10 February 2011

Games that just missed it: Avalon Code edition. - by Josh Bycer

      Posted 02/09/11 01:09:00 pm  

I have played plenty of games, from excellent ones that I return to, to horrible games that are shelved somewhere deep in my collection. The games that I really like to analyze are games that had really good ideas but a few questionable decisions ruined the game. This is bad because to the publisher and designer they see the entire game as a failure and makes the chance of getting another game like it slim to none.

Today I'm examining the game Avalon Code for the Nintendo DS. This is an action RPG with several tricks up its sleeve, but ultimately several problems with the core game-play brought the game down.

The story is that the world is coming to an end and you have been chosen by the book of prophecy to record important people, places and things to keep when the world gets reborn. The book takes center stage as your entire bottom screen UI. In the book you have your map of the world along with local map, everything you'll come across, weapons, gear and items you can use. To create an entry in the book you have to "code scan" it which is smacking it with the book.

Once something has been scanned you can turn to its page in the book to view its stats, description and most importantly its code, code represents the core elements of the thing, for example a copper sword that is imbued with fire would have copper code and fire code. Interacting with code is one of the core game-play mechanics and plays heavily into progressing in the game.

Code comes in different sizes and each item only has so much space, by placing different code you can alter the item in question considerably. For example you can attach ILL code to a tough enemy to lower its defense, or use better materials to make your weapons stronger. As you progress through the game you'll find tablets that have code formulas, these formulas will transform the item into a more powerful piece of equipment if you put the correct amount and type of code onto it.

When dealing with people, some of them have a troublesome code that is making life miserable for them, such as someone who can't trust people, or someone who has a terminal illness. If you befriend them you'll learn what code you'll need to cure them of the undesirable code and make them a better person. Each page also has a rating that fluctuates depending on what code is placed, for example having two different metal codes on the same weapon makes it an alloy type that does less damage then just having one type.

As mentioned combat is real time, you have several types of weapons each with a special ability and you can turn to your weapon's page at any time to alter its code, such as if you are dealing with ice monsters and need to add a fire code or even adding a code to a monster to give it a weakness in the first place.

From what I've written Avalon Code sounds like a RPG that you can really sink your teeth into, the customization options are immense with the different codes. The concept of altering the world itself to aid you is very unique and intriguing. However it's a shame that the two most important systems, the book and altering code are where Avalon Code falls from grace.

For being a tome of absolute knowledge of the world it really needs a better glossary. The book is split into several sections: items, people, monsters and so on. The problem is that if you are looking for something specific there is no way to narrow down your search. Let's say I'm looking for a monster that I put a fire code on a few hours ago and I want it back, I can't just search for anything that has fire code, instead I have go slowly through each page of the monster section until I find what I want.

Monsters seem to be arranged in order of power so the weakest monsters you meet will be at the beginning of the section and the bosses will be at the end. These becomes an annoyance as you can only go to either extreme with your initial search, then have to work your way backwards or forwards to find what you are looking for.

People are arranged by sub sections of the general location they habit, but once again once you're in that section you'll then have to go page by page to find the person you're looking for.

Changing code around is also a pain in the ass, for some arbitrary reason you can only hold four pieces of code at a time. If I want to move more than four around I have to find an item that has some space, place the code, then go back to where the code I wanted was which requires more searching, then at last move it to where I want. Adding insult to injury I can't swap code from an item with one from my inventory, it's either empty space or bust.

The amount of time needed to make one item the way you want bogs the game down tremendously, multiply it by having to change items and enemies throughout the game and it just makes things unbearable. If I could just search for pages that have the code I want, or able to search for all references in the area would help things a lot. Also removing the code limit or raising it up would be good.

This forces the player to choose between one of two options, either bear with it and spend the extra time or just ignore it and treat the game simply as an action RPG. The problem however is how integrated the code swapping is into the game that ignoring it will make the game a lot harder. Later boss fights demand the use of code swapping to give you a fighting chance against it.

What lessons can we learn from Avalon Code? Every game has what could be considered its "core mechanic", which is the main system that the player will be spending the most time with. It is important to make this as accessible as possible and trim as much fat from it in a matter of speaking. Optimizing it for your game engine is vital, if I'm going to be doing something 90% of the time, there should not be any slowdown or long loading screens to deal with.

Avalon Code is an intriguing idea and falls into the category of games that deserve a sequel just to give the designers a chance to smooth out the problems.

Josh

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