Electron Dance
1Oct/188

Discussion: The Not-Door Door

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I wrote about a similar issue in Mafia quite a few years ago when I had to trawl across an area to find an unassuming switch, the FPS equivalent of a point-and-click pixel hunt. Today, developers make totes sure this is painfully obvious using verbal direction, NPC demonstration, visual contrast and - my absolute favourite, readers - augmented reality markers.

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  1. My problem with the latest Tomb Raider game isn’t with its obvious visual cues, which I actually kind of appreciate, but the insane monotony of its jumping, climbing and rappelling puzzles. I’m so bored at this point that I can’t even bring myself to tap repeatedly on the “E” key to open an underwater door into a sunken ship. And I’m on record in my blog as having adored the last game in the trilogy.

    Ah, Lara, for a while I thought I loved you, but the engagement’s off. Don’t bother returning the ring. You can keep it as a collectible.

  2. Hello Chris! Yes I think the necessity of those guides are undisputed at this point – although I don’t like them.

    I guess Prey is the nearest thing to Tomb Raider I’ve played in recent years but the rigidity of the sandbox format and wilful exploitation of players – which Prey disrupted in good ways – is a reason I haven’t felt the need to pick one up. Just keep adding collectibles, keep you waking back and forth, back and forth, the same missions, the same missions. The shine came off in GTA: SA and Far Cry 2 was too long.

    Anyway, I should try another one, one of these days, whenever I have a few months to sacrifice.

  3. I think nobody would be very upset if you took A Field of Flowers as the more important thing, sometimes forgetting about electrondance but, also, not burning out on making the film!

    For the doors and not-doors, I think I’ve only played one game that did what I think was “right”: Mirror’s Edge. It never threw any prompt at you, it never put an icon on anything, it had the option to turn off red ledges (hey, doesn’t that sound familiar?..) and the level design wasn’t terribly linear. Yet, even though it wasn’t linear and had branches, it was always _flowing_ into the next step, being lost wasn’t easy even without the runner vision and even if you did manage to get lost, pressing escape brought up an acceptable description of your goal and I _think_ it even told you that Alt was the magical button, which fixated your camera on your objective for this very moment. By the way, did you know that, even with the runner vision on, many objects that weren’t red were still very much vaultable/boost jumpable? Yep, it totally had not-not-door doors (door doors?) …except for the literal doors, in which case, only the red ones were openable/breachable and others were the literal not-door doors.

    I’ve heard mixed responses from Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, no idea if it continues this applaudable trend or not. I really don’t like the open world part and the presence of a bazillion of collectibles but I’m absolutely willing to try it when I have a capable PC.

  4. Hey, That Scar!

    Mirror’s Edge was one game I mentioned in the Twitter thread about this. I said I had a lot of time for something like ME which is less about exploration and more about a chain of setpieces. ME takes runner vision very seriously, it feels more core than, say, the nav markers. Plus ME is a “special case” as it very much presents the opposite of the gritty, noisy virtual world that causes game developers a lot of not-door door problems. The runner vision worked damn well as part of an compete aesthetic rather than looking like a ludicrous attempt to naturalize verb hooks into the environment or pop-up verbs.

    So not every piece of accelerating scenary has runner vision? That is new information to me! The presence of a not-not-door door is unexpected. Oohhhh that’s almost on the level of secrets.

    The sequel came out so late that I just wasn’t interested any more and I couldn’t care less about the story – the first was forgettable including how it was delivered. Maybe I should get hold of a copy and put it through its paces…

  5. I also meant to say I don’t remember anything about the alt key to ask for a directional hint.

  6. Both the new Tomb Raider game and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey take an interesting approach to giving the player hints about the game world. Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be played at three different levels of difficulty, and the one you choose determines how many environmental clues you get when you press Alt or hold down the right mouse button or whatever it is that you do in that game to highlight useful items around you. Odyssey’s system is simpler: You can play in either Guided Mode or Exploration Mode. I’m playing Exploration Mode, which gives you relatively little information about where the object of a quest is located. It offers you a series of hints like “It’s south of [this]” or “It’s near this.” Otherwise, you have to find your goal by exploring the map. I assume that Guided Mode simply marks your destination for you. Not having played in that mode, I don’t know what other kinds of help it offers.

    It’s a new solution to the Not Door-Door problem and I find it interesting that two different game developers have converged on it simultaneously. Apparently they’ve been reading the complaints about directional markers spoiling the experience and are actually trying to give the player at least some control over how many markers they see. I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar solutions in more AAA open-world games, probably before the year is out.

    BTW, based on what I know of your tastes in games, I’m not sure I’d recommend the new Tomb Raider series to you. I really liked the reboot and its first sequel, largely for the realism of the characters (especially Lara) in comparison to earlier TR games, but exploration is limited and the games are fairly linear. There are occasional side quests that take you off the beaten path, but for the most part you’re following a well-worn trail.

  7. So Chris you must’ve heard the story that Red Dead Redemption changes the dialogue to give you directions if you switch off nav markers. Not sure why they’ve done this exactly – I mean how critical was it to have dialogue without the hints? I dunno. Then again I’m just going by some twitter tweets rather than any hard facts, so perhaps there’s more to this than meets the tweet.

    I was never much of a fan of the original Tomb Raider. I played the a demo of TR2 and was surprised that I had to learn about 200 keys to do anything. I’m still okay with relatively scripted/linear games – I mean, if they’re good, they’re good. I was all in for Edith Finch and that is as agency-lite as you’re going to get. It’s just the time these games eat up that galls me without necessarily giving enough back.

  8. I hadn’t heard that RDR2 was using the same conceit (I need to start spending time on Twitter again, though I subscribe to several YouTube channels that do a good job of summarizing the latest rumors), but I’m not surprised. It’s exactly the kind of franchise that I’d expect to jump on this particular trend. It seems to be a reaction to precisely the kind of negative tweets you mentioned about the latest Tomb Raider game.

    The new Tomb Raider games have surprisingly little in common with the original series. If they’d called it Adventures of a Parkour Archaeologist and renamed Lara Croft Jane Rockclimber, I’m not sure I would have realized that the first reboot WAS the same series. It keeps a few features of the original, like Lara climbing rock walls and falling to her death every minute or two, but the character herself is so radically different that it might as well be a new IP, another (and much better) series centered around a female Indiana Jones.

    And maybe I’m exaggerating the linearity. The TR reboots are nowhere near as linear as Edith Finch, a game that I loved but for very different reasons. You do have some latitude in exploring the environment, but what you need to do next to advance the story is almost always spelled out by game prompts.


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