by Matthew Thompson
(In this hopefully recurring feature, I talk to developers who clearly all read my blog and help them get on the right track)
I know you love Uncharted. Hey I do too. There is a lot to like. But I think you need to stop aping its platforming mechanics in your new game. They kind of work in Uncharted as a way to add verticality to the game’s combat, but on its own pushing the analog stick in a direction and pressing X just doesn’t cut it.
It’s a shame too. Over ten years ago, platforming fans were blessed with the next big thing: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It had everything. A deep move set. Fantastic imaginative level design. It managed to include sections that tested your skills with the controller (the game’s trap hallways) but also ones that tested your brain. Finding how to get from Point A to Point B was your major obstacle adding a puzzle element to the game’s traversal. It wasn’t the first game to really try this out. Games like Ico and Tomb Raider had certainly done it before, but Sands of Time looked to be the one to revolutionize the genre. We saw some greats certainly spring up afterwards. Much like Tomb Raider inspired the Ubisoft developed PoP games, it in turn inspired a new wave of Tomb Raider games, the best of which Anniversary melded the original game’s design with some of the Prince’s more modern sensibilities. This past generation’s best platformer, Mirror’s Edge, also probably saw some of its roots in the Prince’s adventure in Azad. Heck at least something like God of War had its heart in the right place even if it was lacking in execution.
Somewhere along the way things went in a more simplified direction. The cause could be any number of things. Maybe Uncharted’s popularity has little to do with it. Maybe it’s the larger move towards cinematic experiences. Maybe it’s a new generation who doesn’t want challenge in that area of gameplay. Maybe it’s you (the developers) fear of challenging that subset of gamers whether they exist or not. Whatever the reason, things have gotten bad. If Uncharted inspired it, others took it to the next level. Remember Me, a game I think fondly of, has the same automated traversal but uses an arrow to tell you where to jump to. Enslaved is probably the worst of the whole bunch, with flashes telling you where to jump and on top of that it doesn’t let you go in the wrong direction taking any ability to make a mistake away. Even those series I praised (PoP and TR) saw reboots that dumbed down their previously deep mechanics.
I guess what I’m asking you guys is to start going back in the right direction. Look to games like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. There is this great subset of games with what I call “realistic platforming.” And while you may need to make games more action-oriented to sell to the masses, there is no reason why we can’t spend the time you do give us to clamber around the game world doing something a bit more substantive. Hell you may even surprise some gamers by giving them something they didn’t know they wanted.
Matthew Thompson, Desperately Looking for the Next Great Realistic Platformer