Saturday, June 16

Splinter Cell: Conviction--Consequence in Games

A few weeks ago IGN wrote up a series of articles on Splinter Cell: Conviction. The articles are very high quality, penned by Erik Brudvig, and cover a variety of Conviction's features. Conviction is the fifth installment in the Splinter Cell series, coming after Ubisoft Shanghai's Double Agent. Conviction returns the Splinter Cell name to its original creator, Ubisoft Montreal. Montreal also created the third game in the series, Chaos Theory. Before I go any further, I want to say that Ubisoft Montreal is my favorite game developer and Chaos Theory is my favorite Splinter Cell title, not to mention one of my favorite Gamecube games. So I'm quite excited for Conviction, and for good reason too.

There is much to discuss about Conviction in terms of game design, but I wanted to write today's post on one thing in particular: consequence. Consequence and penalty are very important to video games. We can see this way back to Pac-Man, when you lose a life, and eventually lose the game, when hit by ghosts. Same thing with Galaga and Super Mario Bros. In more recent games you may have to restart from a save point, room, or area post-death. Consequence takes many forms outside of character death, as well. Basically, players are penalized when they mess up or play poorly. In Chaos Theory players were encouraged to play stealthily and take out enemies discretely. The game encouraged this by punishing players for playing otherwise. AI guards would search the area if Sam left any traces and fire-on-sight if Sam was seen.
Metal Gear Solid employs a similar, yet more defined, system. In Snake is seen guards immediately go into Alert mode and will hunt and fire at Sam mercilessly. If Snake is able to escape from view and stay hidden for long enough, guards will switch to evasion mode and slowly search the area. Finally, guards will remain in caution mode if Snake remains hidden. All of this means is that Metal Gear Solid also promotes a stealthy play style. Being noticed is bad. Who wants to evade enemies and sit there for 3 minutes while the guards walk in loops? I didn't. Thats why when I played both Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell I would respectively either commit suicide or reload the area. The consequences were just to great. Furthermore, I like to play both games without killing anyone, so getting into fire fights is out of the question. Furthermore, since both games promoted stealthy play, I preferred to play stealthily. Conviction is looking to change all of this.As mentioned above, consequences for playing poorly can be too great, even detrimental to gameplay. Consequences can also be too little. Striking a balance is key to making a good game. Penalties for playing improperly have to be large enough so as to discourage the player from doing so, but small enough to keep the player playing at all, and ideally, without reloading the map. Every game requires its own penalty considerations and calibrations. Conviction is taking an entirely different approach to game penalty.Conviction's theme is improvisation. Players must be quick on their feet to complete their goals, which means being able find the most optimal approach to any given situation and be dynamic enough to adapt to the quick-paced changes. For one (from what I've gathered), Conviction is not exclusively about hiding and dispatching of foes discretely, as previous Splinter Cell's have been. This is still important, to be certain. As Sam Fisher, players can blend into the crowd Jason Bourne style (books, which are awesome. not movies, which are not) to sneak past an a guard or two. But eventually, players may gave to create havoc to achieve their goals. This might mean causing a distraction or, perhaps, even blatantly drawing a guard to yourself. Therefore, unlike games of Splinter Cell past, Conviction will encourage players to improvise and create solutions to rapidly changing situations. The idea is that players shouldn't have to reload the level.In IGN's The Rules are Changing preview, Senior Producer on Conviction, Mathieu Ferland, said:
Improvisation is a concept we wanted to bring to the gamers, as we felt it was one of the strongest shared elements of all spy agent on his own. They have to be able to deal with anything, anytime, anywhere, faster, smarter. . . .We are creating chaos in the system and we ask the player to 'surf' this chaos, and ultimately create order in the midst of it so that they can pass through.
Producer on Conviction, Danny LePage, said in IGN's Hiding in Broad Daylight preview:
In previous Splinter Cells, your goal as a player was not to disturb the AI so you could slip by unnoticed, in Conviction, you HAVE to disturb them if you want to avoid their attention, so more than likely, you'll be creating chaos and mayhem to reach your goals. . . .So the player can expect to survive and even thrive when all else fails and they get into a fight. Players will probably come to rely on combat as one of their tools, instead of a sign that they failed and should now reload the map.
Conviction does not punish the player for being noticed, not really. Being seen just changes up the gameplay, forces the players to adapt. "Failure to adapt" is, therefore, the fault of the player, as opposed to "playing stealthily." The consequence of playing rudimentarily is death, of course. But, unlike being seen in past Splinter Cell's, the risk of being seen in Conviction is much less. This is because Sam Fisher now has the means to defend himself. Conviction is designed so that players will be seen, but will then be able to adapt to new situations.This is a quite an innovative design method, but seems as though it will work quite well. Then again, Montreal runs the risk of having too little risk. If the game is easier to play through in any one way, cheaply, then this concept of consequence is broken. Montreal needs to balance the risk of players starting a commotion with the consequences of doing so. If they can do this correctly then Conviction should be a fun ride.

Improvise
What games have you played where you feel the consequences are too great, or too low?
Based off of what you know, how do you feel about Conviction's risk/consequence system? Do you think it will work? How does it compare to the systems of previous Splinter Cell titles? Will it be better or worse? How so?

1 comment:

  1. Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

    Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

    Biby Cletus

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