.

"Aahhh!!" *BOOM*

Mike Darga said...

Everyone keeps telling me how amazing CoD4 is. I really need to check it out. I think it might satisfy the itch that I used to go to Battlefield for, though I would miss the vehicles.