Saturday, February 8, 2014

Play it Again, Zrbo: On Pacing

There's many aspects to what can make a videogame great. These can include aspects like solid core mechanics, such as those found in Tetris, or great level design, like in the Super Mario series. One aspect often overlooked is the pacing of a game. A well paced game, one that ratchets up the stakes just right, must balance a rising sense of difficulty with a satisfying level of accomplishment. Many modern games often lean to hard on the latter, patting you on the back for the most mundane of things (which last year's Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon parodied to the extreme during it's tutorial). Games on the other end feel too hard or punishing without the feeling of much gain. But sometimes a game gets it just right, finding that equilibrium between success and tension.

I recently replayed Resident Evil 4 and Portal 2, and I walked away from both games with an admiration of their exquisite pacing.


I've already written before about the opening of Resident Evil 4. Arriving in a remote Spanish village, hero Leon Kennedy must rescue the president's daughter. It couldn't possibly be a stupider premise (to begin with, why would the government send just one man?). But that's beside the point. The game is paced marvelously well.

In my previous post on the game I wrote about the opening level and how not 10 minutes into the game, when the player has just gotten used to the basic mechanics, the game throws a huge angry mob at the player in a nailbiting sequence. While this sequence is most definitely a difficulty spike, it sets the player up for the rest of the game. Once you've gotten past this initial encounter, arguably the game's most difficult, the player feels that they're able to accomplish what's to come. Leon will plow through dozens of zombie-like townsfolk, work his way through an old castle filled with occultist zombified monks, and finally traverse an island military base. The difficulty comes on so smooth you'd think this might be the videogame incarnation of the Alan Parsons Project (though you won't doze off, I can guarantee that much). The frequency with which upgrades are doled out, the increasingly difficult scenarios the player is placed in, and the way the game moves you from one set piece to the next all conspire to make Resident Evil 4 an expertly paced game.


Portal 2, one of my favorite games of 2011, is another game I had the pleasure of replaying recently. It too is paced remarkably well. The zany opening gives way to calm exploration as your character is thrust back into this science-facility-gone-wrong. Time has passed from the first game and mother nature has taken her toll on the facility, with plants and roots having overrun many of the opening puzzle rooms. If you're paying attention you'll even notice that the first few rooms are actually the opening puzzles from the original game. While Portal 2 is much longer than the original, the momentum of the game never lets up as the designers at Valve have made the difficulty curve so smooth that you'll be accomplishing mind-bending puzzles before you know it. The storytelling is also quite good, as over the course of the game you'll come to know the origins of the murderous HAL-like GLaDOS as well as the history of the Aperture Science facility itself. Just like they did with Half Life 2, Valve know how to craft a well paced videogame adventure.

1 comment:

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