I own an XBOX 360, but only play a handful of games. Most games I’ve tried these last years are so annoying in their UX/gameplay, that despite amazing graphics they are a chore to play. Since I don’t like chores I refuse, no matter what reviews, sales or friends say. That is, except for two: and one of them is Gears of War 2.
Oddly enough, I don’t play the core game – I gave up on the single player campaign halfway through (I was bored, which happens to me often in video games). However I do frequently play a wonderful mode of the game called Horde.
Horde puts you on the same team with friends, and you must work together to fight off wave after wave of bad guys. The teamwork aspect is one of my favorite things (I enjoy deathmatch type games, but I’d rather work with my friends, rather than kill them), as tactics and communication are a big part of the game (which led me to write Management lessons from Gears of War).
I don’t know anyone at Epic (which has a refreshingly simple website), and have no evidence anyone there follows me on RSS. But I hope the wonders of the web might help this little wish list on it’s way towards someone who does.
And in my magic fantasy land those Epic folks don’t get tons of ridiculous wish lists from throngs of fans, and are just sitting around today with no actual work to do waiting for a thoughtful wishlist like mine to arrive.
- Do not fuck with horde (please?). You made something great here. It’s is one of the few multi-player creations that exists that’s co-operative for a team of up to 5, has excellent gameplay mechanics, and is geared (haha) towards long sustained evenings of playing with the same group of people. If you fundamentally mess with the formula, please always provide a classic version.
- Host migration: Call of Duty 4 has the best multi-player setup experience I’ve seen. It’s remarkable for being smooth, fast, predictable, and most of all, reliable. In most games this part of the experience is neglected, as users are forced to deal with it to play, but COD4 is a high watermark. Specifically, they handle host migration fantastically well: In COD4 if the host quits the game or their web connection dies, the host role gets migrated to another player’s machine and the game continues. In GOW2, the game ends. Allowing players to start horde on any level is a nice work around, which I’m grateful for, but doesn’t help much in other modes.
- Faster matchmaking – or at least better UI that explains what the hell is taking so long. A basic UI principle is that of awareness. When waiting for matches I have no faith “Searching” actually means anything – I’m left wondering if the problem is no one is online, my net connection is bad, if the epic servers are down, or something else. That spinning animation is etched in my brain, as I’ve stared at it hopefully for many precious minutes of my life.
- Allow players to join in to horde games at any time. With GOW2 we have to quit, invite, and restart to bring players in. Horde can go long, and players sometimes need to leave, leaving a hole on the our team.
- Left For Dead is has the high bar for in-game management experience. You can vote to change maps, change difficulty (mid-game!), pause the game, and let the computer play for you so you can go to the bathroom (and not make your teammates wait for you), all done from within the game while it’s playing. They did a fantastic job. They recognized the major annoyances of multi-player games and eliminated them. It’s just a shame Left For Dead isn’t less repetitive to actually play.
- Allow for autoplayer in horde, so players can step away from the game to go the bathroom without ruining things for team, or if someone’s net connection drops you aren’t hosed. It doesn’t have to be Stephen Hawking smart, but it does have to do something other than stand around like an idiot waiting to die.
I’m happy to have interesting kinds of difficulty in a game. But if something is frustrating, and goes against the gameplay model as designed, it’s a glitch, or a bug, or a defect. It’s entirely uninteresting to fight with a game’s own design to play it (which is a frequent occurrence). In real life, when I lose at chess, it’s my fault as the user experience is simple and predictable. But if I try to move my knight, and it crumbles in my hand, or explodes, or doesn’t fit in the squares the rules say are available, I blame the game.
- Stop making me hide behind things while I’m fleeing for my life. The UX for taking cover has some rough corners. When running away, a common part of the game, sometimes players accidentally collide with objects and “hide” despite the fact the bad guys are behind you, which usually makes you dead. This is bad. The core game design is to hide, I get that, but there are rough edges in panic/flee situations.
- Make saving wounded players under fire more predictable. One of the most fun aspects of the game is how you can rescue teammates when they’re wounded, racing across the battlefield, while dodging bullets, your teammates cheering you on, to save them. But there are reproducible situations where when enough bad guys are around, the X button appears (the button to save them), but doesn’t work. In other cases, you can be standing right over them, but there is no X button. If tagging out isn’t allowed in close quarters, that’s fine – then put up a glyph up for that. But don’t make me think it’s my fault my buddy dies if it isn’t.
- Make it easier/faster to drop weapons, especially when trying to save a wounded teammate. It’s reasonable how hard it is to move with Mortars and Grinders (machine guns) as they are heavy weapons, but dropping them should be something that can be done instantly. In close quarters it seems the control (switching weapons to indicate dropping the heavy one) can be unresponsive, which means the weapon doesn’t drop, your friend doesn’t get saved, and some cases a cascade of mistakes follows, and everyone dies.
- Make mystery time between waves less mysterious. Having weapons and shields disappear between waves is fine and adds resource management to team challenges. But a countdown timer or some indicator of how much time left seems fair, given it’s impossible to know if you have time to drop your shield to grab that grinder gun. In the current design it’s possible to lose both weapons if you try to switch, but overestimate how much time remains. I don’t mind magical disappearing things, provided it’s predictably and transparently magical.
- Disappearing shields and invisible weapons. Half the strategy of higher levels is killing bad guys in the right order so you can use their gear. But killing Maulers, who carry shields, sometimes results in their shields mysteriously disappearing. The opposite problem is when a shield is placed in the ground, and an extra weapon lands near it. It’s impossible to get that weapon, as all you get is the option to pick up the shield. So you have to pick up the shield, move it, drop it, and then go back and pick up the weapon.
True Wish List (Things beyond basic UX issues):
- Scoring that reflects co-operation. In higher levels a key role is “shield boy” (aka “rodeo clown”). Someone often has to get up in front and hold bad guys back, but they get zero points for this activity. The only points earned for co-operation are tagging out players, but it’s a pittance (50 pts). It’s a team game and like +/- stats in basketball, there should be ways to score points without being great at killing the bad guys. I’d like to avoid the pinball like scoring in Call of Duty, but some reward each round for the player who did the co-operative things most likely to lead to survival deserves acknowledgment.
- Fun end of game reporting. No one ever sees the end of game scores – the game ends, and everyone bails. Another great detail of Left For Dead is the end of game info, which tells each player their shooting accuracy, their total points, the bad guys they killed the most, who died the most frequently, etc. Which is lots of fun to watch together. It’s fun, but also feedback on gameplay, suggesting how players need to improve, or what impact our tactics have or don’t have.
- Some basic rules for enemy spawning. We’ve spent a lot of time studying spawn points, and have determined there is a heuristic involving where the players are on the map. Our core strategy is to have a safe box (aka “the hidey-hole”), that we inspect and then form a perimeter around. But every now and then enemies spawn behind us, which is impossible given the laws of physics. These surprise attacks can be thrilling, but more often betray my sense of the rules of game. I’m not asking for an easier, or even more realistic game, only for some transparency in the spawning rules. Unless the bad guys have the power of teleportation at will, which could be interesting in limited doses, they shouldn’t magically appear in a room we’ve already swept. Or if that’s the rule, I’d at least like to know what it is.
- Variable size/paced waves (“The random attack”). Left for Dead has survival mode, which goes for long stretches without a break. This is interesting, in concept, but gets tiring quickly. It’s too brutal. But working the other way, in Horde there is room for more randomness – once every 5 or ten waves, could be an enemy SWAT team attack that occurs, or an extra weapons drop, or a boss-type enemy, something that doesn’t happen regularly that mixes up the fixed pacing of horde (which runs a similiar sequence of 10 waves again and again).
- Bonus wave. A specific idea for the above, is a bonus wave. 80s video arcade games, like Pac Man and Galaga, had bonus waves where the rules were different, every 5 or 10 waves. They did this to break up the rhythm and pace. It could be as simple as having a surplus ammo wave, where there were tons of ammo and weapons. Perhaps there’s a score bonus if all the ammo boxes are collected. Or a series of shields that must all be moved from one part of the map to another. These waves would be optional – no penalty for not participating. And the appearance of a bonus wave could be based on team performance in some way.
- Map editor for Horde mode. Every fan boy always wants a map editor for every game they play. But I don’t care about them – I basically only play one game, horde, so I only want a map editor for that. There are so many dimensions to gameplay in horde that could be extended and developed by maps of different size and design. I’m not sure in principle why a game company wouldn’t a community around the game to be able to make maps (but can imagine not wanting to spend money on the resources to make it possible and support it).