Mental Momentum and the Dances

| Tuesday, December 6, 2011
I recently started playing Mirror's Edge in some ways it reminds me of raiding in WoW. There is often a single set of correct moves, with only slight variation. Though not always; I've sometimes surprised myself by finding new paths on the fly.

Here's the trailer from EA, which has game footage, so you have some context. The clip isn't perfect, since what it shows is a pretty linear path, as well as one where most of the movement points are highlighted. That's what all the red is: objectives, particularly points to jump or doors to get through, are highlighted red.

There are other levels which are around on themselves. in which you cannot clearly see where you are going next. Think of it like going into a boss fight blind. What do you do next? There's no good way to know, beside looking up the fight, of course. But that's cheating!

Mirror's Edge is a game of momentum. You will spend most of your time not just moving, but moving based on how you were before: a jump into a roll, straightening up for a jump and climb followed by a sprint for the speed to get over a bigger gap, halfway along which there may be a bar to grab and quickly release, using it just for a second to avoid plummeting to your death.

The result of that, and of course good level design, is that you don't need to know what is next. Instead it tends to be what makes sense. Not always, but in general I have not had to stop and stare around wondering what to do, nor do I need to reload to know what to do. It all flows.

Contrast this with raiding, in which nothing flows. Play and now stop. Phase two: play and now stop. Phase three: play and now stop. Even worse than the major interruptions of the phases are the special abilities, with the generic "boss is going to AoE, run away" being the easiest to picture. There is a flow to the DPS or tanking, with one ability coming after the other in a chain that you can learn and master and in my experience, it can feel pretty damn good to get a good run going. But then it's time to run away, and all the flow is gone. Start over again, interrupted, mentally disrupted.

This doesn't mean that a target switch is itself a problem. When tanking I loved steady streams of adds, for the flow of finding, targeting, grabbing, juggling the rest of the mobs meanwhile. It was a smooth process, uninterrupted by more adds because they were part of the process.

Some of this is due to the mix of challenge and practice. Long-learned practice can feel like intuition. The third add is dead? Well of course we all run to the other corner! This is an illusion. There is no logical process that says that "third add dead means we should stand over there", not unless we add another step of "third add dead which we know from previous attempts triggers phase two which starts with an AoE over the rest of the room". Going back to the clip, I've done that particular run, successfully, but less smoothly. I had stops here and there, interruptions, not because of any flaw in the level, but from my own lack of familiarity with the game. With more play I've gotten smoother. Though wall running still causes problems.

Can raiding be more intuitive? Can it have more flow, with one action logically following the other, not because of what we've been told to do, but from what we can figure out along the way? This would be much harder to design, but I'm sure it is possible.


Tesh said...

Of course it's possible. Beats me why more devs haven't tried. Maybe because gimmicks are easier to design than good flow?

Klepsacovic said...

I think it's that, but also that mtuli-player brings with it a whole lot of problems. Maybe I'm flowing, but someone else is just getting overwhelmed. In that case, the interruption of the phases is a way to start over again. But that's an argument for phase changes, not for the more frequent interruptions of boss abilities.

Post a Comment

Comments in posts older than 21 days will be moderated to prevent spam. Comments in posts younger than 21 days will be checked for ID.

Powered by Blogger.