Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Escort Missions Suck

Russ Pitts | 20 Nov 2007 12:45
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And few of us play games to experience the pain of failure - quite the opposite - so why is such a punishing, painful and often agonizingly random experience continually perpetrated against gamers, who, for their part, usually only want to have fun? Sadly, the designers themselves aren't even sure.

"My suspicion is that they're the default 'change of pace' mission that basic shooter AI can handle," says Dansky. "But that's exactly the problem - the basic AI on your escortee does things like run into crates or move in front of you while you're firing or go in for unnecessary cosmetic surgery." All of which will end the escortee's life - and your fun - all too quickly.

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Even when the experience ends well, it's rarely joyous. A player's fondest memories are never about "that time I had to follow a dude through the Canyon of Death and shoo the vampire flies away from him before he died," and reviews frequently fail to mention advances in escort mission technology, largely because there haven't been any in a long time. In fact, escort missions tend to break technology, or at least point out its most glaring flaws.

"Escort missions make the NPC AI look like shit. Period," says Jeff McGann, Creative Director at Red Storm Entertainment.

Take Sonntag's example from Fable. The core of the quest, braving a cave full of monsters to rescue a wayward child, is noble, stirring even - in theory. What saps the fun out of the experience is the execution (pardon the pun) of the child's AI.

"The child ... only made my job harder to save him," says Sonntag. "If a character simply wants to die - by either running into the hammer zone or the horrible goblin rape zone - I won't be very motivated to save him or her. This child was simply a liability."

"Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to lead an escort entity through the world and having it get stuck, running in place, against a trivial obstacle," says McGann. "Some games also fudge the movement speeds of the escort entities so that they will move at a different rate than the player. This can create a rubber band effect and lead to player frustration where they are either fighting to keep up with the escort entity while moving too fast for comfort or they are constantly waiting for the escort entity and moving too slow for comfort."

Which again raises the question: Why? Tying your progress to a character you can't control, who's often intentionally moving more slowly or more quickly than you are, or doing things that will ultimately lead to his doom - and your frustration - sounds like intentional torture. Games are supposed to be entertainment. What possible good could come from intentionally frustrating the player?

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