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Escort Missions - why do they exist?


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4 hours ago, Siri said:

- 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. 

I was just about to add this. DRG has a great take on the escort mission type- some of the best gaming sessions I've ever played.

 

Having said that... What weapons does the tank have? I wasn't aware it had any and can't recall seeing anyone use a weapon on the tank in all my games. :blink2:

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Yeah, I don't think it had any from looking into it - probably getting confused by my group's own gunfire and time away from the game, as we were all attempting to ride it at the time. I do remember it running over a lot of things, though!

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As with any NPC allies, the secret is to make the escortee expendable. Success is a bonus rather than a requirement. Dead Rising is probably my favourite escort-based game. You can gather as many survivors into your entourage as you think you can manage, and given the ticking clock the temptation is to get loads together for a single run back to the safe house.

 

You can tell them to follow you, or point where you want them to go. Whether they'll get to the waypoint or not depends on the number of zeds in the way. You can give them weapons to defend themselves, which helps their chances (and actually makes them useful), but removes a weapon from your inventory.

 

This setup results in the purest zombie gameplay every created, as you cut a swathe through the hordes for you and your charges to pass through. There's constant pressure. You might lose a couple, but that's life in a zombie apocalypse for you.

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They're frustrating for players because the thing being escorted rarely has the common sense that a player does. If a player can barricade them in somewhere with physics objects and then go on ahead, it's not so bad. :P Or if you can just tell them to wait, it's even better. I never stuck with the early Oddworld games, but Abe having all of those commands was most welcome.

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Left 4 Dead technically is an escort game, with the roles of escorter and escortee constantly switching.

 

The parts in Halo 1 were marines are involved are examples of escort gameplay done right. No obligation at all to keep anyone alive, but succeeding in doing so rewards you with exclusive banter and an inherent sense of accomplishment without ever involving an achievement pop-up or whatever.

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23 minutes ago, Pob said:

As with any NPC allies, the secret is to make the escortee expendable. Success is a bonus rather than a requirement. Dead Rising is probably my favourite escort-based game. You can gather as many survivors into your entourage as you think you can manage...

 

I guess that's possible but as someone who refused to ever let a single lemming die* it might as well be a requirement. 

 

* Can you imagine how I felt for those levels where losing one was required to save any of the others?

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I'm not a fan of escort missions at all but that bit in Metal Gear Solid 2 where Snake teams up with you and you kill a bunch of enemies is pretty fucking bad ass. It's technically not a traditional escort as he's more capable than you are, but that's the kind I like. I'm really lazy, though.

 

In fact, now I think about it I stopped playing Rogue Squadron on the N64 because I got to the escort mission in that and got fed up of imperial bombers taking out my precious convoy.

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4 hours ago, Grobbelboy said:

Left 4 Dead technically is an escort game

 

Oh, shit, I didn't think of that.
You're right! Playing any sort of co-op game with a team of rando dunces is technically one long escort mission.

 

So much fun having to do everyone else's share of the work when that work is chinning zombies.

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12 hours ago, Fry Crayola said:

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.

 

Yes, in theory the reason they exist is that testing your awareness, and making you react quickly instead of taking everything at your own pace, are good ways of adding some complexity and progression to a game:

 

"So you've got used to the basic combat, and can keep track of your own location and those of enemies? Well now we're challenging you to keep track of where your escortee is, and any enemies who might attack them, and to plan how you'll stay alive if you need to protect them while under attack yourself."

 

The problems are:

 

1. Balance - Your CPU ally needs to have enough HP/self-defence ability so that they don't die the instant they're under attack; but not so much that there's no incentive for you to switch targets to protect them.

 

2. Pace - If you've got used to moving around at your own pace, it can be extremely frustrating to suddenly be required to go slower than ideal in order to keep your ally in sight!

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I was design lead on a forgettable SpyHunter game on handhelds and had a team full of junior designers. I let them run wild on mission designs and, sure enough their fresh little brains immediately went straight to escort missions. I said they were not allowed any 'escort' mission designs unless they could find an example of a good one in existing games and justify it to me. I'm glad to say we had zero escort missions.

I don't think escort missions are impossible, they're just not worth the effort/payoff in my opinion.

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17 hours ago, strider said:

In fact, now I think about it I stopped playing Rogue Squadron on the N64 because I got to the escort mission in that and got fed up of imperial bombers taking out my precious convoy.

 

I'm wondering if that was the desert convoy level where you could just lead the enemies away...? I wish I could remember which game this was.

 

4 minutes ago, ghosted said:

I was design lead on a forgettable SpyHunter game on handhelds and had a team full of junior designers. I let them run wild on mission designs and, sure enough their fresh little brains immediately went straight to escort missions. I said they were not allowed any 'escort' mission designs unless they could find an example of a good one in existing games and justify it to me. I'm glad to say we had zero escort missions.

 

This is brilliant! :lol:

 

Someone mentioned Dead Rising. I loved the first game. But the escorts weren't essential. I seem to recall I never bothered to save loads, and plenty died. And I still finished the game. It was all about Frank, and keeping Frank alive, so he could get his photo scoop. Everyone else was expendable.

 

I had a chat with a friend who is adamant Blast Corps is an escort mission game. But I argued it's more like a Swiss watch with interlinking cogs, because the truck and buildings are always in the same place.

 

So far, the examples I've read of escort missions people enjoy, are where the escort is invincible and cannot be harmed, or super strong and helping you win (so actually you're the escortee, not them), or can be hidden away in total safety. So basically... Not escort missions at all! :lol:

 

Well, apart from Dead Rising, where the people you escort can be expended without getting game over. In those instances they're just a bonus to aim for.

 

 

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On 08/03/2021 at 10:37, Siri said:



 - 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).
 

Is this mission still available? I did the lament quest last night which involves him but nothing as cool as that. 

 

Edit - just realised I was thinking of Banshee 44

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The worst escort mission I've ever seen was Crimson Sea on the PS2 - it's a pretty weak game in general but for the escort mission the NPC was literally just a crate with the crate model swapped for a model of the NPC doing a looped panic animation instead. You had to push him around like a crate, he couldn't actually move independently. It's been a long time but I think he actually slid back down if you left him on a slope.

 

Absolute misery.

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33 minutes ago, Timmo said:

Is this mission still available? I did the lament quest last night which involves him but nothing as cool as that. 

 

Edit - just realised I was thinking of Banshee 44

 

Long gone, I'm afraid. It was part of the Mercury stuff they did during Shadowkeep - A planet that no longer exists (unless you count the pocket dimension used for the crucible map that's based on that planet)

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They're generally a turn-off for me in any game but the situation that really grinds my gears is NPCs in tactical games. Final Fantasy Tictacs and Tactics Ogre both have missions where an NPC has to be protected, and the AI insists on rushing them headlong into enemy ranks. All you can do is charge all of your guys in and try to redirect enemy attention, and even then you often fail the mission due to bad dice rolls.

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2 hours ago, Sketch said:

Someone mentioned Dead Rising. I loved the first game. But the escorts weren't essential. I seem to recall I never bothered to save loads, and plenty died. And I still finished the game. It was all about Frank, and keeping Frank alive, so he could get his photo scoop. Everyone else was expendable.

Yes, this is exactly why it was so good. They were extra challenges that weren't too frustrating to fail.

 

I had an escort mission in Ghost Recon Breakpoint the other night, and it was really good. I had to infiltrate a heavily-guarded prison, which was hard enough (I'm playing it on super immersive hardcore mode). When I reached the objective, I realised that it was a prisoner who I would need to escort to safety (I should've expected this, really). But, being as this is a very open game, I wasn't forced into some teeth-gnashingly difficult scripted situation - I had options.

 

Luckily the enemies didn't seem to target the escortee, so that was the first relief. In an attempt to survive, we ended up on the roof of the prison, and the escortee took a full-blown mortar hit. Shit. But it was okay, because he was just 'downed' and not dead. So I had a cool bit of gameplay where I had to revive him without dying myself. From the roof, I could see a potential escape route - a chopper on the helipad. Before we made a run for it, I thought It'd better clear the drone defences in case we got shot out of the sky. So I told the escortee to 'wait' in a safe place while I carefully RPG'd the gun emplacements. From there, it was a short jog to the helipad and I was out of there. My escortee was well-behaved throughout - he followed closely behind when asked to, he was agile enough to clamber over stuff and navigate ladders, and he hopped straight in the chopper when I did.

 

It was an example of good escort mechanics, I felt: a very open approach, with the only goal being "get this person to this location without dying", and the AI pathfinding was very good. I also liked that he was simply knocked over when hit by a shell, rather that outright killed.

 

The problem with Rogue Squadron type escort missions is that they are often purely scripted. The convoy you need to protect moves along a set path for a set time, and you just need to keep the bombers and their bombs from doing too much damage. You need to keep trying the same thing until you succeed, which can feel very limiting.

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The only reason I can see for escort missions existing is to allow the gameplay to fit the narrative, which is not a great reason in itself. For example, in a Star Wars flight sim there needs to be an escort mission because that is believable in the game world. How can you have a game where you are a pilot and never have to defend targets against other fighters?

 

Of course, letting the universe dictate the gameplay to its detriment is just bad game design. The designer should be coming up with alternatives - for example, instead of the escort mission having a mission where you have a time limit to eliminate as many opponents as possible before your protection target arrives, at which point if you were successful at defeating enough opponents then your allies will survive largely unscathed, and if you failed then your allies would get obliterated.

 

I played Ace Combat 7 recently, and it had its share of escort missions. These were frustrating at first but got more manageable when I realised the game would highlight the threats to those you were protecting (such as bombers or tanks). The trick was to find those red dots on the radar, pick them off, whilst evading other enemies (such as other fighters) who were after you. This gave the game a different dynamic during escort missions, needing to balance your own survival by taking out fighters and SAM sites, whilst not losing sight of the overriding objective of protecting your escortee. These were still the weakest levels in the game though, so it is not a perfect solution.

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Things like Blast Corps or Ico don't count (IMO) because they're the whole game.  The games were designed and balanced around the escort concept, and made to work.

 

The problem is the escort 'mission' - the single level in a game that tries this mechanic in an otherwise different type of game.  Completely agree with the original post.  Not a fan.

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I think the only time Escort Missions have been ok is when they're allowed to fail and the game progresses accordingly, I think Wing Commander did this really well. So I think they should only be allowed as a bonus, if it succeeds you get some Awesome, if not, oh well.

However playing Escort stuff is pretty awful, can't think of an example I've enjoyed. ( Apart from the aforementioned Resi4 above :D)

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2 minutes ago, merrychan said:

I think the only time Escort Missions have been ok is when they're allowed to fail and the game progresses accordingly, I think Wing Commander did this really well. So I think they should only be allowed as a bonus, if it succeeds you get some Awesome, if not, oh well.

However playing Escort stuff is pretty awful, can't think of an example I've enjoyed. ( Apart from the aforementioned Resi4 above :D)

 

My main memory of Wing Commander was that I was completely useless at it, but I got good at failing but surviving missions. The end result was the Tiger's Claw became effectively a ghost ship because all the other pilots had died as a result of my gross incompetence.

 

I don't know if I got the bad ending or if it was a cliff hanger because I never played any of the sequels but at the end of the last mission the Tiger's Claw exploded before I could dock and the credits rolled.

 

It was probably my fault.

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2 minutes ago, matt0 said:

 

My main memory of Wing Commander was that I was completely useless at it, but I got good at failing but surviving missions. The end result was the Tiger's Claw became effectively a ghost ship because all the other pilots had died as a result of my gross incompetence.

 

I don't know if I got the bad ending or if it was a cliff hanger because I never played any of the sequels but at the end of the last mission the Tiger's Claw exploded before I could dock and the credits rolled.

 

It was probably my fault.


I had the same thing on one playthrough, managed to run the Tiger's Claw right into the shitter and it was all my fault :D

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The year Ico came out was a classic year for escort missions and holding hands. Apart from Yorda, Metal Gear Solid 2 had you holding hands and giving piggy-backs to Emma and Disaster Report had you holding hands with your friend as you ran about avoiding falling buildings.

 

These are the exceptions of course, but they’re all great games.

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On 08/03/2021 at 15:26, Grobbelboy said:

The parts in Halo 1 were marines are involved are examples of escort gameplay done right. No obligation at all to keep anyone alive, but succeeding in doing so rewards you with exclusive banter and an inherent sense of accomplishment without ever involving an achievement pop-up or whatever.

Haha, exactly this. Mandatory escort missions are frustrating, but the Halo marine escorting sub-game is an example of some of the best gameplay ever conceived. So when it works, it's brilliant.

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I don’t understand how hard it could be to have a line of code which means that the NPC in any walking section will match whatever speed you choose to move at. 
 

it drives me mad when a game forces me to walk at the pace of an NPC which is usually somewhere between the default walk and run speeds. 

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16 minutes ago, Harsin said:

Escort missions pale in comparison to the utter shiteness that is slowly tail someone on foot/in a car sections. Does anyone actually enjoy those?

 

Again, that works great if it's something you have some freedom over, is a means to an end (i.e just one possible way to complete the mission objective) and that doesn't have punitive fail states. See: Hitman.

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I recall there being some really nicely done ones in Freespace 2 where you're part of the fighter screen for various capital ships, I seem to recall there being one in the nebula that's got a great build of tension as you creep along waiting for enemy contact...

 

Oh man now I want to play Freespace 2 again!

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6 hours ago, Harsin said:

Escort missions pale in comparison to the utter shiteness that is slowly tail someone on foot/in a car sections. Does anyone actually enjoy those?

 

I must admit I've enjoyed the in-car tailing missions of various GTA games. I just drive really slowly enjoying the radio, while making sure the little barometer never gets too big or small.

 

But then again, I drive slowly a lot anyway, taking in the scenery, listening to music, just soaking stuff up.

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