My family's been playing Munch a bit in the last few days. They never played it when it came out, and it's been interesting to see them play now. It's been my chance to see it clearly too, since I was tainted close to development. Some things I've seen -
- It's very difficult for people involved with production to see the product with any clarity. The only people who really saw the game clearly were the MS guys (Phil, Andrew, Jesse, Troy, Steve, Chris) that came in late to help us. Everyone at Oddworld was seeing something other than what was in the actual product.
- My sister thought the voices and characters were great. However, they really weren't played up well. I could tell from her reactions that if the humor and character just kept going strong, she would have been laughing and loving it. Instead, once you see the characters for a few seconds, the novelty is over, and they don't give you anything to keep you interested. There could have been a lot more variations and little moments that really played up the characters and humor more.
- Wow, the controls just *suck*. This is a hard one, since I did a lot of the code on the basic motion and controls. The movement is twitchy and hard to control. The jump button frequently doesn't respond when you hit it. The jump itself is way too fast. This is something that Phil Teschner and Jon Blow argued about strongly during development, and I agreed. I tried to do a little work to improve the jump button response, but it just wasn't a priority, and the game ended up being un-responsive and full of latency.
- Overloaded A button. Everyone in my family is horribly frustrated by this. You try to sneak up behind a Slig and pick him up. You hit A and jump instead, which alerts him and blows the whole thing. Munch is getting smacked and you want to use a vendo; you hit A and jump instead, or zap a fuzzle cage, etc.
- Tap/Hold on the buttons giving you two different actions. I thought this was a good idea, and it feels just fine to me, because I know how to do it. The rest of my family, however, is totally confused by it. My little brother thought that holding was always a stronger version of tapping, so holding was always better. This is probably because that's actually true for "Hello"/"All of ya" and because you often need to hold down the jump button to make it actually do it.
- The graphics kind of blow. The Snoozer and some of the other characters look good, but the backgrounds just look really flat, almost semi-cardboard-cutout looking. The fake lighting model and texturing and low poly counts and such are just no good. The artists believe that they can make things look great with polys and textures, but it's just not true. You need dynamic lighting and consistent imaging to really make a world look 3d, rounded, responsive, real. It's the difference between a virtual world and a diorama.
- Not enough of what's fun. We love playing the Snoozer. We kind of like the crane. We enjoy throwing bombs. We like the races in the wheel-chair, like Paramite run and Brewery To Be. These things occur far too rarely.
- Too much of what's tedious. Doing the same task over and over, like picking up Mudokons and throwing them somewhere - that's very tedious. Because the controls and jumping are so bad, any kind of jumping puzzle is horrible. Many people at Oddworld took this to mean that "jumping puzzles aren't fun". No - they're fine in Mario, Crash, Jak, etc. They're bad in Munch because the control and the puzzles are rot.
- Basic misunderstanding of the core mechanics. Two major things in Munch are just horribly broken - the two player respawning with the egg, and the spooce ball. The spooce ball can kill any enemy, just because depossessing kills them. This makes all enemies trivial, since you can regrow shrubs to get your spooceball at any time. Also, the egg respawning means you can never die, and it lets you teleport around the level. If you can get one of your guys across the level to another egg spawner, you can just kill off the other one and this lets you teleport your buddy. This lets you bypass lots of puzzles. These things would have been ok if they'd been understood better. I know from being there that up until very late, we wanted Munch to be more of a persistent world. It was only realized very late that everything had to respawn, it had to be more of a true puzzle game with set puzzles that reset themselves and force you to take them on as a whole. The puzzle model is fine, it's awesome in Klonoa or Heart of Darkness, but it's something you really have to embrace and understand in your game design.
- My little brother says it's obvious the game was not play-tested enough. To quote - "I know why you guys didn't play-test enough, cuz you had to make launch, but most games don't, and they have no excuse".
- My sister wanted to know if I did any of the voices. I could tell that I would be more famous in her eyes for doing a voice that I was for being (co-) lead programmer on the game. I think this is true for most people in the world.
- The story's just totally incoherent and feels tacked on. (this is true of most games).
- There's no climax to the game. As you go from level to level it just feels like one after another, there's no building excitement or the feeling that one level is harder or more exciting than the last.
- The other big thing I noticed was how much trouble my sister had. Just controlling the characters was something she had to learn, it wasn't intuitive at all. All the things that the hardcore player finds frustrating were absolutely crucial to her (like all the signs and shamans and popup screens and such). There's really a huge gulf between hardcore players and casual players, and it seems to me almost impossible to make a game that both can enjoy. You'd have to make the game very configurable, where many things were optional and there were quite different play styles possible. Which brings me to the next point -
- Always make your controls configurable. Just because you think you came up with a great scheme, don't lock it in. In the case of Munch, we put the camera on the DPad; it should have been on the right stick. If the controls were configurable, the players could have fixed that mistake themselves.