Bait And Switch!
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
A level design technique to lure the player with a bait, often a fake goal, but it can also be some juicy target in the form of a treasure chest or coveted pickups. Then flip the expectations and reveal the new goal that maybe was there all along but hidden by clever level design!
I'll start with a video to showcase it in action.
Valentina Chrysostomou found a couple of nice examples of the technique when she played through The Last of Us part 2 and shared it with the rest of us on her twitter account.
I appreciate this one that I have twitter linked below. Observe how the cord is first acting as a guide in the wrong direction to bait us to the dead end. But when turning back the very same cord is guiding us to the correct place. Nicely done Naughty Dog! :)
And now we'll take a look at a real roller coaster of Bait and Switch when Naughty Dog goes to the next level in "messing" with the player in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
Some would argue that this is too much manipulation in leading the player into wild goose chases. But one could only lean back and marvel on how much psychological power level design has when all the small pieces play together.
I'll walk it through in a couple of pictures:
The player has just tumbled down a one-way and there is no turning back.
We are presented with a grand view of a broken down lobby of sorts.
Most of us will take the bait and move up the stairs. Not 100% of the players will "fall" for it, but it serves a purpose in giving the player a sense of agency.
Even if the player is tricked to go there they will not feel overly directed.. because no one FORCED them to go there. There is a sensation of free will that we (gamedevs) can benefit from and use when making linear games feel a bit more open world.
The players has no other options but to curse their bad choice of direction and head back to where they came from.
Here gamedevs have to be a bit careful. If we lure them away for to long, then the exploration and curiosity vanishes and is replaced with frustration and boring backtracks.
If there wouldn't have been a trinket on the table up ahead then the players would most likely have felt borderline bored about being herded like sheep back and forth. But the little trinket is just enough of an reward to remove those feeling.
This kind of trinket is also signaling that this indeed is NOT the main path, because it is a somewhat intrinsic knowledge that these small collectibles are placed on detours for explorers to find.
This next one is from Half-Life 2 when we visit the lovely murderous place Ravenholm.
Here we do not switch to new level designed routes, we use it to introduce a new enemy in a sneaky ambush scenario!
And this final one is when we radically change how the level looks behind the players back!
In a dream sequence in Star Wars Jedi : Fallen Order by Respawn we switch the player from being on a rickety train to a sleek imperial base.
The player begins moving down the dark corridor path in the train. There isn't much options on where to go. The player can only follow his friend in a slow moving walking pace. The atmosphere is changing to hint to the player that something is not right with the current situation.
The game mechanics force you to look at the door button in order to interact with it. That is good because then we as gamedevs KNOW that the players will have their backs to where we do the flip.
The player turns around after trying to click the button a few times.. and then BAM!
That's it. Bait And Switch. A powerful tool in the arsenal of a level designer.
All the obviously drawn images are made by yours truly.
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