Conduits, Ships, and Bounty Hunters

Alright, I’ll admit, I do watch game-based TV shows. But that’s not quite what I wanted to talk about today. At least not directly. I was watching XPlay recently and they started talking about The Conduit. A FPS for the Wii with a bunch of different multiplayer modes. Sure there aren’t a lot of good FPS’ for the Wii, but overall a game like that doesn’t really catch my fancy… except the mention of what they called “Bounty Hunter” mode.

Bounty Hunter mode is, to put is simply, a cat and mouse game. It’s your job to hunt down a specific player who you get points for killing, while avoiding being killed by whoever has you as their target. This reminded me of an old Half-Life mod I used to play called The Ship, which had similar goals in a cruise ship, except there were other tasks you had to do to keep yourself from dying like drinking, peeing, and sleeping, along with not being allowed to be seen by the ship’s security while killing your target.

So, why bring up this old mechanic? It’s the designer in my head getting frustrated of course! The Ship was a lovely concept in my eyes. A game that could keep players on edge and have the players be creative and kniving to catch their prey. Played with the right people it could be quite an experience.

The problem was the “right people” were always hard to come by (if not impossible) on public servers, and the wrong people could easily ruin the fun of the mechanic. Although penalized for killing someone who wasn’t your target, the penalization was never enough to stop a player who wants to annoy everyone else. As a player you were punished for killing someone who was not your bounty or did not have you as their bounty, but if you ran into a griefer who attacked you without you being their bounty, it was a pain to deal with. Because the mechanic depended not only on the rule set built into the game, but also the assumption that teammates would also “behave” in an expected manner, the fun of the game would all too often be ruined, and turn into just yet another deathmatch. Ever play Team Fortress and notice some players aren’t trying to cap or even defend points, but are only interested in getting their kill counts up? Same deal, different scope.

It’s frustrating not only as a player, but as a designer to know that certain mechanics, although seemingly fun, would be incredibly difficult to keep fun in a public setting. So how could we get around this issue? Perhaps the answer isn’t always in changing the mechanic, but could be in looking for the right distribution channel. Because of social networking trends more internalized communities are forming that can be used to keep these experiences to groups that WOULD work to the rules, because all the players know each other on a more personal level. For example, Facebook has games where you play not with strangers, but with your own facebook friends. It’s like a built in matchmaking service, and for all I know, playing this mode in The Conduit may be fine, simply due to the fact that the Wii tends to focus on friend codes. As frustrating as the codes are, at least the experience you have in games will be with friends, and not griefers.

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