Game Development Reference
That was more than a decade ago. But the crates haven't gone away.
Why? Have we learned nothing? No, it's not because game designers are
all fools. The reason that crates and other such clichés appear over and
over is that they cleanly justify good mechanics.
For example, I once designed a shooter level set in an old-timey theater,
with rows of chairs facing a stage at the front. Upon playtesting, I noticed
players were becoming frustrated due to enemy snipers. The theater was so
open that players would get a bullet in the brain the moment they peeked
out from cover. The theater's fictional design made perfect sense, but its
mechanics didn't. To be balanced against snipers, it needed a minivan-
sized object in the middle of the audience to block the snipers' sightlines.
Faced with that kind of problem, under story and time constraints, there
aren't any easy answers. So I did what I had to. I hung my head in shame
and put a couple of crates in the middle of the theater. People mocked the
crates, and deservedly so. But the fight worked.
Almost all game fiction clichés are similarly mechanics-driven. A
player character with amnesia justifies other characters explaining ob-
vious things about the world. Player characters are often super-soldiers
because it's hard to make shooter enemies who are entertaining to fight
for more than a few seconds. When enemies last five seconds before death,
the game has to throw hundreds or thousands of them at the player over
the course of the game. A super-soldier player character can justifiably
defeat battalions of enemies alone. And these enemies never have complex
emotions because fear and remorse are fuzzy, unpredictable, and hard
to represent. Games are simpler and more mechanically elegant when
everyone mindlessly fights to the death.
Consider one basic game design cliché: physical violence. So many
games are about physical conflict. It can be tiring. I once tried to break
out of this pattern with a real-time strategy game called Player League .
The player controlled a team of pickup artists in a nightclub. The goal was
to pick up more chicks than the opposing teams of players. This meant
blocking them out of conversations, promoting yourself in various ways,
and using neutral characters to your advantage.
The game did not work. A chief reason the design failed was because
there was no clear way to express most of what was going on. Every game
event was a human interaction, causing one person to feel one of several
possible emotions toward another. A simple camera view of what was
going on would show nothing—just people talking. I couldn't very well
give the text of their speech because these events could happen hundreds
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