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Escort Missions - why do they exist?


Sketch
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Do people classify Ico as one long escort mission? Because that is a very good game indeed. Although perhaps that meets the same criteria that you mentioned for TLOU.

 

There are some good ones in Age of Empires 2 where you are escort units that can heal you and you have to balance staying near the healing unit with running off ahead to take out would be attackers. Those missions usually only start as escort missions and continue on into a normal RTS once you've arrived at your new base. How well you did escorting the units usually gave you a bit of a boost when starting the base (the more villagers you kept alive, the more could start farming, mining right away etc). 

 

Maybe like all things, they're bad if they are done badly and superb when done superbly. This fence is hurting my bum.

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The only time I've ever enjoyed escort missions is when the thing I'm escorting is miles, miles stronger than I'll ever be at that point in the game, if ever. I think the problem with traditional escort missions is that you're prone to failure outside of your own doing - either the AI is too dense to path properly, or cannot endure enemy attacks to the amount a standard player would.

Notable good cases (for me, personally): 

 - The mission where you 'Save' Saint-13 in Destiny 2 - a long-dead titan who then proceeds to headbutt the living shit out of every enemy you face once you intervene with his previous fate, as well as doing all the things any other good titan would (dropping overshields to protect you from dying yourself, and a load of energy to use your own super moves).

- The 'escort' missions in Deep Rock Galactic, where the thing you're escorting is... a massive, earth-burrowing tank. The only failure state is your own demise from getting killed by a rampaging spider horde that's chasing the tank - the tank itself is easily repairable even while it's moving, has a load of automated and manually-operated artiliery, as well as just riding the thing to your destination as it plows through space rock like the clappers. It's great fun. 

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21 minutes ago, Sketch said:

 

 

The Natalia levels in Goldeneye. 

...

(I thought about this because I'm playing the leaked Goldeneye remaster for X360, and it reminded me how much I hate the protection missions - Control, Jungle, etc. They're all bloody irritating, and Natalia insists on getting shot.)

 

 

 

 

 

I capped her in the head deliberately many time out of sheer annoyance.  Mind you the first time I played Goldeneye I also deliberately shot Trevelyan upon meeting him in the tank room ("Why James, why?").

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13 minutes ago, LowCostMonkey said:

Do people classify Ico as one long escort mission?

Yes. I never finished Ico because, despite loving the scenery and the puzzles, constantly running back to button bash those shadows to protect whatshername was utterly tedious. For me that was an outright chore, and completely ruined the game for me. 

 

As for escort missions in general, I can't fucking stand them. They're almost never fun for me. The recent Star Wars game, Squadrons, suffers from it and I just gave up in the end. Though in that game I think I gave up at a mission where you had to destroy X amount of enemy ships before they got through to a certain point. So the inverse of escort missions, but with the same issue. 

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my issue with them is they usually destroy the gameplay loop. If I am enjoying a game it is likely to be because of the gameplay loop. The only "respite" I want from the gameplay loop I am enjoying is the occasional breather where you are given massively overpowered abilities to trounce something a pseudo cut scene , or a bit of travel between sections that is relaxing when the action parts are intense.

 

I do not want a completely different element infecting my game with a win criteria that is partly controlled by AI. Nope nosirreee.

 

(stealth sections in non-stealth games similarly angry up the blood)

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I liked the escort missions in Resident Evil 4, I didn't find them annoying at all. Ashley either stays where you put her or doesn't wander off unnecessarily. She's someone to protect but she doesn't feel like a liability waiting to happen which is usually the problem with these things.

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The escort's movement speed is always a sticking point.

 

At walking speed I've got a little time to explore whilst they meander along and can easily catch them back up. But at the same time I have to spend ages waiting for them everywhere.

 

When they run I have to keep with them all the time and cannot admire the environment.

 

World of Warcraft was the worst though. Every escort had this special movement speed between a walk and a run. You couldn't turn on auto walk or run and just change direction. Nope, constant toggle between the two speeds for ages

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For the "why" part of the question, I think designers often see an escort mission as a relatively easy way to mix up the gameplay for a bit, to prevent the player from comfortably sticking to a cautious tactic of self-preservation and instead asking them to react quickly to neutralise threats against a target other than themselves.

 

The problem really is that the implementation is usually terrible, and forcing reactive play often leads to infuriating moments because the escortee acts in a dumb way - trundling forward into certain doom, or trying to be more proactive by engaging enemies themselves rather than giving you complete control of how to get from A to B. By taking some of the control away from the player, failure feels unfair because you can't take appropriate steps to counter it.

 

Instead of achieving the goal of mixing things up, they instead severely constrain the player into a specific way of playing, and usually one that's less fun than the game surrounding it.

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31 minutes ago, Thor said:

The recent Star Wars game, Squadrons, suffers from it

 

20 years later and they're still putting them in Star Wars games. :lol:

 

I seem to recall one escort mission I liked - it might actually have been a Star Wars game. You need to protect some trucks in the desert, but the enemies don't home in on the trucks, they home in on the player, and only if the trucks are nearby do they attack. So the solution was to ignore the convoy entirely, and fly out to some empty part of the map, whereupon all the enemies would flock there, ignore the convoy, and would be easy pickings. I can't recall which game this was - but I remember thinking, this is probably the only way I can enjoy escort missions.

 

Another bad examples: Scarface the game. To build resources you need to play through infinite randomly generated escort missions. Basically "Go to person X, protect from thugs". I had to rage quit the game it was so frustrating. The problem was after killing a few enemies the cops would be alerted, so the cops would be trying to kill you, while the enemies tried to kill you and the NPC, so what almost always happened was we'd be overwhelmed, the NPC would die, and I'd end up killing so many cops my wanted meter would skyrocket until the game literally put the message "You're fucked" up on the screen, meaning automatic game over.

 

Randomly generated escort mission generator.

 

Jeez, just try to imagine that. A mission generator which fabricated the same godawful mission over and over. That alone makes Scarface one of the worst games on earth.

 

Quote

The problem really is that the implementation is usually terrible, and forcing reactive play often leads to infuriating moments because the escortee acts in a dumb way - trundling forward into certain doom, or trying to be more proactive by engaging enemies themselves rather than giving you complete control of how to get from A to B. By taking some of the control away from the player, failure feels unfair because you can't take appropriate steps to counter it.

 

Very astutely put. Failure almost always feels like the game or AI's fault, rather than the player's.

 

The good examples listed in this thread tend to be examples where the companion is actually helping the player in some way (the guards in Half-Life, and the army guy's in the Half-Life military add-on are two good examples where they're more help than hindrance - but they are armed and fairly robust!)

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I guess escort missions can allow designers to more tightly control the pace of the challenge since they know where the player is going to be at a given moment? Ambushes become a bigger threat if you can't just dash past the enemies 

 

You also have to be extra aware of your surroundings since the person or item you're protecting can suddenly come under attack from another angle.  If you weren't prepared this can be pretty frustrating if it means replaying the mission, especially with the slower pace these missions tend to have.

 

I don't count The Last of Us as escort missions for the reasons you said plus, not only is Ellie not vulnerable, she can also be used as a weapon and a way to manage inventory since letting her get caught by a clicker lets you clobber them to death with your bare fists, saving valuable shivs/bricks.

 

I don't mind escort missions overall but if they don't let you away with some small mistakes and the punishment for failure is too severe then they a bit of a menace. That said, the entire game of Blast Corps is essentially escort missions where you're punished with a restart if you make a mistake and it's an absolute belter.

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I guess they exist to change the pace for a moment and unimaginatively introduce some variety into the game. They also give the devs a chance to re-use the same environments in a new way. They are shit though.

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3 minutes ago, joffocakes said:

the entire game of Blast Corps is essentially escort missions

 

:o

 

And yet... Blast Corps is one of my all time favourite games ever!

 

I always viewed it more as a destruct-em-up (a new kind of genre) where the carrier was really just a time limit.

 

Essentially, the obstacles are always the same. So it feels fair. I will always know to deal with a specific obstacle first.

 

Whereas all the bad examples cited in this thread, involve enemies or obstacles that vary, are random, can move on their own and blindside you.

 

Which goes back to what @Fry Crayola said. Blast Corps feels like it's the player's fault, because they know what needs fixing. Scarface on the other hand has random AI enemies running in unpredictable ways.

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Aren't most of the examples quite old now though? For the most part, the old-fashioned escort mission is pretty rare these days, presumably because everyone knows they're shit. Now we're more likely to get something like TLOU, Bioshock Infinite or A Plague Tale, where the vulnerable AI is effectively invisible/invincible.

 

In fact, I feel like in most cases we've swung too far in the other direction. Squad-based games where AI partners never get killed, NPC companions who do most of the work for you etc. The problem seems to be finding a workable middle ground.  

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Playing G-Darius at the minute and there are times where it feels like you're on an escort mission but it's actually good fun.


You can "capture" the bigger enemies once you've buttered them up with a thorough drubbing and then they're on your team and you can use them as a shield and there are long stretches where it feels like you're protecting them rather than yourself.

Trying to keep them alive as long as possible, you're blasting down all the waves of enemies and making sure no asteroids hit them.

Great fun.

 

I'd like to nominate that for a game with great escort mission style mechanics.

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Yeah usually they are in there to add variety especially when the core mechanics of the game are combat focussed. Usually the objective is kill everything and don't die, so the twist of protecting something means you have to balance not only your own survival but that of your escort. It also adds a time trial element to kill enemies fast enough before they kill your protectee.

 

Lynch me now but I've actually had to design a few escort missions, although the twist is that It was a driving game so you were just protecting vehicles effectively on rails. Essentially then it's just a big health bar and your objective is to kill the enemies attacking it as quickly as possible and both survive until the end. It was quite tricky to balance especially as the enemy AI wasn't fully scripted, so you had to build in enough leeway for the vehicle you were defending to have enough health to survive a not completely predictable onslaught of attacks. We had to do some mission specific coding like preventing extra enemy waves appearing if you hadn't already dealt with the earlier ones or it could become way too hard for struggling players. But ultimately it worked and was balanced well enough where usually the defence health bar would be down to the wire by the end of the missions for most players.

 

Bear in mind this is about as simple an escort mission you can imagine. The problems are when you throw in other variables. If the escortee has unpredictable behaviour anything can happen. If the escortee has low health its frustrating because one mistake by you, the friendly AI or even bad luck can mean game over. If enemy behaviour isn't tightly scripted then it can be really annoying, but on the other hand if you have entirely predictable behaviour its simply a memorization excercise.

 

There are very few escort missions where the escortee having health has been fun for me. One that stands out is sniper missions like GTA where you cover an AI following a prescripted route. Usually this is all pre determined so yes its memorisation but you don't have to worry about your own survival so it's quite empowering, and often the friendly AI uses cover so you only need to worry about them in the open. We did some of these sniper protect missions in a follow-up game, and although the escortee could take damage it was at a very low rate and essentially their health bar became another timer where you have X time to clear out the next enemies in  the path ahead. Games like Resi 4 have decent escort  mechanics because its only if Ashley gets grabbed you are in danger, and even then it's quite easy to rescue her, and she usually always runs to sensible places and even ducks to let you shoot over her head. She's one of the best examples of more 'free' escort AI and mechanics done right.

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Ico is pretty generous in the time you are given to get back to the girl, so it's rarely a big problem - didn't feel like a classic escort mission to me.

 

Ghost of Tsushima had a couple of missions like this, plus you could lose key characters in castle assaults; at least in the latter you could heal them if you got time enough.

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Yeah, I feel the reason Ico generally works is because the only means the shadows have of defeating you is to capture her completely, so until that's done you always have a chance to rescue the situation. You remain in control - although getting knocked down and needing time to recover certainly gets frustrating.

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Yeah Escort missions in aerial/space combat games usually end with the thing I am meant to be protecting blowing up, time and again, until I inevitably give up for good.

 

Up there with the tailing missions in Driver, GTA and the AC games.

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I'm curious if people think that escort missions are the same or different levels of horrible when compared to stationary protection.

 

For me the frustration with escort missions is less about the protection and more about the slow pace of the escorted, and suddenly having a ball and chain attached to you. 

 

The point about the gameplay loop being ruined is relevant - I want to travel at my own pace, but the task is not so important. And World of Warcraft's frustration really was about the weird in between speed.  Come OOONNNN move FASTER. You spent so much time just watching an NPC walk rather than protecting something. 

 

But on the other hand if you are having to protect certain elements in a stationary position I mind that less. Defending a mothership or something. Still not a massive fan but I think observation of the enemies, and prioritising your targets can be interesting. Generally I don't like time limits in games though. I want to take as long as I need and escort / protection almost always ruins that.

 

The other side of it is chatter. I very deliberately am refusing companions in The Outer Worlds just because I know from similar games they'll just be running around with stock battle cries and ruining my own calm sense of purpose.  And I guess because even though they're a team mate and helping me rather than being escorted, I just know their presence will feel like an escort. 

 

On the other hand with Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth's company I rather enjoyed. She never got in my way, never seemed to talk too much, and there was something about her disgust at my more gruesome kills that managed to weave a bit more of a dynamic between her character and mine. And she was invincible. That's paramount.

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