Okay! The reason I haven’t updated in a while is because I bought a copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

I’m just getting around to playing MGS3 because I was so afraid it would be as bad as 2. Metal Gear Solid 2 was one of the worst games I ever played, yet it reviewed really well. Why? Because none of the reviewers had the balls to actually come out and say, “Uh…dude, this is one of the worst games I’ve ever played.” Thus, I didn’t feel I could trust all the glowing reviews MGS 3 got when it came out.

But it’s obvious that Hideo Kojima understood that he’d really screwed up with 2 and he had to hit 3 out of the park or his series would become an industry joke. Fortunately that’s exactly what he did.

I also recently completed Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, which is probably the best Castlevania game I’ve ever played (and yes, that means I’m saying it’s better than Symphony of the Night.) If you’ve never played Castlevania and want to try it and you have a GBA or DS, this is the game to get.

And I noticed something similar in both games. I’ve said before that game design is all about giving the player interesting, meaningful choices. I still believe that, but I think great games have a little something extra. They continually give the player a steady stream of small rewards, punctuating this stream with large rewards at regular intervals.

In MGS 3, every time you pick up a new weapon, item or food, you are rewarded twice. First with the object itself and second because you can then call your support team to ask them about the object. These conversations are always interesting and funny. And since you’re always coming across new stuff you get this steady stream of humor injected into the game from beginning to end. There are also hundreds of little secrets to discover in the game. One good one occurs if you save the game right after Snake gets tortured…he has a nightmare that you get to play through. Stuff like this also gives the game great replayability.

In Aria of Sorrow your character of Soma Cruz levels up as he fights monsters, but there’s an additional reward in that every time you kill a monster you have a chance to absorb that monster’s soul, giving you a new ability. The range of abilities is wide and you can equip up to three at once giving you a nice combinatorial explosion, amplified by the fact that some items you find make certain abilities more effective. Thus, there was never a time during the game when I got sick of fighting monsters (and this was aided by the fact that I rarely felt the need to grind levels during the game). Again you have this continual supply of interesting new abilities ensuring that the player never goes too long without being rewarded in some way.

Now, one of the things lots of people don’t like about RTS games is that when you’re playing through the campaign the game gradually reveals the tech tree and unit types, and it’s typically only in the very last mission that you’ve got the full compliment. Well, what’s the problem? Lots of games give you a progression of powers during the course of the game. The problem is that if you play a multiplayer game you get the full set right away so when you go back to campaign mode you feel like someone’s holding your elbows. It feels like a punishment to play the campaign. Perspective.

I’ll have to keep this in mind for Planitia.