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Nine ways developers deceive us

Common sleight of hand tactics dissected

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2. Rubber-banding
No, it's not déjà vu. You really did pass that guy at the last corner. As applied to the racing genre, rubber-banding is when the computer surreptitiously warp-jumps a pursuing roadster ahead of or marginally behind the player in order to artificially boost the challenge factor. Almost as though the said roadster were - wait for it - attached to you with a rubber band. Huzzah! Driver: San Francisco and Need for Speed: The Run number among the more recent guilty parties.

You also get this in certain sports games - the ones that have an uncanny knack of rallying in the final 45 seconds, developing infinite stamina, a controlled ferocity worthy of Bruce Lee himself, and the capacity to magnetically attract airborne spherical objects. Yes, we're looking at you Madden 08. We still won that match.

Zoom
Fecker came out of nowhere.

3. Losing all your weapons and equipment
Nobody seriously wants total freedom. It's nice that we can walk off the road in Skyrim, chase a butterfly, annoy a giant and spend a round half-hour brawling up and down a mountain, but you need something to come back to. The problem, from a developer standpoint, is that by the time you come back to it, you could be Hercules.

Open worlds permit any range of solutions to the problems they pose, which is lovely on paper, but an absolute nightmare when it comes to designing challenges to fit a player's potential capabilities. Aim high, and you run the risk of flattening the poor lambs. Aim low, and enraged mobs may appear at the door to complain that you've "dumbed the game down".

Bethesda's answer in Skyrim is dynamic enemy-scaling, which has its downsides but is endlessly, endlessly preferable to the notorious, Metroid-derived level reset gambit. We've all been there - ambling down some alleyway in the full bloom of our martial prowess, only to be zapped by some mystic Beam of Character Degradation. Or hit on the head and robbed of all our worldly possessions. Or plunged into a parallel reality where all positive numbers are negative. Thanks, Operation Anchorage.

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