Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mission the Point.

Along with Z.H.P. I got another game for Christmas I had neglected until a few weeks ago. Namely Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. There are many things I probably could discuss about the game, Like how I am kind of disappointed it lacked Metal Gear Solid 3's stamina and wounds systems, how the story line is actually rather neat, but having advanced AI in the 70's is a bit silly. Overall I would say it's a solid game, and quite fun, if a little frustrating for me cause I always insist on 0 kills and almost always 0 alerts. I like the recruitment and research aspect a lot.

But one design choice I find extremely questionable is it's use of missions. It isn't just in this game either, there are a number of games that use the mission structure, Notably the Grand Theft Auto series and it's clones. Today I was re-playing Children of Mana to see if it is as dull as I remember (the answer is: almost), and noticed it also had missions (though they are more like side-dungeons to be honest). Elona and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon were also heavily mission based. I am also reminded of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and the Monster Hunter series, which also use a similar structure. And in each instance this mission structure (or quest structure if you prefer) has really brought down the game.

Now I think it's important to divide missions into a few categories. First we have missions that are entirely in the background as little notes in your journal or other mission list. You just are told to go somewhere or do something out in the world and leaves you to do it. Then we have timed or exclusive missions which take all of your attention but still give you a goal and leave how to do it up to you. Lastly, there are the missions that restrict your movement to a small part of a open map and force you to complete a objective before you can leave (Elona has all three types, but thats not really important).

The problem here, at least for me, is that missions are used more to constrict the gameplay then to enhance it. Although missions can be randomized in some of the details (such as the person who gives it to you, your reward, what type of monster to kill, what item to get or deliver, and so on), mission based games still have the same tasks repeated over and over again. But more then that, they basically force you to do them in order to progress, or at least in order to get descent stuff. Other games, such as the Grant Theft Auto series, force you to play though mostly closed, boring, and stupid story missions in order to unlock most of the interesting and fun parts of the open world gameplay. But the worse offense is games like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and others (I think Monster Hunter if I remember right), that basically take a open world, chop it into bits, and only let you visit parts of it if your on a mission there.

It just annoys me that, for example, you have to choose to accept rescue fetch missions in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, of which you can only have 4-6 or so, before you go to a dungeon and find a person to rescue or item to get. Why can't they just be there anyway? That way you never would have to choose between missions. Or in a Grand Theft Auto game how you need to go back and do story mission after story mission to progress the plot. Why can't you just uncover it as you explore, and let you do objectives on your own without needing to go back to a glowing circle for a mission (not that anyone cares about the Grand Theft Auto series sorry excuse for a plot)? Or in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker where you do missions and go back to base to get a score and you usually get sent back to where you left off in the plot next mission. Why can't it just be like the other games where you can explore the world only with evacuation points to go back to base at any time and score based on completeness or your actions instead of time (or at least time between major story events)? That also reminds me that I was somewhat disappointed you couldn't actually explore your home base and talk to people face to face in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, but eh.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I just don't want side missions, story missions, and normal gameplay to be separate, and I don't want to be put in a world thats obviously open but I can't explore because thats not my current task. I know it's hard to do in some games. Elona for example relies so much on missions that it's almost impossible to imagine it without them. But I think Elona is mainly like that because it's world and NPCs are so utterly generic and it's gameplay is so grind-heavy and unfocused, that random missions are one of the only ways to fill the void.

Part of the problem is probably simply scope. When you have large open worlds, you tend to lose the details. The tendency is to make up for it by adding more things to do which don't actually relate as much to the rest of the game, and to spread out or randomize content. The problem is, this doesn't really work. Nethack is fun because it's so tense and eventful. You have to be careful what you do and there is danger everywhere. It's also fun because the stuff you can do with items is so clever and well thought out. Elona is not as fun despite being more or less the same type of game because it removes a good deal of the focus and detail.

But I think a large scoped game CAN be just as detailed and focused as a smaller scoped game. A good example is Dwarf Fortress, at least in fortress mode, and probably in adventure mode too if you pay attention to all the little things, like character descriptions, relations, history, etc. Of course adventure mode offers missions too, but at least you can learn more about the task and it isn't really random or out of no where. When you are assigned to kill a dragon, you can be assured that dragon is a preexisting character with a history and a reason for being targeted. In a dragon's treasure hoard you can find loot that was made by people it raided in the past, usually engraved with records and history. And this is all different every time you make a world. Not that I expect games to have that kind of detail or complexity or anything like that, I just wish side quests had a impact and a more detailed reasoning, and that the things you did would be important and possibly rewarded regardless of if you knew there was a particular mission or quest to do them. Of course there is nothing wrong with something like Minecraft where there really is no task outside of whatever you want to do, though I do like Dwarf Fortress's fortress mode more because you need to manage the whole simulation aspect of the game, but both are really similar in the aspect of creation.

And if it's a heavily story-based game you want, your better off doing something like the Final Fantasy series where you go from place to place following a series of short plot bits and towns between boss battles and/or dungeons. Sure it's linear, but there can still be branching plots, side-paths, and optional areas without having to go back to town and find a ever growing checklist of things to do just because you need some more filler. Games have enough filler as it is.

I guess it's better then being stuck not knowing what to do to get on with the game, or just having all you ever do be fighting to the next bit without any interesting variation at all, but if thats what your game is without missions, you need to redesign the game anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment