February 4, 2006

Risks You Shouldn't Take

Game development is all about risk. Risk too little, and you come across as a "clone" or "uninspired." Risk too much, and you come across as "unclassifiable" or "unlearnable."

There are lots of areas in game development where you can take risks, but there is one area that you shouldn't take any risks whatsoever, and that's your main menu. You can have the most amazing game ever, but if your customer can't get to it, you're screwed regardless.

I bring this up because I'm about to slam a game that I love dearly, Psychonauts. For those of you who haven't played it (and given the sales figures, it's probably most of you), the game starts with the standard console splash-screen with a brain in the background with "Psychonauts" plastered on the side and the text at the bottom reading "Press START To Begin." So far, so good.

The player presses START, and there's Razputin (who you can't see because of the color scheme used for the parallax background) standing atop the same brain from the splash screen. At this point, the player is expected to know that Raz is under his control, and is expected to find the doors on the rear of the brain, navigate to the correct door, and press the A button.

I'm a hardcore gamer, and I was able to figure it out in no time. I tried introducing it to one of my neighbors down here. He spent five minutes trying to figure out what to do.

Five minutes...and he didn't even get past the main menu.

Once I got him past the main menu, he loved the game. The HUD elements are gradually introduced, the control scheme works well, everything else works wonderfully...

...but that main menu ensured he will never purchase a copy of the game.


ZMan said...

This one took me a few minutes to work out too. Its made ever worse by the fact that if you do nothing he starts to animate and do things himself, further convincing you that all you need to do it wait. I was quite shocked when I grabbed the controller and he moved. Then I worked it out.

Drogo said...

Can you say "Golf Cart Racing Simulation"-itis strikes again?