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About Water levels on games…

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I've been thinking about how Water Levels on games usually get a lot of disdain and discuss how we believe the problem should be addressed.

The beginning:

When you are playing a videogame and you're controlling your character which is usually a hero or at least has super powers, normally the game would start from a point where the character's abilities are usually very simple, realistic even, like being able to only jump once or a short distance, have a wooden sword and basic swinging skills, being able to run a short distance before "getting tired". All of these are usually done so we can engage with our character and maybe even relate to them, from that point on your character should be stronger, have more weapons, get more skills and do more stuff. All that progression while drifting away from reality it does a job for the game becoming more engaging to us and even immersive because who doesn't want to be more powerful?.

Hitting the water:

As soon as we hit the water something instantly kicks into our disatisfaction, we are unable to run or move as fast, swimming mechanics are dull, or water might eventually kill you. Clearly playing in a water level most of the times feel like your character is getting a "debuff" in contrast to the other environments. Losing strenght to being poisoned, or getting into a dark dungeon where your visibility is impaired doesn't feel as diminishing as getting your overall movement speed gutted when your character gets into a mundane static body of water. There is an obvious reason that claims for "reality" however the line for immersion can ever get so thin when treading these waters.

Examples of good and bad:

Most of the infamity that comes from the Water Temple in TLOZ: Ocarina of Time is not only forgetting that cracked wall in the first floor but also at the annoyance of having to play "press start every 15 seconds to change boots" (fixed in the 3DS version) in order to slowly progress the dreaded dungeon, unfortunately either being technological limitations or lack of design foresight, this affected the part of the game so hard we still remember it fondly.


However, putting another Nintendo side by side for comparison purposes, I feel a game were water levels were designed in a good way either by accident or sheer ingenuity was Super Metroid, the game is already praised for hundreds of different reasons but I wanted to put to light how this game cleverly made water levels a good experience rather than a bad one. To begin with, yes, the game does tease you in some areas when you're exploring the game for the first couple of times with the same areas with the same problems aforementioned, that being said by the game's nature you are supposed to be hindered or stopped by obstacles that will be dealt with after you obtain the required skills, being a specific time of missile, bomb or beam. The game will not commit you to spend long time or large areas of water unless you really push for it (looking at you speedrunners), which will definitely feel counter-intuitive. And then after defeating the second boss of the game there it is, the Gravity Suit that will eliminate the water struggle completely, which while in hindsight it doesn't seem to be that "cool" of a power, you will definitely feel relieved and even happy to explore the whole water level and just enjoy what the rest of the game has to offer, including the music.

In conclusion:

I don't think that every game that includes water levels should have a "gravity suit" however the developers should think twice on how to approach adding a water level that instead of adding water levels for the sake of variety, doing it in a way that makes it cohesive with your character's skills so it doesn't feel like a chore having to go through it.

tl;dr adding water levels is ok as long as it doesn't feel like a "debuff"

Thanks for reading!

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