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By dark nowhere (Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:56:12 PM EST) (all tags)
I'd like to say that Saw is a great (series of) film(s). While watching, I've had a constant sense that the real merit here is that someone has devised a means of convincing me to spend an hour and a half at a time watching gruesome gory horrifying stuff without the use of coercion. It feels like a joke where I'm the punchline. I need to laugh but I can't because it would change from funny to sad as I do.

I have some doubts about the upcoming game, though. These aren't the usual doubts about games licensed from other media.

Usually film titles and the like sell games only on their names. Rarely is the game itself worth playing. I'm not worried about that. First, Konami is a great developer. I don't like most of their games, but the ones I do like I absolutely love. When they've developed this kind of thing in the past it still made for fine games. Second, the Saw series has made 5 worthwhile films in as many years. There is a unique focus at Twisted Pictures, and last I checked they were part of the development process on the game. So far so good.

I don't think anyone could expect a game to work the way the films do and have the same merits. I'm sure it will be great in a "trap dungeon" kind of way--possibly the best (graphical) such game to date--but there's an area I'm expecting to suffer needlessly.

In the films, subjects are pressed for time and forced to make terrible decisions. While the main drive here is to recognize and carry out the needed actions for survival, that can only be compromised by making a game of it. While watching a film, there's an implied "is he going to make it?" which has been altered slightly here to "is he going to do it?" When "he" is player one, there's hardly any question. There's not much that can be done about it, and I think it's a wasted effort to try to solve this problem.

There is a second drive that doesn't come across very strongly in the films. In these intense situations there's always a measure of doubt. It's difficult to make these decisions not just because of the fact that they conflict with the survival instinct but also because making decisions means sacrificing options. The characters would suffer intense doubt, and that doubt can be created almost perfectly in the player.

No doubt it will be created, but not to its full potential. The standard approach to game design in this style is to keep doubt segmented within trials, and those are often broken down into subtrials. But if the game is to have more than one trial then in order to form a cohesive whole the factor of doubt should be spread over the whole game. I think there should always be a reason to doubt even the very first actions taken in the game, be that even ten major trials ago.

I wouldn't want this from most games. To do it correctly in Saw would require a huge attention investment. Inventory management and conservation are cop-outs, and the correct answer is to provide dynamic situations. This sounds like a branching story mechanic mangled into looking like something else, but a subtler approach is better. Taking advantage of dynamic environments and items along with vanilla conservation can go a ways to making it feel more organic, though environments require that trials often reuse the same locations. People also make a difference: the survival and state of different characters who may reappear could potentially make a huge difference. All of this makes for a very difficult game (at least on the head), but that cost has a bonus--a very high replay value.

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