Gemi Games

Indie Games Developer

Dev Log #5 – A Case For High Skill Ceilings In Games

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When it comes to designing real-time games, one of the most important aspects is the feel of the controls.  Another important factor is the degree to which those controls can be mastered.  This skill range is how far apart the skill floor and ceilings are in a game.

Generally it’s best to have the skill floor as low as possible for maximum accessibility but also have a high skill ceiling to allow players to continually get better at the game and still enjoy it for years to come.Games with massive skill ranges are titles like Quake 3: Arena or Wipeout 2097.  These games often take a few hours or a few days to get use to but because they have highly dynamic movement it can take years to master.  On the flip side, a low skill range are games like Coin Dozer or “Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?” where there’s no real depth beyond tapping the screen in the right place.

This article is not to say that games without a high skill ceiling are bad because games come in virtually all shapes and sizes.  I’m writing this to poise the question, would a relatively normal PC or console game be more entertaining if the controls allowed for more depth?

It’s a difficult question because most of the time limitations on movement and actions are carefully chosen to create a balanced gameplay experience.  However, after playing Yooka-Laylee for a few hours I’m reminded of that feeling you get when you tackle challenges in your own way.  This is partly due to the open level design but also the non-restrictive nature of the controls like being able to jump after an attack even if the attack finishes in mid-air[/spoiler].YL however, is missing a feature that I loved in the Banjo games and that’s the slippery slope behaviour.  In YL once you even so much as breathe on a slippery slope your stuck in the sliding state until you hit normal ground but in Banjo Kazooie and Tooie you could touch a slope temporarily and jump off it a few times before you began sliding. This is great because it can be abused to get to places that would otherwise require an item or new move to reach.  If you’ve seen Stivitybobo’s speed run of BK at AGDQ 2015 you’ll notice him climb up a slope immediately after world 1 by using a combination of actions to not trigger the sliding state.  This extra depth, which is unnecessary for completing the game, can really empower the player to challenge themselves if they wish to instead of always having to take the intended route.

I’ve not played the new Zelda: BOTW but judging by all the awesome GIF’s of players performing crazy feats in the game, it clearly shows that Nintendo wanted this open ended depth to allow the player to tackle challenges however they see fit.

I’ve tried to stick to this philosophy throughout development of Super Lumi Live by coding features that add depth to the controls.  I won’t go into any specifics as I feel this kind of “hidden” depth is best discovered for yourself but I’ve leaned on the side of if it’s reasonable, fun and beneficial to perform these “tricks” then I leave them in.  Super Lumi Live is currently out in beta on Itch.io.

So while it might not be the right choice for every game I do think more games should try to add features which allow dedicated players to continually get better. This could come in the form of being able to complete the game faster or just for allowing more player agency.

Thank you reading,
Marios.

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