Lesson learned last week, via David Jaffe's blog: posting un-edited IM exchanges can cause trouble. The lesson is ignored this week.
Croal.... Totilo... do we ever stop rambling for Vs. Mode? Nope. It spills into IMs as well. While working on the latest "Metroid Prime 3"-"BioShock" series we wound up having side debates. That's a polite way of saying I was badgering him to get with it and play more "Metroid." He complained about the map. See here, in an exchange from two weeks ago. I started things off by warning him that his least favorite quality of the "Prime" series was back...
Totilo: Full disclosure: backtracking is back!!!!!!!!
Croal: But will I ever track my way to the backtracking?
Totilo: I doubt it. I'm skeptical that you're going to get very far. When you get a chance, let me know where you're stuck
Croal: I'm stuck on the morph ball path on that same planet. Time keeps expiring before I can get to the end.
Croal: I've been playing lots of "Jeanne d'Arc"!
Totilo: At least you have your priorities in order
Croal: 2-D design > 3-D design
Totilo: Survey says: wrong!
Totilo: Or are Ken Levine and Retro both just bad at designing levels?
Croal: 2-D map design > 3-D map design. Seriously though, this goes back to what I said in our short-session games Vs. Mode. Anytime an FPS is not predicated on forward movement, it runs the risk of confusing the player.
Totilo: Sure, but thank god this game isn't all about forward movement. Otherwise it wouldn't be "Metroid." Guess that's just the price to pay for having it in 3-D...that it will lose some people
Croal: Agreed. Again, I'm not opposed to backtracking, but I generally don't like it in 3-D games, particularly first-person ones. 2-D "Metroid," no problem. 3-D "Metroid," problem. That's why I stopped playing the first "Metroid Prime"--I got stuck on a map looking for something, kept getting turned around, and decided that life was too short. An optional onscreen 2-D map, like "Diablo"-type games have, would gone a long way
Totilo: But sometimes rooms overlap. I don't see how you do it in 2-D. You'd be better off with an option to turn on a directional arrow, the likes of which is in "BioShock." After all, the two spots you got stuck had less to do with backtracking than with being disoriented and not being comfortable enough with the map to sort out where you really needed to be heading
Totilo: (feel free to save this exchange...we can throw it in as a bonus)
Croal: Will do—Vs. Mode Gaiden! An arrow would be very un-"Metroid—it is a detective story, after all. As for rooms that "overlap" I assume that you mean different above and below each other, but "BioShock" showed one way of dealing with that, and there are others. I'll try to use the map more, but the map itself is disorienting, which doesn't make me want to use it. So I've been muddling along, trying to rely on forward movement, and I ran into an area that would only have been avoidable by looking at the map or guesswork. I wonder how people responded to this in their focus groups.
Totilo: maybe they were more like me and had no problems using the map! Clearly you are not man enough to wear Samus Aran's visor
Croal: I suppose that's possible. However, if you read Wired's story on Halo 3 and the usability testing Microsoft does, I have a hard time believing that no one else had this issue, or that no-one had a problem using the map. We don't use 3-D maps in real life, so why would gamers be familiar with 3-D maps unless they were recruiting their focus testers among "Metroid Prime" veterans? Even manipulating the map is confusing, as you yourself admitted.
Totilo: It can be confusing, because, ideally, that 3-D map would be a hologram floating in my living room, not a flat display on my TV. I've found that unlike other game maps, I really need to dwell on it when I pull it up. I zoom in and out with the remote's plus and minus buttons to understand where I'm located (zooming in can clear out a lot of clutter; zooming out can help me get a general sense of where my destination is). I seldom tilt the map up and down--that's when it can get confusing. But I do swivel it left and right. Perhaps what's really missing in the game is a forced tutorial for using the map. They do just assume you know how to use it. Maybe there should be a picture of me on every Prime 3 box with an arrow pointing to me and a word balloon that says: "To play this game, you need to be as good a gamer as this guy."
Croal: We'll see who gets the arrow and word balloon with "Metroid Dread." True-school "Metroid" FTW!
Totilo: And....that's a wrap. Cool. Let's plug this at the start of round 2
Totilo: "Metroid" dread-locks?
Croal: I know you want them--but you can't have them! There will be no betting on this predator's hair!