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Left Behind review and gaming grammar

November 29th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

Gamesradar has posted its review of Left Behind: Eternal Forces. After receiving my brief review, the editors decided to expand on some of my comments, which is totally cool with me. So there’s no Goodfellow byline here, since it was a collective effort, but nothing was added that I substantially disagree with.

Most of words survived editing, in fact, and I’m glad that this paragraph did. After talking about the fidgety control system in Left Behind, I wrote:

These may sound like nitpicky things, but they are the grammar of real time strategy games. If you can’t choose units and make them go do something interesting, all the scripture relevance in the world won’t keep you playing.

Well, the “relevance” isn’t mine.

A while ago, I linked to Corvus Elrod’s roundtable on Gaming Grammar. I had some trouble understanding what exactly he was talking about when he asked for submissions. But Left Behind made it perfectly clear.

There is a great difference between good writing and bad writing, and grammar is a big part of that. This does not mean that good writing always follows grammatical rules to the letter. Take sentence fragments. According to an article on instash, a good writer will occasionally use sentence fragments to capture a certain mood or pace. Bad writers will use sentence fragments because they don’t know better. Sentences have no verbs, there are misplaced objects, confused subjects, etc. Grammar allows us to follow along, to know what is happening and the speaker/writer’s attitude towards it.

The grammar of games is, fundamentally, interface related. Making things do what you want them to do. Left Behind: Eternal Forces is essentially illiterate.

1) Units are indistinguishable from a distance. “Friends” in their sweater vests look a lot like “singers” in their sweater vests. The only zoom level that lets you tell them apart is useless for navigation.

2) Groups of units have unknown compositions. If you drag/select a hero, two builders, two recruiters and five singers, only the hero is shown in the unit info screen. This is great if you just want to use that evangelism power, but you need to recruit units. So you end up creating lots of separate control groups in even the smallest scenario.

3) Path-finding is erratic even when there is a clear path to the objective.

4) Targeting a unit is nearly impossible since you need a ridiculous level of precision. Where most games have context dependent meanings for the right mouse button (it can means “attack”, “heal”, “chop”, “repair” or “join group” all in the same game), Left Behind often demands you select an action button and then target, by which time the target can be gone.

5) The main screen doesn’t default to North being up. North can be anywhere. And if you rotate the screen to get a better camera view, the minimap DOES NOT ROTATE. So it ends up becoming some sort of orienteering course.

You could probably get one of these things wrong and still have a good game. The standards for path-finding in the RTS world are so low that this could probably be overlooked if the other stuff was right.

A colleague offered the possibility that a lot of the middling scores for Left Behind are driven by fear of accusations that outlets are ragging on the game because it has serious religious content. All make the same observations, though some of them – incredibly – think the game doesn’t look “that bad”. If true, this is annoying. If not, then people at some sites are just too damned nice.

This is a bad game because it breaks all the rules for what makes a competent game. It will appeal to a certain market who are more concerned with the message and content of a game than whether it actually works. There are people who love Postal, after all, because it is so “outrageous”. There will be people who love this game because it has angels and evil spirits and glowing prayer balls.

For people interested in game design, there is nothing here. It’s not even a lesson in “what not to do”, since the sort of stuff it teaches is covered on day one. It is not a guilty pleasure, either, because it’s not funny, not over-the-top enough to make your jaw drop at its badness.

This is the worst designed game of the year.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • steve

    It got a 4?

  • Bruce

    What if they gave it a 1, and then someday someone designed a worse game? Then they would look totally stupid, because they said it was the worst game possible, *but it was not true*!!!

  • Darius K.

    Maybe this will help.

    Oh wait, technology can’t save bad design. But at least their pathfinding might be a little better next time around!

  • steve

    Bruce, there’s always a lower rating. .5. 0. -1!!!1! LOL!!!1!

    I once had a serious discussion with someone from Gamespot who thought they should erode ratings over time because, you know, five year old games aren’t as good as ones from today. So that 9.8 for Half-Life would be an 8.1 today, or whatever, because it’s only as good as, I don’t know, F.E.A.R.

    I think that’s an awesome idea.

  • SJR

    This statement is posted from an employee of Left Behind Games on behalf of Troy Lyndon, our Chief Executive Officer.

    There has been in incredible amount of MISINFORMATION published in the media and in online blogs here and elsewhere.

    Pacifist Christians and other groups are taking the game material out of context to support their own causes. There is NO “killing in the name of God” and NO “convert or die”. There are NO “negative portrayals of Muslims” and there are NO “points for killing”.

    Please play the game demo for yourself (to at least level 5 of 40) to get an accurate perspective, or listen to what CREDIBLE unbiased experts are saying after reviewing the game at http://www.leftbehindgames.com/pages/controversy.com

    Then, we’d love to hear your feedback as an informed player.

    The reality is that we’re receiving reports everyday of how this game is positively affecting lives by all who play it.

    Thank you for taking the time to be a responsible blogger.

  • NYC

    Hey, with so many people having an opinion about this game, how many have actually played it? And what credibility do they have? Focus on the Family has publications which can set the record straight for everyone…at http://www.pluggedinonline.com/thisweekonly/a0002989.cfm.

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