Electron Dance
27Apr/172

Credits Provide Closure

I didn't hire Matt W to write off-topic comments for Electron Dance, but he does it anyway and they're usually worth the pixels they're displayed on. I decided to rescue one particular neglected rant-in-the-comments from Matt and give it its own post. Actually I decided to rescue it last year, but we all know Electron Dance time is the slowest possible time. Anyway, before we get into the rant, Matt would like everyone to know Closure is good and you should play it (if you like platform puzzlers). Happy reading.

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Here’s how Closure works. For most of the game, there’s three separate sets of levels that you proceed through linearly. When you start up, there’s an in-engine level select where you walk through a door to one of those sets of levels, then walk to a set of doors to the last level you unlocked, and then a little animation plays as your character turns into the PC for this level. This is kind of annoying to go through every time you boot up especially the “turning into the PC animation” is redundant after the fifth time. But once you’re in the levels, when you finish one you just go on to the next.

When you finish all three sets of levels, another door in the level select screen unlocks, taking you to a new set of harder levels. And when you finish those a giant door in that level select screen unlocks. Therein lies the problem.

You see, though you can go to that door any time you’ve unlocked it, what happens there is that you do a little thematic exercise, and then you get a new kind of level… in which you will die very soon. Because in order to compete the final level, you need to have found every single one of thirty hidden rewards scattered throughout the 72 main levels. You’ll have naturally found a few of these but not all. It’s not very well communicated that you can’t finish the final level until you have every reward; the counter above the door looks like the counters above the doors on the main screen, which tell you how many of the levels behind that door that you’ve unlocked. But that’s not the main issue.

The main issue is that everything is driving you toward finishing this level, and even if you know that you have to collect thirty collectables, the level select screen is fighting you as hard as it can in getting them. To begin with, it’s generally not apparent from within a level that it has a collectable, inevitable given the mechanics where you usually can’t see most of the level till you’re right there, and things you can’t see don’t exist. From the level select screen, there’s a mark above the door to a level when you’ve collected something in it, and there are marks above the door when there’s a collectable you haven’t collected–but those marks don’t show up until you’ve collected fifteen of them. Which is fairly tedious when you don’t know where they can be found.

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And even when you have unlocked those marks, the level select mechanism is fighting you. The game is designed around uninterrupted movement through the levels. If you want to skip around levels to hunt collectables, you have to quit from a level all the way to the main level select screen, walk to the door for the world you want, walk to the door to the level with the mark for the uncollected collectable, and watch that animation where you turn into the PC, before you can start playing. Repeat for the next time you want to skip a level. There were times when I would think “Is it less annoying to go back to the level select screen or just play through two levels to get to the one I want to reach?” That’s not what you want your players to feel.

Which wouldn’t be so bad except the game really wants you to get all those collectables. There’s this giant door I unlocked with a final level that I die in the middle of if I don’t have the collectables. I could walk away after finishing the main levels and say “I’m done”–but it doesn’t feel like I’m done! I haven’t finished what’s behind this huge door and I haven’t seen the credit roll! The intrinsic challenge of getting the collectables and finishing the level isn’t that rewarding - one of the collectables in particular is a blatant Walkthrough Special - but without it I feel unfulfilled.

NightSky is another contrast. It also has sets of levels that unlock linearly, and it also has content that can only be unlocked by finding collectables–but the content is clearly signaled as a bonus; it’s after the level that gives you the ending of the story, it has distinct art and music, and there’s no special reward for finishing: it puts you back on the main level select screen, just like finishing any other world. Also moving from level to level is frictionless and there’s no goofing around with forcing you to unlock the thing that tells you which levels have collectables. Here the collectables are decidedly an optional challenge. Whereas in Closure they should be an optional challenge and the level select is designed as if they were an optional challenge, but the presentation of the final stages doesn’t make them seem optional.

In conclusion: Put your credit rolls earlier! (This applies to Crayon Physics too.) If you signal that the player has done what they need to do, and the rest is an optional bonus challenge, they’ll feel more chill about actually doing the bonus.

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Ooh, excellent title! Joel thought of that one, not me.

    One revision I would make is when I said this: “The intrinsic challenge of getting the collectables and finishing the level isn’t that rewarding”–it’s really about the experience of mopping up all the collectables rather than the individual puzzles. For most of the collectables (except the Walkthrough Special), the intrinsic challenge is rewarding, a nice little (or sometimes big) extra puzzle on top of the main one. There’s even a nice variety of puzzles there–some you just need to explore a little more, some you need to figure out an alternate solution that preserves some resources or something to get to the optional bit, some are just ultra-hard. But if I didn’t have to do them to finish the game, they’d be the sort of thing that I returned to and picked off one by one over a period of months; doing them all in a rush is a slog, especially given the level select navigation problems.

    For some more context (and because I was too lazy to give Joel a revised version to post), here’s an earlier level select rant I had, about Osmos and Crayon Physics Deluxe. In a way the Closure rant combines the criticisms I had there–CPD’s level select screen itself is excellent but the placement of the credit roll makes goals that should be optional seem mandatory, Osmos has the credit roll in the right place and doesn’t hassle you to get its achievements but the design of the screen itself makes it unnatural to navigate to some decidedly optional levels that the devs seem to recommend in some circumstances.* And in Closure, it seems like you have both the goals that are optional for the level but mandatory for the whole game, and navigation that makes it awkward to get to the levels with those goals.

    But mostly I want you to scroll down from there to read my story about the people who designed the space station in The Swapper.

    *From the Osmos Rage Part 3 post linked in that comment: “Players who are looking for more in-between levels need look no further. If you’re frustrated on a level you can’t beat, go back one level and play some random variants. You’ll enjoy it a lot more while still building your skills. Try to do those variants as efficiently as possible; before long, you’ll be able to return to that ‘impossible’ level, and probably beat it.” But this is something that usually won’t occur to a player.

  2. For some reason, Matt’s comment and the screenshots of Closure remind me a little bit of Goonies 2 from waaaaay back in the NES days. I suppose technically it’d qualify as a “Metroidvania” (god we so need a better term for that), but like Closure it had abundant and specific requirements for advancement that were often poorly communicated and scattered throughout a huge game world. Figuring it out was fun at the time, but I think it’d be maddening now.

    Great rescued rant!


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