Here’s another time when games suck: when the developers do not understand how to reward progression.
The story arc for most games is simple: you start out pissweak and get better. At the beginning you have some basic abilities, and even simple battles/tasks are difficult. A carrot is dangled over your head – a new weapon, a new power will be yours for the taking if you manage to do X; you do X, and now you can feel a sense of achievement as not only have you solved a problem, but your avatar in the game is now demonstrably better and can do more fun things. It’s not that the game has removed the old challenges and given you new ones; it’s given you new ones but still lets you have the ego boost of stomping all over the old ones to give you the satisfaction of seeing how far you’ve come.
Because it is fun to get better, and it’s fun to have your abilities increase. It’s fun to have your tactical options expand as you can do more things.
Unfortunately, some developers look at new “abilities” as nothing more than things to slow you down, as nothing more than keys to open the next door.
I’m looking at you, whoever developed the new Prince of Persia. The game talks about these four “powers” you collect as the game progresses, and implies that after you’ve got each one you’ll have a new ability you can apply throughout the game. Something new and awesome you’ll be able to do to defeat enemies or move around the environment.
But they’re really nothing more than keys. The “red” power just lets you open, effectively, the red doors. The “green” power the green doors. Oh, they pretty it up a little – the way they pretty up the Quick Time Events under the acrobatics to disguise what they are – as if the amazing ability to jump from one particular coloured plate to the next BUT ONLY THOSE PLATES IN THOSE PARTICULAR POSITIONS is somehow an exhilarating new “power”. But of course it isn’t – the Prince remains exactly the same, and the fights at the end of the game are pretty much exactly the same as at the beginning. He can jump no higher, wall run no longer, hit no harder than before. The Prince does the same thing over and over because he has not changed.* He can’t do anything more. All his new “powers” have enabled him to do is get from point A to previously locked point B.
Where’s the satisfaction in that?
Look at games that do this right, like the good RPGs. Zelda, Oblivion, Diablo – or even most FPSes. You are constantly improving, but so are the enemies. You think “man I’d love to be able to defeat these guys more easily”, and you actually do get to a point where you can. Only now there’s a new challenge.
That is satisfying. That is fun. Simply giving me the key to open the next door isn’t.
*Note: I’m about 3/4 of the way through. I gather the game pulls a Sands of Time and takes away his safety net – the prettied up checkpoint save that is Elika – towards the end.