As I mentioned in an earlier article, I recently had gotten into playing Skyrim. So as I was playing, being that I was playing on PC, and after about 100 hours of play, I decided to start trying out some mods.
One of the mods I downloaded was titled “Interesting NPCs”. It added a ton of new characters into the world, all fully voiced, with tons of dialogue, new followers, and all that jazz. After a few hours of playing with the mod, I had to scrap it from my game.
And not because it was bad. It was actually very well done, especially for a ton of amateur work. But because it committed to me, what is one of the biggest sins in all gaming: It was inconsistent with the game around it. The voice work was of generally lower quality than the professional quality of the main games NPCs, but that was to be expected.
The problem comes though, when you start examining the vanilla Skyrim NPCs. The conversation trees with them are all fairly shallow. You generally can learn more about them by listening to them talk to each other than by talking to them yourselves. With the NPCs added by the mod though, it felt more like the game had been made from Bioware. The NPCs all had sprawling dialogue trees, with tons of back and forth conversation. It wasn’t bad. In fact, these characters definitely had more interactivity than the vanilla characters. But I could always pick them out. I knew which ones were added every time I saw them. They didn’t seamlessly fit into the game around them.
And while this is a discussion about a mod, it got me to thinking of this from a game design perspective. Because I’m sure we have all seen it. The parts of games that are obviously rushed. The parts of games were its obvious that the developer spent the largest amount of time and thought. The parts of games that were just included to pad it out.
But these are almost always detrimental to the game as a whole. While I think we are all can honestly say that certain parts of our games excite us more to work on than others, certain characters are more interesting than others, we should generally be striving to make sure that that isn’t noticeable to the player.
If you have seven playable characters, for instance, all of them should have similar levels of depth. Now, some might become more important than others in the overall scheme of things. Of course if you have a main character they are going to have more depth than the other playable characters, but you shouldn’t have some of them come off as afterthoughts.
For an example of this done well, check out the PS2 game Dragon Quest VIII. There are four playable characters. Every single one of them has a piece of their backstory that is explored in the plot. Even Yangus, who comes off as a bit of a joke character, has his background with the thief known as Red come up in the plot.
If you have eight dungeons in your game, it shouldn’t be obvious that some were made for filler, while others were meticulously made with care. True, some dungeons will get more time than others, but you should be aware of the surrounding conditions that make them that way. Is it a major turning point in the story? Is it a climactic piece? Then you can get away with a bit more care. But none of them should ever feel like filler.
A good example of this done well is most Zelda games. While some were lengthier than others, in general, every dungeon you enter in a Zelda game has quirks and gameplay based on your tools that are all their own and very thought out. None of them feel like a dungeon for the sake of having a dungeon.
Inconsistency can creep into your game through many avenues:
A lot of people have started considering the length of a game as some measure of its quality. While I’ll admit that I love a 40 hour amazingly paced and executed game more than a 10 hour game that is amazingly paced and executed, in most cases that is not what you are getting.
Don’t include unnecessary parts to a game just to make it longer. I’d rather play a 1 hour game that is a blast than a 10 hour game that I have to slog through 90% of it to get to the good parts.
This one happens to almost everyone. There will be parts of your game that I am more interested. Maybe that one character is what I built the whole game around. Maybe that one mechanic that I made in that one dungeon just is more fun than I was expecting and is making designing that part more enjoyable to work on.
There isn’t really an easy solution, I just have to do the work on everything, whether it is what I want to work on or not. Maybe that other character will get more interesting the more I work on him. Maybe I can think up another awesome mechanic for the next dungeon (or maybe I can find a way to include the mechanic I like in another dungeon).
I just need to work on everything as equally as possible. And yes, sometimes this means working a little less on things I really loved.
You are so close to finishing your game. Oh, so close. But its taken you so long to get there. Just that little bit left and you just want to be done. And it shows. The last bits of your game are a bit slapdash and not very fun.
If you are getting to feel like this, take a deep breath, save your project, close RPG Maker, and go outside. Or play a video game. Or read a book. Take a break. Your game will be there when you get back and are ready to actually make something good again
Lack of Planning
Sometimes, inconsistency just sneaks in through lack of planning. You don’t think through how a feature would interact with another feature. You don’t think through what level of depth you want out of characters of different levels of importance in the game to have. You don’t think of the level of complexity of different mechanics in relation to each other.
All you can do to fix this is plan. Plan, plan, plan. And playtest afterwords as much as possible just to make sure your planning worked. Make sure everything feels like part of the same world.
So now that you’ve made it with me this far, how jarring was the inconsistencies in this article? I went from pictures with joke captions to being all text in the last half. The second half started using headings, while the first half was written without any. I randomly switched to using myself in one section rather than addressing you. Jarring wasn’t it? Now imagine that in a game.