Sunday, January 4, 2009

Game Design Notes:Castlevania Order of Ecclesia - Discrete Dungeons

The new Castlevania(Order of Ecclesia) now has a world map instead of the giant sprawling single castle -- a first for the descendants of Symphony of the Night. This is a big departure and is, as I see it, part of a larger movement.

Having played only a few hours of Ecclesia, There are some problems, but they're not as bad as I thought they'd be. For example, playing the same section feels a little more monotonous this way. This, however, is my own dementia I think and not a wider issue. I thought that I was going to be dissapointed with It's still really hard to get to certain places, and the individual chunks are still about as big as the distinct different parts of the castle, it's just way easier to get to them. In general, the advantages outweigh the bad.

Some of the benefits are obvious. First, it's easier to get everywhere, which I was skeptical about at first but now consider to be a complete win. From a game design standpoint, it makes it much easier to vary up the world as well. Fitting everything onto 1 map is a huge design constraint that this game just doesn't have to deal with.

There are, however, two BIG wins. First, you ALWAYS know where you're supposed to go next. Metroidvania games have in general suffered from at least one or two moments of game where you have to scratch your head and try to remember where, "mist could pass," after you get the ability to turn into mist. Some of these are good -- special weapons etc. reward players who remember all these little places. However, gating the main progress of the game with these is another matter entirely. The new design lets them put in special areas you can access with special powers without making overall game progress require you to routinely search the castle for places you might have missed.

The second big win is that successes come in smaller packages now. Previous castlevania games, and most video games for that matter, have put the boss at the end of the level in order to give the player a sense of accomplishment. Several Ecclesia bosses are at the BEGINNING of the level. This gives the player something to overcome right off the bat that gives them the juice to play through the rest of the level. After all, the boss doesn't need to be at the end if getting to the end is all the sudden its own little accomplishment.

Order of Ecclesia is not the only game to make the break towards bite-sized game play. I've already mentioned how the new Prince of Persia has an open world style, and how the sections of that open world are all bite-sized challenges. Persona 4 has done something similary, taking the single tower dungeon and broken it up into several smaller dungeons -- moving from Nethack to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. It's a trend that started back sometime around the original Mario 64, and has, I think, grown as games have become more mainstream. By parcelling out wins this way the games remove the need for a certain delay of gratification on the part of the player and, I think, is part of the same trend that is making games easier as a whole. Is it good for games and gamers? Maybe. But no matter what I think, it's the direction the industry as a whole is going and is worth paying attention to.

No comments: