Design Bites: Mirror's Edge

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.


What's Mirror's Edge?

Mirror's Edge is a Action Adventure First-Person Platformer developed and released by DICE in Late 2008. The player free-runs across city heights, jumping between rooftops and scaling walls. Occasionally you fight enemies with timing-based attacks but mostly it's about running away from things.

What's Awesome?

Games often instruct the player directly, spoken or written in UI, but the majority of instructions are actually given indirectly - A muzzle flash means "find cover", even without gruff military voiceover. Good level design is not just about what's challenging or fun, it's also about communication - it's a direct channel between the designer and the player.

Mirror's Edge showcases some awesome ways of getting your players attention and feeding them information. You might jump ahead here and bring up "Runner Vision", a mechanic that highlights objects in the world. This is a great feature but it's not what i'm talking about. I'm talking about how the game feeds you lore.

Take a look at this elevator sequence:


You hit this elevator button to advance, it's a mini tutorial on interacting with objects. It could have been empty, but instead there is a screen with a couple of short news articles. As you bend down to press the button, a small section of the screen is right there in view. You catch a glimpse of a headline, which just happens to be about a character that you're about to meet.

Some players may completely ignore the screen, others might stop and read, but no matter the choice the player has been signaled - directed towards an optional nugget of information. This example is quite direct: text on a screen in a closed space but, even so, not all players will stop to read this. The game is filled with mindful placement of objects - both key to platforming and as a tool for imparting story.

Many games do this, so the next time you're exploring Tamriel or Azeroth, take some time to appreciate how conveniently features of the world are laid out for you to see.