The other day I decided to fire up the ole Nintendo 64 and try out that nostalgia thing I’ve heard so much about from the internet. I decided to play one of my old favorites: Rareware’s Perfect Dark, and I noticed a design choice that had been overlooked by myself–even after countless hours of gameplay–and seemingly by the internet as a whole.
For anyone that has played Perfect Dark, the “Farsight XR-20” gun is probably one of the first elements of the game that they remember when reminiscing. The Farsight is a piece of alien technology that allows the player to aim through walls and shoot enemies anywhere in the level for a one-hit kill. In single-player, it’s a powerful gun that’s a lot of fun to mess with. With a little practice in aiming, you can pick anyone off in the level from a safe point.
But in multi-player, it seems like it’s cheap as hell. It’s no fun to get immediately killed by some jerk on the other side of the map you can’t even see. I’m sure in many circles of friends, the Farsight was banned from multiplayer matches. But Rare may have accounted for this potential imbalance.
When aiming with the Farsight, the walls and floors suddenly change into these futuristic, psychedelic colors. It not only fits with the idea of the gun being alien technology that can see through walls, BUT–more importantly–it makes it very obvious when someone is aiming with the Farsight. Even the most scrupulous players who refuse to screen-look can’t ignore the bright flashing colors emanating from their opponent’s screen. With the knowledge that someone is trying to pick people off with the Farsight the other players have the chance to wiggle around and try and outrun their friend’s slow-moving cross-hairs. Thanks to this clever, out-of-the-box kind of idea, the split-screen element of the game can be key to a player’s survival.
It’s still up for debate whether or not the Farsight is overpowered, but this subtle, semi-4th-wall-breaking choice by Rare allows an extremely powerful single-player gun to transform into a manageable multi-player weapon without any actual changes to the gun itself. The balancing happens outside of the screen and in the player’s hands, which is pretty impressive.
I’d try and put some overarching theme here about game design and the importance of lateral thinking or something, but really, let’s be honest, I doubt many game design issues could be solved as simply and creatively as this one was. But if you make games or do anything creative at all, don’t let it stop you from trying next time you run into a problem! Give your crazy idea shot anyway. You never know what might end up working. In the meantime, let’s all remember things from the past. Back when things were simpler and we were carefree. Hey, what about Palm Pilots? Or Pogs? Sega Genesis. The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Sorry, I’m still getting used to this nostalgia thing. I’ll keep at it. Thanks for reading goodbye.