The importance of freedom and options in videogames

So I just purchased Medieval Engineers when it was on sale. I was a bit apprehensive to do so and rightfully so. When I picked up the game I wanted to build a Necropolis from Warcraft 3. In case you are wondering what a Necropolis is, here’s a picture of one from Warcraft 3 Battle.net.

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I said Warcraft 3 Battle.Net for a reason… This is why I avoid this place. Sadly this is the only image of a Necropolis I could find…

The necropolis is the large structure in the middle of the image. They are my favorite building simply due to their quirkiness. I mean they’re a huge floating stronghold shaped like two trapezoidal prism’s attached at their base and another smaller trapezoid on top with a large pillar. There is a skull in the middle of each trapezoid which are usually used as a sewerage system.

Now in case you’re wondering, the necropolis is the main stronghold of the scourge. The most famous necropolis is Naxxramas which is a notorious raid in World Of Warcraft and was mentioned in Ashbringer. However there are many necropoli (can I call them that plural? I don’t know but i’m gonna do it anyway) littered around the world of Azeroth and they are used to deploy undead troops.

So naturally being the Warcraft fan that I am, it was the first thing that came to mind when I wanted to start building in Medieval Engineers but sadly it was not to be. Unfortunately, the necropolis is a floating stronghold… however surprisingly enough I managed to make a floating structure by disabling structural integrity (i’ll get to the reason why I dislike these things later). Sadly when I was trying to place a corner slope block, just like in Space Engineers I found out that I couldn’t rotate it upside down. WHAT!?

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The triforce of freedom in all it’s glory.

The irony of this is that I could have easily built this structure in Space Engineers as it is common to have floating objects in space and as such they allow it but why do they even bother to restrict it here? it’s not like it would be harmful to allow us to build upside down slopes, it would just allow for more options. And this brings me to the topic at hand.

Now what makes options so important? I’m not talking about settings and stuff like that. I’m talking about options in general. The answer is simple. Options are essentially the building blocks of videogames. They are what allows us to control what is going on in game. Without options, there is no game. As such every game has options whether it being the ability to move forward and backwards, that’s called giving the player options so even walking simulators have options.

Restrictions on the other hand is a word that I cannot stand regardless of it’s purpose. Restrictions designed to apply realism are what infuriate me the most. My philosophy is that a successful game is one that gives you more options than any other and is presented in a tasteful manner.

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FREEDOM!

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Oh shi-

I did say tasteful…

So why do you take away the option to turn your block upside down? I have no idea why this is so. Do KeenSWH insist that we all build the same structures as they do because as far as I can see, they want to limit our creativity to their own standards. They only want us to build castles and realistic structures. “We can’t have people building floating strongholds, that’s preposterous, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen so we can keep the player on the right track” ~KeenSWH Employee.

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Now on a related note, I also picked up the Stanley Parable on sale and the entire game revolves around options and how they make the character behave whilst mocking every little bit of it which is ironic considering the fact that the game is designed in a linear style to give the player an illusion that they’re playing a linear game but taunting them by adding options that encourage deviance. I will say one thing. I like this game. As a walking simulator I feel that reviewing it is out of the question. You either like them or you don’t but regardless I can at least bring it up in this article.

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Now the Stanley Parable taught me a very important lesson in game design. If it works, let players use it. This goes for anything really. Allowing for freedom in videogames is important and although many games are remarkably linear (such as Grandia 2) those games merely lack the ability to allow for too much freedom and though Grandia 2 is criminally linear as I mentioned in my review, I doubt they could make it into an open world game simply because it wouldn’t work (well it could but until Xenoblade Chronicles it wasn’t attempted).

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JRPG’s are linear by nature. They’re trying to tell you a story and are streamlined in order to make it easier to follow and prevent the player from getting lost or accessing areas that would feel inconsistent with the game’s design. Other games such as Gothic 3 aren’t concerned for this “consistency” and just leave the player free to explore their world with few barriers. Of course this means that game game has way more bugs and glitches than a linear game because there are more options for the player and with options comes more holes to fill.

“Without options, there is no game”

Giving the player options is like planting a garden. Plants need to be tended to every so often, they need water and good soil to bloom. Essentially, the more you add to something, the more work is required to maintain the consistent quality of the game. This is why linear games exist simply because it’s not worth adding more because it just means more work. I know this because my job involves gardening and adding more to the garden just adds more work for me to do, so I naturally decide not to do it even though it would make the garden look a bit nicer, is it really worth it if the plant ends up dead and looks awful?

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Ahh what a beautiful forest…

So as a result, there are limitations in some games like JRPG’s and this is acceptable. However making it impossible to rotate a block upside down in a game that uses the same engine and presumably the same coding language as a game that already allows you to build a block upside down is inexcusable and downright stupid in my opinion because you’re limiting us for no reason.

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Despite all the hype built up for it, the open world that was promised by the developers of Tales Of Zesteria was a blatant lie.

Now before I stop going on about this I want to bring up why the streamlined approach towards JRPG’s appeals to me and why I personally prefer them over WRPG’s. You see, the ability to go anywhere at any time doesn’t appeal to me personally, it’s nice that it’s there but personally what I love about open world games is the ability to build my own structure of linearity by making my own imaginary barriers.

“Essentially, the more you add to something, the more work is required to maintain the consistent quality of the game”

This is why I love games such as Two Worlds 2 which some criticize as being too linear for having plot barriers. This didn’t affect me a single bit however as I am used to it. I’ve played JRPG’s for 16 years now and as such this is just normal to me.

When playing games like Gothic 3 which encourage exploration, I like to make my own imaginary barriers and my own path. I choose to explore each town and dungeon in a particular order to build a structured RPG experience for myself. As such, the freedom doesn’t exactly bother me as I can merely form my own path. Games like Skyrim on the other hand annoy me because the game has you travelling to the other side of the world just to progress through the story which feels completely unnatural. they might as well not have a story at all.

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As such, Open world games have their place. If done right, they can work in story-driven games but if done wrong it can be frustrating for the player who wants to explore at their own pace and aren’t forced to travel beyond their own boundaries just to make progression. But in a way this is a restriction in itself, the restriction is a barrier that prevents you from making progress. This frustrates me a lot.

As a result, adding options can be dangerous at times and require a lot of thinking and decision making when designing a game. You have to ask yourself “what could possibly go wrong with this?” and try to work it out. Problem solving is the name of the game here and problem solving is the job of a game director because nothing is ever too much for a game, it is only as good as you allow it to be. Game directors are working on limited time and money so it’s important for them to prioritize which options matter the most and not to offer any options which may ruin the game’s overall presentation due to neglect.

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I’ll be taking this, thanks!

Every single feature in a game needs TLC for it to be appealing. Adding features is never a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t affect the core presentation of the game. If it’s just an unpolished add on that is separate from the game then it’s fine. However if it’s integrated into the game itself, it could cause problems with the game’s overall presentation. This is probably why KeenSWH removed Ladders from Space Engineers because they didn’t want to work on them. However they didn’t need to remove the ladder aesthetic from the block, that was just stupid and unnecessary in my opinion and ruined a lot of the things I built which relied on ladders. Now they just look silly.

As such, if it’s not game breaking, don’t remove it. Never remove features from games unless they are seriously game breaking (like the DMR in Halo, fuck that weapon). Removing features accomplishes nothing and merely shows that you don’t give enough of a shit to try and make it work. I hate KeenSWH for this and I hope other developers don’t do that same thing.

So all in all to all you game developers out there, please give us as much freedom and as many options as it is possible without ruining the game. Never boycott features without a good reason.

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Thankfully the mods allow us to bypass these barriers and have limitless freedom. Shame the devs can’t do the same.

 

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