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Modifié par The First Aifos : 1/2/2023 5:40:14 PM
9

The Unintended Side Effect of Mario Kart 8's Golden Stars (a game design thread)

Good evening everybody! This is Aifos coming to you alive from some racetrack somewhere! Where? I'm not sure! How did I get here? No idea! Please send help! In the meantime, let's get to the topic at hand! Kart racing games are a big genre, and most of it.. Is not great. Now, there are some good ones out there, like Diddy Kong Racing, or Team Sonic Racing, but no game series has managed to surpass the one that kicked off the genre in the first place; Mario Kart! Mario Kart is great. Driving just feels so nice, there's a ton of accessibility and QoL features, and unlike a lot of kart racers, you can arrange your stats in a way that deliver an entirely different game feel. On top of all that, once DLC is accounted for, Mario Kart 8 DX is going to have a whopping 96 courses! Which is frankly kind of insane; even the 48 of the base game was an impressive number! But for all of Mario Kart's strengths, it has two very big flaws, one of which are the Golden Stars*. [spoiler]*Golden Stars are not to be confused with Power Stars. Power Stars are the invincibility item you can pick up mid-race. Those are fine.[/spoiler] So, what are the Golden Stars, and why are they so horrible? Well, let's get to it! Ostensibly, your goal in Mario Kart is to complete all the Grand Prix. The game's 96 courses get divvied up into 24 racing tournaments, with 4 races each. After each race, every racer is given a certain amount of points based on their place at the end; 15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, and then counting down one by one from there as you get lower in the standings. At the end of the four races, the points are all tallied up, and whoever has the highest points wins. There are 5 difficulties to play through, each one increasing the speed of your karts*, and with its own trophies to win. This leads to a whopping 480 trophies**! (are there really that many? Dang.) [spoiler]*Except for Mirror, which does not increase the speed, but instead flips the courses around. **100cc and 50cc trophies can be skipped by simply obtaining the 150cc trophy, which is nice. If you're an experienced player, you don't need to play through the boring low speed modes![/spoiler] And, as far as the trophies themselves go, this is all great. However, at some point during the series, they added a second rating system to these Grand Prix as well; it's not just about the trophies anymore, now you can also obtain Golden Stars! There are three Golden Stars for each trophy, and you obtain them by going above and beyond; you get all three stars by winning first in every race, two stars if you get first 3 times, and second once, and finally you get a single star for a point total of 55 or above. Anything below that, even if you get a gold trophy, gets no stars. On paper, this seems like a fun way for players to challenge themselves, see how many stars you can get, but in practice it leads to a pretty tedious gameplay loop; if at any point during the Grand Prix the player doesn't get first place, they quit and restart the whole thing. Now, normally, I love challenge modes. Hollow Knight's Radiant difficulty bosses, or Pantheon bindings, are great. Ender Lilies Blightborn modifiers are also great. They're fun, and I love them. So, why does Mario Kart's equivalent of a "challenge mode" fall so hard? Well, there are two reasons; 1. Mario Kart is very specifically designed so that the best player does not always win. Blue Shells specifically target the player in first place, Power Stars, Thunderbolts, Golden Mushrooms, and Bullet Bills are all designed to help players in lower places catch up, and the courses are all littered with shortcuts that you can only pass via mushrooms--something the person in first place basically never gets. In most cases, this randomness is great, and I could give you a whole rant about why. However, when paired with Golden Stars--which ask you to clear the Grand Prix perfectly, it can get very frustrating, as you're hit by a Blue Shell at a crucial moment and lose the race. 2. Some of the best moments in Mario Kart are those moments where you do lose. When you get a bad race, and fall to sixth, so you need to scramble back to first in the next race to ensure you keep your first place standing on the leaderboard. It's fun, and frantic, and it's moments like these where I enjoy the game the most. However, if you're going for the Golden Stars, moments like these cannot happen, because if you have a bad race, then you just need to quit and restart. Which is a shame, and causes you to lose out on those epic comeback moments. This problem is, of course, not just limited to Mario Kart. This same phenomenon is actually a huge problem in the stealth game genre as well; many stealth games encourage you to get at least one perfect run where you're never spotted, even though getting spotted and trying to salvage the mission is one of the best parts of stealth games in the first place. These kinds of rewards in games, that encourage players to play perfectly, can be very tempting to put into your games, and indeed, designers should certainly put in systems to rewards players for challenging themselves. However, these systems need to be employed carefully, because, as strange as it sounds to say, failing can actually be really fun. Or, more accurately, the process of salvaging our runs despite our screwups is really fun. Trying to make up lost points in Mario Kart, scrambling back to a hiding place in a stealth game, making a clutch win against a boss after running out of heals. These things are fun, and when we put in rewards that encourage players to always play perfectly we can cause them to miss out on those fun moments. But, okay, so we've established the problem, is there a good solution? Indeed there is, and it's actually quite a simple one, too; make your rewards for perfect play hidden. In Neon White, for instance, your goal is to speedrun through the levels as fast as you can. Faster times get you better medals, and as far as the player can see, there are four to get; Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Ace. However, what the game doesn't tell you is that there's actually a fifth medal, too; Red! Getting a Red medal is quite a feat, and you have to play basically flawlessly to get one. Which is, kind of okay, because the game never tells you they exist until you get one. While players will still replay levels over and over to get Ace medals (which for the record is the point of the game), you never feel pushed to try and get Red medals, nicely circumventing the Golden Star problem. Similarly, in Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight and its spiritual sequel Minoria, there are special spells you can obtain only by defeating a boss without ever getting hit. The game never actually tells you they exist, however, and the only way to figure out they do is to get them. A fun reward for players who like to challenge themselves, but casual players never feel the need to get these rewards, mostly because they don't know they even exist. And before someone says "Mad cuz bad", I've actually got all the Golden Stars, because I like to make myself suffer. I don't hate the Golden Stars because I can't get them, what I hate is the process of getting them. But that's all for now folks, jambuhby- Huh? Oh, the second big problem? Well, that one's simple! For some reason, Mario Kart 8 DX gives you this amazing auto-accelerate option, so you don't need to hold down the accelerate button during races, but for some reason it's not accessible during Time Trial! Like, I'd love trying to push myself for the best times on courses, but it hurts my fingies needing to hold down A for so long. ;-; [b][u]Tl;dr? Here's my point![/b][/u] When implementing a reward into a game, try to take into account how that reward encourages people to play, and if it causes them to miss part of what makes the game fun in the first place. If it encourages play in a way that makes the game less fun, it may be a good idea to either remove the reward, or make it hidden so the only players who get it are the ones already playing that way anyway. If you study game design at all, I'm sure you know the quote; [i]"Players will optimize the fun out of a game."[/i], so when designing a game, try not to encourage them to do so! [spoiler]And as an aside, when adding in rewards designed for professional players (like Hollow Knight's Path of Pain for instance), it's best to make those rewards have no real effect on gameplay. The players who undertake these kinds of challenges are usually just happy with the reward of accomplishing it in the first place. For their flaws, Golden Stars do this quite well. You only need the trophies to unlock the game's final character, Golden Mario, and getting all the Golden Stars doesn't actually unlock anything... I would've liked a small "Congratulations", at least, though... -.-[/spoiler] But that's all for now folks, jambuhbye!

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