Just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, especially after the drudgery of books five and six. Presumably, Rowling had book seven’s pay-offs in mind from the very beginning, which might explain it’s return to form. At any rate, Harry Potter did pretty well for itself; Rowling is obviously a gifted story-teller. What she is not, however, is a good game designer. I have yet to see anyone else take her to task for this, so it might as well be me.
Quidditch is a bad game design. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially magical soccer, where witches and wizards fly around the field, trying to throw the ball (the “Quaffle”) through one of the hoops to score 10 points. So far, so good.
The game extends beyond soccer because of the Golden Snitch, which is a small golden ball, capable of flying around the field by itself. Each side has one player (known as the “Seeker”) whose only purpose is to catch the Snitch, which is worth 150 points. A little unbalanced, perhaps, but not fatal.
The problem is that the game ends only when the Snitch is caught. I am sure most game designers would see the problem here. What should the Seeker do if his or her team is behind by more than 150 points? Obviously, the player should not catch the Snitch as that would guarantee a loss for his or her team – the 150 points would not make up for the difference in score. The Seeker is in a compromised situation.
Games should not penalize players for doing their job well. It’s not really even a game rule, it’s just common sense. Of course, if you write the stories, you can make sure the fictional games never result in such a sticky position. Quidditch as a real game, though, would be a bit of a mess.
I’ve never played any of EA’s Harry Potter games, but I am curious to know how they addressed this problem. You could leave the rules as is, I suppose, but I wouldn’t want to design a game in which, when the player finally succeeds (by catching the Snitch), the words “You Lose!” suddenly appear.