I’m sure it’s happened to you: you’re playing a game and you come across a weapon, or ability, or game mechanic that you just love, and you wish you could use it all the time. Only you can’t, because the developer has placed restrictions on it in the name of balance. It’s understandable that you can only use the Super Gravity Gun at the end of Half-Life 2, it being the most powerful weapon in the game. Valve know that restricting its usage makes it more fun to unleash on the Combine.
Where does the designer’s responsibility for making a game fun end, and the player’s begin? Should the player be given full reigns over the available tools or should the designer limit them? Greg Miller at IGN raises this question using a recent example, the detective vision mode in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The mode enhances Batman’s vision, allowing him to use his detective skills and analyse his surroundings. At the touch of a button, a blue visor covers the screen and renders the environment in flat shapes in order to help highlight important details like vent covers and enemies. The mode can be activated at any time and for however long as the player wishes; moreover, it lets the player see through walls and points out key information like whether enemies are armed, if a wall is destructible, and so on. Sounds like a win button, doesn’t it?