Sense of urgency


Quite a few people have now played the preview version of Driftmoon, and I've received about as much letters and feedback as Santa Claus gets this time of the year. Thanks for every one of them, it's been great discussing game design with all of you, since most of you seem to know much more than I do.

These past few weeks I've been thinking about one thing in particular. That is the sense of urgency in roleplaying games. I mean of course the feeling that you get when you see a timer running out, a bomb is about to explode, and you have to find a way to disarm it.

In Ultima VII there was a quest, where someone poisoned you when they met you. The game just told that you were poisoned, now you have to find a cure or you'll die. At first I frantically searched every clue I could find, skipping much of the side quests and exploration, both of which I normally loved to do. But then I realized that I wasn't losing health points, there was no timer anywhere, maybe I was just poisoned within the plot, not in any real sense that would affect the game. So I took my time to do the poison quest, and nothing happened, nobody told me I was dying, I got on with the plot and went far away. All of the sudden, I start losing health, and I drop dead within minutes.

That was a good lesson to me as a game developer. Not only did I hate the sense of urgency at the start of the quest, I also felt that I got cheated - that the urgency wasn't real. And then the worst bit, I dropped dead without a warning a hundred miles away from where I could find the antidote - the bomb was ticking after all, but there was no visible clock on the screen.

I don't want to spoil the Driftmoon plot for anyone, so I'll just say that one of the motivations for the player to beat the enemy is that he'll die otherwise. I don't know if that bit fits the game, since it gives you pressure to be quick to solve the main quest, but it cheats you, nothing ever actually happens to you and you won't die no matter how slow you take it. If you've had the chance to test the game, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. I've got a couple of ideas on how I could improve the plotline there, but I'd love to hear how people have felt about it.

PS. Our second child was born yesterday. He came a month too early, but he's in fine health now.

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