Tuesday, August 24, 2010

There's always time for crisis.

Last week my very first friend in the whole world was visiting from out of town. I drove into the city to hang out for a few ours before his whirlwind tour of the area carried him away. After lunch he suggested we go to an arcade. While I love games, arcades aren't usually my thing, but I didn't have a better idea and he was paying. I'm glad we went because I had a lot of fun. More fun than I expected, especially from a couple of arcade classics.

The first of these was Time Crisis 3. I have played many games in this series and always loved them. They are squarely in the shooting gallery or rail shooter category, in which a large plastic gun is used as the controller to shoot enemies that appear on the screen while the player's perspective moves (on rails) through a preset sequence of scenes. The creators of Time Crisis gave it a huge upgrade compared to other games in the category: the foot pedal. The foot pedal is used to pop out from hiding. While your foot is off the pedal you hide behind a barrel or around the corner. When you press the pedal your view shifts and you can see the action - but can also get shot by the enemies. This very simple function added a depth and excitement to the shooting gallery genre that takes it to a new level.

What is so special about it? What does the ability to hide bring to this type of game? There are several pieces to it. First, a feeling of safety. Until Time Crisis, rail shooter games could give you a rest, but only on their terms. If you wanted a second of pause in the middle of a level, you couldn't get it. In Time Crisis you simply release the pedal and are free to catch your breath.

Releasing the pedal also allows you to dodge a bullet. In other games if a bullet, knife, or grenade is coming directly toward you the only thing you can do is shoot it down. This is not ideal because the task of shooting down the rocket relies on the same skills that you failed to kill the rocket launching enemy with just a few seconds ago. If you are a mediocre player and you couldn't hit the enemy you're equally likely to miss the rocket. If you are a good player who hit a bad 3 seconds of play you also aren't likely to regain control while shooting down the rocket. Taking your foot off the pedal is an entirely different action, and one that you might be better at - or at least that tests a different skill. Layering these two activities makes for a more varied experience that challenges the player in more than one way while simultaneously providing the escape mechanic.

The pedal also brings greater engagement. Have you ever jerked your hands around while holding a controller and playing Super Mario Brothers? Have you seen someone do this? You get so involved that you unconsciously move with the character on the screen. The Time Crisis pedal brings this to a new level. The visual on the screen moves when you use the pedal, suddenly jerking your perspective around the corner. I move a lot when I play this game, dodging every bullet as I lift my foot. The game is much more fun because you feel like you're actually there, poking around the corner to deliver a furious flurry of bullets and zooming back to take cover from incoming fire.

The design of the pedal interface gives us three interesting considerations:

  • Testing two skills instead of just one in a fast action genre can both deepen gameplay and balance the pressure on medium and low-skill players.
  • Try putting the player under time pressure to complete a task but give them a little control over the breaks in the action.
  • When the perspective and game action match the players physical reactions engagement can be taken to a new depth.

I'll leave the second game we had fun with for another time.

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