It’s funny how as a long time gamer, I sometimes take things for granted. As a game designer, that’s probably not the best habit.
I was having a conversation about Darksiders with some coworkers over lunch the other day. I’ve been enjoying the game, it being a seamless blend of Zelda, Metroid Prime, and God of War, despite the obvious cribs from those games. One person though, having never played a Zelda or Metroid Prime game, wasn’t enjoying it at all.
She wasn’t enjoying it, because she was being exposed to the dungeon gameplay for the first time. Since the Zelda and Metroid Prime games are based on a lot of backtracking and puzzle solving, I am well versed in the experience, having formed all the patterns necessary to recognize what is often required to solve a given environmental puzzle.
But since she hadn’t formed those patterns, lets break down what she was actually faced with.
1. The player enters an area, and the path splits in multiple directions.
2. The player picks a direction arbitrary.
3. The player eventually comes to a dead end, either blocked by a locked door, or a puzzle which may require something from outside the room to complete.
Now, this is where things break down. Coming to a dead end is not all that common in modern games. In general, games are often built to continue funneling the player towards the goal, with as little issue as possible. Or, in the case of a more open world game, they are often built to let you know exactly where the next step is. If we’re talking environmental puzzles, most of the modern games like God of War give you everything you need to solve the puzzle in the room itself.
So now the player is stuck backtracking aimlessly, not knowing where to go, and not knowing what is needed to solve a puzzle.
The difference, of course, is that when I get to a place where I can’t progress, and recognize the obstacle, I know implicitly due to previous games, that elsewhere in the dungeon is the upgrade I need to deal with it.
Contrast this with not having that knowledge. The ice barriers alone would frustrate me. I would likely spend a chunk of time using all the moves I currently have against it, as the natural thing would be to assume there’s a way to break it in my currently available move set.
Modern games often take steps to make sure you don’t encounter a puzzle before you have the tools to solve it. This is likely a good step forward for accessibility, but it does tie the hands of developers with respect to how much complexity you can put in to dungeon design.
It raises the question though, if new gamers don’t fare well with old dungeon design, then are most Nintendo gamers who enjoy modern Zelda/Metroid games people who’ve been playing them for 20 years exclusively?