Tuesday, April 26, 2011


In Borderlands, your goal is to flag every mine.

Because the map is largely comprised of swampland, it's absolutely essential to teach your heroes the Pathfinding skill. Without Pathfinding, a hero will be severely impacted in his or her ability to travel in swampland. Observe the chart:

No Pathfinding: 175% penalty
Basic Pathfinding: 150%
Advanced Pathfinding: 125%
Expert Pathfinding: 100%

Although swamp travel can be a huge pain in the ass, it's important to remember that your enemies will suffer the same movement penalties. Thankfully, the witches and beastmasters of Tatalia have a high chance of learning Pathfinding compared to other hero classes. Everyone else has to use a Witch Hut or rely on dumb luck. If you've hired a team of fortress heroes, you'll have a huge advantage against enemies when maneuvering in swamp terrain.

One thing I do love about the swamp is its music. The theme effortlessly captures the feeling of desperation one might associate with a filthy bog by combining sublime woodwinds with insect noises. It's a shame that ambient sounds were not incorporated in the music of later Heroes games.

The music in Heroes III really highlights the importance of good sound design in games. Ambient effects such as the chirp of a bird or the buzzing of insects can help immerse a player in their environment. In fact, good audio can even make people addicted to a game.

Case in point: I recently started playing CityVille, a popular Facebook game by Zynga with excellent sound design. From a gameplay perspective, CityVille is a pretty typical town simulator. However, Zynga has meticulously designed CityVille so that every graphic and sound effect subtly influences players to constantly return to the game and beg for more. They've turned game addiction into a science by fulfilling a basic human desire: flashy rewards.

Humans love being rewarded. The same evolutionary trait that explains why wars are fought and fancy cars are bought motivates CityVille players to constantly revisit their towns and click on buildings. Every action in CityVille rewards players with coins, XP, and most importantly a pleasing chime. Bling! Clank! Cha-Ching!

We initially derive pleasure from hearing these sounds because they're the game's way of telling us that getting coins and XP is a good thing! The chimes remind us of successful actions in our own lives such as a turkey being cooked or an elevator reaching its destination. Ding! CityVille inundates us with so many wonderful chimes that our minds become rewired to crave it. Pretty soon, hearing the chime becomes a reward in and of itself.

If this tactic sound familiar, it's because Casinos have been using fancy sound effects to attract would-be gamblers for decades. A slot machine basically tricks you into thinking people around you are constantly winning money. Humans want to be rewarded. If you associate playing the slot machine with winning money, the machine has successfully hooked you.

One of the 'stickiest' aspects of Heroes III is in fact its sound design. I'm not saying that the audio of Heroes III is the only element that makes the game fun and addictive. But if you play the game with the sound turned off, it doesn't feel quite as interesting.

Not surprisingly, the chimes in Heroes III are similar to chimes in CityVille. When you pick up a new artifact or resource, you're rewarded with a little musical cue. Blooong! When you capture a mine, the game triggers the sound of a harp. Bliiiiiing! The game constantly uses these cues to appeal to your innate desire to be reward. Every reward reminds you that another reward is right around the corner. As a result, you never want to end the game.

In my opinion, it was foolish for Heroes V's developers to downplay in-game sounds. In Heroes V, when you take over a mine, there is no chime, only a muted thud. When you pick up a stack of resources, there is only silence. Not surprisingly, clearing a map of resources in Heroes V feels like you're cleaning up trash rather than obtaining awesome goodies that will make your kingdom the greatest kingdom in the history of the world.

The next time you play Heroes III, try closing your eyes and fully immersing yourself in the audio. Listen to the sharp, elongated schwinnng sound of a new building appearing in town and the deep whoooooosh sound of an enemy hero vanishing from the map. Then, think about how much you took these sounds for granted. Whatever NWC paid their sound engineer, it wasn't enough.

1 comment:

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