When Developers Know Best

Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom: Eternal. Clearly id Software and Nintendo have made very different games. But I’ve noticed that both developers implemented very similar design strategies. They deliberately chose to make games with mechanics and styles that are clear-cut and specialised. Many players may not like these decisions, so they’ll cheat through them or just stop playing. So I want to take a look at how and why games sometimes make unorthodox decisions, and tell you about when developers know best.

Time in Animal Crossing

“It won’t happen overnight, but seeing the results take shape will be oh-so satisfying!”

This is how Nintendo say you’ll be playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This isn’t entirely true, as for a lot of players it will happen overnight.

If you aren’t familiar with Animal Crossing as a series it’s a life-sim with the core mechanic of using your console’s inner clock. The in-game days last as long as your days in real life. The Lead Designer of the original game, Katsuya Eguchi, told Gamastura where the mechanic came from:

“Our intent was to create kind of a parallel world, a world that’s kind of similar to your own but also different.”

So he wanted Animal Crossing to mirror real life. Not just through having relationships with neighbours, or completing busy work, but also through how you interact with the game on a day to day basis. You have to wait a day for rewards after doing activities, for builds to take place, and you’ll have to return on certain days of the year for specific events like birthdays or holidays.

When Developers Know Best
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However many players exploit this part of the game, You’re supposed to keep coming back and treat the game, to an extent, the same as real life. After all we can’t just fast forward to our birthday and Christmas whenever we want. The aim was for the wait to make rewards and events more special.  But some players will just keep moving their systems clock forward to get through the game. They don’t want to wait. The only problem is, that kinda defeats the point.

Nintendo designed time in Animal Crossing to impact how the entire game is experienced. It meant players would come back every day, often doing very little, but making progress. Much like real life. But some players just rush through the game, creating a different experience. Using the commonly referred to ‘Time Travel’ cheat to move their consoles internal clock, specifically duo they don’t have to wait in real time.

Is this wrong? No of course not! But it goes against the deliberate design of Animal Crossing. Players actively cheat the game because they don’t like the way it’s been designed. Of course they can, and do, have that option. But it is still an example of when a developer knows best by designing heretical game mechanics, instead of conforming to something.

The Combat Loop of DOOM: Eternal

“Experience the ultimate combination of speed and power in DOOM Eternal – the next leap in push-forward, first-person combat.

Unlike Animal Crossing the player can’t really cheat their way out of this one. Except when id Software lets them. Doom: Eternal is all about fast-paced, deadly action. If the player doesn’t keep moving or take advantage of the ways to gain resources, they’ll most likely perish. They need to adapt to using different weapons and equipment to take out certain demons, to make the most of the resources they find.

DOOM: Eternal is thus unique in its approach, its atypical in the way the player needs to treat their approach to FPS games. usually the player keeps their distance, uses cover, and takes it a lot slower. DOOM wants you to be fast, and if you don’t like it… too bad.

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A lot of players may not resonate with what id Software are trying to achieve. So how do they get around this? Well DOOM: Eternal has built in unlock-able cheat codes. The player still needs to progress through the levels and find these secret cheats though. The difference from Animal Crossing here is that id Software are actively supplying these cheats, but the core of the gameplay itself won’t change.

So whilst these changes can edit gameplay on a small level, those who don’t like faced paced gun-play or resource management tied to that, can’t change the game. id Software are a prime example of when developers know best, as they didn’t sacrifice anything to deliver Doom: Eternal’s unique experience.

The 26 Endings of NieR: Automata

New Game Plus – the concept of replaying a video game with extra items and abilities – isn’t exactly new. However PlatinumGames took that concept and said “we can do one better”. They decided their post-apocalyptic action-game would incentivise replay-ability by having 5 of its 26 endings – A through E – impact the overall story.

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So for all intents and purposes, to experience the whole game, you need to play it at least 5 times through. The other 21 endings are mostly jokes, filling up the remaining letters of the alphabet when you either do something unexpected… or do nothing.

PlatinumGames are sticking it to the industry here. They had an idea, a way to parody replaying video games, and just video games as a whole, and stuck to it. More than anything I respect them for doing it. They provide the player with the question of whether or not they want to replay the game enough times to experience it all. They don’t make it short, they don’t make it easy. A lot of players might not like that, but these developers just don’t care.

If you want the story, you’ve got to keep playing.

The Ant-Traditional Gameplay of Pathalogic

“You’ll find an experience that will affect your emotional and psychological state. In the world of Pathologic you’ll find yourself in situations where morals and good deeds are meaningless in the face of raw despair and endless need.”

This somewhat lost gem comes to this article in part as a recommendation. I don’t want to spoil too much, but still… here we go.

Pathalogic, from developers Ice-Pick Lodge,is a horror game that uses it’s relationship with the player as the basis for the entire experience. It’s a game where the fourth wall may as well not exist… but not in a Deadpool sort of way. You know how most games fulfill a power fantasy? Not this one, it does the literal opposite.

When Developers Know Best
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Over the course of 12 in-game days you’ll need to progress the story… and survive. However if what the game throws at you is too much and you can’t survive, or you miss a daily story task, it doesn’t matter. The game moves forward without you. On top of that Ice-Pick Lodge seemingly designed the experience to be against the grain of mainstream gaming. You can only move at one speed, and people you talk to will often have you walk across town to complete quests. In short, everything the developer has done is deliberate enough to be the opposite of what you expect, just enough to be grueling and possible at the same time.

If you really want to know about what this game offers in the way of “anti-traditional gameplay”, then read this review here.

When Developers Know Best

There are many more examples that could be put in this article, but then we’d be here all day. What it has aimed to show is that sometimes developers implement certain mechanics or design philosophies that are counter-intuitive to their design. But often these decisions are made on purpose, and with great difficulty, because developers want to do something different.

These decisions might have most players actively wanting to cheat around them, or convince them to stop playing. That’s fine, these types of gameplay decisions are here because they’re divisive, but they are also 100% calculated. So maybe don’t ignore a game because it seems different or unorthodox. Give it a try and you never know… you might enjoy it.

Want to read more of our editorials? Well you can find them here. As always, thanks for reading COG!

 

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Will Nelson

I'm a Journalist, Podcaster, Breakfast Radio Host and an all round lover of video games! I might love Pokemon too much for being an adult, but that hasn't stopped me. My favourite game is Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc (that tells you most of what you need to know). Video Games have been a massive part of my life since I was born, and I hope I can spread that passion to all of you reading!

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