Andrea Castellano's blog

Create Replay Value by Inviting Curiosity

Most people don’t finish the games they start. In 2011, an Activision production contractor, Keith Fuller, said he expects about a 10% completion rate. Since 90% of players never see a game’s ending, its “replay value” matters to a small group. The games encouraging multiple playthroughs then appeals to an even smaller fraction of that group.

With few people finishing single player games, developers will waste planned content to increase replay value. Games needs to invite curiosity by offering different solutions to solve a problem. If the solutions offer subtle differences, then the curiosity can carry the second playthrough.

As long as you continue asking questions, the form of these subtle differences doesn’t matter. No single approach works best as it depends on the core design. The replay value in Borderlands differs from the replay value in Nier: Automata. Games invite curiosity in dozens of different ways, so I’ll pick a few to discuss.

 

Borderlands – Loot Treadmills

The loot treadmill game design – repeating content for new and better gear – works in many games. Players love grinding for items because it solves the problem of: “Can I find something better?” Borderlands, Destiny and Diablo built entire franchises on the idea of finding new and better gear. Randomized weapon drops and different character classes can encourage multiple playthroughs.

E3 2017 - What to Expect

Super Mario Odyssey

E3 2017 starts early this year with EA scheduling their E3 press conference for Saturday, June 10th. A once three-day event of presentations now spreads across five straight days. Companies race to present first, hoping to set or survive expectations for a great conference.

The theme of new hardware echoed throughout E3 in 2016, even if Nintendo refused to reveal the Switch. This year, hardware talk continues, but with the spotlight on Microsoft. Their 6-teraflop Xbox affects the whole market. Whether it fails or succeeds doesn’t matter - it will change the console space. 

Even as stores struggle to meet the Switch demand, Nintendo can’t relax. PlayStation’s early onslaught of game releases left the rest of 2017 open. Nintendo needs their Direct video stream to carry momentum. And with more competition in a new Xbox console, no company wants a slow holiday season.

 

Microsoft – Xbox Scorpio and the Games Library

Microsoft needs a successful E3 – more than any other company. The Scorpio marks a huge milestone for the gaming industry. A significant, mid-generation console upgrade gives buyers options never offered before. With Xbox One accessories, games and communities accessible and functional on both platforms, the Scorpio’s success depends on price.

Existing Xbox One owners and new buyers need a reason to upgrade. Given the specifications, a $400-$499 USD price range sounds realistic, although the $499 price hurts other markets. In Canada, a $499 USD Scorpio means a price around $650 CAD before taxes. The Scorpio’s power will improve game performance and visuals, but the cost might outweigh the improvements. The Scorpio’s virtual reality capabilities won’t matter if both release for absurd prices.

Overwatch’s Support Problem - Designing Support Roles in Games

Overwatch

We need a healer. I choose Zarya to help absorb damage and protect our weaker players with her barriers. As the only tank hero, I at least hope for some reliable healing. The last two players sit in the character selection screen with clear roles we need filled. Neither pick a healer. One picks Genji and the other pick Solider. I don’t blame them. Healing is boring.

Now the team starts pointing fingers, stating our need for healing before the round clock expires. No one wants to switch and so we lose. Without a balanced team, we stand no chance. The lack of support players continues into the next match because no one wants to fill the role. People play shooters to out-gun opponents, not to help someone else to out-gun the opponent.

These support roles or characters in games handicap players in one-sided fights. No player wants to die, let alone lose a fight favouring the stronger character. Character selection then becomes a game of chicken, where each player waits for someone else to switch. The switching player favours winning over fun, so they, out of necessity, sacrifice fun for the sake of the team. Games shouldn’t force players to play a certain way or sacrifice enjoyment – games don’t need healers.



Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 – The Chore of Dedicated Healers

Mercy in Overwatch and the Medic in Team Fortress 2 play significant, yet boring roles. Mercy’s poor damage output, low health and team reliance brands her as a clear target for the enemy. She depends on teammates for defence, yet her teammates depend on her to stay alive. In Team Fortress 2, the Medic faces a similar problem but to a larger degree.

Quest Design – Expanding on the Fetch Quest Structure

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“All quests are fetch quests,” my friend said in response to my complaints about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even within the context of a post-apocalyptic world, Zelda’s NPCs always want something. People need a monster killed or a specific item gathered in exchange for a mystery item. I never gathered bundles of wood or collected fireflies for fun, I helped for the reward. We endure a lot of these trivial activities to enhance our effectiveness for later events. Without the reward, fetch quests feel like chores.

Quest design differs when developers mask the “fetch” aspect of a request. If stripped down the structure, most quests use the ABA formula: start a point A, move to point B, then return to point A. But to label all quests as “fetch quests” misses the larger point, which is the commonality in quest structure. Quests use the same structure of a fetch quest, but smart design branches from the initial goal.

 

Some quests don’t try to hide their “fetch” design

Quests in Breath of the Wild avoid any structural deviation and stay on its initial objective. One side quest revolves around Hudson, a construction worker. He builds Tarrey Town from the ground up, asking you to collect bundles of wood and search for new tenants with names ending in -son. When Hudson needs a shopkeeper, you search for someone who wants to open a store. When you recruit a new Tarrey Town citizen, Hudson then asks for wood bundles. The process repeats until he finishes the town construction.

PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio not Upgrading Consoles as Expected [UPDATE]

[UPDATE: 2017-03-20] PS4 Pro adds "Boost Mode" for older PS4 games

The PlayStation 4 Pro launched with clear benefits for people who owned 4K HDR televisions. For those without a 4K HDR TV, some games still performed better because of Pro developer patches. While titles like Titanfall 2 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided performed better with Pro patches, the hardware didn’t improve all games. Patch 4.50 for the PS4 Pro adds a “Boost Mode,” which aims to improve performance for all games in the PS4 library.

The Pro’s small hardware upgrade also means a small upgrade in performance. While we won’t see games jump from 30 frames per second (FPS) to 60FPS, we will see steadier, smoother games. Although the Boost Mode tries to take advantage of the CPU and GPU, the PlayStation Blog does not guarantee improvement. Not all titles will work with the Boost Mode.

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