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Player failure == Design flaw?

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I often read how people feel that if the player loses, dies, or can no longer win, that that is a game design fault. But why? If the player looses that doesn't mean the designers are punishing them, it just means the game played better then the player. If you consider sports or any non computer game there is always a winner and loser, there can be times when one person can no longer win. That isn't seen as design flaw. But it in computer games a lot of people seem to treat the whole idea that they can reach a point where they can no longer win as an infirmata. So what are people thoughts? Is there something wrong with a game when you can always overcome an obstacle you encounter everytime? If you fail at a task and have to repeat is that the games fault for being to challenging? What about reaching a point when you can no longer win? Should you always be able to win no matter what?

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My view is simple: the more time I lose to an unwinnable situation (before realising it's unwinnable) the less likely I am to continue playing the game.

If I lose less than 5 minutes of my time, I'll carry on quite cheerfully. If I lose half an hour or so, I'll probably stop playing for a while andcome back later. If I lose more than a couple of hours, I'll probably abandon the game entirely - unless I regard it as my fault it happened - if I don't save for several hours then die, I'll come back to the game. If I can't save for several hours then die, I won't.

In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, there is one section which, when you get the opportunity to revisit it later in the game, gives you the chance to claim a power-up you may have missed earlier, and several save-points - all of which in an area from which it is impossible to escape. I regard this as an unforgiveable error since it has the potential to force you to restart the game even with a moderately paranoid saving strategy. To be fair, it's probably a very minor bug in terms of wrong code, is fairly restricted in terms of scope, and requires a little effort to uncover, so it's an understandable bug for a game with minimal playtesting. In the same game, if the prince dies, it's a loss of maybe 30 seconds of my time to continue most times, and occasionally requires reverting to my last save (5-10 minutes).

The original Grand Theft Auto has another example of bad design - by not allowing you to save mid-level, while having a final level that I've yet to complete in less than 6 hours, it effectively requires you to either devote a long session to it, leave the game paused overnight (possibly several nights), or be unable to finish the game.


Were I to devote the typical 40-50 hours seemingly required to complete a Final Fantasy game on the first run-through, only to discover that I needed to have done something non-obvious in the first half-hour in order to be able to complete the game, I'd consider never playing the game again and certainly complain loudly about it to anyone who'd listen.

Particularly unforgiveable are games where it's possible to lose through overperforming at the apparent goals: in Lemmings 2: The Tribes (ST version) I managed to save an extra Lemming on one of the Classic levels. Come the end of the game, I got told "You need to save at least 30 Lemmings per tribe. Keep trying." I did replay the game through from scratch and deliberately failed to save the extra Lemming (identified by studying walkthroughs) and got the victory messages. Or in XCOM: Interceptor, I managed to wipe out the aliens repeatedly (they get a "free" base every time you wipe them out) and, after 5-10 hours with all available research completed, concluded I wasn't going to unlock the required events to complete the game this way, and then spent a similar amount of time not wiping the aliens out, still failing to trigger any new events, before abandoning the game. I don't know whether it was my overperforming or some random glitch - I played through the game about6 months later, never exterminated the last aliens, and managed to win the game easily.



There's also a big difference between games where you can reach an unwinnable situation through your own mistakes and games where you can reach an unwinnable situation through sheer random chance. A simple example would be a game where you have an early choice between two chests. In one scenario, there are obvious clues as to which chest you're supposed to open; in the other there's no information to enable you to distinguish between them. In both scenarios, 20 hours later, you get told whether you chose the wrong chest and can't win the game. The former scenario is more palatable than the latter, though both leave a bad taste in the mouth. On the other hand, in a strategy game where a bad start can doom you to defeat many hours of game-play later, that defeat is acceptable because it's your fault rather than the game designers' or random chance.

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There are conventions of game design that players learn, at least subconsciously, and come to expect. Just as opera lovers would be put out if halfway through an opera the actors all switched language and started singing R&B classics while riding mopeds, gamers know something about developers, or think they do.

Gamers know, for instance, that if they can teleport through a wall by running at it really fast and puching (True Crime: Streets of LA) then that's a trick, and the game will never require them to be able to do it. Simultaneously, they know that if they go someplace that locks them in, there will be a way to get out and complete their mission objectives, or else they will be killed/otherwise required to try again.

So, when you're locked in a room, or stuck in the ground, or somehow alive at the bottom of an abyss, you think you're being faced with a challenge that the designer anticipated and even--appropriately--designed. If you can't get out, or call for help, or otherwise move on, then the game is "broken", and it's the fault of the designer.

Also, if a glitch in the controls makes a plot-specific challenge virtually impossible, such that it can't be reasonably completed in five or so tries, then it's a balance problem. That's a design flaw.

Just being bad at a game may prompt players to say, "Man, this game is bullcrap! It's impossible!" as I did the first few times playing Ninja Gaiden or Viewtiful Joe. But those games are based on a certain threshold of ability, and once you attain it, the rest of the experience is pretty smooth.

So player failure != design flaw, but they cause similar results, and can at times be difficult to differentiate.

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When I play a game, I don't want to compete with the designer: I want to compete with myself. If the game allows it to become impossible for me to win, and doesn't do anything to warn me, the fault is with the game.

Also remember that people who play sports can generally practice different parts of the game on a regular basis. How many computer games let you spend a few hours practicing the final boss fight, before you've even gotten past the first one?

It's unfair for a game to become unwinnable except due to extreme player stupidity. It's perfectly fair for the player to die, so long as it doesn't take away hours of the player's efforts. You should be able to save just before doing something you're likely to die doing. If your ability to save is restricted, which it never should be, that can kill surprise because you know you're going to face a tough challenge when you come across a save point.

The real important thing to remember is that in a competitive sport between two people, both of them want to have fun. Unless the competitors aren't very competitive, that means they want to win. Very few people would want to play a game when they know the odds are stacked against them. But computers don't want to have fun. It's okay to stack the odds against the computer and make it very difficult for the player to lose because the player is the only one who is out to enjoy himself.

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Part of this, I hate to say, is sportsmanship on behalf of the player-- and this heavily depends on the reward timing cycle the player expects as well as their patience and general drive to stick with the game.

When I first got Civilization I probably played about 2 dozen games where knights, ironclads or even aircraft carriers rolled up to my shores while I was still swinging stone axes (er... maybe not that bad, but you get what I mean).

In Chess, there are classic positions where one side can not win, but won't see it for several moves. The same can happen in any strategy game-- but look at the people who play strategy games. Strategy game players, particularly turn-based strategy game players, will likely expect what you're talking about to happen. Even in a multiplayer game like Starcraft, I may find that I'm still building a tank factory just as my enemy rolls up with Siege Tanks.

Generally, I think that sportsmanship is declining in players. It may be nothing more than a side effect of the audience growing, or it may be some underlying culture shift (maybe we're in the "I SHOULD ALWAYS WIN" society, marked among other things by lawsuits against fast food chains for making us fat and the legions of griefers that haunt MMOs [wink])

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by TechnoGoth
I often read how people feel that if the player loses, dies, or can no longer win, that that is a game design fault. But why? If the player looses that doesn't mean the designers are punishing them, it just means the game played better then the player. If you consider sports or any non computer game there is always a winner and loser, there can be times when one person can no longer win. That isn't seen as design flaw. But it in computer games a lot of people seem to treat the whole idea that they can reach a point where they can no longer win as an infirmata. So what are people thoughts? Is there something wrong with a game when you can always overcome an obstacle you encounter everytime? If you fail at a task and have to repeat is that the games fault for being to challenging? What about reaching a point when you can no longer win? Should you always be able to win no matter what?



Can you say 'roll back to old saved game" ???

Ive seen quite popular games that players die like flies and have 9 lives cubed
restarts when they constantly 'fail'.

It may depend if there is a problem with to steep a learning curve expected (and insufficient 'shallow end' which would allow the player to adapt to the game mechanics and interface).

Also how 'restartable' the scenarios are (how short) so the player can start from scratch and go down another game path/strategy without huge numbers of hours to be spent getting back to an interesting part of the game(ie redo the same stuff all again).

Insufficient 'game difficulty' control (esp lower range)???

Insufficient 'cheats' to get player around a seemingly unsolvable problem??

Lack of multiple possible solutions to chokepoints in the plot ??

Smarter games might adapt to the player and keep the game flowing (throwing in hints after too long a ceasession of progress).

Bad porting from Console to PC where keyboard/mouse not quite the same ease of game required twitch ??


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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by TechnoGoth
I often read how people feel that if the player loses, dies, or can no longer win, that that is a game design fault. But why? If the player looses that doesn't mean the designers are punishing them, it just means the game played better then the player. If you consider sports or any non computer game there is always a winner and loser, there can be times when one person can no longer win. That isn't seen as design flaw. But it in computer games a lot of people seem to treat the whole idea that they can reach a point where they can no longer win as an infirmata. So what are people thoughts? Is there something wrong with a game when you can always overcome an obstacle you encounter everytime? If you fail at a task and have to repeat is that the games fault for being to challenging? What about reaching a point when you can no longer win? Should you always be able to win no matter what?




I just remembered an old syaing I made up when considering design of tabletop D&D games -- "All roads lead to the Tomb'. Games should never be so poorly designed that the player is stuck in a no-win position (either kill the player off and restart (if short scenarios) or get past the blockage (preferably without being too obvious).

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The game isn't 'playing better than the player' - a game is just a program, it can't 'play' because it doesn't enjoy what it's doing, or experiment with new problem solving strategies. Player failure is a design flaw because if the player can't keep playing, the game has ceased to be a 'game'. This is mainly a problem in a story-based game where the goal is to finish the story, and you don't get psychological closure unless you can actually make it to the end of the game. A game like tetris, on the other hand, has no end; the player knows this, and thus doesn't worry about trying to finish it.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
This is mainly a problem in a story-based game where the goal is to finish the story, and you don't get psychological closure unless you can actually make it to the end of the game.


This also includes game where the "story" is extremely simple. Since the goal isn't so much to get to the end as to complete all the pre-designed content, ie. to complete and (enjoy?) the levels in Super Mario Bros. Where the number of levels is loosely justified by the idea of rescuing the princess.

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