[How do you construct designs which offer freedom but don't let the player ruin the game with overpowered weapons? What's more important -- playability or internal consistency? These questions, among others, are pondered in this interview with Insomniac's Cameron Christian.]
The Resistance franchise has become a stalwart of the PlayStation 3 lineup. This year, the third game in the franchise will be released -- one which takes the darkest turn the series has seen yet, presenting a world in which the humans have been all but totally eradicated.
Of course, the gameplay designers are more concerned with tweaking the game's design to serve the player than the story. For Cameron Christian, developer Insomniac Games' senior designer for single player and lead designer for multiplayer, the challenges of refining the Resistance franchise are paramount.
How much power is too much for the player? How do you construct designs which offer freedom but don't let the player ruin the game with overpowered weapons? What's more important -- playability or internal consistency? These questions, among others, are pondered below.
You brought the weapon wheel back.
Cameron Christian: Definitely.
Some people like that. I don't.
CC: Aw, nice.
Because it gets you out of the gameplay. You've got to pause, you've got to select.
And then while people are shooting at me, then I lose orientation. I was talking to Tim Turi from Game Informer, he loves it. So, there are opposing opinions.
CC: I've heard that as well. I've heard your concern. I think the biggest thing is just the tradeoff. The tradeoff in being able to use what you've collected at all times. I think one of the things with Resistance 2 is that because you only had two weapons, designers had to put those weapons we wanted you to use for that setup around that area, so it became very lock-and-key.
I think having the new weapon wheel gives it a lot more choices, in that it's allowed us to evolve the environment to have to support those choices -- to support a sniper rifle, to have to support a shotgun -- and so it's allowed for a lot more open and diverse levels, I think.
Yeah, that does make level design a little more potentially complex. One thing that I noted in Resistance 2 is, once you get the weapon that can fire through walls, if you're a coward-style player like me, you never use another weapon ever again.
CC: True. I think one of the things that we have going on is our new AI changes. Like [lead designer] Drew [Murray] ...mentioned, we have a new kind of like AI role system, so we have aggressors, and defenders, and guys who flank, and they're all assigned roles, so if you're shooting at one of their team members and this other guy's an aggressor, he's going to come and find you and try to hunt you down.
Is there seriously going to be a way that I'm not going to use the see-through walls weapon all the time and kill everybody? Is that really going to happen?
CC: Yes. There will be instances where that weapon will not be effective. It could be probably pretty effective for the occasional encounter, where it might be four or five guys, but if you start getting to [where] the Long Legs are jumping around, like some of those environments that we've catered to those guys, we might not give you those cubby holes to look through. Some of those encounters with the Grims, and the zombies, you might get a couple of them off -- but we're mobbing you at that point, so it'd be a lot harder.
That particular weapon to me was quite an interesting choice because players are more than willing to ruin a game for themselves, if it makes it easier.
CC: Yeah they are, but we've done some tuning to that weapon since it was in R2. We've changed some things. I mean, it's still pretty powerful, right? But there are some nuances to it that aren't as exploitive. That's something that we definitely looked at.
The designers have to figure out a way to kind of nerf things by getting rid of exploits, without making people feel something is worthless. Is that the line you had to toe?
CC: Yeah it was definitely a line we had to toe with the Auger, because it is people's favorite weapon, but it's their favorite weapon because it is super overpowered, and so it's kind of... pulling it back. It's still effective, but there are a couple of things we did to adjust that.
CC: We pull back the range on being able to see through walls. So before you could see through walls across a whole entire level, right? And now we pull that back to a significant distance. Also, again, I think the biggest thing we have going for us is our AI. They're a lot more responsive and really aggressive. They will come after you. You might get a couple guys, but the other guys are going to hunt you down and find you.
Once you got the weapon it sort of felt like you were breaking the game, because you would just shoot guys and they would stand there. And then you'd feel like, "Well, I guess what I'm going to do for the next couple hours is just shoot dudes through walls!"
CC: No, I think we definitely varied it up. Environment plays a big part in that, too. It would be those small parts of the game where you'll be able to do that -- wreck the setup -- but there'll be other parts where it will just be completely useless.
With the Chimeran sniper rifle, the Chimera have a laser sight that lets you see them, but you don't have a laser sight that lets them see you. Is there like a narrative reason that that makes sense, or is just for playability reasons?
CC: No, I think the big thing was, it was more about playability. It's like, we don't want to call the player out as much as we want to call the AI out. We want to give the player a chance to find these guys, but still using their cloak, give them a chance to hide too -- so I think that was the tradeoff with that. And it's never too late. We might include a laser beam on the human gun; we don't know yet.
We don't have many strictly hard choices like that. Every weapon is generally effective against anything, but there are degrees of effectiveness. Let's talk about like the Auger and that case with the Hulk fight, right? The Auger is going to be a bad choice, because there is no place for you to hide and shoot through walls. You can hit his weak points, and they'll do damage, but it's not going to be as effective as, say, the Magnum, which can stick to that guy and really do some serious damage to it.
That makes sense. At that point visual and auditory cues become very, very important.
CC: I mean the Hulk definitely [involved] a lot of tuning, a lot of playtesting to get it right. He started out much more complex than he currently is right now. Right now he has weak points, and you hit this set of weak points, and it unlocks this set of weak points, and it unlocks this set of weak points...
But when we initially started designing him, I designed him in a way that his weak points would only show up during certain moves. Like, for me, as a hardcore gamer, that's awesome. I've got to like see like okay, he's about to charge up, and that's when his weak points are there, but it was just not coming across in the playtesting. And so we ended up not doing just state-based…
And so we went a little too complex with it, and we kind of reined it back in, but it's still something where you've got to figure out where his weak points are, you still have to shoot him, there's not this requirement of all this knowing what exact state he's in, or if he's charging. There are balances like that that we had to do.
It's kind of too bad though, that nowadays we have to dial the difficulty down so much to where you can't do something like that.
CC: Yeah, it is.
You have to be like, "Okay, you shot him and now his weak point is giant and exposed, and here you are!" and it's too bad.
CC: It is the trade off, though. It's like the hardcore gamer in me is like, "Aw, I just want it to be old-school, where people really had to figure it out." But I think gamers have changed a little bit. Where gamers used to pound on this thing, and they'd play 10 or 20 times to figure this out, gamers [now], they'll set down the controls.
Yeah, they'll just give up.
CC: It's just something, as we become a much broader medium, unfortunately.
But there are other ways of doing it. A lot of indie games are more like that, and you've got Demon Souls where people are throwing themselves against the wall, because the game puts you in the position where it feels like you should.
CC: True, true but the whole idea going into it…
You've got to go into it with that mindset making the game.
CC: And playing the game. You're going in playing Demon Souls thinking that the game is going to be a hardcore game.
I had a question about the overarching narrative style. The humans have lost, Chimera have won.
CC: Yes, pretty much, yep.
So why are there so many dudes in the Chimera still running around with guns? If the humans have lost... It's just pockets of resistance?
CC: Well that's the thing, they're just trying to clear out the rest of the resistance. That's the big push is like sure, we have technically lost the war, but there's still pockets of resistance. They're going around in these big squads of the terraformers, just trying to like wipe out any part of human civilization they can find. That's what they do.