nightguard Posted December 17, 2010 Report Share Posted December 17, 2010 First of all, while this is a critique, I want to preface this by saying I have enjoyed this game greatly. I sincerely want to see this game continue on to become a successful franchise, able to release all five 'episodes' that were originally concieved. With that said, I have been finding myself rather reluctant to begin a new game lately. I've thought a bit about why that is, and I've come to the conclusion that despite what the game does well, there are two major points where I feel it is particularly weak. These two areas are immersion and emotional investment. While there has been some talk about the immersion aspects, and how the UI has been a bit of a hindrance in that regard, I would like to focus first and foremost on the issue of emotional investment. In this game, the player is given the opportunity to make what they will out of their first year at the Academagia. There's certainly nothing wrong with that choice. It gives the player a sense of freedom and the opportunity to explore the various nooks and crannies that the writers and designers have built into their world. Unfortunately, with a protagonist that is largely 'tabula rasa', there is little for the player to latch onto emotionally in order to empathize with the character. In many traditional RPGs where this is also true, this is overcome through a strong secondary cast that the player can empathize with and care about. This is one area where I believe Academagia has failed. With a supporting cast of over 90 characters (when you count the fully realized students and teachers), you don't have a real chance to really get to know and come to care about any one of them. You may encounter a given student only once in random events in the game, and unless you go on that student's adventure, that will be the extent of your interaction with the character. For the rest of the game, while the computer is processing all their actions, they wind up being little more than window dressing. Meanwhile, if you decide that you really are interested in one of the supporting cast members, you can certainly use actions to interact with them, but the interaction is very shallow, limited to just choosing options from a menu, or following the above-mentioned adventure path. While this certainly matches the implementation of everything else in the game, it really prevents you from getting to know about the character and coming to care about them. You also don't have much more chance of encountering them in random events, except for those students that have a few more unlockable encounters having a slightly higher chance of being selected for events, simply because they have more entries for the RNG to pick. I don't know that much can be done about this in 'Episode One', but I believe there is potential for great improvement come Year Two. Let me use an example to try and make my suggestion clear. In Scion, characters with powerful destinies (read, among other examples, the protagonists) inevitably draw other characters into a metaphysical orbit around them. The more they interact with a person or group, the more that person or group shows up around the character when significant events happen. Something of this nature could be used in Academagia as well, giving characters that the player has chosen to interact with a higher chance of appearing as the 'random actor' in events, or better yet, giving the system a higher chance of selecting random events where that student or teacher is a featured player. Another aspect that would increase the player's emotional investment in the game is introducing a genuine adversary. While the game supports the possibility of one (or more) of the other students becoming your character's rival, the way this plays out is about as thin as the socialization with other students mentioned above. Worse, there is a distinct possibility that no student will become your character's rival, removing one of the few sources of a genuine adversary from the equation. Mind you, I'm not saying there should necessarily be a genuine villain that the character needs to oppose or anything like that, but I feel there should be a significant, recurring, and most importantly, personal opponent for the character. The most memorable heroes often have the most memorable opposition, after all; ones that are as multi-faceted as the protagonist themselves. As mentioned above, a classmate rival is a good source for an antagonist, but teachers and mentors can be just as useful in this regard. Many good stories can come about from a student repeatedly trying (and failing) to gain the approval of a particularly renowned mage. Again, the reason I push so strongly for the inclusion of such a character ties back to the nature of this game as a type of story. If you were to read a novel in which there is no antagonist at all, would you be satisfied by the story? In a few occasions this is possibly, but in virtually all cases of novels set in a mythical reality, it's a given that the protagonist will need to oppose someone on some level. The failure to provide this personal opposition can actually be quite frustrating to most readers. The last point I want to cover in the area of emotional investment is the matter of significant choice. I won't deny that Academagia gives players plenty of choices. In fact, some may go so far as to call this game a case of 'option overload', but I'm referring to something a little more narrowly defined. Many of the choices in Academagia are made 'blind'; that is, you don't know where you will be going when you make your choice. You could train one subskill or another, you could advance one research topic or another, and you don't know what you will get when you finish. Given that the emphasis of Academagia is on exploration and discovery of the world, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does have a tendency to detract from the player's perceived significance of their choices. A more frustrating situation arises during the adventures and some of the random events that occur. The only real choice the player is given is what skill/attribute combination they want to use for the encounter's success test. If the player succeeds on the test, congratulations, collect your reward or move on to the next scene of the adventure. If the player fails, they get a few bumps and bruises, and in the case of an adventure, they have to try again before they can move on. In many ways, this can ultimately be perceived as an 'illusion of choice'. Significant choice means that the player should be able to change not just the skill test involved, but the actual outcome of the encounter. We've seen many good examples of this in the community submitted events, and a number of them do exist in the game, but this is something that should really be emphasized when creating new events and adventures. In fact, if it's possible to have the adventures be branching storylines based on the player's choices instead of a linear plot that the player progresses along when they pass their tests, this will give the player a much greater level of investment in the choices that they are making. Pulling the three points above together (characters the player cares about, adversaries for the player to oppose, and choices that have real meaning and significance), I started thinking whether any or all of these could be implemented well right in the current build and game engine of Academagia. To be honest, some of this is already being done, in particular with the various character friendship adventures. Still, I believe that with a bit of writing by either the official dev team or a group of dedicated modders, all of these aspects can be developed to a much greater level than we see currently in the game. One example I would like to suggest is the introduction of a number of 'rival adventures'. Here is what I am proposing in regards to a rival adventure. When your relationship with a given student (or possibly even with a given teacher, if anyone wants to see these created), a new adventure unlocks with that character, just like a high relationship unlocks a friendship adventure. This new adventure, however, sees the character and his potential rival butting heads more and more frequently. Towards the end of the adventure, the player could be given a real, meaningful choice: offer the 'olive branch' to their rival and try to reconcile their antagonism, or essentially declare their rivalry. These choices would both be untested choices, and each one would lead to either a conclusion right in that adventure, or lead to separate final scenes of the adventure. Mind you, the suggestion in the paragraph above is only one way in which I feel that Academagia Year One could expand to build a deeper level of emotional involvement from the player. There are a number of other methods that could be used, many of which I feel could similarly be implemented right in the game engine as it stands now. With the future games still in the conceptual/early development stages, I would hope to see some additional consideration given to this type of 'hook' at the outset. As I said, this issue of emotional investment is just one of the points I felt was important to address. I also want to address issues of game immersion, but that could take just as long as this essay, and I hope there is more than enough here to spark some constructive conversation. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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