Game design is great. And the theory we use to better understand games and gamers is important. But there's no substitute for taking an account of actual gameplay experiences. I've designed surveys before to poll what Smashers really thought of Super Brawl and Melee. I've interviewed competitive fighting game players in person at venues like Apex 2013. And I've skyped with competitive Pokemon players from around the world. Now it's time to examine Fire Emblem Awakening.
I'm no stranger to Intelligent Systems turn-based strategy games. I'm a huge fan of the Advance Wars games. I've played every game in the series, beaten most of the hard modes, S-ranked most of the missions, and won most of my battles online. I've written about its Chess like interplay and its expertly turned difficulty design. Intelligent Systems is also known for the Fire Emblem games, which is a strategy RPG series. I've beaten Fire Emblem on GBA and dabbled in a few others, but my appreciation for Fire Emblem pales in comparison to Advance Wars. My theory is that the RPG side of Fire Emblem's strategy-RPG design is the core difference between the two game series that ultimately results in two very different gameplay experiences.
As we learned from my series Linearity. Emergence. Convergence options and openness in game design complicate everything. With more options games become harder to tune, harder to make, and harder to guide the player. RPG systems can add a lot of complexity to a game experience allowing players to dive into menus, multipliers, and stats that ultimately don't help the game develop gameplay of interesting choices. And the design-space continuums created from RPG stat tables that adjust the gameplay variables to a fine degree make it harder for many RPGs to provide adequate feedback for players and harder for player to find their difficulty sweet spot. Everything just gets smoothed over including the gameplay wrinkles. And then there's the significant probability of entering an encounter under-leveled or over-leveled. Ultimately, the core design issue I want to investigate is how RPG features like experience points based leveling, abstract or simulate real player skill, and how this design conflicts with the real skill-based challenges that strategy games specialize in.
Using all the critical-language we've developed over the last 5 years, it's time to take a close look at exactly how the strategy RPG Fire Emblem Awakening balances out these contrary types of game design. If you're playing Fire Emblem Awakening, consider contributing to my gameplay research. It's easy, all you have to do is fill out this survey at the end of every mission you successfully complete in Fire Emblem Awakening.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Submit as much information as you want.
- Contribute as many times as you want. The more the better.
- Don't worry about missing consecutive opportunities to submit.
- Don't worry about keeping up with other players. Play on your time. Submit on your time.
- Don't worry about writing what sounds good. Just be honest even if have complaints or a rant to give.
- Again, honesty and details is what I need. Describing specific mission formations and scenarios is great.
- Don't worry about how good or bad you are at the game.
I'm looking for honest feedback. In the survey I ask for your name, what difficulty level you're playing on, what mission you just beat, and then I give you a space to say anything you want. If you can describe some of the strategies (specific plans of actions) or tactics (general plans of action) that you used to beat the mission, that's a great way to contribute. If you are worried about a decision you made and you wonder if the consequences will come back to haunt you, please share your conern in your comments. Finally there are two optional questions at the bottom. One asks you to keep track of the stats of a main character like Chrom so that I can get a better idea of how significant the random stat variation is. And the second question asks for your current game file time.
I plan on compiling this data into a blog series. And if I get enough contributors and support, I'll even do an episode of Critical-Casts (my podcast radio show) on Fire Emblem. If you're interested in being interviewed or contributing to the podcast show, let me know.