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Current Gaming Obsession
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Of the three video games I got for Xmas, the one I was least enthused about is actually turning out to be the best, and has thoroughly trashed my sleep schedule. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (AKA R&C 2).

It's not the story, which is cliche crossed with "humor". It's not new and innovative gameplay; Everything it does, I've seen done before. It's a deep and fundamental understanding of The Cookie Principle (a design principle of mine: Give the Player a Cookie (i.e. reward) as Often as Possible), and excellent pacing and game-balancing. I'm not finished with it yet, but I thought it already worthwhile to list some of the things that this game Does Right that so many other games seem to miss:

The game gives you a "Continue Point" both before and after every big, hard set-piece (boss fight or jumping puzzle). A lot of these sequences require complex, precision work with no mistakes, but they don't make the mistake of forcing you to replay relatively straightforward bits over and over, just to get to the super-challenging bit.

The economy is structured so that you can't really go broke. Enemies almost always yield more "loot" than the cost of the ammunition used to kill them. And if you die, you go back to the last Continue Point -- but you *keep* all the loot you gained! For the (rare) very-difficult fights, it is sometimes a viable strategy to make several unsuccessful-but-profitable attempts, go but better equipment, and come back tougher.

There's good expensive equipment to buy for your loot. In many games, money eventually becomes meaningless, due to the player having bought all the Cool Stuff well before the end of the game. I think I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and the game has been steadily introducing new things to the "for sale" menu at a rate that leaves my "Oooh, I want *that*!" list with 2 or 3 entries at all times. The bad guys are scaled gradually tougher, so that, as you get cooler equipment, you need it, and if you go back to replay an earlier region (say, to look for optional stuff you missed on the first go-round), you can feel like a real badass.

There's something like 30 different weapons, and they each feel distinctly different. Each weapon also gets "upgraded" into a cooler version if you use it enough, which has the nifty side effect of making you want to use weapons that you normally might not, to see what they upgrade into.

There's a *huge* variety of stuff to do in this game. The basic gameplay is your standard platformer formula of running, jumping, and shooting, but they keep upgrading it and throwing in more curves. New moves and play styles get introduced steadily throughout. Look, here's a way you can jump higher! Now here's a way that you can walk on walls! Now let's have a racing minigame! How about two giant robots smashing up a city and each other, Rampage-style! Arena duels! Spaceship combat! Remote-control robots! Aaaaaahhhh, my brain is exploding!

And yet, with all this diverse stuff being thrown at you, it's always introduced in a clear, useful context which, amazingly, doesn't ever feel like a tutorial, but is interesting gameplay. Sometimes it's challenging to press the buttons in the right sequence, but you never get confused about which buttons you should be pushing. Well, I did forget one once -- only to discover the clear and well-organized on-line help system!

There's lots of optional areas to explore, and these reward you with rare resources which can be used to upgrade your weapons still further. There are optional "Skill Points" which record particularly cool accomplishments. I gather that getting enough of them will unlock even *more* content. It's just cookie after cookie so far. Even if the remainder of the game sucks, I've gotten well more than list price worth of value out of this one.

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I got a Playstation2 for Christmas from my dad. I bought R&C 2 soon after with Simpsons Hit & Run and DDRMAX (as a pre-wedding exercise program). I'm glad to hear the game is fun, because I'm getting frustrated with SH&R (I suck at driving games).

Each weapon also gets "upgraded" into a cooler version if you use it enough

Hey, it's the Practice Effect!

And yet, with all this diverse stuff being thrown at you, it's always introduced in a clear, useful context which, amazingly, doesn't ever feel like a tutorial, but is interesting gameplay.

I am seriously impressed. That's a really challenging bit of usability design there. If I ever found an application program that self-explanatory, I'd be in awe; managing it in a game, without breaking up the play, is pretty mindboggling.


If I ever found an application program that self-explanatory, I'd be in awe; managing it in a game, without breaking up the play, is pretty mindboggling.

While it is certainly an accomplishment, it's not quite as huge as it would be in a more general application. In a game (or at least in most games), the designer has set your agenda, and knows, within a reasonable delta, what you've already experienced during the game and what your immediate goals are.

In a general-purpose application, agenda, experience, and goals are all set by the user, and much harder for the designer to know beforehand. In a domain as complex as a real-world application, giving "just enough of the right help at exactly the right time" is an AI-complete problem. Frex, one of the most notable attempts to engineer such a system is "Clippy" from the MS Office suite, even if it's mostly notable for its near-complete failure.

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