Monday, November 5, 2012

Game Design and The Number 3

I got so irritated with Halo 4 last night that I actually turned off the game. In a move that is definitely not restricted to the Halo series or the fine folks at 343 Industries, Cortana, the digital desire of nerdy fetishists the world over, informs Master Chief to disable 3 relays.

This after I'd just spent a chunk of time taking out three other things and disabling three force field installations.

Another "three directive" and I was out. It just struck me as utterly lazy and I turned off the game -- just pressed the power button and was done with it.

But thinking about it for a handful of minutes while brushed my teeth, the number 3 is endemic to games in general. Right back to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, which most everyone has played, as an example. World 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, then the castle level, "Our princess is in another castle," then onward.

Still on the Mario bent. Triple jumping from Super Mario 64 onward.

Link completes the Triforce
again. Why not create a more
complicated shape than
a triangle?
Legend of Zelda's Triforce. Hello, 3! Then any game that has boss battles that must be fought in three stages. Smash TV's Mutoid Man being one of the first examples that comes to mind. Or puzzles that have three specific criteria to solve?

As I flossed my mind wandered into film territory. Trilogy. Godfather, Star Wars, Indiana Jones (I argue), Lord of the Rings. But the passion for the number 3 is wholly embraced by video games. Why is that?

One isn't enough. Two just seems like the developer wanted to double the play time or maybe the first time was so awesome that "Wouldn't it be cool to do that again?"

Three makes it somehow more impressive. Maybe. Does the designer want to ape the stages of a three act play: protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe? I don't know. Gargling now.
"Would you kindly,
eat a giant squid,

But what I do know is that the point last night where I turned off Halo 4, suddenly I was completely tired of the number 3 in my games. Make 1 spectacular, put 2 on a pedestal, light fireworks off in the background, and make the player feel like a god, but as soon as 3 starts rounding the corner, it should just be skipped. Open a portal to the next section and be done with it.

My challenge for the next generation of games, so close to the horizon, is that the number 3 gets the cold shoulder. Break the Triforce into five pieces. Dr. Tenebaum, Fontaine, and Andrew Ryan should be joined by Aristotle the Talking Sperm Whale. The final boss should slip on a banana peel and die rather than have two layers of armour protecting him.

It also occurred to me that because I was looking for 3 I was finding it all over the place and conveniently ignoring anything that didn't fall into the three-fold trap. Possibly. But the fact 3 pushed me to turn off Halo 4, it was the only thing on my mind.

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