I cannot say this enough. It makes me want to grab a rolled news paper (if one could even find one in this day and age) and smack a designer across the nose with it. BAD BAD BAD. STOP DOING THIS OR I AM GOING TO TAKE YOU TO THE POUND.
RANDOM IS NOT GOOD DESIGN. Read that line about 10 times, please.
Why in the happy hello kitty’s name would you ever do something random in a game? It’s a crutch. And some people are under the mistaken belief that it allows for a feeling of “unscripted-ness”. The thing is, random should only ever be used the in the creation process, then the results cherry picked to be added to the game. (Like generating a few thousand faces, then picking the best 10% or so for your NPCs.) Random can also be used on anything that doesn’t matter at all (which of these 5 possible vendor trash items is the guy going to drop? It doesn’t matter, it can be random). But what these designer really want, but are failing to get, is a systemic solution to their problem.
Systems are a great great thing, and used effectively, can *make* a game. But systems are very difficult to set up well as they can lead to cascading issues when interacting with other systems. It also requires designers and programmers to either be the same person, or attached at the hip. But random is something that people seem to assume a good system is. When people played Bioshock 2, every so occasionally they would be attacked by a big sister. People who played the game might assume that these attacks felt “random”. It’s not. It’s a system, designed to interact with other systems. It’s also a bit more complex and scripted than most systems would be, but it is still used in a system fashion.
When I started playing Skyrim, I discovered very quickly that Dragons can and will attack at random times. *yay* /sarcasm
But wait, you might say, that seems like a great idea! It’s fun! It makes the world feel alive and perilous! It makes it feel like you aren’t fighting as ordered by a designer!
If things could be done well, randomly, there would be no designers. But having a designer allows for a crafted, non-frustrating experience. Because a designer can look at the sequence of events and say, this is a terrible spot for pacing and narrative to have an event happen. Let’s move it somewhere else.
In the main quest of Skyrim, at one point, you leave a city with two NPCs in tow. Now, I am playing a mage/thief. As a mage, it is hard for me to fight around NPCs as they like to move in front of me and take damage. As a thief, they are even worse because a single hit with a bow leads to their death. Normally, this isn’t too much of a concern, as they can handle themselves, and I can focus on other targets.
Unless we get attacked by a dragon that is.
So now, not only do I have the worry of an NPC DYING, which they can totally do, but also, I can’t help because we are all targeting the same thing and I might hit one of the numb skulls. And if I do hit one of them, they turn on me, along with every guard in a 100 mile radius.
Yes, this random attack is fun and not at all frustrating. /sarcasm
The first time seemed pretty bad huh? Kinda hard to top that level of frustration and difficulty.
Oh, it gets better.
At ANOTHER point in the main quest (notice how BOTH of the incidents take place when actively involved in things REQUIRED to complete the game?) you are told to meet with a guy in a city and he is going to help you sneak into a secured location. COOL. *pulls on my thief hat* Ready. Locked. Loaded.
Only in the middle of this conversation, he goes, oh, by the way, you can’t take any weapons or armor, but you can give them to me, and I will smuggle them in. My response: “I’m sorry what? UH NO. You can have my bow when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.” So here I am, handing over my epic bow of ass kicking, my light armor of super thievery, and my amulet, ring and headband of melting faces to some NPC I TOTALLY DO NOT TRUST. Oh and did I mention, I totally don’t carry a second set of armor? So now, I am naked. Quite literally, my character is walking around in her underwear, and several NPCs comment I need to put some clothes on. Instead of handing me my “Party Clothes” like I expect, he tells me to meet some OTHER NPC at the stable to get my clothes. Oh and she will hold anything else I didn’t hand him. (All that loot I was carrying.) So here I go, walking out of the city to the stables, in the all together, to meet this chick.
Now CLEARLY the developers realized this was a tricky point in the game. Fast travel is disabled. You can’t really go anywhere else, you have to finish this mission first. They KNEW you had just handed over all your equipment, rendering you as useless as you were in the opening cutscene.
I walk out the city gates, thankful it’s only a short sprint to the stables when I hear…
Look up, oh yes, there it is, a RANDOM DRAGON ATTACK. OH YAY. I have no armor, no weapons, and no health potions. This is gonna be FUN.
Needless to say, it wasn’t. Not even a little bit.
The idea may have seemed sound. For a large portion of the game (which is terribly relative considering how much dang game there is) this doesn’t seem to be a big issue. But here, in these two instances, this makes the game blindingly frustrating and annoying.
In either case would I have noticed the lack of a dragon attack during the completion of these quests? The one I can’t do anything because I just handed over my armor? Yeah, I am going to finish that as quickly as possible. The one where I am escorting 2 NPCs? Yeah, that one is a stick with it until you are done too. There is NO LOGICAL reason to not disable random dragon attacks during these times. The player is never *ever* going to notice. Your DESIGN decision is going to actively make the game better.
It could be argued that since they are random, the developers never encountered a dragon during these times. Well, sure that’s possible, but when designing something like this, as a developer, you need to play through the game thinking always, is there ever a time this would be the WORST POSSIBLE THING. It’s just a good idea to consider when implementing a game wide system like this.
Regardless, the random dragon battles don’t make the game feel unscripted or even realistic, but rather they make it feel buggy and broken. Never sacrifice gameplay for realism. Remember, the player won’t notice the dragon not showing up, but they will remember the dragon showing up at the worst possible time, and then write a blog post ranting about it.