Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Name Game

Here’s a quick post about a pet peeve of mine: poorly-named mechanics, abilities, stats, and anything else you can name.

If you’re going to name a mechanic that already has been implemented, stick to a name that we understand and know. If you are going to change the metaphor, make sure it makes sense all the way through and isn’t just a meaningless reskinning. Players don’t like having to mentally remap terms in a new game to the ones they know already from an old one. It’s also pretentious to insist on your own names for things that have well-established names already.

And if, for a different mechanic, you are using the same name as something that is popular in other games in your genre, be sure to make it clear to players that you are using it in a different sense or for a different purpose! Don’t let players get frustrated because they didn’t know that you meant something different than “how fast my character moves around the game world” when you say “speed”.

It annoys me when games insist on using odd names for skill groups. These names should tell me what the theme of the group is. “High Magic” doesn’t tell me much—that could be anything above a cantrip. “Master of Elemental Magic” makes more sense. Sometimes it’s understandable that a greek game company isn’t particularly skilled with English, so they can’t tie their mechanics’ names to the appropriate pre-existing ones, but if you have enough money to internationally release a full-features MMO, you should have the localization personnel on staff to translate names well.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when naming game bits. Flavorful naming is OK when used in moderation, but there’s no need to annoy your players by changing what everything is called. It’s an annoying attempt to pass off the same old stuff as something new. Even worse, it can lead to confusion among players and a steeper learning curve.


motstandet said...

What if the traditional name doesn't fit with the theme of the game? The capacitor in EVE, e.g.. It's just Mana.

evizaer said...

There's a different metaphor entirely in Eve. The names have to change if the metaphor is different. Sure, you could have ships run on mana, but it makes more sense in the eve setting that they have capacitors. There's a different between what acts as mana and what IS mana. You don't suggest that they change the name of the non-mana resources in WoW (like rage) to mana just because they act kind of like mana... So it shouldn't be a problem that a game set in a radically different environment would have a different name for something that acts similarly.