Saturday, December 02, 2006

Laser Tag

I'm going to go back to the Swords and Smiles/Interfaces thing tomorrow, but for today I'd like to talk about something slightly simpler. Something to show everyone that game design analysis isn't just some ivory-tower voodoo that nobody ever uses. This essay may seem a little long, but it's extremely straight forward and easy to read.

Yesterday, I played laser tag. With 35 other friends - we bought the place out for a little while.

The basics of laser tag are simple: shoot the other dude to get more points. Most games of laser tag have additional features to make the play more interesting. All of them have terrain, most of them have teams, many of them have special targets (such as bases), ammo limits, lives...

The place we went did all of that - no one feature as well as I might hope, but everything somewhat well. (Except the fact that you could still get shot after you died, which was really dumb.)

They also had one feature which was... very interesting.

Every minute or so, people became invulnerable for twenty seconds. The basic idea being that they could waltz into the enemy base and shoot the base for a while, racking up the points.

Now, from my point of view, this was really a dumb idea. I mean, painfully dumb. You can't do anything to stop these people. You don't even get points for shooting them. Worse, the PA says, "green, defend your base!" every time one gets inside. You end up wanting to shoot it: you know there's some asshole in your base, and he's going to be there for precisely eight more seconds before invulnerability fades and he instantly dies. You can't defend your base. It's physically impossible.

So, why did they do it? Why this stupid "invulnerable" shit?

Take a moment to come up with some reasons they might have done so before reading on.


The more obvious reasons are ones of play rhythm. You want to keep the game going at a frantic pace, and the best way to keep people running from one side to the other is to make them invulnerable for a little while. However, this is a really bad way to control pacing. In fact, it would be better to do it just the opposite: have the various base targets themselves only vulnerable at pseudorandom times. Invulnerable players don't pull the same vigorous defense, because they can't be defeated.

But it's not a bad design. There's another reason for it. Did you think of it?

Shitty players are the problem.

See, in games of paintball, the real issue is that if you're a bad player, you spend most of the game dead and don't really accomplish anything useful. Laser tag is, at its default, the same: if you can't shoot and have no sense of tactics, you'll suck. You'll end up with a big negative score and feel like you wasted your time.

But if everyone gets to be invulnerable for a while, then no matter how bad you are, you get to kick all the ass for twenty seconds. Assuming you're alert enough to realize that you've just gone invulnerable, of course.

So the invulnerability is really to make the bad players still enjoy themselves. I, being the sort of person who doesn't much like luck as a major factor, hate the rule. But I'm also not a bad player, so I'm a bit biased.

Honestly, I don't think it's really the best way to do it. But it is an effective way to do it.

Can you think of other ways? Let's hear them!

1 comment:

Patrick said...

You could invert the boon, instead of having players intermittedly attack without opposition, you design the playground so that lesser tacticians can duck behind well cloistered barricades and play turret man, or if they're really good, sniper. Most places have a weak form of this with windowed enclaves and such, but the windows are too broad to have nearly as big a leveling effect as the invulnerability. I'm talking a rectangle with about 3/4ths a square foot of space. Good players can circumvent this by playing the angles with a team-mate and having great aim, but it still lets noobs have the fun of "holding down the fort".

BTW, this essay wasn't that long at all. You've done much longer.