Post Script

Why play­ers’ thirst for de­struc­tion could break de­vel­op­ers in­stead

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Rain­bow Six Siege’s lev­els are elab­o­rate, sprawl­ing creations. Among them there’s a neon-lit, grimy­look­ing strip club. A grand em­bassy com­plete with mar­ble stair­case and su­per-cooled server room. A fam­ily home with an ex­pen­sive-look­ing base­ment gym and a mar­itime-themed kid’s bed­room. And a lux­u­ri­ously out­fit­ted take on Air Force One. It’s a se­lec­tion that makes for a broad range of at­mos­pheres as you move be­tween gun­ning down ter­ror­ists in a lug­gage hold to at­tempt­ing the del­i­cate ex­trac­tion of a hostage from a fam­ily home, but the one thing that ties th­ese dis­parate en­vi­ron­ments to­gether is that they are – to vary­ing ex­tents – rather frag­ile.

Even to­day, be­ing able to shoot through walls at your tar­gets feels lib­er­at­ing. While there have been plenty of ex­per­i­ments with sim­i­lar tech in the past, there are rel­a­tively few mod­ern games that grant you that lib­erty. Sand­boxes are rarely as freeform as they pur­port to be, and de­sign­ers still tightly con­trol what you’re able to do – let­ting play­ers off the leash en­tirely is a risky propo­si­tion that ex­po­nen­tially mul­ti­plies the num­ber of con­sid­er­a­tions game cre­ators need to keep in mind. Those of us im­bued with a com­ple­tion­ist men­tal­ity are just as likely to waste our time chas­ing elu­sive feath­ers in­ex­pli­ca­bly placed on me­dieval rooftops as we are sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­man­tling ev­ery sin­gle build­ing we pass in Battlefield 1943.

Rain­bow Six Siege’s un­for­giv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mor­tal­ity means that muck­ing about in an ef­fort to strip a build­ing bare isn’t an op­tion, but the game still places lim­i­ta­tions on your po­ten­tial for de­mo­li­tion. For the most part, you’ll only take one or two wall­re­mov­ing breach charges into the field, for ex­am­ple, de­spite the fact that you’re also able to carry an un­lim­ited sup­ply of wooden bar­ri­cades to tem­po­rar­ily block doors and win­dows. And even if you play as the SAS’s Sledge, whose ham­mer can bash in weak walls all match long, you’ll still be stymied by all those pesky in­vul­ner­a­ble walls and floors that con­sti­tute the build­ing’s outer shell and many of its rooms’ bor­ders.

Lim­i­ta­tions such as th­ese, where not a re­sult of mem­ory ceil­ings, are put in place to fo­cus the ac­tion and en­sure both at­tack­ers and de­fend­ers have a fair chance at vic­tory. It’s an un­der­stand­able com­pro­mise in an asym­met­ric, com­pet­i­tive on­line shooter. But they also frac­ture the logic in a way that asks your strate­gic brain to ac­cept the ex­is­tence of un­break­able walls in a game whose pri­mary sell­ing point is its de­struc­tion. The more free­dom de­sign­ers of­fer us, the more con­strained we feel by the por­tions of game­play or level ar­chi­tec­ture that con­form to older de­sign pre­cepts.

Of course, plenty of other games per­form this dis­so­nant bal­anc­ing act. The Battlefield se­ries has long had de­struc­tible build­ings and struc­tures, and birthed the Levo­lu­tion me­chanic that sees scripted de­struc­tion change the way lev­els play. But among all of this, there’s still plenty of ma­sonry you can’t break, no mat­ter how many tank rounds you send its way. Just Cause 3 plays a sim­i­lar trick by pop­u­lat­ing its world with break­able fur­ni­ture but only al­lows you to al­ter the world it­self in a hand­ful of scripted in­stances. Un­like Rain­bow Six Siege, Avalanche’s game hands you un­lim­ited ex­plo­sives with which to test the lim­its of its physics en­gine. It’s gid­dy­ing fun to top­ple fuel tanks, aeri­als and despot stat­ues, but there’s al­ways that nag­ging part of your brain that can’t help but no­tice the un­blem­ished Mediter­ranean ar­chi­tec­ture that re­mains stand­ing af­ter the smoke clears.

Other games have at­tempted to go fur­ther, not least Red Fac­tion. By the time Guer­rilla was re­leased, the se­ries had armed you with your very own sledge­ham­mer and in­vited you to wield it at ev­ery­thing in its world. Bash out the base of a build­ing and it will top­ple, wreck­ing any­thing else that it falls into. You can even tun­nel through rock. Mer­ce­nar­ies 2 re­lies more on pre-canned an­i­ma­tions than re­al­time physics, but that hardly di­min­ishes the fact that it al­lows you to level en­tire cities in min­utes. And Atomic Games’ com­pet­i­tive shooter Breach ex­per­i­mented in 2011 with ex­actly what Rain­bow Six Siege is try­ing to do to­day, but al­lowed you to de­stroy any sur­face and even to top­ple ceil­ings down onto en­e­mies.

The prob­lem is that when you’re handed the abil­ity to de­stroy ev­ery­thing, the ini­tial nov­elty of be­ing able to do so soon wears off. And, stand­ing amid the play­er­cre­ated rub­ble, de­sign­ers are faced with ad­di­tional chal­lenges – en­sur­ing AI can nav­i­gate an ever-chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, for in­stance, and that mis­sion-crit­i­cal ob­jec­tives and char­ac­ters don’t ex­pire as their worlds are razed to the ground. Th­ese are prob­lems that will be in­creas­ingly nec­es­sary to tackle as play­ers be­come ac­cus­tomed to the idea of de­struc­tible en­vi­ron­ments in the same way we have to com­plex physics, re­al­is­tic light­ing and hit­ting Tri­an­gle to steal a car.

Crack­down 3’ s on­line mul­ti­player will serve as the first field test of an ac­tion game en­vi­ron­ment that’s en­tirely de­struc­tible, and all of the po­ten­tial is­sues that go hand-in-hand with that. Cloud pro­cess­ing al­lows for worlds in which it’s pos­si­ble to track dizzy­ing amounts of user-cre­ated frag­ments of level ge­om­e­try. To play­ers, that’s a thrill, but game cre­ators will soon find them­selves ca­ter­ing for an au­di­ence who won’t be pre­pared to ac­cept that cer­tain struc­tures will re­sist their ef­forts to top­ple them. The re­sult will be a new way of look­ing at game de­sign and player free­dom.

Atomic Games’ com­pet­i­tive shooter Breach ex­per­i­mented with ex­actly what Rain­bow Six Siege is try­ing to do

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