First Impressions: Burnout Paradise & Mass Effect

I’m currently cutting my blogging and commenting to a minimum to concentrate on my work so I apologize if I haven’t been too responsive in the last days. Nevertheless, I have briefly tried two new games and I would like to hold my first impressions to possibly pick them up later.

Burnout Paradise
With the Ultimate Box out I thought it was a good moment to get that into my library. I think Zero Punctuation got it pretty much spot-on: it seems like the logical progression to go from the modular tracks of the old Burnout parts to a free-roaming game that is Burnout Paradise. But there is an important difference. Racing is about going fast on pre-defined tracks. If there are no pre-definded track, players must choose their own track IN ADDITION to going fast. Navigation is a pretty demanding task and Burnout Paradise doesn’t really help with it. I already played enough to get the Burnout License which could be called the casual playtrough. I’m still don’t feel anywhere near to familiar in that convoluted city.
On the other hand, the way Criterion has been working on making Burnout Paradise a whole PLATFORM rather than a game is quite impressive. I applaud that. Also, I haven’t even tried online yet and I’ve heard it makes up a big part of it’s appeal. The problem is that right now, I don’t seem to have the time required to get familiar with the city on order to enjoy it with other people. I miss the old days where you would just have a track and grind it for milliseconds *sigh*.

Mass Effect
Oh look, it’s a massive Dancing Bearware. Which means the impressive thing is that this behemoth of a game works at all. It’s constantly glitching, you discover barren or unpolished parts from the very first second. The worst is the interface design. It’s downright insulting. Every single design screen has a MAJOR usability/information design flaw. I’m not kidding! I’m keeping track of them and will point them all out in a Game Design Review. All this makes the game more difficult than it actually is.
But then you run into some very fine crafted islands of win. Some characters look stunning. They also hired some smart scientific advisor to write plausible high-quality science into it. In the end, when you get to control your spaceship, it becomes very much like a next-gen version of the evergreen Star Control II. So I’m a bit ashamed that I was somehow… hooked.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

12 responses to “First Impressions: Burnout Paradise & Mass Effect”

  1. Simon

    What Western RPGs have you been playing? The interface was slick for me, minus inventory management (you’ll get to this later… deleting hundreds of useless items one at a time). The circular popup UI for battle actions was great. I can’t remember a single instance where I couldn’t find something I needed – without even thinking about it.

    All in all a far cry above Fable 2, Two Worlds, and anything Bethesda has made (though Fallout 3 was a major improvement). You can’t even fucking remember which of the menus you need to access to do what you want, and loading each one chugs away at your optical drive.

    Best UI on the 360, though, hands-down is Dead Space.

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Actually, I have been successfully avoiding western RPGs altogether. At least the new 3d ones. I have been playing some of them back when everything was 2d. But it was on a PC and things are different with a mouse.

    Here are some complains:
    - There is no stats screen, only a Level-up screen but the only stats it displays are HPs, EXPs and Pargon/Rouge values. So I can’t compare characters with each other or judge how items are affecting my stats. I’m pressing buttons and the game tells me I’m getting better. I have to take it’s word for it because I can’t see it.
    - There is no inventory screen. Ehm, hello?
    - When I buy new Equipment, I can’t compare it to the Equipment I’m currently using. I saw this in SNES Era Games. This should be pretty much standard by now.
    - I can’t equip or level up characters which aren’t on my team… which makes no sense at all because you cycle trough them with the shoulder buttons. No reason to filter some of them out.
    - The button layout changes randomly. Normally, you accept with A and exit with B. In the starmap, zooming out is X and B will quite the whole starmap altogether forcing you to re-enter and find that goddamn star system AGAIN. And then, when tuning a weapon, exit becomes A, so you have to accept to exit that menu.

    Compare that to Eternal Sonata. It has a much more complex battle system with combos, various special points you need to keep track of, different abilities depending on if it is dark or bright where you are standing and item menus you need to customize before battle. Yet, thanks to consistent and thought-out menu navigation, clear and polished information design, optional tutorials you are always in control. This is what I’m missing in Mass Effect.

  3. Simon

    Okay I’m conceding on the inventory points, because I already said that was hell. But yeah you definitely added some pretty annoying “features.”

    Good point on the “extreme B” used in the star map. I forgot that menu, definitely annoying.

    But all I can say is… keep your poor brain away from Oblivion, Fable 2, and Two Worlds. It will literally explode.

    I thought maybe we had different useability standards, but clearly its just that my expectations are so low from other games and yours are so high from the admittedly more polished JRPGs.

    On the other hand, the stats, travel, and inventory management menus of JRPGs have pretty much remained the same since the SNES… so I guess I prefer admirable failure over reliable stagnation.

  4. Simon

    Oh, and they don’t show you stats beside EXP and HP because… the stats don’t really matter. It all comes down to your skill trees and your gear.

    I think if they included a bunch of numbers they were using for their dice rolls I would be pissed off that they were showing me a bunch of information that I clearly didn’t need for “hide, use special power, shoot, repeat.”

    And I think the whole not being able to equip members not in the party was more a misguided attempt at realism than a design flaw. But yeah, it’s ridiculous.

  5. Simon

    It is pretty wild though, when you think about the fact that there’s probably a team of two-three people who work on nothing but the UI for six months.

    Like, they don’t fucking show it to anybody until the game goes to press? Do the QA kids not get to see the interface?

    Maybe it’s because they have a bunch of programmers working on them instead of graphic/web designers?

  6. Krystian Majewski

    You are totally right. My interface design standards are way over the top – they have to be, I’m a designer after all. ;-)

    And it’s exactly what you said: It’s not the company’s first game, they invested a lot of time and money in it. They had QA. It amazes me every time I see such obvious problems make it into the final product.

    Good point with the stats – it may be simply an effort to make things less stat-heavy. Still, if I tune up an armor with a shield battery, it says my armor gets a so-and-so percent shield boost but I can’t see anything change on the screen. Which is bad because I have so many frigging upgrades and I can’t make an informed decision as I don’t know what I need to improve. It might have been smart to simplify the underlying equipment system to match the interface. What if the upgrades would simply unlock new functions (secondary fire, zoom, etc…)?

    I defiantly agree, however, that the ringed in the dialogue is pretty neat! It’s not perfect (because not consistent) but I really enjoy how they generally mapped different types of responses on different directions. So Up/down is paragon/rouge. Left/right is investigate/conclude. It fits to my recent BoRT entry.

  7. Simon

    As a fellow design student, I demand shuffle/organization buttons on your portfolio. It’s so fucking beautiful, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how you’ve organized the project list.

    It makes me mad because I want one like it and don’t have the javascripting skillz.

  8. Krystian Majewski

    Mea culpa. The project list isn’t organized at all. That was a feature I wanted to add after checking the spelling… and adding videos.

    My colleague Yu-Chung already overtook me there:

    And it’s not javascript but Flash. And I’m not a student anymore. ;-)

  9. Simon

    Yay for Ulysses!

    I only said “fellow design student” because I’m still a student and it would sound pretentious for me to say “fellow designer.”

    Hmm, if that’s Flash I could probably look into doing something like it. I can wrap my head around ActionScript, and animation comes pretty easy to me.

    I just can’t handle jscript for some reason. Maybe because ActionScript is intuitive and well-documented while javascript makes no effing sense.

  10. Simon

    Forgot to mention, having all your individual descriptions in both German and English was pretty brilliant (and aesthetically pleasing, with the symmetry thing going on).

    Your English is typically better than most native speakers from what I’ve seen, but if you want me to do a check for obscure annoying English grammar things I’d be happy to.

  11. Krystian Majewski

    While I wouldn’t call AS intuitive, I also abandoned javascript. I just never really got it.

    Thank you very much for you offer. I might come back to it. Until then, I would like to do a pass myself first. Back when I wrote it, I was pressed on time and out-sourced much of the translation to my girlfriend. Since then, I haven’t had the time to double-check it. It’s a lot of text and I feel uneasy with burdening yet another person with it when I know I can fix at least some of it on my own. As I said, I might pick up on that offer in the future… at the most unfortunate time. ;-)

    So how about Gears? I saw you on XBL the couple of last days but I was way too hooked on Mass Effect. But I think I’m over the hump now. If you see me online, send me and invite. I will try to catch you as well. “Let’s do this thing”. ;-)

  12. Krystian Majewski

    Oh! And I take one back on the interface thing: there is a “compare to the current equipment” feature after all. You need to press the blue button. But even then: you get the stats but they are not color-coded for increase/decrease as they are in the equipment screen. Argh! Why?!


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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