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Drigovas

Doomed from the start

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Hello everyone, I don't normally venture this far south on the boards, but I've come up with a question while I was working on a level tonight for my current project. The level involves a series of pivotal decisions that the player must make very early in the level that decide the possibility for success in the end of the level. The level is long, and the time between the time when these decisions are made and the time when the result of these decisions will impact the player is potentially in excess of an hour [possibly several hours, plenty of time to have saved the game]. The problem is this: Should the player be allowed to continue along a level toward their objective when success in the over-all level has become impossible [or at least improbable to the point of the chances of success being negligible.] It's worth noting that the cost of failure is pretty steep, so it's not just a matter of clicking 'retry mission'. I've spoken to a few people about this, and have gotten some input, but I'd like to put the question forward to the lot of you for your suggestions. Here are a few of the things I've been considering: This level [and any level in which a player does not immediately pay for mistakes, or cannot continually correct mistakes] should be thrown out completely. The level should be shortened, so as to make the time between the time of the mistake being made and the time the effects are noticed, smaller. The level should result in failure as soon as victory is impossible [or highly unlikely]. As long as there is ample notice previous to critical decisions about the correct decisions, all is fair. Force the correct decision to be made previous to the player being allowed to progress in instances of pivotal decisions. Thank you for your input. ************************************************************ Below this line is information about the specific project If the above was sufficient, feel free to skip this. If this will aid your consideration, feel free to read it. ************************************************************ The project is a squad based tactical game, and for this particular level the player will likely have a sizable force to work with [7-10 characters]. The level in question is set up with the players force starting on one side of a rather long straight set of rooms, each divided by a door, and certain generally weak enemy units. At the end of this set of rooms is a single rather large and easily defended room that is a T-junction, with a door on either size [excluding the door the player used to enter the room], one door leads to the level exit, and the other leads deeper into the [rather large] level, and eventually leads to the players objective for that level. Coming from behind the player are going to be an endless stream of rather weak enemies to assault the player from behind, and will flood one room at a time [they trickle in, so holding a room from their advance is not *too* difficult, but taking a room back is nearly impossible]. The general goal of the level is to force the player to divide their forces, leaving several units in the large-easily defended room to hold open access to the level's exit, and the rest of the units actually progressing to complete the objective. The complete level [if completed correctly] will likely take well in excess of an hour to finish. Just a few minutes to reach the pivotal central room [the T-junction mentioned above], and over an hour to actually lay siege to the rest of the level, and complete the objected, and back track out of the level. If the player chooses not to hold that one pivotal room, though, actually finishing the level is impossible [the enemies will take up position in that room, activate various defenses in that room, and can easily hold it against any attack the player could mount, as the room was designed to be.] Any character killed is dead forever, and loosing an entire squad is potentially devastating to the players ability to continue forward. Completion of the level's objective will result in a 'mission complete' state, even if the entire squad is killed as it attempts to leave the level. 'Withdrawing' from a level results in minimal-severe [depending on the enemy presence in the immediate area, which in the case of withdrawing right outside of the room in question, would be severe] random casualties, and random resource losses in the form of equipment the squad was carrying being left behind. Leaving the level by moving units to the level exit [regardless of mission completion status], death, and 'withdrawing' are the only options a player has to leave a level. Saving inside the level will lock the player into one of these three fates. Failure of a mission objective results in a forced withdrawal, which will likely have very little penalty on the player in any position that isn't under the heavy enemy influence of that pivotal room.

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I imagine a lot of players frustrated at the end of the level, unable to continue, thinking 'there must be something that I forgot to do...' and spending quite some time looking for it, when it is actually impossible for them to go forward.

It seems it's critical to inform the player of the situation; if losing a character permanently is possible, let him know, keep this in the documentation of the game *and* remind the player as soon as the character is dead; if he failed to reach a goal, and this makes the game a lot harder or impossible, tell the details to the player just as he fails.

However, there is one small detail that is very important... you write that failure is not just matter of retrying the level; does this means that you cannot fix mistakes, at all? or do you mean, just through the 1-hour-long level?

If it's just through the level, then no problem. If you mean the player can never, under any circumstance fix wrongdoings, then at least the player should *never* be locked into an impossible situation, since the only solution would be to restart the entire game.

Another less important detail is the difficulty, since the easier the game is, it's less likely the situation arises, thought it doesn't removes it.

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You could possibly make one of the objectives to hold that room? Im not sure how well that will work in your view of the game. Maybe part of the level could be the player decided for themselves what people/resources to leave behind and what to send forward to complete the main objective?

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Quote:
The level involves a series of pivotal decisions that the player must make very early in the level that decide the possibility for success in the end of the level. The level is long, and the time between the time when these decisions are made and the time when the result of these decisions will impact the player is potentially in excess of an hour [possibly several hours, plenty of time to have saved the game].

I would say avoid the situation in the first place. If it would cause players to be frustrated (and even think about leaving the game and no longer playing it), then it is something that should be seriously though about being dropped from the game.

Quote:
The problem is this: Should the player be allowed to continue along a level toward their objective when success in the over-all level has become impossible [or at least improbable to the point of the chances of success being negligible.

Here is a solution. At the point where the objects are needed, have a way for the player to quickly go back to where the items are and return to where they are needed. This might be a security door that can only be opened from the far side and once opened the player can move through it easily, or some other "thing" that you can use. This way, if the player does forget (or just doesn't know that the objects are needed), then they haven't wasted all that time playing your level.

Have a look at this aricle (http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/005_Bad_Game_Designer_1/005_bad_game_designer_1.htm). Especially the 8th entry.

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I think greksters idea was a good one. I don't think you should hand the required strategy to the user on a plate. However if the level reallly is that long I would be pretty p*ssed if I realise I'd messed up (especially if I'd saved and couldn't go back), so I think adding a 'hold the room' objective is a good way to guide the player in the right direction.

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Just some random ideas:

- Place something in the room that is obviously needed to complete the objective. If the objective is to remove something from a large safe, maybe add some electronic locking mechanism that has to be disarmed from a remote console at that room (con: unrealistic; doesn't promote tactical thinking)

- If you don't hold the room, when you return, it will not be full of barricaded enemies; instead another team came and kept off the enemies (with possible casualties). The player gets a reprimand for making an unwise decision and forcing the other team to enter the scene (con: seems artificial; player still might feel this is being unfair)

- Provide ample warning. When you leave the defendable room with your whole team, spawn some enemies that directly run into that room and let one of your squad members shout that they're holing up and that you won't get out anymore if they manage to get a hold there. (con: assumes it's an action-oriented squad game)

- Set up another way out that will cost the player. Maybe one of the team's members has to stay behind (possibly even more, if under fire) to use this exit. (con: player might not even consider this exit; still no warning at the initial decision)

-Markus-

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I'm definitley with the others on this. That would just frustrate the hell out of your players because I gaurentee you that about %80 of them will never make it past that level. Just out of pure frustration and confusion. It just doesn't feel fair at all to the player.

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I think is sounds fine the way it is.
Just like playing through Syndicate or Starship Troopers without saving.
You get to redo missions, but you still lost the squad members.

I'd only sugest having saves at each mission, so they can eventually reload from a save if things get actually impossible for them.
But if the point of the game is squad management, why not let the lose the squad?

As long as there is indication of HOW to complete what objectives there are, the rest should be left up to the player to find
the right tactical locations to stage from.

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If your game has normal mission briefings, can't you just diagram such ideas as valuable.

If the idea is, doing X is absolutely necessary - then the question is - is it the kind of thing that should have been known when planning the mission ... if so make it an objective or recommendation or something. If it couldn't have been known before than either do the "your player noticed the situation in game" type hack, or just leave it hard and punish the unwise.

If the idea is that doing X is helpful, but not necessary - the the question is still about when / how it should become known / obvious, but the options are different. A briefing that just generally points out "defensible" areas and/or likely "access points" the enemy will use should be enough for th brighter people - and those who like a challenge can skip it anyway. Or you can still use the in game notices ... or just hints ("if they keep coming through those doors they'll be like lambs to the slaughter" or "I love these turrets, we could hold off a hole army from here with just 2 men" ...) no rules, no force of god ... just good ideas suggested as appropriate. Of course your game would need "chatter" in general for this to work.

Alternatively ... you can always let the player sabotage or deactivate the defenses as an alternative ... giving you 2 ways to complete the missions well: method A) use the defensible position, split squad and kill lots of badies. B) destroy the defensible position, move on, and get the hell out of dodge.

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Bluntly, I think its a poor design. Without any feedback, and with a level that long, I guarantee you that I wouldn't make more than a couple attempts before hanging it up and never coming back to it. I would also think twice about trying any of your future productions.

Its not fun that a series of decisions from early in the game or level prevents your success at the end, and my ultimate rule of game design is simply: If its not fun, its not in the game.

So, let look at why its not fun. Challenges are fun to overcome, and certainly this is a challenge, however they become less fun when the reason for failure is not obvious and hence, making the challenge difficult to overcome. What the player needs is feedback, they need to know why they have failed, furthermore, the feedback needs to be timely -- perhaps not immediate, but allowing them to continue to progress all the way to the end of the level gives the player the false illusion that, up until mere moments before their death, they were still in a winnable state when, in fact, they were not. This is a form of deception; Deception is not fun. The game itself should not deceive players (though its okay to have deceitful characters, of course.)

If you recall some of the old graphical adventures, Shadowgate comes to mind, the player would fairly often die in attempting rather innocent actions. For instance, there's a part where you come to a pair of bridges - one of which appears pristine, and the other of which appears on the verge of collapse. Neither bridge is initially crossable -- both will collapse beneath you. The feedback is immediate: The bridges are the only way to progress, but they both collapse under your weight. What can we do to change the equation? One of the items in the game is a potion which makes you lighter; you drink it and you are able to cross both bridges (one leads to a cave containing some necessary items, the other leads to the rest of your adventure.) In this scenario you are faced with an apearantly impossible situation, but the feedback is immediate and clear: The bridges collapse because you are too heavy. You know that the most-likely way across is to make yourself lighter -- but the exact method is not spelled out. A player might try to ditch heavy inventory items that they believe will be unnecessary in an attempt to lighten themselves, for example.

Of course you are free to do unconventional things, but this is not a convention I would stray too far from personally.

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Thanks for the input.

As it stands right now, the 'mission briefing' hasn't been written, but there most certainly will be one, and it most certainly will contain information somewhat to the effect of "There will be only one exit" and "Make certain to secure passage to the exit for the rest of your team". The exit is also very clearly marked already, and a defensive advantage is already presented in that room, so this central room is very obviously of tactical importance. As the original design stood though [and still stands, but thats because I've not worked on it], the level never actually restricts the player from shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning that strategic point.

Putting the level on the back burner for now though [especially considering the clear response of "don't do it"], and going with things a bit more typical and straight-forward [attack this, defend that...]. Who knows, maybe it'll make it in later.

With regard to loosing characters, once a character is dead, the individual character is gone forever [no resurrection], but it's not like the team will forever have a empty slot in it. Extras can be recruited at very little charge to the player, but characters gain experience [it doesn't make *that* big of a difference, but a hardened veteran is of substantially greater value than a fresh recruit, especially considering they both take up a single character slot when deciding who to bring on a mission]. Starting a squad from scratch with all fresh recruits, and suffering the resource loss associated with loosing the complete equipment set of a full squad can be pretty bad, but not unrecoverable.

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I like this idea. Definitely put it in, but warn the player (you said it's already obvious that its an important room, so mention in the briefing that you need to defend the exit and your set). I like how it forces the player to split concentration between the defence and the attack on the rest of the level. Challenging and great for a later mission, provided the rest of the level isn't too easy.

Like I said, I like it.

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A mention in the briefing isn't enough, as many players will largely ignore briefings and get straight into the game. You need to have plenty of indications as to what specifically must be accomplished during the mission. One of the worst design aspects of MechCommander was the complete lack of useful tactical information given (or, rather, not given) during each briefing. I had to fail some missions several times before I had enough information to complete them. I did finish the game for some reason, but it frustrated me to hell and back.

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Quote:
Original post by Drigovas
The problem is this: Should the player be allowed to continue along a level toward their objective when success in the over-all level has become impossible [or at least improbable to the point of the chances of success being negligible.]
I don't really think it's fair for that situation to be allowed to occur - there's little fun in playing a game you cannot win unless you're at least provided with an alternative (but presumably lesser) objective that can still allow the player to achieve something.

In my mind it's ok (sometimes even a very good thing!) to allow the player to continue after achieving the objective has become improbable but if they're able to reach a stage where it becomes impossible I'd personally consider your design to be flawed unless you're providing some lesser or alternative objective that can still be achieved (in a survival game for example perhaps you can no longer save the city, but you can still rescue some people).

Your specific example sounds like it might be alright: it's possible for the player to get themselves into a situation where they are unable to survive leaving the mission, but reaching thier target still achieves something. As others have mentioned however, it would be a good idea to somehow indicate to your player that leaving a rear-guard is a recommended course of action, especially considering the penalties for not doing so.

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