(Disclaimer 1: All percentages in the below analysis were made up completely on the spot for the sake of illustrating my example)

Darkstar one is a game that fills a unique niche in the space combat genre in that it, unlike all the space combat games of the last ten years, exists.

There has been a depressing lack of space games over the last decade, which is something that depresses me in particular because firstly its a genre I am very fond of, and secondly because the last ten years is almost my entire living memory. Darkstar one is a space sim, and it exists, so it gets a +2 circumstance bonus to the “get a good review” skill (obscure nerd joke). On the other hand, there’s not much else going for it.

One could be forgiven for assuming that, being a bold return to an abandoned genre, Darkstar one would bring something new to the playing field. This is not so. In fact, the sentence “Freelancer with joystick support and a narrative thats made out of ass” describes darkstar one so perfectly that i’m almost considering aborting my review at this point and not looking at it in further detail. But alas, marks compel that I do the right thing and give it a fair dissection.

Darkstar one is, at its core, a good game. The space combat controls well, even if the auto-aiming thing does make it a tad too easy. Now, this appears to be what the rest of the page is about. Its a fairly deep concept which has ended up using all of my words and more, but it is interesting enough from a game design perspective that I believe its warranted.

About the auto-aiming: I’m not saying that the GAME is too easy, there are always bigger battles and harder difficulty settings to take on – I’m simply saying that aiming in itself is meant to be the dividing line that if done perfectly can make an unwinnable battle winnable, and if screwed up can make the smallest threat a potential source of death. There has to be room for a fluke to bring success, or for more skill to bring success, or a skilled player compounded with a fluke to bring success. When auto-aim is in a game, it brings all players, skilled and unskilled, a lot closer to the “ceiling” of 100% accuracy. It will also be taken into account when balancing, leading to a high expectation of accuracy. While the players performance and the games expectations of the players might remain perfectly congruent, there is still far less room to EXCEED the expectations, which not only takes the fun out of it, but it means that the player can’t be met with a challenge that is greater than them and then accidentally succeed after a few tries, because that room to improve has been removed.

This stops just being “an interesting game design concern” and starts being “a crippling error” when you consider the case of the exceptionally skilled player. With auto-aim enabled the skilled player will probably be able to achieve 75% accuracy, and if they get stuck when playing on hard, even 100% accuracy might not save them; 100% accuracy is only a 1/3 increase after all, and for it to be a challenge for our example player, it has to be difficult at 75% accuracy.

The darkstar one team may have been trying to soften the learning curve by including aiming assistance, but in doing so, they have turned aiming into a mini-game that cannot be won, only lost. There is no “Hurrah, I am a skilled player!” when you score several consecutive hits, only a “Damn, i suck” when you MISS several consecutive hits.

I’ve sorely exceeded my word limit so let me close by saying this:

One must ensure that there is adequate room for extra skill, flukes, and flukes by people with extra skill to happen. There is satisfaction in the crunch of a successful hit when a game has made playing it difficult. There is no satisfaction in the slow ticking down of hit points where a game has made playing it easy.

Finally, if you still think that “how difficult a game is to win”, and “how difficult a game is to play” are the same thing, you have completely misunderstood every word of this analysis and should probably ask somebody to explain it to you, so that I don’t lose marks.

(Disclaimer 2: I wanted to email one of the tutors about the fact i’ve exceeded the word limit here, but theres no contact details on QUT blackboard, so looks like they’re going to have to live with it)