Monday, 27 June 2005, 21:53:02 EDT
A couple of weeks ago I read an article on Gamasutra titled "Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! VI". I kept the article open because I wanted to write about it but didn't really have much to say other than "Go read this! It is good." Well, this weekend I started playing Demon Stone; a role-playing game for the Playstation 2. This game is exactly what the article is talking about.
Demon Stone is a rather short game, especially for a role-playing game. There are only ten character levels and ten game levels to match. I don't really mind the shortness of the game because it makes it playable; had I not started playing it so late in the afternoon on Saturday I would have beaten it in one sitting. I don't really have time for games like Zelda: Wind Waker or GTA: San Andreas any more even though I love a good, involved, game. So, a game this short is really quite nice since I can get the full thing in without having to spend a year on it.
Another plus for the game is its level balance. The characters have a small selection of abilities and goods they can buy per level. It is very easy to gain all ten character levels and max out the characters' abilities. Each person in the party gets a fair share of gold to spend after each game level. It isn't too difficult to get all the best gear for the characters by the end of the game, usually getting good enough gear for the upcoming level.
I wish that there were more good things to say about this game but it just isn't so. In fact, I am having a difficult time deciding where to start on the massive list of things wrong with this game. I suppose a good place to start is the lack of plot development. It is as if the designers of this game decided to take their last Forgotten Realms campaign and turn it in to a game. Not a bad idea in itself. After all, one of the best fantasy book series of all time was based on a Dragonlance campaign. However, the designers of this game evidently favor the psionics class thinking that the players of their game will be just that — mind readers. There is not any character development for any of the characters in your party other than what you get to pick up along the "adventure". Instead, you are just thrown in to a battle with the fighter character during which you meet the other two in your party: the rogue and the wizard. Each meetup goes something like "hey, why don't you get us through the next section of this course while I go get a beer."
So, we get to control some characters that we have no real attachment to other than they will let us get through the obstacles in the game. That's fine as long as the rest of the game is better right? Well, this game loves to ignore good design. Did you read the article I linked to in the beginning? You should, and you should pay close attention to the "Unplayable Camera Angles" section because this game has them. I am not sure how they decided to fix the camera in relation to the currently controlled character but you better believe it is in the worst possible spot. The game is set in a 3-D environment but you can't manipulate your viewing angle. Why did Sony even put a second joystick on the controller? Hardly any of the people making games for the Playstation know what it is good for and the people that made this game are no exception. Speaking of a 3-D environment. There is only one character in your party that can jump — after you find an item that enables it.
There are just two other things I want to mention about this game. The difficulty level and the cut scenes. The Gamasutra article starts off talking about games that offer a choice as to how difficult the game should be. Basically, the article points out that if the player chooses "easy" then they expect the game to be "easy" throughout the whole game, not just until he gets to the final level(s). I decided to play this game on easy because I didn't want to spend too much time with it; I just wanted to waste some time with a new game and be done with it. Well, the game was rather easy for most of it. In the later levels, the designers evidently felt that bombarding the player with infinitely respawing bad buys is a good way slow the player down from beating their game in a short amount of time. Without going in to much detail about it, the player gets to manage about twenty, tough, bad guys while trying to fight the boss characters because the artificial intelligence for the two uncontrolled characters sucks and only the character being controlled by the player can harm the boss. Then there are the cut scenes. Almost every boss battle is prefaced by a cut scene. If you just happen to die fending off big demon spawns with giant mallets, while trying to kill a boss at the same time, then you get to watch that cut scene again. Nope, you can't skip through it even though you had to select "Try Again" to watch it. To make it even more fun, the major boss battles usually have multiple cut scenes. Joy!
I suppose I should have followed the crate test rules. This game has a time-to-crate of about 0.05 seconds (discounting the intro cut scene). But, having said all that, I think I would have enjoyed this game in spite of the camera angles and lack of plot if it were not for the previous paragraph.
- video games