Continuity doesn't really have invisible walls like this.
We've all run into invisible walls at some point in our gaming escapdes. They can be jarring, even frustrating, yet we instantly understand why they exist. Sometimes they save us from jumping to our doom. Other times they keep up from needlessly exploring every nook. And many times, they're used to funnel the player away from areas. With invisible walls developers balance creating a world that seems more open than it actually is and guiding the player. With invisible walls what you see is not what you get. There's little more to say about these arbitrary limitations.
Video games are filled with arbitrary limitations, which are typically hard-coded exceptions to limit gameplay. These limits are nothing more than complexities, game rules, that are generally viewed as special case rules. What makes a limitation "arbitrary" is a bit subjective no matter how you look at it. After all, every video game is an artifice. Some arbitrary limitations are simple. Others are complex. Some can be explained away according to the fiction of the game (which is a good thing). While others are blatantly abstract.
In many of the following cases, arbitrary limitations are put on mechanics and interactions to prevent other, more damaging types of clutter.
- Super Mario Bros. You can only have 2 fire balls on the screen at one time. This design keeps the action frequency down and Fire Mario more balanced. Most of all, you cannot travel backwards. The camera and an invisible barrier keep players focused on moving to the right.
- Street Fighter. Most characters with projectiles can only have 1 fireball on the screen at a time. Not being able to hit or juggle opponents multiple times in the air or when swept to the ground is an arbitrary limitation that helps control the rhythm and balance of combat. I'd much rather have these arbitrary limitations than otherwise.
- BioShock. In this game, players can attack environmental objects, enemies, and fallen bodies. But the player cannot attack children figures whatsoever. The harvest option on the Little Sisters is censored, and the frozen children's bodies allow for no interaction. All of these arbitrary limitations were implemented to prevent violence toward children. It's a culturally motivated decision that I don't mind at all.
- Resident Evil 4 & 5. There are special close-quarters-attacks in these games that have lengthy, non-controllable, animations. During these animations, players are completely invincible. There's no way I can completely explain these arbitrary limitations through the game fiction. The developers did what they could by programming the animations to bump nearby zombies.
- Gears of War vs Halo: Reach. In Gears, chainsawing an opponent gives the attacking player invincibility. But because the animation is so lengthy, just as the player comes out of invincibility, they can be taken down by skilled players. Halo: Reach avoids this whole arbitrary and somewhat awkward limitation by making the special take down animations optional and vulnerable.
- Not having friendly fire is another arbitrary limitation that has a significant effect on how a multiplayer game is played. It can be odd when you can't hurt your human teammates, but you can kill your NPC teammates. It's also odd when your teammates can be revived or spawned back into the game while the NPCs die forever.
you attack-get attacked-you heal-you attack-REPEAT
Video games are inherently built of challenges. Challenges require player interactivity. If you prefer games of interesting choices, then you're the kind of person who understands that drawbacks and consequences of actions are just as important as advantages. Games with interesting choices tend to feature challenges that are altered by your choices thus creating more situations for you to make more interesting choices. But there are some challenges that aren't affected by your choices.
Linear games like Guitar Hero or Rhythm Heaven have no depth. You cannot counter the game. These titles may be more accurately described as a skill test. As you interact, the challenge never changes. When the music starts it's your job to keep up. With each note you successfully hit you move closer to the end of the song taking you through additional sections/challenges. All of this is good.
But what about grinding? Or long RPG battles? RPG combat systems can be very linear with very obvious dominant tactics (attack-attack-heal repeat). In many ways, playing an RPG battle is like working with a spread sheet. Once you get a good feel for the damage dealt over time, you can cruise through the rest of the battle. Think about it this way. While you're whittling down the health of a simple boss, all of your game actions aren't actually changing the challenge at hand. The dynamics don't change nor the rules, scenario, or strategy. Until you kill the boss, you're stuck in a static linear situation. The longer you're forced to battle the boss, the more static the fight.
Static-space is when the conditions of a gameplay challenge do not change (or hardly change) regardless of the player actions needed to overcome the challenge. Typically, repeated player action of a known strategy are required to overcome these challenges. Static-space is most apparent in RPGs but it can occur in all genres. Fetch quests plague action/adventure games. Mega Man 9 features a, I think, poorly designed achievement where the player must clear the game 5 times in 1 day. After you have the skills and strategies to beat the game once, even twice, beating it 3 more times in a single day is merely an exercise in dedication and repetition. When players roll-the-dice the experience of overcoming such challenges can be very static. A key indicator of a static challenge is when the player turns his/her brain off yet continues to play.
The key, and also subjective, factor in the definition is "harldly." We all have different amounts of repitition we can tolerate. And any two gamers can appreciate slight changes to different degrees. Repeating most gameplay mechanics twice is far from tedious. So static-space can involve some personal judgement. As long as statements are made and supported with terms of variation we can ground our opinions.
Static-space is a term that applies to challenges that stress knowledge skills most of all. Any of the other areas of the DKART skills or Team skills is not subject to the same negative effects of repetition. Why? Well, challenges that stress knowledge skills can have a spoiler effect. Once you know the trick, punch line, twist, or dominant strategy the actual challenge is largely eliminated. Repeating such challenges will not recreate the same experience or challenge ever again (unless players forget the solution).
Many timing challenges inherently involve repetition. It's not a coincidence that static timing challenges challenge players to maintain a steady rhythm. Without repetition how would you present a steady rhythm in the first place? It's the same situation with reflex challenges (perceiving quickly). For the issue of dexterity and repetition, repeated actions are the only way we develop muscle memory. Furthermore, there's no way to test stamina skills without repetition.
All this gun customization for a stealth game.
This issue goes hand in hand with static-space. Even if a challenge, mechanic, or feature is technically different from another, how much it's different is an issue of variation and design space. In a video game, slight differences in rules tend to create more cluttered than great differences. The more minute the difference between PUNCH1 and PUNCH2 the more the feedback design of a game is stressed. If the player can't easily or clearly tell the difference between the punches, being challenged to know the difference can be problematic. A low likelihood that a player will stumble upon or teach themselves a particular detail about a gameplay interaction is what makes the detail nuanced. Read more about nuanced game design and its consequences here.
Remember an article I wrote titled Customisable Stats Increase Abstraction and Deconstruct Gameplay? Now you have the full explanation. Complexities are what define game rules while giving the interactions richness. Because all video games depend on rules, goals, and player interactivity, each rule is an important part of the whole. So I feel that any complexity that's mostly a copy of another merely adds to the clutter of the interactive/learning experience. I also feel that the complexities in games that try to house several gameplay types (optional or not) can clutter the game with ancillary elements. I feel that many options aren't as interesting as a few tough choices. With the whole "less is more" idea, the cleanest games do much with very little.
Here are a few games that I feel have excessive complexities.
- Metal Gear Solid 4. (see video above). Kojima and Konami love details. The MGS story that spans many games is convoluted to say the least. The cutscenes in these games flirt on the verge of being movie scenes. And for a game that is well known for its steal and completely optional killing, the team put a ton of customisable weapon features. Gun fans probably appreciate all the options and attention to detail. But all of these features are clutter for plain old Metal Gear fans. After all, the game already has 69+ weapons! Sometimes huge games like MGS4 try to be many different games all in one, which ultimately introduces optional, unfocused, and cluttered elements.
- Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The option to customize your CO with perks of a wide variety are complexities that work against the balance and variety of the game. With the potential to eliminate the weaknesses of the COs all of options becomes more similar.
- Ninja Gaiden: Sigma. To some degree I consider most of the moves in this game to be excessive. There are so many move combinations for each weapon, their function greatly overlaps. It's like Team Ninja tried to give the player a roster of moves like a fighting game. But fighting games need many moves per character so each can compete in different match ups. Furthermore human competition stresses a game system in a way no single player AI can. I found I could do quite well in Ninja Gaiden with a handful of moves and techniques.
In the 6th and final part of this article series that I had originally scoped for a 3 part but in reality is more like 8 parter, I will explain what the now mysterious "coefficient of clean" is.