Monday, January 10, 2011

Going Home

Some friends and I had a bit of a talk about home bases in video games. There are many examples. The Normandies in the Mass Effects. The Suikoden games often had castles or similar. The Overlord games had castles. Mario Galaxy had the space base thing. Many more.

In talking about them, we found we all had completely different opinions. So I started thinking, and I came to some conclusions.

First, there are four distinct functions of a home base. These aren't exclusive: you can mix and match. The four types are hub worlds, enhanced menus, art galleries, and gardens.

Hub worlds are simply homes where the point is to have a central place from which you can go anywhere. Hub worlds are usually a "safe" point in the game world, allowing you to recharge, recover, and save. Their other function is to shrink the size of the world by allowing you to reach various points very quickly.

Enhanced menus are homes which could be replaced by a simple menu system, but are instead spread into various rooms. For example, you might have a travel room, an equipment room, a few shops, and so on. These are getting more common, and the most egregious example is the newest Fable game. A less nasty example is the Overlord's castle.

Art galleries are homes where you can make all sorts of aesthetic changes, such as doing interior decorating or displaying trophies. These are becoming extremely common, probably because they are both easy and effective. Many of my friends - and many gamers in general - love the idea of expressing themselves by redecorating their homes.

Gardens are homes which grow over the course of the game. These homes reflect your progress through the storyline(s), but also frequently allow you to access optional content such as unlocking NPC personal quests, growing/crafting rare items, participating in challenges, and so on. The core idea behind a garden isn't that it allows you to do these things, but that it steadily grows in its capabilities to allow you to do these things.

The Normandy in ME2 is a weak but easy example: there are many subquests to do, and as the game progresses, you get more. A better example would be the starship Calnus from Star Ocean: the Last Hope. The Calnus allows you to change who is rooming with who, wander around randomly and talk to your crew, forge items, and many other things. The potential for all these grew over the course of the game. That said, the Calnus was an extremely high-pressure implementation, since it is very definitely possible to end up missing a huge amount of content if you don't have a walkthrough.

Anyway, those are four things a home base generally can do: hub world, enhanced menu, art galleries, and gardens.

If you want your home to have an emotional kick to it, you need to make sure to allow for both art gallery and garden elements. A key is to keep the player coming back to the home for the sake of interacting with the home. This can be pushed a bit by enticing the player to come back for other reasons (such as needing to shop at the store or open a new gate), but those enticements are not sufficient in and of themselves. The player needs to want to interact with the home.

Another factor to consider is the architecture of the home. Architecture is important for several reasons. One reason is that people remember rooms and places really well, so you need to have unique and varied rooms and places connected in interesting but intuitive ways. Another reason is because cunning architectural design can radically enhance the art gallery aspect of the game - for example, if you change the flags in the main hall, that's fine. But if you then notice that you can see down into the main hall from the top of the tower, that change becomes a bit more interesting.

Anyhow, just some thoughts on creating home bases. What are your favorite home bases? Your thoughts?


Monica said...

This is one area in which Dragon Age: Origins falls short. Camp serves as a hub location and, to a much lesser degree, a garden - personal quests do become available over time. I think its party healing and resting functions fit into its hub role.

However, all character interactions except sex can be done in non-camp locations. The first time I played the game, I was a third of the way through before I realized that camp existed - that's how superfluous it was.

Craig Perko said...

Now that you mention it, Dragon Age did have a home base. I'd completely forgotten because it was so unimportant.