Review by PapaGamer

"Six things the developers need to learn in the Post-Mortem for this DoA game"

After a game is released, developers often go through a "post-mortem" to determine what they've learned from their experience. No game in recent memory deserves a post-mortem more than Make Knight Apocalypse--Namco Bandai's action/RPG based on the popular Wizkids miniatures table-top game. This game was dead on arrival.

Six lessons Namco Bandai Games (publisher) and InterServ (developer) should learn in their Mage Knight Apocalypse Post-Mortem:

1) Pretty textures aren't the only thing that makes a game look good.

There are a lot of very nice-looking visuals in this game. There are bright colors, atmospheric levels and just all-around good looking textures. And...that's about it. There are a lot of clipping issues. Character hair and clothing is unnaturally stiff.

Dwarf beards are the worst offender. They stick straight out like they're made of wood, and barely move. Occasionally, during a cutscene, you'll get a side view of a dwarf beard and you realize it's 2D--flat as a piece of cardboard cut into braid shapes and taped to the chin of a little, stout man.

Combine this with some very stiff animations and you have a recipe for a game that looks gorgeous on first inspection; but, quickly, looks outdated when compared to recent games (and even some older games).

2) "Balance" is not a dirty word.

Choose to play the vampire, Kithana. Concentrate on the vampire skills until you have Bloodreave and Mindreave. Congratulations! You've just broken the game! The same can be said for Janos, the dwarf, and the Scattershot skill. There are a few skills in this game that essentially make your character invincible or able to one-or-two shot the boss enemies. Depending on the character you select, you're either going to struggle (Tal) or breeze through the game (Kithana). Kind of makes the whole concept of "choice of character" a joke.

3) Pathfinding is important.

When you click on open ground and your character runs in place because there's a rock between the PC and the target...well, that's frustrating. It's frustrating to watch your companions run in circles in a corner. And it's really, really frustrating when you're surrounded by mobs on three sides and you're desperately trying to run through the fourth side and your character simply won't move.

4) There are companies that will teach you all about Quality Assurance.

Seriously. Get a Six Sigma Black Belt to oversee your next project. This game isn't finished. There are bugs with the bugs; you know what I mean? OK, you've already fixed a really bad one with the 1.01 patch; but, that's only scratching the surface. Cutscenes don't play. The game crashes to desktop randomly.

And the companion AI...no epithet on earth can describe the bloody awful companion AI. At least make the ranged companions stick with ranged weapons. If Sarus runs in and starts whacking monsters with his staff one more time, I'm honestly going to run screaming through the streets.

(Fortunately for my neighbors I've finished the game and don't have to ever, ever start it up again.)

5) Interface with your players. Jacob Nielsen writes a lot about usability. True, he writes about Web-based interfaces, but you could learn a lot from one (or more) of his books. Like, don't change common paradigms just because you think they can be done better. Players have certain expectations for this type of game. For example...

A) Inventory. In a genre that is defined by looting, you give the player 25 slots.

Twenty-five.

One-quarter of a hundred. OK, so some other games allow roughly the same number of items (e.g. Dungeon Siege); but, those games give the player control over the inventories of companions and even provide pack animals. Really, what was the thinking behind such a small inventory?

There's plenty of loot (almost every one of the 50,000 enemies you fight in the game has loot). There's a system in place for Forging and making Recipes. But, the player has no space to carry all this junk! Halfway through the game I simply stopped looting. It wasn't worth the time or the trouble. Running back to town every five minutes because your backpack is full just isn't any fun.

B) Can you make it any more tedious to use the interface? The character sheet with the paper doll is a separate screen from the inventory.

Say I want to forge some magestones into my great sword. I've got to open three separate windows, drag the sword from my equipped items to my inventory (since you're not allowed to forge equipped items), then drag the item to the forge, then drag the magestones, then--oh, wait, I can right-click the item from my backpack and it auto-equips!

See, it can be done; simple, one-click commands to do the most common thing.

Oh, and it would be nice if players could reposition/resize windows.

C) Oh, and in the forging example above, I have to do it while the game is "playing". There's no PAUSE system except bringing up the in-game menu, which prevents you from doing anything in the game.

Need to reposition the camera during a pitched battle against 60 enemies? Got to do it live and hope you don't die while you're swinging the camera around.

Want to make some potions or forge some weapons? Got to do it live and hope nothing respawns while you're working.

Need to quaff some potions before the big fight? Got to do it live and hope the big fight doesn't get started before you're ready.

D) If you're going to develop a character with stealth-based abilities, it would be nice if every major battle did not start with a cutscene that leaves you surrounded by enemies with no chance to actually make good use of your stealth.

Just a thought.

6) If there is no penalty for dying, there is no failure. If there is no failure, there is no challenge. If there is no challenge, there is no fun.

I know it can be frustrating to make a game that is both accessible and challenging enough to be fun for the player. But...this is not the way to do it. A no-fault death system is like playing with infinite lives. Throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the player does not then make the game challenging, just frustrating.

Here's the basic strategy in MKA: run-in-bash-die-revive-run-in-bash-die-revive-run-in-bash...

That's not fun. Not for anyone. Yeah, later in the game you get powerful enough so you don't die from those small encounters. That's when the game hits you with 50 to 60 enemies *all at once*. That's not challenging or fun. It's insane.

The player needs some motivation to not die; and, then, needs the ability to avoid death by using good tactics and choosing equipment and skills wisely. In MKA, there are no tactics and your weapons and equipment don't matter. It's a pointless run-and-shoot adventure with no thinking puzzles, no strategy, no nothing.

Well, it does have pretty textures.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 10/16/06


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