Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Developing Thoughts 10

Another in the series. Though this one may be less than topical now, I'm still reproducing it for completeness' sake.

Secret Panels

I was reading a weblog posting that made the claim of scripting weaknesses in some aspects of Doom 3. It struck me that, from the description, the underlying problem wasn’t the scripting but the design behind it. A person can only script what’s been designed, after all.

The issue the weblog picked up on centres on secret panels. The ones that open after the player has passed them by, revealing – usually by shooting you in the back – that monsters have suddenly appeared in the corridor behind you.

Now I’ve always had this problem with secret panels in general because, even in the most fantastical of settings, I can rarely see the justification for their existence. The more realistic the setting, the more any justification struggles to gain ground.

Okay, in a fantasy setting, when the players get to the heart of the castle they may find a secret panel behind the king’s throne that hides something very precious, but you wouldn’t expect to find such panels spread all through the castle. Would you?

What I want to know is, did the panels exist before the world/castle/high-tech base was populated with monsters? If so, what was the reason for their existence? Could a person never trust their colleagues and so must use them to store belongings? What’s wrong with good old-fashioned locks?

Perhaps I’m looking for my answers in the wrong place and the base has been subject to the whims of a television home-improvement, makeover programme:

“You know what would go really well in here? A secret panel. I know what you’re thinking, that they’re a little passé, but just imagine the tricks you can play on your colleagues on a Monday morning. You dress up in the rubber costume from the fancy-dress shop and hide behind the secret panel waiting for them to arrive...”

But what really gets me smiling to myself is the thought of putting the monsters behind the secret panels. Presumably there was someone with a big evil plan that felt it was a good idea, making sure there was no food or water so they’d be good and angry when you triggered their appearance:

“Just hide in there, will you please?”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes you do. I’m the arch villain, sorry, antagonist – it says in my contract, you know – so you have to do what I tell you.”
“It’s always me. Why not one of the others?”
“The others don’t have your flair for terrifying the crap out of unsuspecting, gun-toting, space marines.”
“I bet you say that to all the monsters.”
“Only the ugly ones.”
“Oh, you...”
“Come on, I haven’t got all day, you know.”
“But I’m claustrophobic and this is such a small space...”
“For heaven’s sake, you’re a goddamn monster!”
“Oooh! So now you’re saying that we don’t have normal rights and feelings?”
“That’s all I need, a sulking monster. GET BEHIND THE PANEL!”
“Okay, I may have been a little harsh, there. Now, will you please take my head out of your mouth...?”

© Steve Ince, 2004



Anonymous Peter Brooks said...

Having recently replayed Doom 3, I'm not sure really to be for or against the secret panel's, I'd say the blogger should more concentrate on the other issue about bad design of 'Let's chuck everything at the player'. An Iterator of objects doesn't give you content (in programming concepts) but for gameplay aspects it's a path that Doom 3 and Far Cry followed down, it's awful lazy design.
The secret panels are ok'ish though, but maybe we need stuff except panels or to create a new path to unearth them.

Remember Martian Buddy is your friend!

12:40 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Although I've made light of this because of the thoughts it conjours in my mind, the kind of design thinking that uses secret panels in this way (or the sudden appearance of any monsters triggered by the player's position) suggests a lack of background or world logic.

If the world isn't thought through properly, the likelihood is that the player won't feel fully immersed because there are elements that don't sit properly in the mind, even subconsciously. If you think, even slightly, about how monsters got there or why something happened, the setup is failing.

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