Opinion: Making The Most Of A Sucky Game

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, SRS Labs applications manager and Sony Online Entertainment veteran Matt Yaney shares a couple examples for how you can make the most of a sucky or frustrating game.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, SRS Labs applications manager and Sony Online Entertainment veteran Matt Yaney shares a couple examples for how you can make the most of a sucky or frustrating game.] My game sucks. And so does yours. A few months before EverQuest shipped, I was playing with my character in-game and fired a bow, the client crashed. I ran over to Steve, the lead programmer, and reported it. He let me know that it crashed because the game tried to look up the equipment in the trade skills system. but no one had built it. I thought the game should have the system in it, so I talked with my producer Brad, and took the system under my wing. The system, as it was, really sucked. It had a container and a combine button. I went back to the lead programmer and said, "Here's some stuff we should do to make this system better." The reply was we could think about it post ship, but we had to get the server working as opposed to the trade skills. I knew the combine button is what I inherited, so instead of trying to make a decent system out of a combine button I'd have to make the system about something else. I decided trade skills would provide all of the role-playing items people would want. Need a birthday cake, some chocolate, or a wedding ring? Trade skills are where you would get it. I would need to push it further so that at least some entertainment came from even the simplest item to make. I closed my eyes thought for a second and began typing the first trade skill item:

Edible goo – "Also known as don't you dare feed me that crap….."
A few years later, we were pitching a turn-based strategy game for a handheld platform. It had one major drawback. Network latency could reach as high as nine seconds. If you haven't worked in games too much yet realize a 3 second load in a game feels like an eternity. What could we do? My solution was to change it to be simultaneously turn-based. This way, no one is ever waiting on anyone else. You both make moves at the same time. You only get so many seconds to make moves, which will keep the pace of the game up. The nine-second hit would only happen once per turn, and we would use that time to have the player play a game in which if you predict what your opponent does, you get a bonus for your next move. In both of the cases listed above I didn't say, "Oh well, its out of my hands" or "We'll do what we can to minimize it." I let the deficit fit in and help define the play experience instead of sticking out like a sore thumb. My game sucks, but I don't let the parts that suck ruin the experience of the entire game. I made the most of them with what was there to work with. Next time you're working on a game and are asked to think outside of the box, consider making the box a foxhole. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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