Game Philosophy: Side Missions

Don’t you just love detours?

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Today’s topic:
Side Missions

When you play a game where you explore stuff, whether it be an Action Adventure, RPG or Sandbox game, there’s usually Side Missions there for replay value.

Usually however, people don’t actually enjoy them as much as the main game. And that’s understandable, but sometimes it goes so far that people don’t even feel motivated to play the Side Missions to begin with.

When you think about it though, that’s understandable too, because Side Missions these days are SO boring.

I always see “Replay this level/fight in xx.xx.xx minutes” or “kill x amount of enemies” or whatever.
See, people have lost the motivation for Side Missions because they just aren’t fun anymore. And they aren’t fun anymore because everything you do in them usually is something you can do in the Main Game anyway, so there’s no point.

It’s like Game Designers are so proud of ┬átheir ideas that they just cramp everything in the Main Game just to be sure people will experience it.

That’s not how you’re supposed to do Side Missions. Side Missions are supposed to bring you stuff you couldn’t experience in the Main Game. You have a brilliant idea, but can’t put it in the Main Game’s storyline? Well have it as a Side Mission! It’ll make people experience it because it sounds interesting, and it sounds interesting because it’s something NOT seen in the Main Story.

I’ll give you two examples of games which I think did this right. And I was about half-way on putting Sonic Generations as an example before I realized I might as well propose to Sonic if I did.

I would’ve proposed to this too, but we’ve been on a rocky relationship lately.

In Ninja Gaiden II there is this side quest called “Tests of Valor” which is totally optional. After you do a certain challenge at the game’s Chapter 2, you’ll get to grab an Item which enables the Tests of Valor. After it’s enabled, you’ll find portals throughout the game which would transport you to a new area you’ll never visit in the main game otherwise. And from there you’ll fight new enemies.

Now, let me repeat that. A totally OPTIONAL Side Quest, which gives you NEW enemies, and a NEW area.
See, this is what’s missing these days. People want gamers to experience EVERYTHING in the Main Game, but the beauty of exploring worlds in games is how you should be able to have the OPTION of experiencing new stuff.

When I play a game, I complete the Main Game as quick as possible, and then I look around what kinds of extras I missed because of it, and THEN I complete the game 100% to get the full experience. And it feels more satisfying because it feels like I am playing two games and then fuse them together at the end.

But today’s games instead make me get the 100% experience from the get-go. And while it sounds good, it really kills the replay value to me.

All of this talk of Ninja Gaiden II and I haven’t even talked about the Downloadable Missions. I love Ninja Gaiden II… if I only I could say the same for it’s new younger brother…

But anyway, off to the next example:

MARRY ME!

Yakuza 4 delivers on something else. See while Ninja Gaiden is focused on the Action, Yakuza is focused on it’s plot… and it’s Action. Well this makes it sound like I like Yakuza 4 more than Ninja Gaiden, but they’re really on equal grounds to me. But their preferences are pretty clear in their Side Missions.

For one, Ninja Gaiden II’s Missions are simple. You beat different people up stylishly. You get a ranking. The End.
Yakuza 4’s Side Missions instead give an actual plot.

Yes, Side Missions with plot. See, the beautiful thing of Yakuza 4 is how you really get the feeling you’re the character you are playing (1 of the 4 that is) because their Side Missions are supported by their actual personality.

One character owns a Moneylending Company and you get to test people who want a loan.
Another character is an escaped convict who befriends homeless people, so you get to help them out.
And another character is a corrupt cop, so you get to arrest people who are messing around.
And the last character is the main protagonist of all the other Yakuza games. You get to beat people up with him.

See each Side Missions act on the current playable character, and what’s more is that it opens an actual storyline where you get to dive deeper into the character you play. It connects you to the main characters, which makes it feel really good when the characters all meet up eventually. Like all your best friends have decided to meet each other… and then beat people up. Such a satisfying feeling.

In conclusion, if you want to have great Side Missions, give the player something to motivate them.
Make the Side Missions good enough to stand on their own. Consider them the spin-off to your Main Story, where you simply get to experience the lesser things in the character’s life.

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