Published on June 22nd, 2012 | by METC0
Game Design Corner: Making Players Feel
Over the last week, I played Metal Gear Solid 3. For some, it may come as a shock that I’ve never played a single game in the Metal Gear franchise, not even in a fleeting way. To remedy this, I picked up the Metal Gear Collection on the PS Vita after I received it as a gift days before. It was recommended to me by a notorious Metal Gear-loving acquaintance that I experience the games chronologically as they flow in the mythos’ timeline, and as such, I started with the first game in the timeline: Metal Gear Solid 3.
My story with Metal Gear Solid 3 requires a bit of background. I started the game on Normal difficulty without reading the description for it, and found my head handed to me many times. I eventually gave up trying to play on Normal and switched to Very Easy because I wanted to experience the story. I’m not going to comment on the difficulty in the game outside of this statement, but even on Very Easy mode, where the EZ Gun provides infinite ammo, a laser guide, and a significantly increased camouflage and stamina, I still felt the difficulty curve was well constructed.
Metal Gear as a series has a few distinct qualities that have kept me hesitant to try it out. The first is the immensity of the spoken word. There’s a lot to be said about games that express their themes without words. ICO and Journey are two prime examples, but I won’t bang on about those more than you’ve probably already heard from every game journalist worth their salt. However, I’m not entirely convinced a series like Metal Gear can express the deep political and societal messages it’s trying so desperately to work into its paranoia-infested conspiracy story without explaining everything, but I’ll get into that in a bit.
The second element that I anticipated was the stealth, which I was excited to see implemented well. I’m personally not very good at stealth in games in general, and I was hoping a game like Metal Gear Solid 3 could show me how to do stealth well. The game has many hidden intricacies that allow a game that was simply designed well to be a game designed exceptionally well, but it always continues to be hampered by its biggest and most perplexing flaw. While the characters will go on and on about important plot points that we need to know, advancing the story entirely in cutscenes, the game remains tightlipped about what to do when you’re actually playing it. More than once I found myself in either a trench or a body of water looking for the once solitary section of land I could press triangle near to get out. Vine textures on trees tend to blend with the trees and the surroundings, so it makes guiding the player pretty difficult. The times I felt most lost were not felt during the story sections, but during gameplay. I shouldn’t have to switch in and out of the instruction manual, which on the vita collection is paperless, just to learn how to climb onto ledges and bridges rather than falling off them into the abyss.
One thing the game did really well that may or may not have been intentional was its conveyance of emotion in the story. I’m not talking about the bittersweet ending or the shock at seeing major characters become traitors, but rather how the overarching feelings of paranoia in the characters and the general conflict play into the stealth, which makes you as paranoid as can be that a guard will find your hiding spot and spray you with game-ending bullets. It worked well to get me into the right frame of mind, and made the story have a more lasting impact.
To sum up, here’s the game design moral of the day, kids: if you need to explain a lot, explain it through interaction. A story as powerful as this deserves to have the greatest impact it can on its players, and the best way to do that is to make them feel as though they’re a part of the story. I felt like Snake in this game, not because of all the rotten animals and ramen I ate, but because I felt the tension and emotion conveyed in cutscenes through gameplay. Metal Gear Solid 3 is a fantastic experience, but I’m still unsure whether to say it was a good game.
Aaron Sky is an incoming freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Game Design and Development bachelor’s program. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is frolicking in the meadows picking daisies (but in a manly way).