I challenge you to name the last game you played that didn’t have at least one obvious (even if small) design issue. Those small issues can be incredibly difficult to fix toward the end of the development cycle – which, unfortunately, is often the first place they’re spotted.
In the era of stream-lined updates and patches they’re also often left alone – bugs get fixed, design issues don’t. And for very good reason – even the smallest changes in the game design / mechanic often have massive consequential effects on all parts of the game.
Obviously many, many people have tried to solve these issues at the design process stage – but that in itself is hard to do. I’m looking forward to reporting back on our own processes and their effectiveness over the coming years.
There is something else we can do as developers: fix the issues. It’s not easy though and it often requires a sequel or abstracted follow up to get the opportunity to do so. There’s also a significant risk of unbalancing other aspects of the game design, or of highlighting issues previously not apparent. But if you’ve got a solid game - just one in need of a few design fixes - it’s often worth doing. A good game with the occasional design issue can become a great game without them.
Learning by the example of others
The first Assassin’s Creed game was pretty well received, by the second Ubisoft Montreal hadn’t really changed the game at all, they just fixed a bunch of design issues. The third, and most recent in the series was, again, more positively received – primarily, in our view, as a result of more fixes.
- Gameplay in the first game actually got easier as you made your way through its missions. This has been resolved, and there is now an appropriately balanced difficulty curve throughout the third game.
- The first game suffered terribly with similar (almost identical in some cases) missions, very quickly leading to boredom. The latest game almost completely avoids this by presenting a more involving narrative and a more connected set of missions.
- The random and irritating placement of collectible flags in the original game has been largely resolved in the latter two – yet still allows those who are interested to discover them.
- In the first and second games it never particularly felt you had an impact on the environment – particularly noticeable given how tied the gameplay is to the environment itself. In the third game you get to effect real change on how that environment plays. Through a series of side missions and non-core quests you can remove enemy influences and establish your own grip on the land, whilst unlocking more new areas to explore and conquer. Furthermore, this allows you to choose which allied factions to place in certain “headquarters” buildings - you feel that your actions are truly having an impact on your surroundings as you see a decrease in “Borgia” soldiers and a greater presence of whomever you place in each building.