Why don’t we include any RPG elements or puzzles?

I want to start this post off by apologizing for the lack of updates that you’ve seen on this blog over the past few days. When we initially started the Kickstarter, I had hopes that this blog would be updated daily, and for a while, it was.  Unfortunately, time constraints caught up to me very quickly, and I had to slow down the frequency of my babbling.

The good news is that my college has recently approved an Independent Study with Eyes Open.  For the next semester, all the way up to the Holidays, I’ll be able to devote an entire class to Eyes Open on top of all the development our team will be doing outside of school.  And one of the requirements of the course is that I keep you guys and this blog updated – with a bare minimum of 1,000 words a week.

Rest assured, you’ll be hearing from me a lot.

Anyway,

Why don’t we have RPG elements, items, puzzles, or fetch quests in Eyes Open?

Eyes Open very proudly campaigns itself as a simple game : you explore your environment, monsters chase you, and all of the variety fits into that context.  We’ve had a number of players suggest that the game might benefit from RPG elements, or some type of collection mechanic on top of the base gameplay.  It’s an interesting suggestion, and one that serves a lot of games in a lot of genres really well.

And we don’t want to say that if there’s a certain part of the game that would benefit from those elements, we wouldn’t add them in.  But they’re not going to be a focus in Eyes Open, and you should expect to spend a large part of the game doing things similar to what you’ve seen in the prototype – observing monsters, exploring, and trying to progress.

We’re conscious that this is a move in the opposite direction from most games coming out right now, but we have a number of reasons why we’re avoiding adding any secondary elements on top of the core gameplay.

It keeps gameplay simple and focused

Eyes Open is a bit of a paradox: a game that is designed to be brutally challenging, exhausting to play, and almost endlessly deep, yet a game that also wants to be very accessible and easy to learn.

I don’t think those things are contradictions though.

People have a limited amount of energy and concentration they can devote to any one activity.  What we’re trying to do is take all of the energy that would be normally be spread out across three or four systems and condense it into one. We want the game to be simple to pick up, and to fit our complexity into a that simple structure.  There’s a lot you can do without making a game endlessly complex.  We place the complexity in places that aren’t inaccessible – the monster AI, the environments you find; not in the core mechanics.  And because you don’t have a lot of different mechanics to remember, you can spend more time thinking about the mechanics you do have.

It makes more sense from a narrative perspective

We haven’t really talked much about the story in Eyes Open, and this is not the post to start that discussion, but Eyes Open is a narrative focused game, and there will be an overarching story.  While we don’t have anything against gameplay-story segregation, Eyes Open is trying to avoid that.

You play a character in a straightjacket, at least for the first part of the game.  You don’t have the use of arms or hands, so manipulating items or levers or keys doesn’t make much sense. It’s OK to not make sense in a game, but… in Eyes Open, we want to minimize those contradictions and nonsensical elements as much as possible.

We don’t want the player to feel like they’re leveling up

Eyes Open is really big on an idea called reverse empowerment – As you go through the game, you lose access to abilities and strategies you used to have.  Your character doesn’t progress or get stronger – every game mechanic and monster AI is designed to take something away from you rather than to give it to you.

So while commonly you would phrase your mechanics in terms of, “you have the ability to do…” or “if you do x, you’ll be able to…”, all of Eyes Open’s mechanics are phrased as “now you can’t…”.  It’s one of the things that separates us from other semi-roguelikes such as Binding of Isaac.

Collecting items, or leveling up, all take away from that ethos.  You shouldn’t feel like you get more secure as you play Eyes Open; the entire thing is about you adjusting to these increasingly challenging and seemingly unfair situations.

We don’t want the player to be able to rely on exploration or pacing tropes

This is a problem that a lot of really good horror games fall into, when you give players puzzle elements, or hide little corners with powerups or items, an experienced player can use them to predict when your scares are coming.

Exploration is going to be one of the most important parts of Eyes Open, but we approach it from a different angle than most other games are at the moment.

Normal exploration is a reward system.

  • The player finds some hidden location: a door they can unlock, a difficult jump, a false panel, whatever.
  • The player is given something for being in that location, through some type of item, collectable, or achievement.

The problem is that the risk-reward conditions the player to think about exploration in certain ways.

  • You should be able to reach or explore 100% of any available locations in an area.
  • “Missing” something is bad play.  You should be exploring and collecting everything possible in an area before you leave it.
  • A dangerous or tricky area to reach always is important to get to.

And as players become aware of the design elements that reinforce those goals, they start to destroy their own pacing.  Games that fall too heavily into this trap start to have issues with pacing.  The player starts to game the system, and the unpredictability of the action or horror gets ruined.

The best way for us to get around those problems is to make it impossible to fall into them.  We literally can’t reward players through linear means, so our exploration starts to feel very unique.  It has to.  The reason to explore in Eyes Open isn’t to be rewarded linearly with how many “secret areas” you find.  It’s to progress or to take in the environment.  So it’s not a bad thing if you leave not having visited all of a level, and dangerous areas can still feel dangerous.  Going through a room with a lot of monsters in it might lead you to an exit, or to a dead end.  Environments are built with as sense of indifference to whether or not the player is currently struggling.

We’re not as tied into predictable exploration elements.

The same is true for pacing.  With horror/puzzle games, typically you have a distinction between sections where you’re supposed to be scared, and sections where you’re supposed to be thinking or solving puzzles.  You flip back and forth, and as the player gets more and more used to the formula you’re using, they start to predict when you’ll try to scare them.

Games like Amnesia get around this by building many of their puzzles around fetch quests, so they can mix the sections together.  We solve it by minimizing the number of puzzles entirely.  As a result, Eyes Open should be a very unique experience – it never really lets up.  That sense of tension keeps on growing, and after playing the game for a while, especially on harder difficulties, your nerves start to really fray.

It distracts the player and it distracts us

Secondary mechanics are only valuable in that they support or add something to the core design.  The more time we spend trying to build a crafting system or item collection, the less we’re focusing on the actual fun stuff of Eyes Open – having these dynamic environments and intelligent monsters with subtle behaviors.  The more stuff that’s going on at the same time in a game, the more likely that some of it is getting in the way of the stuff that the player actually wants.

Call us crazy, but we don’t think that anyone will be hiding breathlessly behind a wall, praying that the creature they saw seconds ago won’t be there when they open their eyes, purely because they want to get to the skill point allocation bit.

But we do think, if we build a really intricate crafting or item usage system, that the player is likely to get annoyed that they need to go through their light-bulb crafting minigame ten times before they can get back to the… well… actual game part.

It doesn’t fit the theme of the game

I, and as an extension Latinforimagination as a studio, is obsessed with a concept called unity of theme.  What that means is that there should be a central core to your game, and everything in the game should reinforce that core.

Eyes Open has a complicated theme; we’re talking about disabilities and how people deal with them, invoking feelings of paranoia, and some other stuff that we haven’t mentioned yet. But everything needs to support and enhance those themes.  At the risk of giving too much away, RPG elements don’t do that.

These are just the team’s current thoughts – if we have reason later on to change our minds or come up with a really great system for including these elements, great.  But for now, we’re staying far away from secondary mechanics.

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