Because games are about more than headshots

Worst thing that ever happened (This Week): Trine

with 2 comments

Sometimes you just get the feeling that the designers of a game never turned it on before the code went gold. Trine doesn’t give you this feeling. In Trine, the majority of the puzzles seem loving crafted and iterated upon, the only way to create a puzzle game with A.) Multiple viable solutions to each puzzle and B.) A great lack of player frustration in solving these puzzles. Every puzzle was focus tested until people could look and immediately read the solution, through the use of recurring visual hints such as the stone fists found throughout the game ( as you’re shown in a puzzle early on, these are for hitting things) or iron blocks (which signpost uses of the warrior’s ‘throw’ ability). Both of these immediately guide the players thoughts towards a puzzle solution, despite both of the aforementioned objects functioning exactly the same way in the game world. It’s an extremely deliberate technique, and having watched 3 people play through this game now I can honestly say it’s effective. I have never seen anyone get stuck in Trine, just due to the fantastic signposting in the game.  Well designed and well executed, Frozenbyte.

Which makes Trine’s accolade of ‘Worst design choice of the week’ even more tragic. It’s a superbly designed a polished game, with a huge emphasis on accessibility and pure, unadulterated fun. With a horrific last level. Where the rest of the game is a slow and light hearted romp through whimsical puzzles and respawning undead the last level is a frenzied race up a series of platforms under active opposition from what is essentially an evil version of your wizard, with instant death waiting those who can’t run fast enough. You can sort of see the logic behind the change. It’s the final level, yeah? Essentially the boss fight? Which should generally be used to test both the player’s mastery of the game’s established mechanics and probably force the players to adapt these mechanics?

Yep, sounds good. In this case the designers chose to test the player’s mastery via the use of a timing system ie. You die if you do not complete things fast enough. Which is a fair play, intellectually.  Since players have been doing this stuff for 5 hours now, why not try it under pressure? Seems fair, however the reality of it just doesn’t work out. The change is extremely abrupt, both in it’s actual appearance within the the level and it’s place within the overall pacing of Trine. Never before has the game forced you to move at a pace that is not your own. The fey visuals and calm music of the entire game led themselves to a slow exploration and experimentation mindset within the player and it’s the awkward transition from this approach to the ‘RUN OR DIE’ that breaks the feeling of the game.  It takes the slow pacing and raises it so abruptly that the player has insufficient time to properly come to grips with the change and spends the entirity of the level disoriented and frustrated with this turn of events, rather than being a zen-like state of concentration that that is required to accomplish such a task.  I’ll admit that the frantic feeling might be an empethatic one to the plight of the characters however this is also broken when players fail literally 10-20 times to complete the section (again, several people have played this through in front of me).

The lava is also too fast. This is an execution problem. It’s being fixed by a patch. Hope they get it right.

Also, compounding the sudden change of pace that the player has to live with the game also introduces another element to this final sequence, being that of the opposing ‘wizard’. It’s a good mechanic, don’t get me wrong. Forcing players to reproduce their accidents from throughout the game to defeat the final boss? Genius, with the added bonus of being pretty funny. However, there is a time and place to introduce such a mechanic and that place is not literally 10 seconds after the player’s entire perception of the game’s pacing a difficulty has been thrown into disarray. It’s too much to soon and the player cannot effectively process the information presented.  (Although it is to be noted that although the ‘Evil Wizard’ mechanic is introduced at the worst possible time, it’s done extremely well. The quick but manageable ramp up from being first opposed with simple boxes to being opposed with breaking platforms and spike balls is done well and is another example of seminal game design from the guys at Frozenbyte.)

Compounding this frustration in the player is the necessity to redo the entirety of the content, due of a complete lack of checkpoints throughout the ala the ‘Boss Fight’ mentality.

A final frustration I have with this section of the game is that it’s fundamentally unsatisfying. Trine is by and large a Physics Platforming Puzzle game and thus the pleasure really comes from solving puzzles. Why then, should the final sequence not be a puzzle? Why did it have to completely eschew everything that made the game so entertaining to play and instead focus on it’s far more average platforming elements? In most game’s it probably wouldn’t be such a black sheep, however the rest of the game is so superb that the finale really annoyed me. It smacked of a ‘Designer’s Vision’ where the game’s lead dev had an idea that worked in his head and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Crysis also suffered under too strong of a designer, as can be seen in the pretty much any section after the game’s twist.

What went wrong

  • Abrupt pacing change
  • Introduced too many mechanics at once
  • Went against the feel of the game

What could’ve been done

  • Introduce the concepts individually and in more mild forms, never allow difficulty to become exponential
  • Scrap the entire section to create something that was congruous with the rest of the experience

Sorry about the late update guys. Last couple of weeks have been annoying for various reasons I felt lacking in inspiration. I decided earlier on that I wouldn’t churn out content if I didn’t feel like I had anything to say, so I didn’t. I get the feeling this blog will operate in stops and starts, with occasional floods of content and then some dry spells, so definitely subscribe to the RSS instead of checking this page.  The next post will either be a ‘New games journalism’ piece centered around an experience I had in Oblivion a little while back, or another narrative post, again possibly about Oblivion seeing as I’ve been hitting that pretty hard recently.  Crysis isn’t cancelled, just post phoned. The game shares many narrative devices with Far Cry 2, so I’m going to hold off until I have time to play it again to remind myself of what it does differently.  Aon out.


Written by Aonshix

July 12, 2009 at 1:54 am

2 Responses

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  1. Enjoyed reading that, thanks.


    July 19, 2009 at 4:40 pm

  2. Damn, what a lot of puke pretending to be language that was… use shorter sentences Luke!


    January 31, 2010 at 3:54 am

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