This article is part of the "Game Design Lessons" series, and is an in-depth look at the videogame "Beyond Good & Evil".
This is a joint project between myself and my brother (over at Prosody.co.uk). My articles will take a more analytical approach, whereas his will focus on the game from a player's point of view.
You can read the other half of this article at: "Player POV – Beyond Good & Evil".
What's good about it?
There are two parts of the game where the optimised controls shine through.
Firstly, the controls have been optimised for analogues sticks on console controllers, which works rather well. Menus are built in a circular fashion, and the text entry sections utilise a "letter spiral" system instead of the usual keyboard emulation.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there aren't hundreds of key presses to remember to perform simple actions. Jumping is automatic, and most actions either require the use of the "action" button or are performed by walking into the object.
The status display stays hidden for most of the game, and only appears when the information will be of use to the player. For example, if you're standing next to a switch, it will appear and highlight the "action" button.
It can seem like the game is doing a little too much at times, but it does save a lot of frustration and means the player can focus on moving through the story.
Guides the player
As you gain new skills and equipment, they're explained to you by your holographic assistant, "Secundo". There are generally only a few new button presses to remember, and they fit with the overall set-up of the game. For example, the run button also acts as the "dash" button on your hovercraft.
Context sensitive help is shown where appropriate, but you're not overwhelmed with information. The UI prefers to stay out of the player's way, which is always a good thing.
A common presentation theme
The whole game has a very cinematic feel to it, which is particularly evident in the way certain elements are designed. As mentioned earlier, the UI is only shown when required, so the screen is generally free of clutter and has a more movie-like feel.
Items are explained by a holographic assistant instead of just appearing from nowhere, and using items is handled by the small pouch that you carry with you (called a "S.A.C."). The user interface is styled to be the same as the one you'd use on the S.A.C., in a similar fashion to the watch in GoldenEye. It's not implemented quite as well, but it works nonetheless.
A nice touch is that all items are "digitalised" and then stored in the SAC, which answers the usual question in games of "where do they keep all their stuff?"
Yes Doom Guy with a chainsaw stuffed in your pants, I'm looking at you.
Hints at the future
The game gives you an idea of where you'll be going further into the story, as well as what equipment you'll be using. It's always good to show the player some of the rewards they'll get further in the game, and games like Metroid do this particularly well.
A well paced story
Although it's a little bit short, the story is well paced and delivered in an interesting way. Instead of being told about important events by non-playable characters, you often discover things for yourself and have to report them to others. This helps the player to feel that they're an important part of the story, instead of just an observer.
The game world has depth
Part of the game involves photographing every species on the planet, and although it might not seem appealing it does add depth and credibility to the game world.
Despite advances in technology, a lot games have levels that can seem dull and lifeless. The addition of animals and insects to the world of Hillys really fleshes it out, and adds to the impression that you're living on a different planet.
One particular nice touch is the transition from night to day, which changes which animals appear. Watching the sun set and seeing fireflies appear adds an extra dimension to the game world.
The non-playable characters also discuss elements of the story in their groups, and you'll see events broadcast on TV and displayed in magazines. It's not particularly complex, but it's still fun to see the same event talked about in completely different ways by the media, especially when you were the one that took the original photographs!
What's not so good?
Pet Peeve - Mixing voice acting and text-only interaction
It's not exactly a glaring design flaw, but I find nothing kills the effort and atmosphere of voice acting quicker than mixing in text-only dialogue. This only occurs when you're interacting with certain NPCs, and it's by no means a critical flaw. It's just a shame that voice acting is used throughout the game and left out of other parts.
The Flying Death Laser
There are quite a lot of stealth sections in the game, and a few of them make use of a most wonderful contraption - the flying death laser. If it spots you, even for a split-second, it will kill you instantly. Although the game only sends you back to the start of the section, it's extremely annoying and rather cheap. Nothing says "You must complete this section our way" more than "Do it another way and die".
Too much diversity in gameplay elements?
There are a lot of different gameplay elements in Beyond Good & Evil, including: racing, fighting, photography, stealth, air hockey and Flying Death Laser avoidance. When you've got that many different styles, you can't really give each element as much focus as it deserves.
Photography isn't as in-depth as Pokemon Snap. Simply take a picture, and as long as it's in focus and framed well enough you'll get the same reward. It might have been more interesting if you were rewarded for more interesting shots (such as the animal doing something interesting), and if you could go back and re-photograph an animal if you found a better action of bigger colony. It's very much "take picture and move on", which is a shame.
The same goes for the stealth sections. Although you can generally sneak or fight, the character isn't really tailored too much toward stealth. Whereas Splinter Cell gives you the light meters and dynamic shadows, BG&E gives you a different camera angle and a few objects to hide behind.
Whilst this lack of equipment does help reinforce the feeling that you are a reporter sneaking where you're not wanted, it can make things frustrating. It gives the game more of an "action stealth" feel, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but it does give the impression that stealth isn't as important in the game as it actually is.
So what can we learn?
Gradually introduce new items
Try not to swamp the player with tonnes of equipment and controls at the beginning of the game. Even if you want to introduce them all in the first level, try to do it gradually and stick to a common control theme to make things simpler.
Polish adds depth
Polish is not just a case of cleaning up graphics and adding shiny menus, but is really the process of adding depth and substance to the game. This doesn't have to be anything particularly complex, and even a few swaying plants and buzzing flies can make the level feel much less clinical.
Tease the player
I don't mean flashing "YOU SUCK!" on the screen when the player dies, but hinting at what is to come. Try not to give too much away, but let them know that they will be rewarded with cool things if they continue playing.
Don't punish the player (too much)
People play games to have fun, so don't punish them for every little mistake they make. If they do make a mistake, give them a way to undo it without too much pain. For example, if you set off the alarms in the stealth sections you can generally hide until the fuss has died down, and then start again.
Unless there's a Flying Death Laser, of course.
Be careful when mixing gameplay elements
If you're planning to mix different styles of gameplay, such as stealth and action, be very careful how you do it. The more styles you add, the simpler you'll have to make each them in order to keep the gameplay balanced.
Would you like to learn more?
You can read the other half of this article at: Player POV – Beyond Good & Evil. It takes a look at the game from the player's perspective, and looks at how the different game elements fit together to create an immersive and enjoyable experience.