Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Driver: San Francisco and Design

An important element of any driving game is the actual cars. An open-world driving game, like Burnout, is specifically about the right car for the right mission, but one of the biggest drags in Burnout was returning to the garage to pick out a new car, then driving back to the event destination. An interface that lets you arbitrarily pluck a car out from the ambient traffic of the city is more than a plot device. It’s also a great way to encourage the player to screw around with different cars without penalty.

My favorite missions in Driver are the open-ended “dares,” which give you a ridiculous condition (drive 150mph in opposing traffic for twenty seconds), but without a time limit. You can swap cars in and out at your leisure without breaking flow until you achieve your goal. Then you can zoom out to a city-wide view and pop directly into the next story mission without driving across the city. It’s extremely handy and a great design idea that really simplifies the act of playing an open-world game. (As opposed to Prototype 2, which forces you to walk to a specific transport point, in costume, in order to switch areas.)

Another great feature of Driver is the minimap. As per its name, the minimap normally shows a very small area of where you are, maybe two or three blocks at the most, but you can press “Y” to make the map expand across the screen, which reduces your field of vision while you’re still barrelling down the wrong lane at 90mph. It makes me think of unfolding a paper map across your knees while trying to keep an eye on the road.

You can pause the game and go to the Big Definitive Map, but 1) it kind of breaks your flow and 2) unlike the minimap, it doesn’t adjust relative to your position, so you can suffer a bit of confusion as you reconcile which direction you’re facing against the absolute direction of the Big Definitive Map against the relative positioning of the minimap. Those two factors meant I used the minimap-expand feature way more than the Big Definitive Map, and really enjoyed doing it since it kept me in the flow of the game.