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Author Topic: Bridging Generational Game Design: A Legend of Grimrock II Article  (Read 363 times)

Morrokain

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Article: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2020/03/09/legend-of-grimrock-still-brings-the-gaming-generations-together/

I came across this article today and I found it both touching and a really neat description of how people of different generations relate to game design and gaming as a whole. It doesn't strive for big answers or attempt to create catch-all definitions of these things, but rather brings them to light and touches upon how they shape what people do and do not enjoy about games new and old. Considering recent discussions in various threads about what is or isn't fun in a game, I thought it would be fun to share it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, Legend of Grimrock II is a dungeon crawler RPG inspired by 80's dungeon crawlers that came out ~8 years ago. I highly recommend it as I had a great time playing it and I've been pining for a Grimrock III ever since. Unfortunately the company broke up and went in different directions so the wait might be a while if not forever. :'(

If you plan on playing the game, there are some light spoilers in the article like puzzle archetypes and some monsters you will find. Nothing too earthshattering though.

One thing that I love about the article is that it brings up the 'nostalgia elephant' in the room. That is to say that nostalgia is a big factor in how we remember our favorite games and how we sometimes justify their dated flaws to ourselves even if they are painfully obvious to others who don't share our nostalgia. I think that is a huge point to make even if I don't think it's a bad thing. Fun is fun and having a different opinion of what is fun is both natural and healthy.

If anything, I'd say Grimrock II's triumph in bridging that gap is a testament to how well designed it truly is. I was born in 87, so I obviously couldn't possibly have the same experiences as anyone playing games at the time. Yet, somehow I didn't find anything dated about Grimrock II even if the features were nowhere near mainstream. In fact, I found it very refreshing and I was surprised at how excited I was to play it each day. If someone would have come up to me prior to that game and predicted that I would like a game where you press 'qweasd' to turn/move a single block tile in any direction and where slashing effects are a simple single stripe along a character portrait I probably would have laughed and said "you don't know what types of games I like" before going back to playing whatever MMO or RTS I was into at the time.

My takeaway is that good design can transcend time, nostalgia and mainstream trends alike. Discussion welcome! (Please keep it polite.)

*EDIT* Oh! I almost forgot! If you play the game, I recommend Old School mode that doesn't give you a map of any kind. Pen and paper mapping the entire game world as I explored it was quite honestly a BLAST and not the tedium I expected it to be! Maybe I'm an explorer at heart. ;D
« Last Edit: January 09, 2021, 08:25:54 PM by Morrokain »
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pairedeciseaux

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Re: Bridging Generational Game Design: A Legend of Grimrock II Article
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2021, 09:36:23 AM »

The article author sure is a good storyteller.

I have never played Legend of Grimrock 1 or 2, so can’t comment on it. But generally speaking I understand the appeal of dungeon crawlers.

There are things to be said about playing video games with friends and family as opposed to playing alone, and how doing so changes appreciation of games. Concerning the “nostalgia” points you made, is this case the player may have nostalgia for those moments with friends and/or family as much as nostalgia for the games themselves. Of course there is also nostalgia about memorable lonesome player experiences. In any cases, I guess, on a psychological level, gaming induced a set of emotional experiences in the past, and the player - moved by nostalgia - seeks to recreate those feelings.

I doubt there is such a thing as an absolute “good design”. A given design may resonate in different ways among different players. I would personally prefer to write “adequate design” and “coherent design” rather than “good design”, but even trying formulate it this way I have to acknowledge that not everybody would like the things I like anyway, even when I consider these things adequate and coherent. Let me take a specific example: Hollow Knight, which is a “metroidvania” kind of game.

In Hollow Knight, the player character explores a forgotten underground kingdom full of mysteries, and doing so learn about the world and the player character itself. In short the game has a strong exploration component and a strong combat component. The visual art is made of bold almost monochromatic drawings with greyish tones and often a misty mood that I find appropriate for the setting and various locations, so both adequate and coherent. The music is beautiful, and has a lot of melancholic tracks that, again, I find both adequate and coherent. I am only going to mention one gameplay element: when the player enters and starts exploring a new area, he has no map, he has to find it / buy it, which I find adequate and coherent because initial exploration of an unknown world without map is expected AFAIC and it also creates tension together with both hostile encounters down there and the save system. So the overall game design - through setting, locations, graphics, musics and gameplay, all scream together exploration of an unknown/forgotten world.

Why am I using this example? Well, while I find the Hollow Knight game design both adequate and coherent, and while I personally enjoy the overall package and all separate aspects of the game I mentioned above, at the same time I acknowledge that some people might not share the same enjoyment. Some people may not like the graphics and find them just “dull”. Some people may have preferred different kind of music. Some people may prefer to … uhhh … explore while having a complete map beforehand. And so on.

From the same author : https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2017/03/02/hollow-knight-review/

(be sure to have a look at the comments for a bit of fun or… simply travel back to reality as perceived by those who enjoyed the game)

See?

So my conclusion is that game creators should do what they want to do using adequate solutions artistic-wise, gameplay-wise, story-wise and writing-wise, while ideally maintaining coherency among those things. And hopefully this is going to be perceived as right by the majority of their player base, but realistically it will never be 100% success because some players will consider part (or all) of the design bad anyway. In other words: you can’t please everybody. Oh, and, one should only read opinions with the mandatory grain of salt. Even writings from professional video game journalists, because, after all, they are just human beings like others with tons of subjectivity and bias, acknowledged or not.

In some instance, the game designer may leave choice to the player rather than forcing one game design paradigm (your Old School mode option example). But it’s impossible to do that for everything in a game, the game designer has to make choices, adequate and coherent choices.

(please note, I used the words “adequate” and “coherent” several times, while I meant “subjectively a perfect match” in some instance)
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Morrokain

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Re: Bridging Generational Game Design: A Legend of Grimrock II Article
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2021, 04:17:17 PM »

Oh cool thanks for linking that article! They mentioned this particular one in the comments of the article I linked and I agree that this is a nice juxtaposition to contrast two takes by the same person on what is essentially the exact same situation. The only arguable thing that Grimrock II does to stand out in the genre is that a fair portion of it takes place outside. That was honestly a large part of its appeal and one of the reasons I haven't played the first Grimrock - which was all dungeon all the time.

The response from the comments really points out how different people can enjoy and be frustrated by the same mechanic. The talk of backtracking being annoying vs sort of a puzzle to solve is a concise example. So too is the idea that not having a map before finding one is annoying vs a feature.

Speaking of, one comment that the author made is weird to me and relates to my take on Grimrock II: "Maps are tricky enough here, with new zones not possible to even map as you explore them – you have to buy or find a pre-created map to even bring up the map screen for an area, and then fill in the dotted lines of where you’ve yet to explore. Quite why your character can’t know that they just walked down a path and went left I’m not sure, but that’s how it is."

My counter is that your character is only as "knowing" as you are, so what the author is actually saying is that he either doesn't want to or is incapable of maintaining that knowledge himself, so he wants the game to do it for him because he can't be bothered to. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but to essentially say that it's silly conceptually is patently wrong imo. It's really just a matter of taste and the player's mindset going into the game. As an example, I enjoyed no map in Grimrock II. I would not enjoy that in some other games though none specifically come to mind at the moment. So I am my own walking contradiction there. :D I do agree that having those sorts of inflammatory features as customization options is great when it can happen. I also agree that you can't satisfy everyone no matter what you do.

There are things to be said about playing video games with friends and family as opposed to playing alone, and how doing so changes appreciation of games. Concerning the “nostalgia” points you made, is this case the player may have nostalgia for those moments with friends and/or family as much as nostalgia for the games themselves. Of course there is also nostalgia about memorable lonesome player experiences. In any cases, I guess, on a psychological level, gaming induced a set of emotional experiences in the past, and the player - moved by nostalgia - seeks to recreate those feelings.

Precisely how I see it, yeah. And nostalgia obviously isn't the only influence either. If you only have 45 minutes to play a game most nights you probably aren't going to want much if any grind. You are going to want to be engaged the whole time at the peak of what makes the game fun to you. If you get to play for longer periods and the overall experience is still fun you probably won't mind it nearly as much. There are lots of factors to consider.

As far as absolutes go, I definitely agree there is no "right way" to go about design. I think there is "good design" but only so far as that relates to the individual for all of the above reasons. I think there is such a thing as "bad design" though - which usually boils down to clunkiness of mechanics or features that don't really do what they were intended to and break the overall flow of gameplay too much. Even that is subjective to a degree of the individual persons tolerance for what they don't like.

Design is interesting in part because it is both science and art. It has some fundamental principles that are generally laid out for each genre, and then, as the author states, most competitive studios try and enhance the fundamentals in some way, or add new bells and whistles to existing premises in order to stand out. Now the author's critique of Hollow Knight falls a little short for me in its criticism of not being innovative to the genre. I don't think a game necessarily has to innovate to be a good game (as the author admits) and I also don't think I'd agree that games that do innovate are inherently better and should be more highly recommended. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" as they say. Established genres typically have audiences that will reward a developer for sticking to what they know and doing it well. Innovation is always a risk - and while it is a risk that should be taken to establish new genres it must also be taken with care.

I read a review once of the most recent movie adaptation of The Hobbit that complained that it was essentially "just Lord of the Rings all over again with nothing new that we haven't seen before cinematically" and thought: "Well, duh, that's what Lord of the Rings fans want! That doesn't make it bad!"
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mendonca

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Re: Bridging Generational Game Design: A Legend of Grimrock II Article
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2021, 09:26:30 AM »

I didn't really 'play' Dungeon Master when it first came out - I was too young (for me), like 9 or 10 I guess, and the basic puzzles like 'press the button to open the door' really tested my patience at the time.

I do remember DM2 though, and actually properly played that, to an extent. Until I realised you could grind the big cows for beef which you could sell for gold and so I just saved up for some nice sword or something. Because the puzzle that amounted to not much more than 'press the button to open the door' really tested my patience.

A big part of this kind of 'remaking' / 'reimagining' games is making them how you THINK they played (It's mentioned in the article, and I thought it was and interesting point I hadn't necessarily thought about) . If successful you get old people who saw them first time round going "YEAH IT'S JUST LIKE I REMEMBER IT!" (it's not) and kiddies saying "THIS IS REALLY FUN!" (always was). like unpicking what the intent of that game was and presenting the intent in a successfully put together modern game.

As a design commentary context is everything, I guess. There's no way 512kb of RAM and a 7.2MHz processor can do what we can do today, in the detail - but it can give all the same feelings. I vividly remember chatting to my brother about our kind of dream, open-world game where you could do whatever you wanted (that was pretty much as far as we talked about). But this was when our expectations were to achieve graphics and an interface something like this:

https://www.mobygames.com/game/c64/hobbit/screenshots/gameShotId,193997/

We would have been delighted.

(Slightly unrelated point but I think some things game publishers / marketing departments can do really well is create the context / expectation for games to be perceived as successful design endeavours, which actually can be effectively independent of any of the mechanical design decisions. i.e. hype - but hype is context, expectations, a relationship and, eventually, memories.)

I've recently been playing Bloody Rally Show, which is really evocative to me of the kind of early 90s top down Amiga racing games which still carry a massive place in my heart (Skidmarks, Iron Man Offroad, Supercars 1 & 2). And I think does the same sorts of things Grimrock does with respect to Dungeon Master - face value it's the same game; seemingly no more or less simple but in reality it's a different ball game. But this is still the game I was playing in my head in 1992 or whatever.
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Morrokain

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Re: Bridging Generational Game Design: A Legend of Grimrock II Article
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2021, 03:01:17 PM »

I'm not sure how old I was - probably 8-10 ish? - when I was over at my cousin's house and his dad had Command and Conquer: Red Alert on his computer and my cousin showed it to me. I *think* that was the first PC game I ever saw? I was into video games at a very early age. I could beat the first (and only first) level of Sonic the Hedgehog at like 4 or 5. But I had only really played console games where RTS wasn't a thing.

So, of course, I bugged my parents for a computer almost immediately. They laughed. Computers were expensive and there was no way they were buying one for someone my age to play video games on - especially since I already had a Sega Genesis.

But I was so relentless that eventually my mom made a deal with me - if I could learn the entire guide book on how PCs operate I could have one. This was obviously a trap in that she knew I'd never get through all of it at that age. I was seriously determined, though, so I gave it a shot even if I knew deep down that this was her scheme to not have to buy one.  :D

I never got through the manual lol but I still to this day remember the opening description before it started getting super technical and I "noped" my way back out of that rabbit hole.

It mentioned a game where players could encounter other players even if they weren't in the same house! (Gasp) It dramatically described an encounter where the player couldn't tell at first if the avatar in front of them was an enemy player, a potential ally player, or a computer character that would attack or something like that. The only way to know would be to use the keyboard and type a message to the unknown avatar and find out. It's obviously funny now, but at this time I cannot stress enough how much this blew my young mind completely away. The only multiplayer I knew at the time was split-screen where the most players you could have was 4 at a time. A whole world of players interacting through this "internet" thing seemed like gamer paradise.

(Hmm I wonder why I mostly liked RTS and MMOs? lol)

The irony of my thoughts at the time was that I was expecting a game like that to also have all of the same elements that I loved from action puzzle games like Legend of Zelda and the single player RPGs I was used to from consoles. When I played my first MMO years later (it's actually still around in 2020: Conquer Online) I was dismayed that all of the good features from the console games weren't really there. No puzzles, few quests, super grindy progression fighting the same enemies for a long time... wasn't my cup of tea.

Eventually I found Guild Wars and World of Warcraft and they felt a lot closer to what I wanted. It would take me getting into my twenties to realize that my dream of combining a bunch of genres into a super game (tailored specifically for me, of course) was probably not going to happen any time soon. :P
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