Friday, December 6, 2013

Remove the Safety Glass

A common convention used in video games (most often in FPS games) is to temporarily separate the player from another character or characters using unbreakable "safety glass." While separated, a dramatic event usually takes place (such as two characters fighting to the death) and the player is left a helpless spectator. This scenario is sometimes considered preferable to an in-game cutscene but the only advantage is an arguable increase in "immersion."

If a game designer decides to employ the safety glass technique she has probably done so for two main reasons. One reason is that it is much easier to construct a non-interactive sequence. The sequence will always play out the same way without any variables. The other reason to use safety glass is that if the player has an unobstructed line of sight to another character (who is doing anything interesting) the player is likely to shoot them. And good players will shoot them in the face.

This is a very practical approach to game design but it exposes problems on both the development side and the player's side.

The problem for players is that they have been conditioned to shoot anything that moves unless their reticule turns green or their gun automatically lowers itself. This is a sad, sad standard. Luckily, lots of games have challenged this trend, but they are still the exception.

The problem for developers is that ever increasing performance power demands higher and higher levels of spectacle. Instead of creating deeper experiences we are spending our time making more expensive explosions. We are making dumber, more expensive games.

There are many reasons why we are in the state that we are in. The good news is that there are lots of new, creative games being developed (especially in the indie realm) that challenge the standards we've trapped ourselves with.

So, game designers, the next time you find yourself roughing out a safety glass scenario, please stop and think. Why are you doing this? What could happen if you removed the safety glass? It's going to make things more difficult, that's for sure. But maybe something great will happen, for you and your players.