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Hidden Stuff
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Weeble
Starscape Jedi
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Joined: 25 Apr 2003
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2005 12:30 pm    Post subject: Hidden Stuff Reply with quote

Please note: All uses of male personal pronouns should be considered to apply equally to females. I just hate writing "he or she" every time, and people look at me funny if I write "sie" and "hir".

I love games with hidden stuff. But how much hidden stuff is good? Should finding some hidden things be required to finish a game? Is it possible to hide so many things that the excitement of finding them is diluted? And at what point does it become a waste of developer time to include things that 90% of players will never even see?

Poo Bear recently posted a link to Doukustu Monogatari, a wonderfully charming platform/shoot-em-up. (Or maybe platform/shoot-em-up/adventure.) I would recommend anyone who's not totally allergic to the genre to give it a go. One thing about it that I really noticed is the sheer quantity of hidden stuff, and indeed *well*-hidden stuff. I absolutely love this kind of thing, but some of it I doubt I'd have found without a few hints, and a casual gamer might play all the way through without realising he has missed anything, when in fact he's only seen five out of ten weapons, and missed at least four really tough bosses.

Another game I really love is Psychnosis's Puggsy for the Megadrive (Genesis), a platform game about a stranded alien who must recover his spaceship from cruel raccoons, featuring a detailed 2d physics engine, and stacks of hidden stuff. Lots of levels had hidden exits leading to secret levels, shortcuts and mini-games. It was comparable to Mario World in a number of ways, particularly the world-map where you could return to completed levels to try to find other exits. It's a tough call to say which game had more hidden stuff, but I think I enjoyed Puggsy's hidden stuff more. The mini-games were mostly very well put together retro-games, which were generally quite hard, but a fun challenge for the perfectionist who had to finish everything.

Psychnosis also made Wiz 'n' Liz, a game that took hidden stuff to such a level that the main game (running around horizontal looping arenas collecting wabbits, sorry, rabbits) was little more than a mini-game that provided the opportunity to access all the secret things. It featured mini-games like throwing tomatoes at the programmers (who were in stocks), and had other secrets that did such trivial but strange things as changing all the wabbits bloo (err... blue) or wed or gween. I think the problem with Wiz 'n' Liz was that it was in danger of collapsing down its own event horizon - there was so little stuff left that wasn't hidden. I imagine many casual gamers who wouldn't play the game for more than 5 minutes.

Donkey Kong 64 has some nice hidden retro games - the original Donkey Kong and Jetpac. Unfortunately the game also decided that in order to out-do Mario 64 it needed to have more of everything. After a certain point the game seems to degenerate into a series of slow scavenger hunts as you try to gather all the (five different colours of) bananas, golden bananas, blueprints (also in five colours) and banana fairies. There's also a bunch of medals and crowns to win. It's a good game, but it's about twice as long as it needs to be, and you never have to do something just once - it's always at least five times.

Quick mentions to:
  • Mischief Makers by Treasure (N64) - I forget if you're collecting stars or medals or what, but as a novel feature the ending sequence is on a timer, starting with the number of these things you managed to acquire. When the timer ends, you don't get to see any more. The last few seconds have some revelations, but I never could quite get that last star. (For anyone who cares, it was the one you win by defeating Cerberus Alpha without taking a single hit.)
  • Dynamite Headdy by Treasure (MD/Genesis) - "You got a secret bonus point!" These were awarded for all sorts of things, generally for interacting with things that appear if you wait around at certain points, or that appear briefly while you're doing something else (like fighting a boss). To be honest, I've no idea what the point in getting these was, as the game was insanely hard and I always ran out of lives and never finished it.

So what makes hidden stuff fun? Well, I think DK64 demonstrates that you can't just hide stuff everywhere. The player gets tired of it before long, as all of his achievements blur into a bunch of numbers. It's not "I found the hidden Weapon X, used it to defeat the Lord of Time at the top of the Invisible Mountain; I took his crown and now the sky has melted and all the trees are purple." It's "I found 23 pink aubergines and 72 silver mongoose badges, plus a blue cloud token for finding 50 silver mongoose badges."

The DK64 approach works only when used in moderation. It's okay to have maybe 8 secret magic crystal cups, so long as they're interesting and challenging to acquire. But put in 20 of them and they become less special, and the easy ones will dilute the value of the hard ones. I suppose the benefit of a collect all X things challenge is that it means you can re-use the same resources (code, graphics) X times.

I think it's very important that the player should feel he has shown cleverness or ingenuity to find any given secret. Perhaps he recognised a pattern to how things are positioned and looked where something is missing. Maybe he reasoned that taking a certain course of action must result in something unexpected, because otherwise the game would be rendered impossible. (Design note: It is a bad thing if a game becomes impossible without it being immediately obvious.) Perhaps he just observed some area that looks inaccessible and went to lengths to find a way in. Maybe he just spotted something that's very subtle. Or perhaps he fought through some very difficult section that others just gave up on. It's not good if a player frequently stumbles onto supposedly hidden things without expecting it. He needs to think, "Hee hee! I'm here and I'm not supposed to be!" any time he's exploring a hidden area. If he can get there without realising then something is wrong.

What is the Mr. Robot approach to hidden stuff? How do you prioritise things that not every player is going to see? In Starcraft you had some alien technologies that were partially hidden, and those who liked everything to be nice and complete needed to hunt down all of the missing crew. Still, these aren't really secret when compared with the stuff hidden in some of the games I've mentioned here. Is Mr Robot going to contain some cruelly hard and fiendishly secret stuff for the masochists among us, or can you not afford to spend time on features for what may not compose a particularly large section of your audience. For that matter, what is your perception of your audience? How many of them are hard-core perfectionists who can't walk away until they've finished everything? How many of them play a few levels and never finish the game at all?

Weeble.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2005 2:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting stuff. I'd say only a very small percentage of people playing Starscape actually register on the forum and an even smaller percentage of them actually post anything. This tiny percentage of people are not representative of the games true audience, but many of the things they talk about are subconciously felt by the majority. We are hard core Wink

So when you talk about secrets in games I suspect this is something that pleases the normal user when he stumbles upon it, it helps round out the feel good factor. For you and me though, we seek secrets out, watch for anything unexplained or apparently unreachable, search for online guides, take pride in finding them all and rejoice in solving fiendishly complex challenges. We are also smart enough to see when someone has taken an easy route to adding lots of unrewarding secrets just for the sake of it.

So is it worth doing? To a certain extent yes, things like this that are important to the hardcore do appeal to the average user too, just to differing degrees. So we should have secrets and collectables, but many should be fairly easy to find, interesting challenges rather than just hard or repetitive and it must not be required to finish the game (unless they are fairly obvious).

What about MrRobot then? One idea is to have energy pickups sprinkled through the game and display how many the player has collected (like stars in Mario64). Did you find al of them, do you care? Some pickups would be visible but in hard to reach areas of a simple room, others would be in hidden rooms or have their own entire section of rooms. Simple stuff, but if the rooms themselves are different and challenging then it's still fun.

An extension of this idea is to let the player convert some of the pickups he has collected into extra lives. Further encouragement to seek them out and collect them all.
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Fost
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2005 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The issue you bring up is interesting, and one we've debated before internally. One thing that seem to be prevalent in game reviews, and even discussion of games, is completion time. I for one would much rather see some games trimmed down (Halo for instance) rather than try to extend their game times with lots of repetition. I know I'm in the minority though, and I can't blame developers for this when they would suffer greatly for it at the hands of reviewers.

Mr. Robot specifically brings this question to the forefront of our thinking - new rooms can take several days to make and test, and a zone will comprise of a number of these rooms. So, secret zones are pretty much out of the question within our timeframe, but rooms should be possible.

I think secrets (like most things in a game) are valued by their uniqueness. If all we do is have the same type of secret entrance, and the same pickup, then it could be dull. Even unique artwork can make a secret far more interesting - how about a room with pickup crystals that's full of game consoles? Very Happy

One thing Mr R has in his favour, is that it's possible to make quite difficult puzzles - we've so far shyed away from doing anything too brain destroying, because we think most people will want to maintain the running-jumping-avoiding the bad robots momentum. However, we could add some rooms that have difficult to reach exits, with difficult puzzle rooms containing more crystals. The uniqueness there will be the puzzle.

The other thing in Mr R's favour - is that we aren't a mainstream games company - so adding additional rooms post release is going to be something we are into! It would be nice to do an update that adds a whole zone, but also adds lots of secrets to the original parts of the game. Things like this should be much easier with Mr. Robot - it's possible for me to create rooms on my own for instance without any programmer influence. It will be difficult to think about adding too much secret stuff for initial release, because it takes so long to put things together we are throwing all our energies into the main parts of the game.

Oh, and , yet another thing that should be good - we'll hopefully get the editor in a user friendly state within a decent timeframe after release - so user levels will hopefully start to spring up Very Happy I'm really hoping this is something that will take off.
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Patriarch



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PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 3:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just an idea on this thought; Have difficult to reach doors (colored orange, or something) that are shortcuts, unlock concept art, new levels, who knows what.
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Fost
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 6:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, that's kind of what we are thinking - make some of the puzzles optional, and mind bendingly hard for reeaching doors etc.

The big issue for us though (as with any indie developer) is time spent producing unique content - unlike mainstream devlopment, we can't just throw more level editors, artists and programmers at the problem. It's difficuly to justify time spent on stuff that won't be seen by the majority of players. Unlike mainstream development, we have the chance to make up for that with free game updates post release.

Anyway - we do have some nice secret ideas already, so there will definitely be some stuff going on in the game.
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HunterXI



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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 1:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't forget that when it comes to secrets, sometimes the Blindingly Obvious ones are the good ones - people have a tendancy to look in really complex locations, but they're often hidden in plain sight - below the floor, above a door on the side you exit, down that turn you're told you don't need to take, behind a piece of rubble, boxes, etc. I was thinking of Star Trek: Elite Force II, in case you've ever played that. In Elite Force II, they managed to hide some secrets in amazingly obvious places. There was a secret, as I recall, that was literally half-a-centimeter from a walkway that you inevitably pass past 30 times - you're so frustrated that you can't figure out what to do, you lock yourself into only looking for that one switch you need to get past the current room. When/if you found it, you had this immediate feeling of embarassment, because anyone who sat down next to you to watch for 5 minutes saw it and started taunting you that you couldn't find it.

Just my 2.
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DaiShiva



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I play games with a friend, he wants to find all the secrets 'for completeness' and it annoys me to no end because the majority of the time is then spent looking in all the nooks and crannies and backtracking to places we have already been (just to make sure we didnt miss anything).

When we do find something, its usually 1 out of 10 items needed to find in order to get something else, its not even useful in its current form! Invariably we will miss one along the way and then all that time spent looking has been wasted. I feel these kind of secrets interrupt gameplay and are only useful the second time you play through the game (since you know where to go to progress the game).

Even if the secret is 'useful' when you find it, it should be worth the time spent getting it. If the game throws money at you with every monster you kill, finding a secret that gives you the cash you would have got from killing 10 monsters is rather boring. Small items that boost your characters performance on the other hand (like say, +10 health), while not necessary to complete the game, are certainly worth looking for because they will benefit you throughout the rest of the game.
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Fost
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 3:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm now quite far though Doukustu Monogatari (Cave Story) and I totally agree with Weeble - it's a really good example of doing secrets well. The amount of content in there is quite shocking though and I think we would struggle to match it (entire secret levels!!). It's done in a way that should never upset players who aren't interested in that kind of thing - key decisions throughout the game can take it down a different path which may allow you to find a secret - the game is still long enough to be highly entertaining even if you miss all of the bonusses.

And it's free - I'd have happily paid $40 for this game.
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icarus
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fost wrote:
And it's free - I'd have happily paid $40 for this game.


not all of us have jobs in game dev

(electronic meda is awesome you only have to make it once and it keeps paying for itself you could even make a profit if you sell it for $5)
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Fost
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

icarus wrote:
not all of us have jobs in game dev

I didn't mean to imply I was rich - and I would certainly advise anyone who wants to be not to start their own games company Wink

All I meant was - that game is worth $40 in my opinion - and you can get it for free.

icarus wrote:
electronic meda is awesome you only have to make it once and it keeps paying for itself you could even make a profit if you sell it for $5

I can see why everyone might think that - but it's not true. We've had times when we only just covered our server fees. If you don't spend half your time marketing the game, you get zero sales, it's as simple as that. As for selling for $5 - well ideally we would sell as cheaply as we can and still make money. $5 would not even cover admin, download server fees and card processing fee. Just thought this was worth saying - I don't think enough people realise there's the same amount of work again after you make a game, just to sell it.

It would be great though if you could just make a game, and it would sell indefinitely into the future. Very Happy I'd certainly be much happier if all my time was spent on game work and not having to deal with everything else.
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icarus
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 6:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

good point
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Pinstripe



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nat you're a tool, look at all the good games that have gone under because of lack of funding, or because people weren't willing to pay the user fees for them. For example WISH one of the best games created for MMOs never even got out of beta because the pricetag was too high and tge profile of the game too low =\
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

The big issue for us though (as with any indie developer) is time spent producing unique content - unlike mainstream devlopment, we can't just throw more level editors, artists and programmers at the problem. It's difficuly to justify time spent on stuff that won't be seen by the majority of players. Unlike mainstream development, we have the chance to make up for that with free game updates post release.


I can see this from both sides. Personally, I'm a player that will go through great lengths to find something if I know it's there. I, for example, will go out of my way to reach a ledge or door that looks unreachable if I THINK I can get there. I like being rewarded for my cleverness, but if things are hidden so well that I need a guide to find it, I will likely pass it up to move on to more interesting content.

You also have to figure who "the majority" of your players will be. Is your audience attracted to mind bending challenges? Do they find great success in uncovering the hidden mysteries of the game? Honestly questions like these would be easier to answer if you had more feedback. (I see the same five or six posters on every thread)

In all honesty, I believe people who game seek mental challenges. Whether they will admit it or not, gamers do not game for "entertainment," they game because it is mentally stimulating.

...I had more to say, but I couldn't think of anything that was more final. Shocked Anyway, just my two cents.

-Phantom
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 1:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

2FacedPhantom wrote:
You also have to figure who "the majority" of your players will be.

That's actually a difficult one with Mr. Robot - it's such an eclectic mix of genres that it is difficult to second guess what kind of people will be into it. I think people like secrets in general, but you don't want too many that are incredibly hard to find. We have come up with an interesting plan regarding this - I can't say much right now, because we are in the process of finalising some aspects of it- we'll be sure to mention it in an upcoming dev diary though.
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Lothar
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are some interesting secrets in "Deadly Rooms of Death" (a game you should check out) where there's just a note sitting somewhere that says "it's possible to reach this note without _____" (where _____ is something you probably did to get to that point.) It creates a little challenge for the player -- trying to figure out how to beat an area without throwing a particular switch, for example.

All that is to say, don't rule out the possibility of making puzzles that have an easy solution and a harder solution, and challenging players to find the harder solution.
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