Cel Damage: Breaking Survival

Cel Damage is a crazy cartoon car-combat game, and one of my favourite GameCube games, but it got terrible reviews and generally didn’t do very well. In my opinion there are two reasons for this. The first is the difficulty; it’s a pretty hard game, where even on the easiest mode it’s tricky to win. The other thing, though, is that you die a lot. Like, dozens of times in a few minutes.

A typical deathmatch game has you living for at least maybe 30 seconds on average (longer in many, like Counter-Strike). In Cel Damage, you’re lucky to live longer than 10, and it’s not uncommon to die while spawning! Dying can be especially frustrating for a few reasons:

  • many of the weapons in the game are one-hit-kills
  • some of the weapons can kill you from halfway across the map
  • whether or not someone succeeds in killing you is dependent on how good the other player is, not on how good you are at defending

Basically, you can die through no fault of your own, often with no warning!

The trick to enjoying Cel Damage is realizing that it’s normal to die! What matters is who else you’re able to take out before it happens. In Cel Damage, death is not something you can reliably avoid, and that doesn’t matter.

The issue is that most games are based on survival, where dying either gives a substantial penalty or means game over. Neither of these are the case in Cel Damage, but the attitude of dying is bad is carried over when you start to play it. The game’s failure is not in how liberally it deals out death, but in not communicating to the player that dying is normal. When you’re breaking an established game design rule, you have to make it clear, otherwise the player will assume that either the game is broken or they’re doing something wrong.

Posted on 2009-03-11 at 00:32. trackback