Reset Button: Most Innovative Game of 2008

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 29, 2008

Filed under: Movies 218 comments

Here is the video project I’ve been working on. Part documentary, part op-ed, it tries to make the case that the game nobody is talking about is the most innovative game of 2008. This game is a gateway drug. And we need more of those.

Navel-gazing follows:

I’m not thrilled with how it turned out. I’m not crazy about the titles & credits, there are clicks and pops in a couple of spots because Windows Movie Maker sucks, I had to cut most of my crude and feeble attempts at humor to meet the 10-minute YouTube limit, and my diction was sloppy in a couple of places. And while I’m at it, “Reset Button” probably isn’t the most catchy or original thing to call it, but you gotta call it something. I thought I should call it something retro and old-timey. Maybe “Penny Arcade”? I should Google and see if anyone is using that.

Ah well. I’ve wanted to get this out of my system for a while now. I imagine it will stand or fall based on the ideas it contains, not on my various technical deficiencies.

Now that I’ve sufficiently lowered your expectations, here is the fruit of my labors:


Link (YouTube)

1,000 geek points to whoever can identify the music in the end credits. And I’m serious about the question I ask towards the end: Do you need a game to punish you for failure in order to enjoy victory? (I’m not just talking about blocking progress until you overcome the challenge, but taking away existing progress when you fail.) Does making the punishment more punitive make winning more fun?

Share and enjoy.

 


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218 thoughts on “Reset Button: Most Innovative Game of 2008

  1. Iudex Fatarum says:

    I stink at platformers and “Prince of Persia” looks like the exact kind of game I would love. Only problem being that I don’t own a console from the latest generation.

  2. Kell says:

    I have to go shop right now, but I just wanted to drop a comment to say I agree. So much.

    I came to the realization some time ago that game design is essentially about psychology; understanding simple, basic states of mind. It seems your opinions and concerns with games address exactly that.

    We should stop listening to fanboys. We should have stopped listening to them long ago. “John Carmack’s microwave” ? Nice ;)

    Lots more I’d like to say but I don’t want to write an essay just now.

    And your diction was fine.

  3. empty_other says:

    You got a point there…

    And “I had to cut most of my crude and feeble attempts at humor to meet the 10-minute YouTube limit” was probably a good thing. Hurray for Youtube’s ten minute limit! :D

    Got to buy the game, as soon as ive finished playing Storm of Zehir.

  4. qrter says:

    I might’ve missed it, but I don’t think you actually explicitly explain why you feel Prince of Persia is innovative (as in: mechanically) – I mean, I think I know what you mean because I read reviews, listen to gaming podcasts etc. but a ‘casual gamer’ won’t know what you’re talking about. It’s weird, you mention it several times in abstraction but not exactly (it might be a case of you having it clear in your head and forgetting that I might not have that same clarity).

    I certainly agree in hating punishing/unforgiving gameplay (and you make a good case why it turns people off) but then I mainly play PC games (as you do, at times) and those (well, a lot) tend to incorporate quicksave/quickloads, so I’m not sure how innovative Prince of Persia is (but I’m just as unsure how easy the system of quicksaves/loads is to grasp for a newcomer, I have to admit)… if the thing I think you think is innovative is actually what you think is innovative… I need a liedown. ;)

  5. Shamus says:

    The innovative bit:

    “And here is what makes Prince of Persia such a breakthrough. It abolishes punitive setbacks for failure, and then offers an approachable experience that is NOT dripping with cuddly cute characters and child-friendly themes.”

  6. Kurayamino says:

    Very good, this actually made me think about game design. Your voice is pretty good by the way, for lack of better terms: it doesn’t sound nerdy, review-y and is well articulated. You should do more movies if you think of other good game design stuff to talk about.

    I think that your point also extends to people who’ve just experienced a few genres of games. My girlfriend likes to game alot and has been playing rpg’s since she was a kid, but she simply won’t go near strategy or fps games as she knows it’ll suck because she’ll lose hundreds of times and never make it halfway up the learning curve.

  7. qrter says:

    The innovative bit:

    “And here is what makes Prince of Persia such a breakthrough. It abolishes punitive setbacks for failure, and then offers an approachable experience that is NOT dripping with cuddly cute characters and child-friendly themes.”

    I got that, but that’s quite abstract, how does that actually translate into the game?

    I don’t mean spending a lot of time on the specifics but I find myself wondering what the big difference is with other games, what this wondrous thing is that the game actually does.

  8. Claire says:

    Irrelevant: You sound about 15 years younger than I anticipated. (I expected you to sound approximately 35.)

    Relevant: I agree with you, but you don’t go too-far enough. I think the absence of game-busting cheats is a huge barrier to learning the basic skills of playing a game (and a huge barrier to learning the advanced skills of playing a game, for the weak-willed.) I remember my first experiences of having my ass handed to me in Doom, Heretic, Quake… even Nethack. A little quality time with a cheat code (or wizard mode), sandboxing around and getting my bearings, and I was much better prepared to deal with the greater challenges offered by the game… assuming I could keep my fingers from typing IDDQD the second I saw a cyberdemon. (By the way: That famous “Protip: To kill the cyberdemon, shoot at it until it dies.” thing is no joke: that’s an important tip! It’s a totally reasonable reaction to 5 minutes of intense, fruitless combat with that bastard to think “Okay, either this guy is unkillable or there’s a trick.”)

    My argument that cheats are (at least sometimes) necessary for learning is primarily nethack-driven, though. Imagine trying to figure that game out without wizard mode. Even with spoilers, it would be difficult to pick up on the most basic strategies. With wizard mode, though, you begin to realize “hm, if I take advantage of diagonal motion, don’t walk around burdened all the time, and don’t quaff every potion and wear every ring I find, I answer the question “Die? [yn]” less frequently.” Even with the ^I identify command in wizard mode, you gain an appreciation for how much stuff is cursed or otherwise harmful, and realize how vital identification is to survival.

    Oh, nethack…

  9. thark says:

    I like punitively harsh games (in certain genres, anyway, and depending on mood), but I also recognize that there’s no way the same experience is going to appeal to me as to a beginner. There should be room enough to make games for both sets (right now I think both extremes are largely being left behind, though there is still the occasional game catering to us masochists).

    In answer to Shamus’ question, it would be ridiculous to claim that I “need” a game to punish me (I don’t _need_ to play games to being with, after all), but when in the proper mood, having a game spank me savagely is definitely something that can [b]enhance[/b] the experience.

    Either way, I do think your point about making so-called “casual” games (wii or not) that are not necessarily nintendo-cutesy is very important and it is a mystery to me why this isn’t more obvious to developers.

  10. Claire says:

    qrter: The innovative bit, as he mentions in the video, is that when you fall and die, the game just immediately transports you back to the last solid ground upon which you stood… as opposed to the beginning of the level or the most recent checkpoint. So, you can reattempt the challenge 30-40 times in two minutes, rather than 0.2-2 times.

  11. Shamus says:

    qrter: Ouch. I did have another paragraph on that, which I was obliged to cut. (You’ll notice the video is 9:58 – two seconds short of the limit. It took some work to get it there.)

    For experienced gamers, the game just lets you keep playing. No punishments. No “filler” of re-playing the same 5 minutes of puzzles and cutscenes so you can take another crack at the boss. Less laborious repetition. It’s a box of lucky charms that’s all marshmallows and none of that Styrofoam cereal.

    For newbies, the big innovation is that they can practice a particular activity and stay in that action-feedback-action loop as long as they like without punishment. It lets them learn to play at their own speed, without beating them over the head about how bad they suck.

  12. Joshua says:

    The difference is that in many other games, you’ll encounter challenges that will at first make you try harder to win, and if the challenges are hard enough, will make you stop playing.

    If you’re a teenager, you may not mind spending an afternoon trying the same sequence over and over again until you get it right and continue on to the next challenge- when you’re an adult, the temptation is just to return the game(if console) to Gamestop and find a different one that’s more fun.

    Another interesting topic to me is how difficulty in home video game systems has mirrored or differed from the older(or newer) arcade games. Arcade games were deliberately made difficult to make them more PROFITABLE, as you had to spend more quarters to continue. The idea of playing for 10-20 minutes without injecting more quarters was anethama to arcade owners. However, you seldom had to lose too much progress, or you’d just say “screw it” and stop playing altogether, which is why most arcade games put you IMMEDIATELY back into the action where you died.

    To me, early games like the Atari series attempted to match that difficulty curve, but later generations attempted different methods of combining difficulty and progress.

  13. Jordi says:

    I agree that the way Prince of Persia handles failure is great. Also, I don’t really think it necessarily makes the game easier, unless your definition of easy is ‘takes less time’. Like you said, you still have to overcome each challenge. It might not be hard, but that’s not the fault of the ‘death’ system. Having said that, I think it might have been nice if the game kept statistics. That way you would have some sort of reward/punishment, because you can see how well you did. People could try replaying sections to beat their previous time or number of deaths.

    Otherwise, I don’t really think PoP is flawlessly executed. The controls don’t always work for me (I’m on PC, so it might be that) and I would have liked it if the levels were a little bit less linear. I mean, there is usually only one way to get to where you need to be and you have to get there through the use of artificially/conveniently placed aids like flagpoles. It would have been nicer to have a ‘realistic’ environment with in theory lots of ways to get somewhere, but you’d have to figure it out, instead of just looking for the next flagpole. I do like the game a lot though.

    As for your question about punishment being required: I don’t really think so. I really like how PoP did it, because eve though you can’t die, you still have to overcome each obstacle. This means that sometimes it takes quite some time for me to beat a level boss (yeah, I suck), so I still feel like I accomplished something. I guess it would be less fun if I could just walk up to it and kill it in one hit. Maybe having to spend a lot of time fighting it could be viewed as punishment and having to reload and replay some area as an extension of that, but I think the real difference is in what you are trying to do in that (extra) time. In PoP you are actively trying to overcome the obstacle, whereas in other games you are replaying some boring part you already beat, which isn’t relevant anymore.

  14. snail says:

    I SWEAR I heard that music in some DOOM pwad, but I can’t remember which one and whence they took it… damn I was so close… can you give me 100 points? :D

  15. Hirvox says:

    IMHO, the largest problem with that video is that you have a lot more to say than to show. There are some spots where audio and video support each other, but most of the time there’s some vaguely related gameplay in the background while you talk. For example, in the basketball example with San Andreas the gameplay stops while you talk, and the character only throws the ball when you tell it to. That somewhat undermines your point of harsh failure mechanics breaking the flow of learning when you do the same by breaking the flow of your video.

    There’s an inverse example with the Prince of Persia part. The gameplay continues smoothly while you talk, and is only occassionally at sync with the point you’re making. For example, it would have been better to stop the video at some point, ask the viewers whether they noticed that you fumbled a jump and then watch in slow motion how the game fixes your mistake without interrupting the flow. Kind of what Braid does with it’s time control game mechanic.

  16. DaveMc says:

    I enjoyed this! I approve of the fact that you are clearly *not* trying to be Yahtzee. (Or if you are, you’re really, really not succeeding. :))

    I also endorse your central point about punitive difficulty being a turn-off to the new gamer — or at least, I assume it would be: I wouldn’t know, being one of the adults playing since they were kids that you mention. (On the other hand, come to think of it, I’m not much of a twitch gamer, so I do still experience this. I played and loved God of War, but by the end the difficulty was just past what I could handle, and I never did finish the damn thing.)

    Since I play mostly turn-based strategy and tactical RPG games, there’s less of a frantic edge to learning the rules, but on the other hand, failure tends to happen at the level of entire battles, meaning that when you restart, you back up a good hour or more in the game. But in these cases, learning the strategy, and how to use and manoeuvre your units, *is* the game, so it doesn’t feel like wasted time when you wipe out in a battle and need to restart it.

    Back to action games . . . At the very least, there seems to be little downside to having user-selectable difficulty levels: Normal and Masochist/Hardcore, say, where the latter is where most games currently sit, and the former is where you’re saying you’d like them to sit. With all the recent focus on Achievements, perhaps you could have some of them depend on completing the game on Hardcore or Uber-Masochist settings, so that the hardcore will feel rewarded for their leetness, while the rest of us get to just play and enjoy it. (Give them some Achievements to lord over the non-l33t, and maybe it will help damp the inevitable whining from that camp about the game being “too easy”.) I suppose one potential downside to all this would be if the difficulty settings were so different in gameplay that the developers ended up effectively having to code several different games; it would only be practical if the game could be made harder with relatively minor tweaks to the default mechanisms.

  17. Joshua says:

    Oh, also, why are difficulty levels so monolithic like Easy, Normal, Hard, etc.? Why not have various toggles that you could adjust that would make certain ASPECTS of the game harder or easier than others?

    For example, I would like the higher difficulty levels of the Civilization series for the reduced population happiness, healthiness, etc., except for the fact that the computer will have faster production than me. Why can’t I play so that I’m on Deity level, but the computer is too? I’d also like a setting on FPS where I could toggle off the cross-hair to make aiming more realistic and difficult, but the computer would be less accurate too.

    Unfortunately, difficulty settings are usually all about making everything harder or easier, not certain aspects. At best, you can perhaps expect better xp rate or something.

  18. Shamus says:

    Hirvox: Thanks for the feedback. If I managed to make another one I definitely need to work on making the visuals more compelling.

  19. Rason says:

    I really enjoyed watching that Shamus, Also a personal suggestion to let you stay under the 10 minute mark but still make your jokes, put them in the background, it will give us something else to look at, keep us entertained, and let you make your joke and your point at the same time. Like how the WiiMote had the thought bubble saying “You suck”, do stuff like that in the background and you got an informative, funny video to watch.

  20. Griffin says:

    Darn it, Shamus, I intended to leave for work and watch the video later, but I made the mistake of starting it and then couldn’t push pause. So I’d say you did something right with the editing. Very thought-provoking point, too.

  21. Xpovos says:

    I just played through a demo of a game available on Xbox Live Arcade, called “Braid” which has as a premise time-bending similar to Sands of Time. As a result, it’s similar in nature to what you’re describing: a game without intense punishments for not being awesome at the game.

    The problem is that there’s only so many games that can be the entire premise, or even a major feature of. There’s nothing wrong with a learning curve built into a game, particularly a long game, but a game where there’s no way to lose other than giving up because it’s taking too long removes a lot of themes. If it’s inevitable to save the universe if you just take long enough, then you didn’t really save the universe.

    It’s a similar argument to the game vs. passtime I’ve seen discussed. A passtime is something fun that we do without inherent objectives, and as a result no inherent goals. A digital sandbox is a passtime. A game needs to have goals, and Prince of Persia clearly does. For most people though, the corollary to goals is failure, or at least a chance for failure. The chance doesn’t have to be large, but a game where they don’t exist because there is no penalty for that failure will not appeal to gamers long-term. It can work as a rare motif, or an adult’s beginner’s game. But most gamers will get bored of that after a while. Not everyone will, of course. Which is one of the reasons why digital sandboxes are on the increase.

    EDIT: Fixed a Massively run-on sentence. Wow.

  22. guy says:

    I find that harsh punishments for failure can hurt fun, which is why i’m typing here instead of playing fallout, which i got for christmas.

    The supermutants kill through hardened power armor with single crits because they hate.

    Those of you who haven’t played the original may think i’m kidding…

  23. JKjoker says:

    I understand your point but i find that having NO penalty just leads to the player abusing of his immortality which leads to boredom, sands of times had is almost right, it was really hard to die (screwed up on some parts where sand charges are rare) but you could die if you werent careful, i remember running from the time monster in warrior within and except for one of the scenes were i died 10 times due to missing jumps (hidden ledges iirc) and no longer seemed fun it was kind of exciting knowing he was about to get me, what would silent hill 2 feel like if you didnt get your ass handed to you the first few times you tried to kill more than 1 monster at a time ?

    on the other hand, some games are a failure at showing the options available to the player, with cameras that hide the next ledge or forcing the player to gather some macguffins and then hiding them behind corners the camera never shows at or at high places that are almost impossible to reach (farcry 2 im looking at you, the Africans seem to think diamonds reproduce themselves if you put them on the top of your hut, well at least they were optional), or the nonavailability of saving points, ive been playing a lot of ps2 games in the ps2 emulator lately and i have to say they are 10 times more fun with savestates (even if sometimes im tempted to abuse them), there is just no excuse to force the player to endure 40 minutes of repetition to reach the point where they were skewered by a cheaply hidden trap in the wall/floor or to reach a point where they have to keep playing even if they are tired/busy because they need to reach the next save point to quit, why no “quit and save” option ? why not autosaving on every room ? today’s consoles can certainly do it.

    Its kind of unfair when you talk about challenge and you put “hard but killable enemies that might be easy with the right strategy” and “teleporting monsters behind the player, killing them and forcing to play and hour to get back there” events in the same bag

    What games really need is to work out a good difficulty system : a trully EASY option that includes simplified controls and hints, a good NORMAL option that is perfectly playable for a slightly experienced player, a trully HARD option where you are giving addicional challenges (in the form of enemies and puzzles not because now you cant save) and an IRONMAN option for those masochists out there, but newer games, instead of improving the difficulty modes, they are just removing them for a single difficulty option (like pop) or at most adding a “monsters really hurt + eat bullets for breakfast” hard mode

    They also need a way to allow players with limited time to play it (the quit and save option works great, the portables seem to have learnt that), sometimes ppl sit down with 30 minutes left for his break and then you have fights like persona3’s end boss that takes like 4 hours if you manage not to get killed and have to start again.

    The new prince of persia gives you only the VERY EASY option and thats about it, it completely alienates all the experienced old fans in order to market it for newbies, i dont like the simplified controls either i feel like im just pointing the way and someone else is playing the game for me, it just not fun for me, and while i can accept other ppl liking it i cant accept other ppl calling it “the best game ever” (speaking about reviews in general)

  24. Sydney says:

    Did you know YouTube lets you go to 10:59? It’s really an eleven-minute limit.

    For instance, this was uploaded three days ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxUGQhiub1E&fmt=18

  25. Renacier says:

    I gotta say I really liked that.

    To answer your question, I’d say that If I’m looking for a intellectual, puzzle type challenge (like I consider most platformers to be) then I dislike a punitive style. If I’m looking for a more immersive, emotional experience (For me: RPGS or anything story heavy.) then a bit of punishment for failure helps keep me invested in the success of the characters.

  26. StingRay says:

    Very cool, Shamus. I never entirely put all the pieces together, but this clicks perfectly with something my wife told me a while ago. Her brother bought her a copy of Super Princess Peach, and she dove right into it. She played a lot of games in the 16-bit era, but never progressed past that, and no matter the type of games I put in front of her, she was always more comfortable watching me play rather than play herself.

    With Peach, she tore through that game. She only asked for help once, and she’d nearly beaten it when her DS disappeared on a trip. She told me that she liked it so much because it wasn’t as hard as, say, New Super Mario Bros. But, she was really talking about the punishment system in the game.

    She liked that there were no time limits, and a health system with several hearts, and if you stood still for a while, your hearts refilled. The few levels I played felt very much like a typical Mario game, with tight platforming and whatnot, so I don’t think that the gameplay itself was any easier than your standard Mario game. Rather, she was able to explore the levels, take her time and learn the tricks, and she didn’t have to worry about dying for doing that.

    It doesn’t fill the “adult theme” category, but the theory is sound. Take that philosophy, tie it to any sort of game, and you’re good to go. Perhaps it could even be another option. Like Guitar Hero has “Beginner Mode,” other games could adopt a “No Fail” mode for those that don’t like punishment, and Easy, Normal, etc. for those that do.

    And, I agree with your frustration over games with no Easy mode. Sometimes I want to enjoy the story and the atmosphere, and not deal with the combat or whatever. I think it was Silent Hill 2 that had separate difficulty settings for combat and puzzles, and that was brilliant. Too bad it didn’t catch on.

  27. Spider Dave says:

    You know, it’s interesting. My favorite games are ones where you can save whenever (so as long as you remember to hit that quicksave button, theres no going back more than a minute or two) or ones where you just cant die (unless you do something really dumb, like say, staying underwater for ten minutes. That’s longer than most people can hold their breath for).

    I really don’t like redoing things. I’m a fairly experienced gamer, and I do think that there should be challenge. But I do think they should help you along somehow.

  28. Noumenon says:

    I can’t believe I watched the whole thing! I think you did very well at adding enough visuals to keep the thing interesting. Don’t complain about the visuals being synced — ask yourself how it compares to a Powerpoint presentation. It’s miles ahead.

    I’ve heard people with much worse voices — you don’t waver much. You don’t affect a “radio voice,” either, it sounds like your real voice. Again, I watched the whole thing, that means your voice isn’t too annoying or bland.

    It would be so great in GTA if you could just rewind and make the stunt again. I don’t know why I even have fun lining up my motorcycle over and over.

  29. Fenix says:

    Wow. I’m surprised nobody mentioned the fact that there is no DRM on the PC version. Remember what site we’re on?!?

  30. HeadHunter says:

    Like you, Shamus, I’m an “older” gamer (41 here) that grew up on coin-op Pong, Coleco, Space Invaders and the Atari 2600. So I have a similar outlook on what gaming means to me and what’s important – what I get from it.

    I think that too many gamers forget that gaming is a form of ENTERTAINMENT. We cease to see gaming as we do other forms of entertainment, looking only for the “challenge” of it.

    Certainly, overcoming challenges is a rewarding activity and we can take a great deal of enjoyment from that. But imagine if we applied the same standards and expectations we have for games, to other entertainment.

    Can you imagine going to a movie, and if you missed a joke or a sight-gag, the screen flashed “OMG LULZ UR DOIN IT WRONG!” and went back to the beginning of the scene? (Or, for those of you who prefer “hard” difficulties, the beginning of the *movie*?)

    Of course no one would enjoy this kind of “entertainment”. And rightly so – WE are the ones who decide what entertainment is, and how we will enjoy it. We feel that no one has the “right” to tell us what’s funny, what’s poignant, or what is the “right way” to enjoy a book, a song or a movie.

    Yet, ironically, most games *don’t* give us that choice. We’re expected to play the “right” way (and often left to find out for ourselves what that “right way” is, without feedback to guide us) and if we don’t like to (or want to) do it that way, we “lose” – and hardcore gamers see those who want to enjoy playing differently as “losers”.

    Games that set aside that mindset are the ones that enjoy overwhelming success – but that gap still exists even in some of the most popular and successful games. Hardcore Guitar Hero gamers scoff at those who can’t full-combo every song on Expert, ignoring the fact that a vast number of rhythm gamers don’t care about the score… they just want to *play music with their friends*. These are people who might not even *be* gamers if the game was all about the “challenge” and the score.

    In short, I feel that games won’t ever BE a widespread form of entertainment until GAMERS start to develop a broader mindset into what’s an “allowable” way to enjoy gaming.

  31. Andrew says:

    I don’t see no-failure-gameplay as that great when quicksaves (in many less lazy games, usually on the PC) or time reversing (in the same series!) are much more fun, allowing you control over the replaying of sections – with non-linear games, save anywhere things are much cooler then instant checkpoints.

    Your video was okay, just goes really widely off topic a lot, and meanders around the point, and a lot of assumptions are put forward as fact, which I’m a bit bemused at :) There’s no reason to try and aim for a time limit.

    Finally, as for your question: “Do you need a game to punish you for failure in order to enjoy victory?” is an utterly silly question, since many games don’t have “victory” (Tetris anyone? Solitaire?), and almost all obstacle-based games have failure simply mean you replay the same obstacle (FPS games), however much time it was since your last save (sometime’s it’s bad, ie: platformers where you restart the level). Some just have a distinct possibility of defeat which needs to be avoided for victory (RTS games). Sport games are the true competitive game which, if you are playing against other humans, someone has to lose! (Competitive FPS games too, where balanced sides mean you ultimately feel you’ve contributed to a victory if you win, or made a difficult victory for your enemy if you lose)

    The possibility of not getting through something the first time in the best way possible is really a defining characteristic of videogames. If everyone played through and always got the best possible result, it’d be more a film or piece of music – a linear sequence of events that never differs from one person’s viewing to anothers.

    Not to say that death, or losing significant “progress” is a necessary means to achieve the possibility of not doing well. For instance, if losing actually in some ways became a positive thing to do in certain circumstances, such as RTS battle feints and sacrificed armies to hold off invaders, or having a life lost but making off with a secret item that can only be gained by basically “failing”.

    There are more situations then your binary question, I think it’s worth saying punishment isn’t for everyone (I hate level-based platformers for this reason) but a very small selection of games truly have masochistic gameplay in the first place, and there is plenty out there for everyone who hates that, or plenty of games that include quicksaves to play.

  32. JT says:

    Shamus, I hope you can hear me applauding over here. Well done, spot on, and it’s about time someone said it. Most of my gaming buddies are “crank the difficulty level, yeah!” masochists, and they don’t really get my “I’m in it for the experience, most of which is contained in the story & environment, not how hard it is to kill Enemy X” stance.

    Re: difficulty levels

    At the very least, there seems to be little downside to having user-selectable difficulty levels: Normal and Masochist/Hardcore, say, where the latter is where most games currently sit, and the former is where you're saying you'd like them to sit. With all the recent focus on Achievements, perhaps you could have some of them depend on completing the game on Hardcore or Uber-Masochist settings, so that the hardcore will feel rewarded for their leetness, while the rest of us get to just play and enjoy it.

    Exactly. Trouble is in these games’ self-definition. Having played Mass Effect & Bioshock (and only then Halo & Halo 2) to “learn” FPS aiming with console thumbsticks, Gears of War’s “Casual” difficulty was hardly that, considering the lack of forgiveness of its “crosshair” compared to how Halo did it. Yuck – never made it to Act 3 (of 5) on Casual. How the hell hard must Hardcore have been? Your Achievement idea had potential, but most games already do that (notably the “hardcore” games like Gears of War & Call of Duty, but also Force Unleashed and the like). So it doesn’t seem like that really did the trick.

    I suppose one potential downside to all this would be if the difficulty settings were so different in gameplay that the developers ended up effectively having to code several different games; it would only be practical if the game could be made harder with relatively minor tweaks to the default mechanisms.

    My suggestion while playing Assassin’s Creed (which only had the one, default difficulty level) was that difficulty could certainly stand to be more adjustable than monolithic. I’m no game designer/programmer, but it seems to stand to reason that most things in games are (or can be) controlled by variables: how many hit points can that boss take, how much damage does he deal, what’s his movement rate, what’s his accuracy %? In the case of Assassin’s Creed, it could be “what’s the time window for success in pressing the correct button to execute a Counter-stroke?” Would it really be that hard to, when a player has fought the same guy X times and gotten beat each time, reduce the value of those variables a bit, to let the player finally beat the guy? Then perhaps if he still can’t beat him after 2X times, reduce them further? The variables wouldn’t have to stay in that state forever, just make everything reset if a player loads a saved game – but make sure the players knows this so he allows the game to “reload” him via the normal death mechanic (assuming there is one), which acts as the “counter” for X above. Sure would have made that big fight against Robert de Sable and all his Templars much less frustrating.

    Why not have various toggles that you could adjust that would make certain ASPECTS of the game harder or easier than others?

    Ahhhh, harken back with me to System Shock and System Shock 2 where the player could set varying difficulties on Combat, Puzzles, Cyberspace, etc.

  33. Licaon_Kter says:

    Regarding the newer control schemes, maybe the newer gamers should start to play simpler games at first ( like the ‘old’ guys did ) with simpler game mechanics, with simpler control schemes, maybe try a swing at “Price of Persia 1” before crying that Solid Snake or Lara Croft is hard to control. See, like the basketball example, newer players should play with the ball some time by themselves in the back yard before going at the 5 vs. 5 neighborhood matches.

    The solution is pretty simple to me, make the Easy level of the game EASY and make the Hard level HARD. The PoP take on this is nice for a new gamer, but i find it boring, i would want a Normal/Hard mode where the girl does not save me from all my mistakes. And game devs tent to misunderstand what a difficulty level should be, they make ennemies with lower HP and/or fewer ennemies and that’s it, while a new gamers needs a nicer treatment, more hand holding and tips.

  34. Lawbag says:

    What is interesting here is that the original Prince of Persia on the Amiga/Atari ST was some of the hardest and most punishing gameplay ever.

    Is it sad that one of the most respected and hardest platform games has suddenly become the most accessible and easily played platform games?

    – Lawbag

  35. Turing E. says:

    So, I am a platforming veteran. I played video games since… well, forever. I have no problem handling the challenges of Ninja Gaiden or what have you. However, all that being said, for all my experience and skill, Prince of Persia is by far one of my favourite games. It was gorgeous, the dialogue was engaging, the interaction between the Prince and Elika was subtle and believable. But more than that, the platforming and combat, despite being a cake walk for me, was perfect. It was engaging, it was fun, it was exciting. Even though my combat experience mostly relied on one or two combos, every time I fought someone, I just soaked up the experience of the combat.

    And to top it all off, it had an interesting story. The reward for succeeding at the game was something I could really drink up; character and plot development. Ubisoft Montreal has a real great gift for making incredibly good games. Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia are all easily in my favourite games of all time and, well, at this point, they could sell me a pile of crap and I’d be sure that they did something to make it interesting and exciting when I bought it. Let’s hope they don’t sell me a pile of crap and keep making great games.

  36. Maiven7 says:

    …that’s not Descent, is it? The music put me right in mind of floating around through a mine listening for angry robots.

    Curse you, Shamus, I’m now going to spend all day hunting down that MIDI track until I can verify it’s exact source because I KNOW I’ve heard it somewhere before…

  37. Shamus says:

    Maiven7 wins 1,000 geek points.

    According to the tags on the song names, the music is from level 13. It’s been years since I played, though.

    Edit: level 13 it is:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpVdihPHEsM

  38. Most of the games I play are PC RPG’s and there’s not really a “punishment” if you screw something up because you can save right before you try it, so I’m not really sure how to answer this question.

    Granted, it does annoy me if the loading screens are incredibly tedious, so I suppose I belong in the anti-punishment camp, but I didn’t think that the Prince of Persia game was non-punishing. The Prince’s visceral scream when he launches himself off something communicates “WTF ARE YOU DOING YOU MORON?!?!?” quite well.

    But the thing I find that determines the punishment/reward curve of a game is “how many times did I have to try this task before I finally nailed it?” and “were the cut scenes/panoramas/dialog/plot fun?”

    If the answer to #1 is a high number and the answer to #2 is “not really”, I probably won’t finish the game. If the answer to #2 is “yeah!” then I probably will.

    One of the other things that I find affects how much #1 bothers me is whether there are *different options to try* when addressing certain challenges. In games based on D&D, for instance, if you screwed up fighting the dragon the first time, you have an entire arsenal of spells, items, potions, etc. that you can completely reshuffle in an attempt to finally nail the sucker. This means that a higher number of retries doesn’t bother me as much because I’m still trying *different* things in an effort to succeed.

    It’s when you’re doing *exactly* the same things over and over and over and over in the hopes of JUST getting LUCKY that ONE TIME that obstacles become hopelessly boring to me, and Prince of Persia falls entirely into this category. You’re never trying a different way to get up the wall or whatever, you’re just trying to stick the landing.

    The storyline for the PoP series up until now has been SO awesome that I still played the games through several times, but I thought the latest one fell flat, and the repetitive-failure thing means I’m not much interested in playing it no matter how innovative the Not Dying thing is.

  39. Maiven7 says:

    That’s it then…I saw the VILE henchman, I just didn’t pursue Carmen quite far enough through 13 to be certain. Curse you, limited attention span! *shakefist*

    As usual, you raise interesting points about game design. I am actually reminded of an earlier post where you discussed the learning curve and skill disparity of veteran FPS players versus neophytes. In believe an example was made where you were reflexively using the sound of a door opening to track where to aim a rocket based on player movement rates.

    There is a passage out of the player handbook for Paranoia XP that remarks upon a similar phenomena, wherein a new player to the table is all to frequently gang-lasered for relatively inoffensive actions or queries (“What IS Bouncy Bubble Beverage?” “TREASON!” *ZAP ZAP ZAP*)…the new player isn’t going to feel slapstick amusement so much as stunned contempt. The veterans are playing to a running gag that is hilarious when properly immersed in the setting, but leaves the new player standing outside a door that’s just been slammed in their face.

    It’s not approachable.

    I’m rather fond of broadly scaling difficulty selection…System Shock accomplished that, even if you did just about feel like you needed a manual to set your difficulty.

    Of course, having a game where both hardcore and casual gamers are accomplishing the same basic tasks may make the hardcore player feel their accomplishments ARE diminished (since anyone can now beat Grand Master Dark Zog by tuning the difficulty down). Which, in turn, may lead to the sneering deridement of the neophyte…diminishing their feeling of accomplishment by reminding them that they only defeated GMDZ on Gimp Mode, or what have you.

    Difficulty linked Achievements (Well, Achievements in general…god bless you, metagaming) may alleviate some of this…everyone loves merit badges, and getting your Badass Badge for spiking Grand Master Dark Zog in the Observatory with the Pipe-wrench on Hardcore validates that accomplishment without dimming the shine on having just plain beat the game. It also lays down gradient and specific challenges which new players can work towards from the bottom up.

    If you only market your game to one crowd, only one crowd is really going to be interested in playing it. Getting them all to play the same game takes some fine line walking, where it doesn’t take neophytes getting over their fear of humiliation at the hands of veteran elitists who need to get over the idea that their self-esteem is directly linked to their electronic accomplishments.

    Going to stop prattling for a bit since I’m not entirely sure how much sense or meaningful contribution I’m managing to put out there.

  40. Sheer_FALACY says:

    I find that there is a huge variation in how punishing losing is in a game. Sometimes it’s not even a design choice, but rather an engine limitation – if you have to go to a loading screen after you die, it’s going to be painful. Prince of Persia looks to be about the least punishing you can be, but it’s hardly the only game where dying doesn’t cost you a huge amount.

    Any game with quicksave can be low on the punishment scale – the issue there is you have to work constantly to avoid sometimes needing to work more. Some games basically do it for you. Dead Space, for example, saves before you enter every room, pretty much. There’s no load screen after dying. You just watch yourself getting dismembered and then start the room again. It’s not quite as convenient as the PoP thing looks – among other things, backtracking (except when it tells you to) can mess it up – but it still means dying is just a minor setback. And it’s hardly the only game where that’s true.

    Ease of coming back after death is something that’s rarely if ever covered by reviews. It takes an extreme case like Too Human, which apparently features a long unskippable cutscene that both Yahtzee and Gamespot mention, so you know it’s serious.

  41. Eric says:

    I disagree, the best innovation for games that I have noticed is the tutorial. When I was playing games on the old Nintendo, all there was, was put in the game, and learn while playing. Games now show you how to play before even starting the actual game. Though I agree punitive setbacks suck, but that just seems to be a bad checkpoint system, or poor level design.

    Now is it harder for people who’ve never played video games to play them? I say no, because I watch my little brother play these games. Has he had difficulty with them? yes, but he also keeps trying. Video games are a lot like in the fact that we try to overcome obstacles. Punitive setbacks are just as viable in life. I could go out and try to learn how to skateboard, and then proceed to break a arm or a leg, and be laid up for months.

    It sounds like what your looking for is not a game, but an experience. “games”(for lack of a better term)that offer this are like Little Big Planet, POP, and I can’t even think of anymore. The problem with these games is I never feel like I’m accomplishing much. With pop it just doesn’t seem that the prince becomes that much more in depth, for lack of learning more combos, attacks etc.etc.. The same with LBP other then getting stickers, and other stuff used to make your levels, the gameplay never changes, it stays the same since when you first started the game in that tutorial. In these games it doesn’t feel like your overcoming anything really dire.

  42. Ben says:

    Easy Mode is a joke. I know this wasn’t the focus of your video, but it’s one of the things that really jumped out at me because I’ve been dealing with it lately.

    I just recently got myself a copy of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, because it looked like an attractive evolution of the series. I’m by no means new to RTS games, and the C&C franchise in particular; I’ve played every game at least briefly, and gotten quite good at several of them. So, when I sat down to RA3, I didn’t expect any trouble. After running through the tutorial to get a feel for the new features and units, I bypassed the campaign mode (I don’t particularly like the artificial technology restrictions) and stepped directly into a skirmish. Because I was still unfamiliar with the game, I chose to fight a single Easy army. Naturally, I expected to steamroll the enemy within 15 minutes, and carry on to a harder opponent to challenge myself.

    But no. The Easy army absolutely destroyed me. Not just the first time, either; I had to play several rounds before I even made a good showing for myself. Some of this is a surprisingly skilled AI; I’ve never been good at playing human opponents and there’s no question that a very good AI would cause me to struggle. And another part of it is the lack of the choke points I’m accustomed to using to assist with base defense. A large number of units are amphibious, including some ridiculous ones (really, grizzly bears can run at full speed across water?), so a shoreline is no more protection than an empty field. Islands are no more defensible than prairies, and nothing short of mountain ranges can make your base secure. I like the idea of including naval units; they were a staple of the original Red Alert, and obscenely powerful as well. However, in this latest version, they are far too cheap and plentiful for the power they wield.

    Of course, none of this is really the point. I can complain about the game, but really I’m only complaining about my skills – if I were to continue playing the game, I would learn to defend open bases, and become more adept at managing naval units. However, I’m not sure how skillful I can become when even the easiest opponent is so supremely powerful. This is a problem I’ve run across in several games, and it’s incredibly frustrating because it really highlights the punitive aspects you’re talking about. When I select Easy, I intend for my experience to be just that – easy. Not simply the easiest of the available options, but actually easy. Many games don’t seem to understand this distinction, though, and strive to provide a challenge even on Easy mode, a decision which discourages me, a moderately experienced gamer. Imagine what it would do to someone who has picked up Red Alert 3 as their first-ever RTS game.

    When I pick Easy mode, I want to walk through the game environment enjoying the scenery, storyline, and gameplay while being occasionally assaulted by bunny rabbits and butterflies. If game developers are so skillful that they truly believe in the Easy settings currently available, then perhaps they should have their parents play-test the games. Or perhaps Easy mode should be supplemented with an even lower ‘pansy’ mode. Surely someone else here enjoyed playing through Ninja Gaiden on ‘Ninja Dog’ difficulty.

  43. Maiven7 says:

    Eric, games in the old school didn’t need the kind of tutorials you see in today’s releases. Going as far back as Pong, you were dealing with a couple of pieces of information (Paddle and Ball positions) and a single plane of control to adjust one of them in an effort to affect another.

    I’ve gone out of my way here to overcomplicate one of histories easiest games to play.

    Games have evolved in complexity, thus increasing their learning curve and decreasing accessibility to someone who has never picked up a controller before. The fact that Tutorials, Help Screens and Quick Reference Cards have become so relevant as to be expected parts of the game package is testament to that.

    You use your little brothers attempts to learn current games, and that presents an interesting caveat: Children learn faster, in no small part because they haven’t already learned how to do something else. There’s no muscle memory to overcome.

    Shamus addresses games as trial-and-error learning experiences. My question would be, what games is he learning to play from and what are his alternatives, if any? Does he have any preconceptions about what makes a game fun and/or challenging in the first place? What are his preconceived notions about success and failure, and how does that affect his attitude towards the games he’s playing?

    Your mileage may vary. This isn’t a binary question…games are not ‘fun’ or ‘unfun’, since fun is an entirely subjective value based on experience.

    You mentioned skateboarding, and breaking an arm. What we’re contemplating is, do you have to have broken your arm to learn how to skateboard?

    There is a social undercurrent in gaming circles that if you aren’t, to spring off that example, diving straight into skateboarding with the latest board on the hardest ramps doing the tightest tricks…then you aren’t really skating at all.

    Punitive setbacks are viable, and often necessary to provide throttle-and-brake to a player’s progress. The problem is that current generation AAA Must-Have Super-Games provide a lot of brake and rely on selling to players who have a lot of their own throttle already.

    It’s a question of balance and proportion, leading to what makes a game not just good, but good for anyone who wants to lay down fifty bucks and hours of time on a nearly irrevocable investment in something they feel should be WORTH that investment.

    I don’t think anyone here is advocating the utter abolishment of failure penalties. We are advocating the use of smoother learning curves and proportional punishments.

  44. Krellen says:

    I remember a game from back in 1990 called Loom, a LucasArts game before LucasArts lost its soul. It was a wonderful romp whose most important aspect was you could not die. Solving the puzzles was still rewarding – perhaps even more so because of how easy it was to try a different path to solving it. I always thought there should be more games like that; unfortunately, for the past twenty years the number of gamers that enjoy that sort of game (the so-called “casual gamers”) haven’t been around.

    But they’re here now. It’s time to go back.

    To answer the question, I hate punishment. I nearly beat God of War on the highest difficulty (the one that is basically “Impossible”), but could not ever manage to finish off Ares at the end. But I tried, because when I failed, I just went back to the beginning of the fight. If I would have had to replay through the whole thing, I would have quit a lot sooner. I also eventually beat Gears of War (on “Casual”) after trying for about three hours to finish the end boss, but I nearly did quit (until I found out he was the end boss) and I felt no accomplishment – only relief that it was finally over. I’m not sure I want to go through that again on a higher difficulty, which is how I usually play these games.

    EDIT: Ben has said more clearly what I was saying about Gears; I was playing on “Easy” – it shouldn’t have taken me three hours to beat a boss, especially since I stumbled on the right strategy the first time I tried.

  45. Eric says:

    Disregard the last comment. well what would you prefer that would be smoother and proportional? With skateboarding games you crash, and don’t get the point’s for the trick, but you start where you crashed, In POP you jump over a chasm, you missed the ledge, you teleport to where you jumped from, that just feels like it undermines any sort of accomplishment you would get for getting across the chasm if the possibility of death was there. That slightly breaks immersion to me. In the end it just comes down to if the game developers make a good checkpoint system.

    I also want to point out that game developers are also gamers who have been gaming since they were kids.

  46. Shamus says:

    Eric: I kept thinking of your “classically trained” shirt while I was making this. (The NES part made me think of that, actually.)

    What I understand from what your saying, is that you do need some level of punishment (or threat of punishment) to make an accomplishment feel worthwhile. Obviously this goes against my grain so I don’t really understand it. But I’m curious how it works for you. Assuming you’ve played the new PoP, how would you redesign the failure mode in the game to be more to your liking? Fewer checkpoints? Or would just making the game harder (but with the same checkpoint system) do it for you? Would making the “Elika has saved you” animation much longer (like the previously mentioned Too Human) make it better or worse?

  47. matt says:

    @Krellen,

    Unrelated to the topic at hand, in GoW, I fought my way all the way to Ares in God mode as well, and, after ~40 tries, gave up. It was weird that it ended like that, becasue by that time, the normal enemies couldn’t land a hit on me, so I was always at full health, but I was slaughtered by Ares every time. Not too long after, I plays Gears of War, and couldn’t beat RAAM on casual, took me a long time to kill him, and I didn’t feel satisfied that he was dead, but that I could go to sleep. I still haven’t beaten him on Insane, and I empty my longshot into his face every time. I guess, like you, I’m the king of getting to the final boss and never having enough luck to quite kill him.

    Back to the discussion on hand, I think maybe the best solution to the problem of difficulty is to have a variety of sliders of difficulty, so you can customize things to your liking, maybe you don’t like grenades, so you totally remove them, maybe you relish in the combat, but the puzzles are too complex for your liking, etc. It would be a fine day when ten people can play the same game and see ten different endings, not just based on their actions, but also on their playstyles. God, that game would be 20 GB easily. Lol, devs start selling games as terrabyte drives you just connect to your computer instead of CD’s or DVD’s.

  48. trousercuit says:

    I don’t know if you made this point, Shamus (the Toob is blocked here), but I just had an interesting thought. How broken-headed is it for a game to punish you by *making you play it more*?

    What if it’s not really punishment? In that case it’s a useless mechanic. What if it’s a viable punishment? That means the game is either not enjoyable or has ceased to be so. Any way you look at it, replay-as-punishment is a stinking wad of FAIL. Well, assuming that “the player enjoys this” is one of your design objectives…

  49. Martin says:

    Highlights one of the many reasons why COD World At War sucks. If you don’t do their level just as they want you to, especially during the Russian ones, you’re going to die and have to do it over and over again until you get it right.

    and can we stop using the WIN/FAIL thing now? Please?

  50. guy says:

    @Trousercuit

    Well, even the most fun thing can get annoying and repeditive 20 times in a row, especially the parts which weren’t exceptionally fun to begin with except by novelty.

  51. Cat Skyfire says:

    A long time ago, I tried the Lion King on my SNES. Fun. But…not easy for me. And then came the bad part.
    You got X number of lives. And if you used 3 of them to get past one part of a level…well, you only have, say, 2 left. And when you died, you were back at the beginning of the whole freaking game.

    If easy failure is a possibility (one wrong jump and you plummet to your death), then it should be easy to get back to where you were.

    Another example was the Pirates of the Caribbean game that came out for PS2. In one section, you fight a bunch of guards, and defeat a boss level person. Great, no problem. Then you try to run from a dragon, and if you fail (which is as easy as not clicking at the exact right moment)…you’re back to the beginning of the level. Not the dragon, but clear to the first pointless guard. And you have to go through it all over again.

    I did it three times then quit. :)

  52. JT says:

    Krellen:

    I also eventually beat Gears of War (on “Casual”) after trying for about three hours to finish the end boss, but I nearly did quit (until I found out he was the end boss) and I felt no accomplishment – only relief that it was finally over.

    matt:

    Not too long after, I plays Gears of War, and couldn't beat RAAM on casual, took me a long time to kill him, and I didn't feel satisfied that he was dead, but that I could go to sleep.

    I’m usually one to finish what I start, but these make me completely satisfied with my decision to give up before Act 3 (on Casual), because I found that I was already feeling like all I wanted was relief – positive progress didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted it to stop.

  53. Haxot says:

    That was freaking amazing.
    Well done Shamus!

  54. Longinus says:

    Some pretty solid points. I used to feel like that a lot when I took up gaming… A video worth watching Shamus

  55. theonlymegumegu says:

    I really liked that. I thought some of those points were really interesting and compelling. Also, I’ve really been looking forward to the new PoP (been a big fan all along), though the thing I am least looking forward to is the Prince’s dialogue. From the snippits I’ve heard, he sounds a lil’… anachronistic, let’s say. But the game sounds like the run and jump platforming fu that I love.

  56. Kobyov says:

    Personally I couldn’t stand the way this worked. To me, if there is no way to fail there is no value in succeeding. I don’t need the punishment of being forced to go way back, but there needs to be something. I tend to get quite attached to the characters, so watching them die is enough for me. I think the way Drake’s Fortune (PS3) did the platforming sections was a closer fit for me. You are perfectly capable of falling to your death, and that generally puts you right back at the start of the obstacle. The part that it does right is if a gap can be jumped, and you push the character in that direction, he will reach out his arm – if the arm is out and you jump you will reach the edge. No blind leaps of faith, no slightly off aim hurtling you to your death. It worked well enough that my wife (complete non-gamer) was able to play and enjoy it. Well, until they ruined everything with explicit (press o or this falling rock will crush you) and implicit (ledge is crumbling, jump now or die) quicktime events.

    Please note: I’m praising a mechanic used in the game, not the game itself. This is not the game for introducing newcomers to gaming, more what tomb raider always promised and never quite delivered.

  57. Rustybadger says:

    Shamus, you should give Avid FreeDV a try. It was given away by Avid a few years ago, as a scaled-down version of their commercial product (a la Premiere Elements, except for frees). It’s disco’d now, but I stuck a copy here, along with the serial key. And no, it’s NOT pirated, this is a legitimate, free software. Use it and enjoy, or not. But it’s kilometres better than Movie Maker!

    In spite of your limitations in terms of software, I enjoyed your video. Well done!

  58. Factoid says:

    My default position has always been that games use “restart the level” type punishment as a way to artificially increase game length. It works for me in some instances (flight-sim games for example), but most of the time its just annoying.

    EDIT: Oh…and console gamers have it EASY even in the current generation compared to the PC games I grew up with. I started gaming on Atari 2600 and NES, but I largely grew up with PC gaming. I remember when PC games came with keyboard overlays to explain the controls. It was not at all uncommon to learn something like 60 or 70 buttons for a single game.

    I still agree with the thesis that punitive mechanics put off potential gamers…but a certain amount of “manning-up” will still have to occur in order to get the hang of modern console controllers.

  59. Ingvar says:

    One of the things I found refreshing with GTA:SA (as you used some footage from that in the video) is that one thing it did was “drive skip” and “checkpointed missions” (well, some missions were checkpointed, so if you get far enough into the mission, you start from further ahead, if you fail). Took some of the tedium of redoing a long mission when you just happened to fail at one thing towards the very end.

    Based on that, I suspect I may well like the new PoP too, though I really need to buy a next-gen console before taht, since I’m left with a GameCube and a PS2 being the most modern I have and now that I am fairly sure what continent I’ll be living on for the foreseeable future, investing in a new console doesn’t look completely stupid (curse you, region coding).

  60. Ive disagreed with you in the past concerning punishing failures. I haven’t necessarily said so, mostly I chalked it up to differing opinion.

    You’re video and what you had to say I think explained your position better, and allowed me to understand what you had to say better. This allows me to finally agree with you.

    This doesn’t change my mind, and please allow me to explain within my own game experience. As I’ve mentioned the few times I’ve responded, my addiction of choice is MMO’s. In WoW there is an Ogri’la quest that has the player possess a demon. Using that demons skills and abilities you are expected to defeat another demon, who you then possess to find different skills and abilities. This continues for a short while before you are able to beat the big bad and complete the quest. It requires a special item that you have to build by collecting 5 other items. These items are granted after completing a quest you can only do once per day. And the item you are creating cannot be duplicated.

    So if you fail, you have to wait another 5 days at most to even try again, and of course you have to start the whole thing off with the first demon every time. Learning how to use the 2nd demon to fight the 3rd demon took me months. Partly because I still didn’t even have the first demon down to an exact science.

    Within that scope I see what you are saying. It was a pain in the ass, and my biggest complaint was that I had to wait another 5 days before I could try again, and by then I’d forgotten what I did wrong. I’d like to have completed it for the quest and the achievement, but honestly I expect I’ll never go back.

    Where I still disagree is with the death penalties. In my mind, and this is of course my opinion, learning how to play your character effectively at high level is important to being able to take part in the group content. If someone cannot reliably keep themselves alive in solo content, I do not want to have to rely on them keeping me alive in group content. Horribly elitist though it is, the solo game and the group game are very different, and the distinction is what makes Hard core raid guilds so intense/stressful/demanding.

    The death penalty in EQ is loss of hard earned experience. It is considered fairly punishing by most standards. But what it does is help enforce that people playing the game will not reach the high levels without having learned how to play. It seems harsh, especially by potentially not allowing the player to ever see high end content. But the alternative in WoW, where the death penalty is quite tame, is brand knew players at lvl 80 who have still not learned how to play their class, or their role in a group. This is a frustration for everyone else who is relying upon that person doing their job, and when the job cannot be performed properly 25 people can be punished instead of just that one.

    I feel this is a failing of the game. And while it might seem that I am pro punishment, I am actually simply saying that the game puts too much focus on end game and makes it far too easy to get to lvl 80 without ever learning how to play in a group setting.

    The death penalty in EQ was the mechanic that separated the players into those who can and those who haven’t yet. At high levels you could group with random strangers and expect them to know what they are doing, yet in WoW the Pick up Group is perhaps the most risky move anyone can make. And while I think a better mechanic for that purpose could be put in place, I miss the difficulty that EQ offered due to the abundance of class ignorance found at a level where people really should know the most basic of things.

    But again I’m talking about MMO’s, group games by nature, and you’re game review here is about a single player game. The expectations vary greatly due to that little difference. In any case I’ve hopefully accurately expressed my view, and I hope I haven’t taken too much away from your video.

    Nice video by the way, and great point, I hope the industry listens.

  61. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Yes,well,you only touch platformers and shooters here,which only need reflexes.Turn based strategies arent that hard also,since you need only a good brain to memorize all the tactics and charts.But the real time strategy is where it hits the fan.Seriously,the learning curve for these attrocities is steeper than the launch angle of a rocket.And thats just in single player,which is waaaaaaay easier than multiplayer.

    What is needed,though,is the existance of numerous difficulties.5 sounds like the optimum to me.

  62. Simplex says:

    Nice video. I finished PoP and I liked that the difficulty was not punishing and that Elika was there to save you. Her hand reaching yours was in a way a ‘game over’ screen and the game is not so blatantly easy as some claim. There are some long ‘acrobatic’ sequences which are hard to complete (especially wallrunning – green plates) and if you fail in the middle of this long sequence you have to start from the beginning. Some sequences took me a dozen tries to complete.

    By the way, has anyone found it difficult to kill Metal Gear – final boss in PC port of Metal Gear Solid? I played on normal difficulty and found it absolutely friggin’ impossible to kill the bastard. I tried for about three or four hours hours, maybe more, I died hundreds of times and nothing. I finally used a god mode cheat to kill Metal Gear because I wanted to see the ending.
    I did not have much trouble with going through the game and with earlier bosses, but the last one proved to be impossible to kill. Is it just me?

  63. Shamus says:

    Daemian Lucifer: Interesting point. Since there is often at LEAST an order of magnitude of difference between an experienced player and a newbie, it would seem like three difficulty levels can’t really be enough to cover the whole spectrum.

  64. Shamus says:

    Addendum: This is my favorite comment thread. Reading through the various comments has given me enough topics to make ten videos. Now if only I didn’t need to sleep…

  65. LintMan says:

    Your video is spot-on, Shamus. I’ve come to loathe the whole “Do It Again, Stupid” thing, as you’ve termed it. I’ve played through so many punishing, unforgiving games over the years that forced you to replay entire, long, levels if you fail, that I’m absolutely allergic to that gameplay style now – it has negative fun for me if I have to repeatedly reattempt the same actions in a game.

    The typical gamer response to this is “u suk learn to play n00b”. Yeah, maybe with hours of non-fun practice, I’d get better at those games, but why should I bother? I have limited time to play games and I’d much rather spend it having fun rather than frustration. I’m a staunch advocate for the availability of cheat codes for the same reason.

    I scrupulously avoid platformers for this reason, but I got one of the PoP games as a box-in with a video card a long while back and gave it a shot. 15 minutes later, I uninstalled it and haven’t given the series a second thought since. Perhaps I might like this latest PoP, though.

  66. Shamus says:

    Simplex: Thanks for the heads up! Fixed.

  67. Simplex says:

    No problem, glad I could help :)

    Another nitpick – I think that the video of Prince of Persia playthrough has an incorrect aspect ration – depending on your point of view it is either stretched horizontally or squashed vertically. Perhaps I am wrong, but this is the feeling I got when I watched it.

    I hope videos such as this one will follow. Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of a new Yahtzee (I refer to popularity, not style :) ).

  68. kat says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s interesting you should, because despite having been exposed to computer and console gaming all my life, living with two avid gamers, and being generally a geeky kind of gal… I don’t play. I remember enjoying Mario as a kid, but attempts to get me playing Doom or Halo or Battlefield or any number of Xbox games have failed miserably (though in the case of Doom, the whole thing was probably a wash starting from me asking where the “negotiate” button was.) My reflexes are crap, and despite people assuring me that all I need is practice, I never could figure out why I was putting in all that work for something that was supposed to be fun.

    And thus I was stuck with puzzle games, Civilization IV, and stuff which was (as my husband tactfully put it) a bit below my age group.

    Playing with a friend’s WII this summer was the first hint I had that this wasn’t something inbuilt. I was still pretty crappy at it, mind you, but I *enjoyed* myself. It felt like something natural, not some obscure set of rules I was forcing myself to learn for reasons I was already forgetting.

    And this video is causing me to re-evaluate even more. It’s true I always found the learning curve on games frustrating, doubly so since there was usually an impatient male hanging over my shoulder going “Nonono, it’s very simple! Let me just show you!” But I just assumed that… well, that this was how it was. I may need to check Prince of Persia out and see how I do with it.

  69. UtopiaV1 says:

    Huh, as a long time gamer I’ve never really thought of difficulty like that before. Kudos on the video Shamus, I think you did a great job despite the fact that Windows Movie Maker isn’t the perfect bit of kit (I should know, I’ve made a couple of sub-standard videos before and have had massive problems with audio sync, video formatting etc). But now you mention it, I have purposely avoided games with a ridiculous difficulty or learning curve (Ninja Gaiden, Final Fantasy series, most MMORPG’s). They seem to expect you to be a veteran of that series or at least devote hours and hours of real-life time to get the hang of the controls, game play, even the plot, time which I sadly do not have.

    However, I’ve always been a bit of a whizz at strategy games, and it seems to be the only genre where players are not constantly punished and treated like idiots if you make a mistake. There are a few exceptions (I remember Red Alert 1 being very punishing if you were unfamiliar with C&C style RTS, or should I say Dark Reign-style seeing as though that came first?), but for the most part, modern day RTS’s are very accommodating to new players, offering infinite saves, varying difficulty levels, and even let you go so far as to modify AI style to provide an adequate challenge to your particular strategy (C&C3, while not the perfect RTS, did have quite a few AI customisation options). One feature which is nearly always present, and the main reason why this genre is so accommodating, is the ability to build more units if your current ones die (except for Ground Control, Sudden Strike etc) with little penalty.

    This then raises a question – Why is it that this genre still remains a hardcore gamers refuge, and a place where no new gamers dare venture? There have been many attempts to bring this particular game to mainstream gamer audiences (eg, Advance Wars, Red Alert 3 with its TV ads, Pikmin etc), but my non-hardcore gaming friends still leave this type of game well alone, simply referring to it as ‘really geeky’, and then turn back to Halo 3. I understand it’s difficult to get any console gamers to play an RTS for obvious reasons (so few RTS’s on consoles), and that unless you’re a tech-nerd you are unlikely to have a PC that can run the latest RTS’s at full spec, but when you really examine it, RTS games are the ultimate exercise in trial and error and learning. For example, you assault a fort with knights, you lose all your men to burning tar, so you try again with siege engines to break down the wall, or maybe archers to whittle down the defenders. You learn not to attack the gate with foot soldiers until the defenses are down, the dead men are forgotten about, the only punishment is a fraction of your army dead and a bit of money used to buy more soldiers. You’re not forced to start the whole battle again (unless you feel guilty about ordering the men to their deaths :P), and the game continues, whilst still providing a challenge that tests your imagination as well as your cunning.

    Anyway, rant over, it just all seems to bizarre to me, why new gamers can’t see just how enjoyable and easy-to-get-into RTS’s are. If it’s not your idea fun because it’s actually quite dark and macabre with all the killing and warmongering, then that’s fine, it’s obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if the complaint is that it’s too difficult, then point to a mouse and the tutorial level, because this is an under-appreciated genre that deserves an attempt by gamers of all levels of experience and skill.

  70. Robyrt says:

    @UtopiaV1: An RTS can be an organic experience with a gentle learning curve, if you play through the single-player tutorial. Online, it becomes an extremely stressful experience where you are forced to think about several things at once, move the mouse quickly and accurately, and remember the form and function of dozens of different tiny objects as soon as you see them. Plus, there’s a big slippery slope where the first mistake can cost you the game, but you don’t realize it until 30 minutes later your opponent has an overwhelming financial advantage. By the time you get to Supreme Commander and you’re setting up supply lines for your cargo planes, most people just don’t have the time to get past that initial barrier.

  71. refugee says:

    The only two games I have spent any time on have been Myst and Riven. I believe that your idea of non-punitive learning is a big part of why. When you made a mistake, you failed at the task, not at the game, and lost nothing but the time the attempt took. (I’m thinking of the little counting wind-up toy in Riven — I spent a couple of hours playing with that. If I had been penalized even by being set back on the doorstep of the schoolroom, I’d’ve given up after about two attempts.)

    Beautiful scenery and engaging puzzles helped a lot, but if dying every two minutes was a necessary part of the learning curve, I would have washed my hands of Myst before solving even a single puzzle.

    *sigh*

    Of course, for PoP I have to get a console, or maybe just start spending a lot of time over at my nephew’s house…

  72. David W says:

    Wow, this is the first time that I really see what Youtube is for, besides copyright infringement. Mixing together the video examples and metaphors with the argument just works better as a video than screenshots interspersed with an essay. I think the best example of this was your description of the controller progression, where it was obvious visually how much simpler an arcade or NES was than a PS3 controller.

    Of course, your standard post probably takes 10-30 minutes, while the video probably takes that long just to write the rough draft, let alone produce, so I can happily accept my free ice cream without complaining that it’s not baked Alaska. Still, I encourage you to do this again sometime.

    On topic – I totally agree! Due to growing up without consoles, I’ve been in a similar boat to Kat above. Strategy games are fun, but only with the Wii do I start to see the attraction of the other genres as well. Jade Empire is an excellent example for me – I really enjoyed watching my roommate play, seeing the awesome story as it progressed. So, one day when his homework load was particularly heavy and I knew I wouldn’t get more story until he finished, I thought I’d give it a try on my own, and the fun evaporated. I had so much more trouble making the game give me the story than he did, that his fun story pinata seemed more like safecracking with a stick. I gave up, and just resigned myself to following his progress. This is the main reason Bioware has gotten so little of my money for their great stories – I can only enjoy them when I have a friend along to take care of the pesky ‘gameplay’ part.

    Of course, an additional hurdle is going to be letting newcomers know which games are good starter games – most of our current review systems have the exact same problem of being aimed at current gamers rather than newcomers. Probably the only effective approach is the ‘hand them the controller’ approach you advocate; this has the handicap of requiring designers to figure out how to please both audiences at once, however.

    I’d be interested in seeing a list or two of people’s takes on good newbie games for various genres on modern hardware.

  73. I don’t normally write in my Journal about stuff other people write in their blogs, but in this case I found it important enough to spread the word around.
    It’s nice too see that Prince Of Persia is doing by default what I prefer to do with all games. And on Twenty Sided is a video review on punishment in games. (snippet from EmSai Journal)
    See Punishment in Games article for the rest of the article.

  74. LexIcon says:

    A note of possible interest: the new game in production, Heavy Rain: the Origami Killer had an interactive demo released to a few gaming magazines.

    In their reviews, it was pointed out the the player character could die during the demo, and the game would take that into account and continue the story, having you play a different person related to the plot!

    Imagine a game like that, where the story doesn’t stop dead when you do.

  75. Taellosse says:

    @ UtopiaV1: I think there’s a sense among many, both gamers and non, that RTS games are complicated. The typical set-up involves having to manage some sort of resource-gathering process, while building a base that consists of defenses and places to produce various units, and at the same time managing a growing army of diverse units and sending them to attack one or more enemy bases and/or meet various other objectives with them. That’s a lot to keep track of, and some people just aren’t good at multi-tasking–and that’s absolutely vital to being any good at an RTS. In that sense, no amount of practice on tutorials is going to allow someone who lacks that ability to become good at the genre–if a person’s mind works in such a way that they can really only pay attention to one thing at a time, and needing to keep track of 3 or more things at once causes them to do badly at all of them, then an RTS is going to be an exercise in frustration no matter how much time is spent on training levels.

    I know I, for one, am only moderately good at that genre, and can’t compete at all well against someone who is truly skilled at such games. I’ve been playing them since the early versions of C&C, Dune, and Warcraft, but I’ve never been able to compete well against a skilled human opponent. These days, I mostly just play the ones that Blizzard puts out, because they write an engaging single-player storyline, and I never take the games online at all.

  76. Angie says:

    I agree with you, absolutely. I’ve been gaming since the eighties and I never got into the skill-and-action games (which I and some of the folks I hung out with, including quite a few designers, called “twitch games”) because even then, they were too hard. I was around when the video arcade was brand new and I didn’t have enough money to feed quarter after quarter after quarter into a machine only to watch my character or space ship or whatever die over and over and over. I didn’t want to have to spend ten bucks in change just to get good enough to make it up a level or two. So after a while I went back to pinball games, and occasionally watched someone playing the video games.

    When the twitch games hit the PC, I avoided them there too. True, once I’d bought a game, money was no longer an object in the learning curve. But I still wasn’t interested in spending hours dying over and over and over while I got good enough to have any fun. Yuck.

    I’ve never owned a cartridge gaming system, since most of what they carried seemed to be the kinds of games I don’t care for. Although I find the Wii interesting and if it weren’t so expensive I’d love to get one. I’m not sure about paying $$$ for a game system I might end up not liking, though. :/

    Your comment about the negative reaction to Prince of Persia from the old-timers is significant, though. Part of the problem is, as you said, that games are created largely to appeal to the old-timer, hard-core gamers, who’ve been doing it for ages. They want ever more difficult challenges, ever harder puzzles, ever more complicated maneuvers. Which is fine, for them. But that’s not the sort of game which attracts a newcomer, especially a newcomer who’s not twelve and jacked up on Mountain Dew. [wry smile]

    It reminds me of when Chris Crawford was working on his Battle of the Bulge game, back in the late eighties. The working title was Patton Kicks Butt (which I think would’ve sold much better than “Patton Vs. Rommel,” which was the title the publisher insisted on) and Chris’s whole purpose was to create a wargame that beginners could enjoy. The whole thing was simplified and streamlined, with symbols which made sense to a newcomer rather than being traditional and familiar to people who’d been wargaming on paper for forty years. There were fewer details (you didn’t have to calculate how much weight your tank was carrying and how long since it’d been maintained before determining how many gallons of fuel it’d take to get you across X number of miles of Y type of terrain, for example) and the whole point was to encourage new players to dip their toes into the genre and have fun.

    Of course when it came out, the old-timer grognards screamed bloody murder about how much it sucked, how it was boring, how it was way too easy and impossible to enjoy. Enough of the newbies had friends who were oldtimers and steered them away from the game that it didn’t sell well, and no other entry-level wargames were ever published, that I’ve heard of. And within a few years, the computer wargame genre had shrunk to some tiny fraction of a percentage, with all the old-timers flailing around wondering why their hobby was dying. [eyeroll]

    My idea of a borderline, almost-too-difficult combat game is the Morrowind/Oblivion series. That’s the only game with real-time combat that I’ve been able to get into. I’ve tried several real-time strategy games, and a number of RPGs with real-time combat (which seems to be all that’s available these days) and was never able to stick with any of them for more than an hour or three. They’re too difficult to get into, even though I have no pride at all when it comes to turning down the difficulty level, if that’s possible. I don’t want to work that hard when I’m playing. If that means I suck, then fine; any developer or publisher who thinks so can do without my money. And I’m not the only one in that group.

    You’ve almost got me to want to try Prince of Persia. :) I don’t know, it’s still a platformer, and I’m awful at those. [cough] But we’ll see.

    Angie

  77. Anaphyis says:

    I havn’t read every comment but I guess they were pretty conclusive. However, there is still one thing I want to emphasize and you pointed out several times before:

    Punitive trial and error gameplay does not only drive away new players.

    I’m currently sick of any type of gaming in general for a number of reasons with punitive gameplay being a major one. I might still have the time as university student but I don’t have the patience anymore because a game has to be one of two things to be enjoyable for me: A test of skill or an interactive story. There were times when I got both in one game, no I get neither.

    You know this paddle with a ball on a string attached to it? You could play that without controls rivaling a space shuttle. Of course you could learn new imaginative tricks and how to use your hands more efficiently. However, these were not necessary to hit the ball with the paddle. After some time, when simply hitting the peddle was not challenging anymore you could add self imposed challenges. Hitting n times in a row, hitting n times in a row under a time limit and so on.
    Now, gaming feels like entering a yoga class and your first instruction is “take your head and stick it up your ass.” So there is lots of trial and error gameplay with endless repetition of segments you already cleared for good just to take that small hurdle somewhere close to the end of the level. And god help you if the designers decide to throw something luck-based or something equally completely out of your hands (*cough* escortmission *cough*) in your path because all the accumulation of skill you did before will be degraded to wasted time and effort.

    And I will not even open that can of worms “Interactive Story.” Fallout 3 and bandwagon jumper Storm of Zehir proved that at least for me, CRPG’s are something of the past, like Space Shooters and Adventures.

  78. Face says:

    When I watched the clip the first game I thought of was the Madden 08 my wife bought me. I tried to sit down and play practice mode and realized that “practice mode” did not mean “tutorial”. The game was made such that you were basically expected to be a veteran of the Madden series in order to understand what the heck is going on.

    I love that my wife wasted $60 on a game I really can’t play.

  79. Matt says:

    This is why I come to this site. Very nicely done video, thank you.

  80. Vendrin says:

    I don’t understand all the hate for Mirror’s Edge tbh. I thought it was a far superior game then PoP.

  81. Nathaniel says:

    DIAS gameplay commits the cardinal sin of an entertainment product: it’s boring. This is one of the main reasons I rarely finish a game: I don’t have the patience to redo a section I know how to do, to get to the bit I don’t. The third or fourth time I have to walk all the way back to the spot I died, I get bored and give up. I play games to be entertained, not to be bored and frustrated. Having to re-do the bit that I failed at is punishment enough.

    Strategy games are different, and can’t really take advantage of this. They have to make you replay the whole level, because you could have messed up early on, but not realized it until much later. Taking back your last move in chess can prevent careless stupidities, but probably won’t change the winner.

  82. Rustybadger says:

    Oh I’m an idiot. Serial is here. Stupid copy/paste didn’t take the second time!

  83. Ariel says:

    i’m somewhat conflicted on this issue, due to the fact i’m not sure that i want gaming to be more accessible. i realize that makes me sound like a total elitist ass, and i guess there’s really no way around that, but i can’t help but think that if more ‘newcomers and oldtimers’ find their way into gaming, the market is going to respond accordingly, with a flood casual games for casual gamers. serious, plot-driven, adult-oriented games are already pushed to the fringe of the gaming community, i’d prefer not to see the selection further diluted by the desires of a new community of dabblers just looking to kick back with another distraction. hell, we already see enough of that with mumorpuger’s – and frankly, i think we can all live without being subjected to single-player games that cater to the fans of ‘world of warcraft’.

  84. It says something about how much time I spend in Adobe Audition and Premiere that I just want to sit down with you, mic you properly, polish the audio, and then tighten your transitions, but I digress.

    The big deal as I see it re the punitive failure issue is this: I want to ask the designer “Do you want me to experience your game?” If they do, they make it easy for me to do so. I can enjoy the experience of the narrative, of the experience itself, and they help me along. If it was good the first time, sure, I can go back and try again with a bit more challenge —

    But by and large, modern designers do NOT want me to experience their game. They want to make it as hard as possible for me to experience and explore their game, because … well, as far as I can tell, like the folks who actively embrace things like calling themselves hardcore and referring to folks like me as carebears, they seem to only get an erection from bragging rights. ONLY from bragging rights. So their entire designs center around creating them, generating opportunities for them, and counting them.

    That would seem to me to be a bad idea. Sales numbers would suggest that I’m right.

  85. andy k says:

    Hey shamus, that was teh awesome. Well done.

    Now I will have to go and buy a console and prince of persia :)

    For the record, since I am predominately a ‘Will’ – as in building sand castles to see how awesome I can make my sand castle – I am not a huge fan of punishments based on failing some objective. In fact this is a sure way to turn me back to a game that doesn’t this, and for me there are too many games to play to waste time being frustrated because I don’t have the natural talent or the time to practice the specific skills required for some ‘challenge’ that the designers are probably using to string out the time of play.

    Interesting issue though; I suggest you may have opened a can of worms…

  86. Alleyoop says:

    Great commentary, Shamus. Ye speaketh to me, the dolt who cannot or won’t manage most combat or action games because I know I’m set up to fail from the beginning. I actually bought PoP, a game I’d never go for, *because* the gameplay was supposedly easier (and also for the absence of DRM!). I’ve tried to get out of a canyon for about a half hour and gave up, however! I think I can do it; I shall try again, because I can quickly. It’s not so harsh that I don’t feel that urge to beat it (or myself), I’ve done so in other games. But making the play accessible to people like me has gained Ubisoft a sale they normally wouldn’t have.

    The Sims2 games are a great example, IMO, of what you’re saying. If you can suffer the load times (the first challenge, ha) you’ll find that the learning curve is quite steep but steady – in fact, just choosing save points are kind of a challenge: do I save now so I don’t lose progress, or do I wait and see how badly I’m going to mess this up so I can reload from my last save point and try again?

    Oh dear, I have just burnt this sim to a crisp because I didn’t place a smoke detector and planting a barbeque in the livingroom isn’t wise, I shan’t do that in the future.

    Crud, that sim is a goner since I had them use a reward object without the proper aspiration level…and ghosts can scare low-motived sims to death. I have learned.

    Maids and gardeners will relieve my sims of possessions if I don’t have enough in the bank to pay them. Repo men will do the same if I neglect the bills. Good to know.

    Sims can unexpectedly have twins or become impregnated by aliens (sometimes with twins) when they’re unexpectedly abducted while stargazing. Huh!

    Sims don’t climb, so I will need to utilize stairs. Noted. Eight sims need more than one toilet. Noted in pen!

    Apparently, sims cannot get out of a pool unless a ladder is provided. Protip: ghosts of drowned sims leave puddles everywhere when they haunt. All other family members will mourn this sim and do little else you need them to do, like clean up puddles, until they’re done wailing. Puddles create weeds and kill the environment score. The Headmaster hates mess so the tour score tanked, the hot dogs were burnt so the food score tanked, and he hated my sims so the schmooze score tanked, and thus he refused the simkids entry to private school, which gave my Knowledge simparent a nervous breakdown, so he cannot now get a promotion at work the next day since he won’t acquire the needed skill, because he’s in such a bad mood…

    Of course the Sims2 is a totally different game genre, but one part of its appeal is that while the learning curve is steep, it is also incremental and mostly intuitive. There are opportunities after playing a while that make you feel like a fricken genius for remembering or exploiting gameplay aspects to ace formerly failure-prone situations and stop pointlessly debilitating or killing your sims – who don’t help much with their dopey AI and seemingly programmed death wishery.

    Success is assured after sticking with it for a short time, in other words, and the successes are large and small and various and plentiful. I’ve played it for years and there are still gameplay aspects I haven’t tackled – they’re like that canyon I’m stuck in with PoP: I’ll learn my way out one of these days, to beat the game challenge but also to reap that fricken genius feeling reward, which is ultimately why I play any game.

  87. Rustybadger says:

    Oh fer pity’s sake! My html-fu is weak today.

    This is the serial key for Avid Free. Now I am going to sleep, which I obviously should have done about 6 hours ago!

  88. Feb says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of comments. I skimmed ’em, I swear, so there shouldn’t be too much repetition here. Except to echo those who congratulate Shamus on putting together a good video, with interesting ideas presented clearly.

    I have been straddling the line between ‘casual’ and ‘gamer’ for about 20 years now. I have a 360 and a Wii hooked up, a PS2 under the cabinet, and a Sega Genesis and N64 in boxes. Someday I’ll have quite the media room. But the phenomenon Shamus describes is exactly why so many games have gone unfinished.

    For example, I got stuck on a boss battle in Kingdom Hearts 2, and haven’t been back to the game. I was into the story, the characters, the setting, the mechanics of the game… I even sort of liked the Gummi Ship I built. But after a good ten or twelve attempts at this same stupid battle in Halloween Town, I realized that two things had happened:

    1) It stopped being fun. The game had stopped being a challenge, and turned into a chore. Now, it joined all the other tasks on my “to-do” list, many of which were likely to be less time-consuming and tedious.

    2) It felt as though my failure was beyond my control. As far as I could tell, I was going back into the scenario time and time again, but there was nothing about my gameplay that I could change or fix. There was nothing more I could learn from replaying the battle. No piece of ground on which to stand to get a good shot or avoid the enemy; no tactic I could use that I hadn’t already tried; no discernable secret of the enemy’s weakness; no special trick, secret lever, or hidden power-up.

    I, the player, had become disconnected from the fundamental process of playing the game, win or lose, in order to learn how to better play the game. To me, that’s what kills computer games. In fact, it might be the thing that separates good games (of any kind) from bad ones.

    Losing (or, to be technical and allow for one-player games, not-winning) is a fair price to pay for being unschooled, unskilled, or inept — but only if there is some value to be derived from the act of losing. Something you can take away from the experience that might help you lose less, and play better, in the future, if you care to apply what you’ve learned.

    And I believe this disconnect is the same thing Shamus is talking about, because it keeps new people from becoming gamers. As he says, I’m a grownup now and I have stuff to do. And on those rare weekends or vacations when I truly do have a spare few hours, I don’t want to spend them banging my head against a wall.

  89. Mark says:

    Excellent video! I really enjoyed this. I’ve been watching some video game related documentaries lately, but they mostly focus on the people playing the games. I like the way your video focuses on the details of actual gaming and disecting what it is that makes it fun or not fun.

    I just ordered a PS3 and some games, but it looks like the system will get here before the games, so I might just go out and buy Prince of Persia based on what I’ve seen in this video… so thanks!

  90. Deltaway says:

    Let me be the first to congratulate you on your slashdot.org appearance!

    *Ahem* Congratulations! Now prime your servers for the flood.

  91. Michael says:

    When it comes to difficulty levels, a game I worked on last year had 5… Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard. With Bronze, Silver, or Gold trophies for completing each, depending on how well you did! :)

  92. Noumenon says:

    When I watched the clip the first game I thought of was the Madden 08 my wife bought me. I tried to sit down and play practice mode and realized that “practice mode” did not mean “tutorial”. The game was made such that you were basically expected to be a veteran of the Madden series in order to understand what the heck is going on.

    My friend has this for the PS3 and you’ve got it all wrong — it’s really an exemplar of learning tools for the new gamer. First, there’s the Virtual Trainer, which breaks the game down to the very, very basics. Just you and two blockers, and it tells you which dodge button to use. This matches Shamus’ conception perfectly because instead of losing yards when you fail, and then having to punt and endure a whole drive to get the ball back, you reset immediately when you get tackled to try again. But there’s learning satisfaction too as you have to get through 8 out of 10 tries to get to the next level of the Trainer.

    Second, there is a practice mode (don’t know what it’s called) where you can actually run the same play over, and over, and over. Instant reset. With instant replay, no less. You can try, fail, see why you failed, try something different. This is especially important for a game like football where every play is different. You have to run the same play multiple times before you see that sometimes, you are losing it because a blocker breaks free, and sometimes it is because you used the stiff arm instead of the back pedal.

    This game could have been an even better example of what Shamus is talking about, because football is a game where without knowing the plays and knowing how to read a field, you can be just totally “I push the forward stick” and not learn at all.

  93. Dix says:

    So wait, you were going to do lots of these… and then couldn’t because of other draws on your time?

    Remind me of what those draws on your time were, because clearly they need to be eliminated or handled by your loyal, loving minions.

    MOAR.

    Now I run off to add the new PofP to my want list, having never played a PofP before, solely so I can try to get my wife to play it.

  94. Dan says:

    Takes a long time to make his point. I think it should have been a 5 minute video. Also seems to ignore the existence of casual games and talks as if ALL games have the punitive restart problem when it really applies to specific types of games.

  95. Mavis says:

    That was good, well done and a valid point. My experience of dating non gamers is pretty much that – simply overwhelming and to much going on.

    What about Braid however for a similar design philosiphy? Since that actually use the idea of rewinding time (and thus getting another go wihtout a break) as core game play? The look is more cartoony but the theme is still adult (and a simplified look is going to make it easier for a non gamer to handle what is going on).

  96. godhammer says:

    very nice video article. well thought out and presented. I thought that Shadow of the Colossus had a really great punitive system. You only died if you really screwed up (e.g. fell from too far a height or got stepped on), but your health would slowly recharge otherwise…so there’s a slight penalty which involves waiting but not repetition. And at the same time, you’re very aware of the possibility of character death which heightens your psychological investment in the game.

  97. hikari says:

    OK, now I want to go and buy a copy of Prince of Persia. A game when I can completely suck and yet still complete the damn thing eventually is very appealing.

  98. Zaxares says:

    Cool video, Shamus. I have to say that you don’t sound ANYTHING like how I expected you’d sound like based on your picture though. ;)

    But as to the question of excessive punishment for failure in games… I think it actually depends on the type of game, and more importantly, what is it about the game’s experience that players will take away as a reward. In games like Full Throttle and Planescape: Torment, where it was impossible (or in the case of PS:T, nearly impossible) to die, the reward came from watching the story unfold, interacting with interesting and unique characters, and trying all kinds of weird shit just to see what happens. Overcoming a difficult game was not the primary challenge, and thus it was perfectly acceptable to have little to no punishment for doing something wrong.

    It’s a different story for games like Soul-Caliber, Raiden or even Guitar Hero. Here, the enjoyment from the game comes from overcoming a difficult challenge. If there was no penalty for failure, people could probably learn far too quickly and plow their way through their game in an afternoon. Try justifying a $50 game for a few hours of fun to your average consumer! Excessive difficulty, in this case, is needed to provide the gamer with a sense of value for their purchase.

    All in all though, I agree that a mixture of the two, and variable difficulty settings in games, is needed to appeal to a wide variety of gamers. (And cheat codes. It’s not a SIN to use cheat codes in a single-player game! Developers, TAKE NOTE!) As you’ve pointed out, most game developers focus too much on trying to sell to their core audience of veteran gamers, and thus miss out on attracting new gamers to the fold. Games need to be simple to learn, yet hard to master. (If your game is not going to be a casual one to complete in the course of an afternoon.)

    I do sometimes feel nostalgic for the good old days of the NES though, when one didn’t even need to read the instruction manual and just figure out how to play the game by mashing on the few buttons available to you. *sigh*

  99. tanst says:

    The video raises a good point, but I think the whole ‘punishment for failure’ issue is very dependent on the genre of the game. In platformers like PoP, where there usually is only one way to go through a level, it’s a good mechanic, but thats only because the game is totally linear.
    If every time you start a level you have to run up the wall EXACTLY here, jump into THAT ledge, then climb exactly THAT rope etc.. it will naturally be frustrating to redo it all for the Nth time because you slipped somewhere 10 minutes later. There, plopping you back into the world just before that missed jump is the right thing to do.

    In more open games however, I think it really is a good idea to set you back a bit after failing. In GTA for example, there are so many different ways to do most missions. If you tried one of the harder ways first (run in, no armor, guns blazing) and failed, should the game just respawn you a little way back, with the same poorly prepared state? Then you’d just rush right back in, instead of maybe thinking, “maybe I need to try another way to do this”. Really, failing a mission and driving back to it in GTA never felt like punishment to me, because I’d always use that time to prepare myself better, think up of different ways to win, (and run over pedestrians…).

    Prey was an FPS with the you-cant-die system, and I noticed that after playing for a bit, I was actually playing much worse than I usually do in other shooters. The reason was, dying didn’t feel like failing anymore, since I’d be back 10 seconds later to the same spot, so why bother dodging and strafing?
    By comparison, the quicksave/load system in almost all other shooters does pretty much the same thing for time saving, but it does feel like you failed every time you use it, and the most important thing – you don’t HAVE to use it if you don’t want to.

    And think about survival horror games like Silent Hill. A major part of the scare factor is the scarcity of save points. If you didn’t know that you’d have to fight your way through half of that hospital AGAIN each time you died, the game would lose much of its scariness, and you’d play much more recklessly than the designers intended.

  100. DaveMc says:

    Re: the name of the video (or, I hope, the video *series*): How about continuing the “Stolen” theme, a la Stolen Pixels? Something like Stolen Frames, or Stolen Bitstreams, something like that? The video seems analogous to Stolen Pixels, except that rather than “stealing” screen shots, you’re “stealing” gameplay video. I’m assuming you’ve already thought about this kind of name, so I’m really just voting for it.

  101. Icipher says:

    Excellent video. For all casual gamers feeling the same, I can also recommend Metal Gear Solid 4 in the easiest difficulty setting. You’ll get an awesome and complex (if a bit over-the-top) story, great cinematic cutscenes and still rewarding shooter gameplay. The great thing about MGS4 is that the gameplay is complex and makes use of all 400-something controller buttons, yet the basic gameplay in lower difficulty settings is quite easy to handle.

  102. Matt says:

    And this is why games such as the Unreal series are fantastic for newcomers.. when you die, who cares? In a single match you die 20, 30 times to start with.. this is what makes it FUN! Coupled with nice ragdoll physics, the death sequence becomes a part of the game, and people learn to enjoy it.

    I recently introduced my sister to UT04 (she’s 16 and has never played a FPS game in her life) and within seconds she was playing it and enjoying the fact that she was dying.

    But still.. I agree with all your points, bar the one where you say that being put ‘back to life’ moments before you died is ‘innovative’ – it isn’t. Innovative means new, ahead of the times, different. Having a checkpoint moments before a hard section isn’t innovative… hell even Deadspace has those!

    Final point: introducing potential gamers to the scene is a great idea, I’m just not sure that letting them ‘die’ and get back playing again without /any/ type of punishment is a good idea, certainly not ‘innovative’.

    Entertaining review no less – keep ’em coming!

  103. DM T. says:

    I really enjoyed the video and I agree with it 100%
    Is the next video going to criticize “Save Stations VS. Save button” ?

    (I just hate games with Save Stations instead of just pressing save and quitting)

  104. Yontan says:

    I enjoyed that, a lovely way to finish 2008. have to say, I’m a PC gamer and I find playing any consoles a chore, although I have to some extent grown up on friends consoles I don’t have the skill level to walk into a new console game and play amazing.

    Have you tried normal non-video podcasting? I think you’d suit it better (what with there being more time to talk) and as much as i enjoyed the images and video clips, I would have rather heard your cut-out paragraphs and jokes. I know there’d be a market for the ramblings of Shamus Young audio style.

  105. Name says:

    A game with training wheels. Really, you think we need more of those? I can only hope nobody will ever listen to you.

  106. somebody says:

    So if I completely suck at the game while still being able to finish it, where exactly is the challenge? You don’t (or you shouldn’t) play games just to run around and look at things, you’re supposed to deal with some challenges. In this case, you’re supposed to not die.

    “Do you need a game to punish you for failure in order to enjoy victory?”
    Of course. Why would I want to play a game that’s not challenging?
    Otherwise it’s just too much “hey, you can either play through the whole thing and prove you’re awesome or you can run to the finish line which is right over there”.

  107. Shamus says:

    Somebody: Like I said, you DO have to overcome challenges. You can’t get through the game if you suck. By the end, you will have learned to play. The difference is that you will not have spent hours and hours being punished.

    Now the question is: How much punishment do you need? If you could re-design PoP, what would you change to make it more to your liking?

  108. Niklas says:

    Shamus, you’ve just got slashdotted.
    http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/12/30/0346216

    Oh, and concerning your question i really don’t think games have to be punitive to be fun. I mostly play strategy games and RPGs (Which I sadly have a hard time to relate to actual roleplaying most of the time) for the immersion and story more than the actual challenge to overcome them.

  109. Hawk says:

    Sold. You’ve hit on the main reason I’ve never really warmed to most platform games: the failure penalty is too high.

    At the moment, I’m playing a lot of shooters (and shooter-like games), and just finished Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and have started CoD4 (I know, I’m behind the times, but hey: used games are cheap!). I’m liking CoD4 much better, and I realized while playing yesterday that a big part of it was due to the much more frequent “checkpoints” in the game. When I die, I have to back up a bit, but not a significant amount, and I’m certainly not having to start an entire mission over.

    Perhaps one of the adjustable difficulty settings of a game like a FPS (that I believe would be very difficult to design for a no-penalty learning curve, since death is still sort of a penalty) should be how often you can set save points — say every 10 seconds or so in “casual” mode (need to stay away from the terms “noob” or “novice” or “beginner” to attract novices, even if they are) all the way up to no save points at all in “hardcore” mode.

    An alternative might be to steal from PnP games, and perhaps impose some sort of temporary penalty for failure instead of backing the player up some distance. You can immediately restart, but have a penalty on aiming or hitting that lasts for a minute, for example — so you can play on, or sit and wait for a minute, if you prefer. There is still a small “learning” penalty, but it is a different one than taking away your progress in the game — you keep that, but it gets a bit harder to progress for a short period.

    It can’t be too severe, though — the level loss penalty in D&D for death/raise is widely regarded as too severe, as the player loses all of that advancement he worked so hard to gain. Which is why, for video games which can track time, I’d favor a time-based performance penalty.

  110. Joshua says:

    As far as the discussion of save points, or being able to go right back to the sequence, save points are not enough. I’ve played games where the sequence is right after the save point(or within a couple of minutes), but the frustration is still there because you’re doing the same thing over and over again. My most recent experience with this was playing Metroid:Fusion on the GBA and fighting Nightmare after a save point.

    One important question to ask is: If you got through a difficult sequence of the game, do you feel satisfaction of overcoming a challenge or just RELIEF?

    If the game challenged me to become a better player, and afterwards my skills allow me to take similar situations with ease, then I feel pretty cool. If it was just a matter of being 100% on with hitting every button at the right moment and hoping to get very lucky so that every little thing goes your way, then that’s NOT fun, and tends to result in just quitting the game and going on to the next one.

  111. retrogaming says:

    Interesting video, the basketball analogy was rather clever. I have the feeling though, that you would love Prince of Persia even if there was some standard “punishment”, like being sent back to the last save point. Given your enthusiastic closing comments, that just seems to be a reason among many why you love it and why others surely would too.

    What matters most for non-hardcore gamers is the first contact I think, I’m not sure the punishment is systematically what deters them to get into a game. But if it doesn’t quickly spark interest when they have the controller in hands, you’ll have a hard time convincing them they’re playing a masterpiece.

    Also, I’m quite sure Prince of Persia isn’t the first game featuring this gentle try-again type of gameplay formula. Didn’t Nintendo do the same in Wind Waker? I don’t remember it too well but I remember playing a game where you were helped that way and it did feel a bit too easy. This ability to restart next to the place you failed is also influenced by a modern side of gaming: emulators; it’s pretty much like using save states.

  112. Linda says:

    You should try “Oblivion” (2006). It’s not only doesn’t have mandatory punishment setbacks, but it also has the ability to access an ‘internal’ console to optionally skip or go around obstacles that you don’t enjoy (like gold farming…etc).
    But then it becomes a different genre than the action-adventure type game that prince of persia seems to be and becomes more of a RPG — where ‘immersion’ is the goal and punishments would be counterproductive to that goal.

  113. Eric Londaits says:

    It’s kind of tragic/funny that you consider that some people are put off by cutesy Mario/Link and would rather play macho Lara Croft and Solid Snake…

    … they’re all comic book characters… either cutesy or macho fantasy… and many people are put off by comic book style, no matter what flavor.

    There’s very little in the way of actual adult characters in more adult scenarios… even in games such as Call of Duty, in which situations and characters are much more realistic, poorly written stereotypical dialogues break the mood (the russian part of COD1 was particularly pathetic… russians were pictured as “comrade-this / comrade-that” idiots).

    The only game I can think of which had very good dialogues, great plot, and adult situations and characters (and by “adult” I don’t mean nudity or profanity) was “Gabriel Knights – Sins of the fathers”, which was a PC Graphic Adventured published by Sierra On Line. There might be others, but still is an example worth learning from, in exploring new kinds of games and characters.

  114. Ehlvee says:

    Really enjoyed the vid — nicely written and performed, sequences well chosen. As an essay it was well written and points were well defended. Re: the game itself, I’ll almost certainly have a go based on this. The only other PoP I’ve played was the very first one, and it remains near the top of my all-time fave games. Thanks for your work!

  115. umanoid says:

    some thoughtful and interesting observations…Its very cool that you did this in a podcast style format as well.

    I am casual/avid gamer…I’m 48 years old and got my start playing much like Shamus at arcades.I have always sucked at games.lol.I also love them.I have ALL of the current gen systems And play(attempt to) all of the latest and greatest hits.I also ALWAYS play on easy with a walk through close at hand.I’m interested in the game play and mechanics and what makes a fun experience…I want to get through the game… Being punished and sucking up more time then necessary is not fun.I have quit many hardcore and difficult games after a few levels just out of anger and frustration …i just have better things to do with my time then be frustrated.I don’t need to be all hardcore to enjoy myself.
    i agree with Shamus about POP being very easy to jump on board and the re spawning system being a better option than the traditional ones of being sent back to the last save point.Ubisoft thinks so as well since they have been quoted wondering why no one has talked about their inovations on this.
    I haven’t finished any of the past three POP games due to that very reason…I would get frustrated after several levels and quit. This one i’m actually in the middle of the final Boss battle stage and of course i have now hit my frustration level.lol. Ubisoft decided to throw all of the gentle and easy levels of the entire game out the window just to punish you for making it to the end.
    I spent the past week enjoying myself jumping from wall to wall and climbing surfaces…looking at the beautiful designs and collecting as many light seeds as i could find.This was the part of the game i enjoyed the most..forget the annoying puzzles and the repetitive boss battles.forget the HORRIBLE acting and dialogue.Just climb and search and figure out how to get those pretty lights.gentle,fun and easy.Of course you had to get through the former to do the latter but that was the price.
    The problems i am now having with the end of the game is that they threw everything they set up through out the entire game out the window…The platform/plate sequence to get to the boss is far too long and complicated and you do get punished for having the reflex of a spazzzzz. The final boss fight with Ahriman (which is where i stopped playing) is suddenly in some weird perspective and view that you’ve never seen before in the game and is also unnecessarily punitive. i was already angry and frustrated from the plate sequence (the flying yellow plates [email protected] me up EVERY time) but the dark vision and LONG tough wall run sequences weren’t necessary after two previous grueling sections. Its like they let you play on a toughness level of 4 and then cranked it up to 11 just for the end of the game. I know its the BIG BOSS battle but come on. This end sequence UNDID all the innovative and thoughtfull approach to the game mechanics for me.I am determined to eventually finish (so close yet so far) but will take a break and come back to it when i know i have a few more hours to burn.lol

  116. Ryan P says:

    Ummm… PofP, but Lego Star Wars had already given us the non-punishing ability to respawn and keep going.

  117. JB says:

    The whole “punitive” thing is why I’ve kind of stopped playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on my XBox. I can’t get past the first big boss, and every time I die after a ten-minute battle, I have to start it all over. It’s tedious! I wish I could just die and respawn indefinitely until I kill the giant robot thing.

  118. cosurgi says:

    You missed one point: PROCEDURAL CONTENT GENERATION.

    Let me explain. Games serve only one purpose – to give as much fun as possible. We all agree that playing through the same game content multiple times is boring (not fun). Please notice that there are two possible solution to this:

    1. When player dies – move back in time few seconds just before the death. (in some games that’s an obsessive saving-loading sequence, which makes playing unfun, in Prince of Persia this is automatic).

    2. When player dies – make sure that the game content (in new game) is totally different.

    Solution 1. is the simplest one, so no wonder that everyone does it, but also it makes gam unattractive to play again, after it is finished (even without dying).

    Solution 2 makes game always attractive to play, because even after it’s finished, a new play will be totally different. Placed in different time, with different randomly generated quests and different.. everything. It’s crazy difficult to make such a game.

    Currently only roguelikes provide Solution 2. The “text” game interface makes it possible to do so, because it simplifies a lot level generation, removes a LOT of 3D graphics work, etc. It’s a LOT because to have 3D graphics one would have to draw thousands of 3D tiles, and write extremely difficult level generation algorithms. And this is the sole reason why roguelikes have such a great following among those who tasted it. You live once, but each life is different. My pick is adom, and I tell you – no other game can give me the same fun and excitement because I live just once. Adrenaline gets high when I’m in tight situation and could die. It makes the experience a lot more real, and I like it.

    Have a look here – it’s a long read about that topic, but if you made such a long documentary addressing Solution 1, the perhaps reading through 6 pages about Solution 2 will be interesting for you: http://roguelikedeveloper.blogspot.com/2008/01/death-of-level-designer-procedural.html

  119. Anon says:

    excellent video. excellent questions. it made me think about what masochistic entity exists inside myself that desires games being insanely hard… i still don’t fully know. thanks for this!

  120. Shamus says:

    cosurgi: I wrote a 2-part essay on proceedural content generation a while back:

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=537

  121. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ive just came up with some thoughts:

    How about scaling difficulty?But not like in oblivion,no way!First,it should be something that you can turn on and off whenever you want.It could work something like this:
    Numerous checkpoints scattered through the level,and some optimal time for reaching each one connected with each difficulty.If you reach the chekpoint faster,difficulty goes up,if you reach it slower,it goes down.Standing still and backtracking shouldnt count,and fighting should.Dying oftenly would also reduce difficulty.

    Also,difficulty should first of all effect enemy AI,then its equipment and quantity.I wonder why we still dont have a good,competent AI,at least in shooters,when FEAR showed us 3 years ago that it can be done.Its not like Im asking for a flawless pathfinding algorithm that doesnt consume every drop of available memory.

  122. Alexis says:

    Nice video, it reminded me a little of a Katherine Heigl (Channel Flip) review which is a very good thing. It would have impacted me more if it was shorter. A good way to accomplish that would be to leverage the visuals more, eg you didn’t have to list all the controller buttons or describe the PoP death penalty when it was being shown right there. You could leave spoken pauses when you need people to pay attention to the video. I got the sense you wrote a script with everything in it, then added visuals.

    I don’t really care about the titles, credits, clicks, pops and what have you. They were unnoticeable. The diction was acceptable for a non Englishman. Pretty dang good overall.

    Essentially PoP has a fine checkpoint granularity. This is important but phased challenges really break the idea that checkpoint granularity can solve all problems. Either they’re front loaded, in which case the encounter is initially discouraging then too easy; or back loaded, which makes learning the later phases tedious. Checkpointing between phases removes resourcing decisions and the often hectic challenge of a smooth phase switch, while a big uncheckpointed phased fight or platform sequence can form a frustrating brick wall in an otherwise flowing game.

    Blizz have overcome this to some extent with Malygos and Sartharion. There’s a daily quest where you can learn some of the skills needed for Malygos phase 4. Sartharion has difficulty levels which add abilities to the fight, so you can master most of the fight before trying ‘insane mode’. Conversely if you’re training on hard mode, you can always knock it down a little and get a kill before finishing for the night.

    These are not perfect fights by any means, but they’re steps in the right direction. Corpseruns are supposed to be <1m next patch, which is another step. I’m still waiting for the Mass Rez spell though.

    Wasting my time with corpseruns at all is undesirable, but perhaps necessary for their business model, I can accept some waste just like I can watch some adverts on TV – passive waste. Active boring waste is worse but endurable to a limited extent. Active luck-dependant waste (win a coinflip and you can try boss phase 2 again) is unbearable. Active, skill based replay can pay for itself in accomplishment. Active irrelevant sections (ie rail shooter parts of Gears2) are frustrating – especially when anomalously hard.

    To sum up – PoP’s death penalty does not immunise it from the need for consistent difficulty. Encounter design and mitigating actions can make a relatively harsh penalty (5-15m between attempts) more acceptable. Providing access to late phase training and levelling the complexity not just the numbers are two ways to accomplish this.

  123. HardCorey says:

    Nice analysis

  124. JonE says:

    As for the question of punitive punishment making winning more fun .. the first thing that comes to my mind is the popularity of golf .. part of the joy i believe that so many find in golf involves the avoidance of traps and the minor punitive punishment involved there. There’s also something to scoring something on a scale that translates universally to rank how well someone has accomplished the tasks and avoided the traps and obstacles. Unfortunately with gaming systems what you find is that their ranking or scoring system becomes tied to a specific scenario or game .. this would be like having a completely different scoring system for every course you might play – there’s no way for people to gauge how good they really are at any task and see progress over time .. just a “pass/fail” if you make it to the end or not.

  125. Adam says:

    I think this works for *some* potential gamers, but part of the Wii’s strength is that it’s most successful games are modeled on real-world games people already know how to play: tennis, bowling, etc.

    My parents love wii tennis. I know other people’s parents who love wii fit. I can’t name any of them who own the latest Zelda or Mario, because those are the sorts of games they’re “not good at”.

    Time sink or not, I think these sorts of gamers will consider the falling / reset scenario as punitive if the difficulty of the task is too great. Consequently, games of this ilk always wind up being too easy.

    FableII is another example. Sure, I can get up and continue fighting if I die, but I so rarely die anyway. If the fights were more difficult, the success bar is too high and I don’t feel like I’m learning from my mistakes.

    Platformers are more difficult to add difficulty bars to since the environment is the challenge rather than how much health your guy has, or the enemy has, etc. Aside from hiring double or triple the level designers, it’s hard to imagine how that can happen.

    Zelda & Mario does work good across age brackets though. I’ve seen younger kids pick it up, and they’ll certainly never get through the main questline, but there’s enough fun just running around and exploring that the value is there, while other players can opt to complete the actual storyline.

    I agree with you in part, but I think the 50% over 30 years factor is that a lot of us are 30 now. When we’re 90, we’ll see more saturation. My parents still can’t handle call waiting. Maybe the hardcore weenies are partially right, I dunno.

  126. Joe Crawford says:

    I just wanted to say how great this article/video is. It should be a staple part of video game design 101.

    Your metaphors, such as the basketball, are excellent.

    It is also interesting how this illustrates and corresponds to the flaws in many education systems. I wrote an essay once about the problems caused by grading homework, something that is far too common.

    No first attempt should be graded, and early failures during learning should most certainly not be punished. Its not only true in video games, but real life as well. Obviously there are some situations that are different, but this hold true quite frequently.

    Thanks for the excellent insights.

  127. Chris says:

    Don’t have the time or patience to read all the comments, but just wanted to let you know I found this really good, and I agree fully. Hell, I remember when people bitched about Bioshock being “too easy” because of the Vita Chambers. I didn’t even bother using them and reloaded each time I died out of reflex.

    Still, the concept does not bother me. It didn’t bother me in Prey, didn’t bother me in Bioshock, and didn’t bother me in Prince of Persia. Dying is still time consuming in these games, in Prey you didn’t always return with full health, and in Prince of Persia you basically have to replay a segment repeatedly.

    However, I’d rather restart precisely where I was than have to go through the five rooms before it.

    Mirror’s Edge has frequent enough check points, at least, to not be TOO punishing.

  128. nehumanuscrede says:

    I too represent the ‘older’ gaming generation in that
    I played pong, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Asteroids, etc. etc. in their standup arcade formats
    growing up.

    I can recall a time when arcades were MASSIVE. Hundreds, if not thousands, of machines were centrally located and ready to play for a single glorious quarter. The really cool / new / hot games were usually in the center of the facility with multiple monitors up high so the gathered crowd could follow along with the current player.

    Crowds of 100 were common and there would be a row of quarters two feet wide to signify who had “next”.

    Those were the days :D

    Now, to the issue at hand.

    I have yet to play Prince of Persia myself, but I like the idea of not having to restart the entire !%^[email protected]# level due to a slipup on the controller or a mistimed jump.

    Nothing annoys me more than having to redo a section of
    the game a dozen times before you learn the “trick” that lets you proceed to the next frustrating section.

    Most find it annoying ( even if they don’t admit it )

    For example, if you KNOW the next room contains something that is likely to kick your a$$ for the next several attempts ( evidenced by the room prior to it containing nearly every weapon, ammo type and enough health packs to equip an army ) you will make sure one thing happens prior to entering said room.

    You will save the damn game.

    Why ?

    Because you don’t WANT to go through all that crap again just to get to this point.

    Who does ?

    These things are meant as evolved forms of entertainment that the TV just can’t offer by itself. The idea is to interact with the story and watch it unfold based on the actions you take over the course of the game.

    Making someone repeat a given sequence over and over again takes away from the story in much the same way a skipping CD kills the music you’re trying to listen to.

    If it does it enough, both usually find themselves in the trash.

    As much as the hardcore folks hate it, to maximize revenue, companies have to cater to a much larger group. You will never see another hardcore game like Ultima Online ( the original thank you ) ever again.

    The penalties for death are just too much for most to handle. It’s great fun for the small group of hardcore folks, but small groups do not make great money.

    I shudder when I recall Everquests XP debt for each death.
    Nothing like having to play for the next few hours to
    recover a network hiccup, or an unexpected disconnection.

    ( Why did these things always happen the critical moments
    AFTER a fight started is beyond me. I NEVER got
    disconnected while standing in a safe area. . . . :| )

    As a developer, the primary question is ” How do we get more folks to play? ” Period.

    That’s what drives your profits. Taking the death “penalties” out of the games ( or even minimizing them ) is one step in that direction. Simplifying the controls is another. If I want to challenge myself in button memorization, I’ll become an airline pilot :|

    Everyone loves a good story. If you can present it to potential players in the right way you may find yourself being the next big name in gaming. . . . :D

    **Afterthought**

    For you folks who could care less about the story or the visuals / music that accompany it, might I direct you to the ultimate game of button memorization:

    Simon :D ( an online version is at http://www.neave.com/games/simon/ )

  129. Illiterate says:

    I had final fantasy3 (JP) on my DS.

    Played the hell out of it, loved it, did not finish it.

    Because there were going to be four difficult bossfights followed by one last crazy bossfight. I could usually beat any of them, but I was going to need to go back out and level a lot more to finish the game, or keep retrying until i got lucky.

    probably won’t finish

  130. Ysabel says:

    Am I the only one who’s noticed that cheat codes pretty much are the current defacto solution to adjustable difficulty settings?

    Why don’t developers look more closely at the cheat codes people actually like to use and just include that sort of scaling in their difficulty settings?

    (I know I have used cheats in the past for exactly this, turning on just one thing to make things easier.)

  131. Paul says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself…I thought your review was brilliant. Excellent insights into gaming. You’ve got a good voice and easy style – you should do more voiceovers.

  132. unknown_gamer says:

    yeah…but its still a Prince of Persia game, and its still an Ubisoft game. Both, in my opinion are terrible..

  133. Ciarán says:

    Hey,

    Just watched your video. Very good.

    I agree with what your saying. I started gaming on the same machines as you, and although I’m not an avid gamer can pick up pretty much any game and “get it”. There is one exception driving games. I was never interested in them when I started gaming, and because of that didn’t develop the “skill set” required to play that genre. I try and play them now, crash a million times and just give up.

    So your reasoning doesn’t just hold for non-gamers, it holds true for me too when confronted with games I am unfamiliar with.

  134. Noppa says:

    One of the best stuff recently found online.
    Feel proud.
    Where can I donate, for more?

  135. Greg says:

    I think there’s a balance here. Repeating large sections that you’ve done is, more often than not, boring as hell. However conversely being able to go back to the exact moment something went wrong would make obstacles too trivial, because part of the challange is having the reactions to go from doing one part of an obstacle to the next part without hesitating or confusing the activities. You wouldn’t want PoP to go back to the exact moment you all went wrong and time in with “press jump now”. It’s good for the punishment to be “Go back to the start of this obstacle”. I think less than that would ruin the game and (as you say) more is unecassary, dull and a barrier to new players.

    However I think that the genre of the game ties into this in a big way. In most puzzle games failure is not punished (And is often rewarded, I remember your post about “stick fork in socket”, point and click adventure games frequently reward wrong choices with amusing responses), it seems we’re just learning that platform games and FPSs don’t need to be punished.

    But how do you apply the concept to something like a strategy game? If you wanted to let the player dive straight back in where they left off how do you do it? Did they lose the level when they started that fight? When they built that combination of units? When they designed their infrastructure? When they gathered their resources? I don’t think a “Dive straight back in” approach works for a strategy game. I guess a solution would be to make the levels shorter so restarting a level is less of a chore? I wonder if the DSs dual strike series does this for a lot of people?

    Similar problems come up for hybrid games with resource management elements. Lets say we’ve got a hypothetical shooter in which when the player dies the game returns them to the last point they were in that contained no living enemies (Most often the last room they were in, 20 seconds of gameplay away). Players would have a fast learning feedback loop and be able to get on with the game without repeating sections – but what if they managed to use all of their ammo before then? Or 99% of their health? Then the feature that’s supposed to let them replay something straighaway is getting in the way because it’s forcing them to repeat a mistake from 5 minutes ago and most likely hiking the difficulty of the next obstacle up dramatically as a result.

    So while I agree that punishments that force a player to replay parts of a game are generally a pain in the ass, but I’m curious to see what you’d suggest such mechanisms for genres where choices can have long term consequences.

  136. Greg says:

    Oh yeah, something I did want to mention, but somehow didn’t get into that post, was games that have initially rewarding punishments.

    I remember one space combat game (I forget its name) where if you won a mission your side started winning the war, leading to missions like assaults and raids on enemy planets. If you lost your side got closer to losing and lead to missions like evacuations and infiltrations. The “punishment” for playing badly was a different set of missions, which were generally easier. Thus when first encountered they weren’t really punishments at all, it was only a problem if you really wanted to play the “winning” stem from that mission and if that was the case you’d probably completed the “losing” missions already and had built up enough skill to avoid it.

  137. Dave says:

    Well said.. well done… and btw.. Descent isn’t old school.. Beserk would be old school… Scramble.. Frogger..

    The first game I played was Pong.. in a Shakey’s Pizza.. had to beg a quarter off my Dad… by the time Descent came out.. I was on my own and couldn’t afford a computer powerful enough to run it… uh huh.. Descent was too resource intensive..

    I game on PC for precisely the reasons you say… and if I can convince my wife that we’d Wii.. we’ll get one.. for its user-friendly interface… but.. after your review.. maybe I should just get Prince of Persia and learn… hmm.

  138. @Greg:

    Real-time strategy and other games where failure develops slowly over time don’t operate under quite the same rules because you can try to repair your errors while they’re still happening and you’re learning and enjoying the process during the entire time. You’re not learning “how do I do this jump sequence” by repeating that *precise* jump sequence 30 times, but things like “how do I conserve units during an assault?” and “where’s the best places to look for health potions?”.

    You’re learning much broader methodology than just a sequence of buttons to hit, so it doesn’t have the same issues as the super-narrow-focus games.

    Many games combine the two–the combats from the Sands of Time trilogy were gradually-increasing-failure whereas the platforming was instant-failure. (The traps were also gradually-increasing-failure.) One of the things I don’t like about the new game is that they made the combats identical to the platforming: instant-failure. I preferred the mix.

  139. carlivar says:

    The old Monkey Island games had no punishment. In fact, it was impossible to die.

  140. blick black says:

    I think you have skirted around the real problem with games. Death and repetition is not the problem. Difficulty tuning is. “FUN” comes from the intersection of the right amount of challenge and success. Most games do a horrible job of catering to everyone playing. It seems to me that Prince of Persia being to easy just caters to the beginner market more than other games do. This does not solve the problem, since for more experienced gamers, this might just make the game to boring to continue playing as there is no challenge.

    It is a very hard problem to solve and many many games have tried. Usually difficulty is just static and the player has to guess his/her skill level and just hope they picked the right one. Games need to figure out how to adapt to the player and then tune the game accordingly. This obviously is much easier said than done. The more complex games become, the harder it is to tune it. For example how would a developer tune the difficulty of grappling in Bionic Commando? Possibly by adding smaller gaps, but this then requires addition geometry to be placed and unless the geometry is created on the fly with different sizes, this is still a discrete metric.

    On Ratchet and Clank there is no difficulty setting as the game tried to tune the hit points of the enemies as well as the damage done by projectiles. This helps with the problem, but still does not solve it, as on the highest difficulty level it feels cheap, since there is the same amount of enemies but all their shots become very deadly. It would have been nice to the the enemies density change, but this then requires much much more work. Also this becomes a tuning nightmare.

    The developer of Flow for the PS3 wrote a paper about this exact problem. It’s a pretty good read. And I still wouldn’t attribute this as a revolutionary system in Prince of Persia as they just made the game way easier so its more accessible to games with less skill. Its doesn’t solve the problem of catering to both hardcore gamers as well as beginners.

  141. Steven says:

    Very, very insightful. I’ve been gaming on and off since the Commodore Pet generation of computers. I’ve lost track of the number of games that I’ve stopped playing because of the exponential ramp-up in difficulty after the first n levels. Calling the lack of wherever-you-want save states “punitive” neatly sums up my frustration with most console games today.

    I hope your Slashdot-driven traffic causes beleaguered game publishers like EA to reconsider their overall design philosophies.

  142. Talgrath says:

    Dumbing down a game does not make it “innovative”, it makes it easier to complete and ultimately less exciting and less fun. I actually regret picking up the latest Prince of Persia precisely because it has gotten stupidly easy; the story and fight system simply isn’t enough to carry the game. The last three Prince of Persia games weren’t hard, they weren’t terribly complex, but they were challenging; and (almost) everyone wants to play a game that is challenging, the new Prince of Persia is not. When did casual gaming mean that a game has to be easy? All that casual gaming required is that the game isn’t too complex, even the most casual of games have challenges in them. Maybe Ubisoft has confused “casual gamers” with “drooling idiots”; it’s almost insulting.

  143. Inhuman says:

    Jumping on the bandwagon..

    From a technical point of view, I think you took way too long to get to the point; Yahtzee can get away with ranting and digression and extended examples for the simple reason that he talks so damn fast that he’s back onto the main point within half a minute or so. Also what other people said about the animations not always having any relevance to what you were talking about.

    Very thought-provoking stuff. I’m happy to try the same impossible jump or the same race for an hour or two straight if, when I fail, they put me back at a position where I can try again straight away. XP or money loss means that I either leave that kind of stuff to the endgame (when I have money and xp to burn) or just don’t bother.

  144. Noumenon says:

    I remember one space combat game (I forget its name) where if you won a mission your side started winning the war, leading to missions like assaults and raids on enemy planets. If you lost your side got closer to losing and lead to missions like evacuations and infiltrations. The “punishment” for playing badly was a different set of missions, which were generally easier. Thus when first encountered they weren't really punishments at all, it was only a problem if you really wanted to play the “winning” stem from that mission and if that was the case you'd probably completed the “losing” missions already and had built up enough skill to avoid it.

    That was Wing Commander, but the way I remember it the missions got harder and harder as your side did worse in the war. At the time it seemed to me like a downward spiral, but now it seems smarter. You know that people are going to respond to this system by reloading until they win, so what you end up with is people playing the easy “hero” missions first and then doing the tough “loser” missions for replay value.

  145. Samael says:

    This wasn’t thought provoking. This was whining. Your presentation had the distinction of simultaneously exaggerating a “problem” that hasn’t existed to the degree you described it in years by hailing an “innovation” through a minor feature in a game that’s…existed in other forms in numerous games throughout the years. Either you don’t know the definition of the word revolutionary, or you have astonishingly low criteria for what one requires.

    Perhaps the most ironically amusing segment of your video is that the FPS genre (which you derisively referenced) has stopped what you wrongfully characterize as a “punishment” years ago. I can scarce think of a PC FPS, or RPG that hasn’t had a “quicksave” feature that does…exactly what makes PoP “innovative”. A feature that, might I add, is a commonality in many current generation games.

    What you define as bad is an issue that has not been a problem in modern games for almost a decade, and your praising a game almost solely for engaging in the design equivalent of hand-holding is as absurd as ignoring the design benefits of presenting penalties for actions that should have a modicum of detrimental effect.

    I thought the video was silly, and I thought your rationale and articulation was too digressive and irrelevant for your conspicuously unpersuasive “point” to have the sting it could have. Innovation is more so defined by conceptual uniqueness than making a game easier for people who can’t grasp the mechanics of a medium they don’t even indulge in. An argument I gleefully elaborate further here:

    http://earwa.blogspot.com/2008/12/reset-button-change-your-whole-argument.html

  146. LintMan says:

    I just finished playing Call Of Duty 4 on the PC, and it made me think of this. COD4 has a checkpoint save system, which I normally hate, given my replay-aversion, but here it actually worked surprisingly well. The checkpoints seem to be placed quite frequently, and after every major hurdle, so when I died, there was very little do-over required to get back to the point I had been at. Once I figured out I could count on that, I was able to relax and not worry about saves anymore.

    The one bad point was that it made a save right AFTER I made a certain in-game choice, which locked me in to fighting the extremely hard battle that immediately followed – I couldn’t redo the choice to see if the alternative choice was easier.

    (Side comment about COD4: I usually dislike “rail shooter turret gun” sequences in these games, but the AC-130 Gunship level was an absolute blast.)

  147. Telas says:

    This is the most deeply perceptive review of a single title that I’ve ever seen. With a review of a single game (if you can call it a review), you identify the reasons why the hobby isn’t growing the way it should, and what the fundamental but false assumptions in game design are, and then you identify a solution to both.

    Beautiful, simply beautiful. I’m so glad that I started reading DM of the Rings so long ago, and that I checked out everything else on your site.

    And my own contribution to “the Wii rocks!” chorus is here. Basically, I ask, “What is the tabletop RPG version of the Wii? Can there be one?”

  148. Krellen says:

    I don’t think I like your Slashdot traffic, Shamus. A lot of them seem to be the “hardcore” gamers we both see as ruining the industry. And, of course, having never read any of your other blog entries, they don’t realise that this is a message you have been addressing for years, and already have a bunch of entries that address a lot of their major arguments.

  149. Ysabel says:

    Also, Shamus, I must thank you. Because of this video, I went and bought PoP and I’ve just blown about seven hours playing the most fun platformer-genre game I’ve played in recent memory. (I just defeated one of the four bosses.)

  150. Nice essay dude, excelent explanation, thank for opening my eyes now that I was getting hardcore.

    Again, excelent video, congrats!

  151. Decius says:

    Great points- but you missed what I think was the key: Few (if any) games that allow you to die tell you what you did wrong.

    That not having to replay 7-10 hours of gameplay, is what bothers me about Angband. I gave up on Nethack because I rarely lose more than about 2 hours, because I never last longer, because I can never figure out what I should do differently. Completely unforgiving, with no way to determine in advance what will kill you. (Example: Praying, when you are losing a fight, will often save you. Except in Gehennom{sp?}, where it will kill you. There, I at least learned “Don’t pray in Gehennom”, a valuable lesson, but limited in scope.)

    The right method for PoP- Have learning areas. These areas look like regular gameplay, and either are “safe” in that falls are not fatal and you go back around and try it again, or use the checkpoint/reload mechanic used currently. (Yes, cutting to cutscene followed by spawing at a checkpoint is identical to cutting to “loading” splash and spawning at a checkpoint). In the learning area, you have new concepts introduced one at a time, without repeating mastered skills, followed and/or interspersed with challenges that require multiple skills, all previously learned. Each time a challenge is failed, restart the area. (So far, this is what PoP has right now.)

    Every time a challenge is failed, note that is was failed, and in what manner. If it is failed the same way N times, tell the player WHY he failed, and how to win. Not in ambiguous terms, either.
    (Examples:”Press X here to stick the landing” “After 450′ down, you need to resist poison or a drolem will breathe gas at you from offscreen and you will die instantly.” NOT “It (offscreen) breathes gas. You die. Press any key to continue.”)

    Once the skills are learned, go into the second phase of the game, and throw challenging gameplay at the player. Be as forgiving as the design is; set the player back a little or a lot, or even send them forward- it doesn’t matter. But after the player makes the same mistake N times, tell the player what he did wrong, and how to do it right.

    For combat, you might handle the “education phase” of death by means of a replay mechanic: Show the fight, and annotate what actions could have been taken to reduce or to inflict damage. Try to avoid going into bullet/Matrix time (unless you can do that in gameplay), but DO pause the action and indicate what cues to use, and what actions to take. Yes, this totally kills immersion. So does repeating the same battle N times.

    This method also gives us difficulty settings: For platforming sections, easier settings have more possible routes: The harder ones, and the easier ones. The easier ones do not exist on harder difficulty settings. For combat, enemies have a larger set of moves that require different methods of countering, are more common, and appear in more areas. Also, in the “Hardcore” and “Sociopath” difficulties, the “learning” system is not available. (On lower settings, it should be readily disabled, re-enabled, and N set to be user-adjustable.)

    I haven’t slept yet, so the proofing is probably a bit off. I also lack a way of implementing this to the user that doesn’t come off kinda like a paperclip saying “Hey! It looks like you’re trying to jump a bottomless chasm. Want some help with that?”

  152. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Samael

    Quicksave is not a solution.If I have to bind fire to left and quicksave to right mouse button,thats just a dumb game.There are much better solutions(you becoming more resistan to damage when you are near death,for example).

  153. DaveMc says:

    @Samael (149): I disagree with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it. Fortunately, this is unlikely to become literally necessary.

  154. Mike Duda says:

    Add my name to the list of those who believe you have created a wonderful indictment against the “Ouch! Quit it!” school of putative video game design. Great idea, great feeling in the voice over, great execution.

  155. Yukonzdad says:

    Shamus, I really enjoyed your little visual essay. I’ve been playing games since the Atari 2600 & you brought up some seemingly obvious points to someone who has been a gamer for some 30 years, but that I’ve never even considered before. The punishment system that has existed since electronic games have…usually it is fairly harsh, but I just never questioned the “why” aspect…& that’s something I usually do very well. Anyway, kudos to you for bringing up this point. Excellent job on the video, btw. You were clear and succinct. Usually when I see a 10 min Youtube video, I groan & find something else, but yours went by too fast. I would have liked to see more of your gaming philosophy. Keep up the good work.

  156. Chimera says:

    Actually, Samael’s points were pretty spot on in both the comments section and especially the blog post. What Shamus has said in the past is irrelevant, but what he said now is wrong or at least poorly argued for precisely the reasons he pointed out.

    Also, I like how Samael didn’t say Quicksave was a solution. Why would he? He said there wasn’t even a problem, and there really isn’t. Any attempts to make it so are the whimpering of people who are either not acquainted or competent enough in x genres/games to be proficient or people who have such an inflated concept of difficulty that satisfaction won’t come until death as a whole is abolished from gaming, no matter how short sighted such a thing is.

    But even better than that is how even if he did say there was a problem it doesn’t change the fact that what matters is the result. And it’s near undeniable that Quicksave has the exact same result as the game he hailed as “innovative” and almost none of the games that have it call for putting Quicksave to a fire button. Yahtzee saying it doesn’t somehow make it a more realistic description, sorry.

    Also, do you seriously want a play-by-play demonstration of a battle that you lost and how to win it? I mean…FAQs? Guides?

  157. Shamus says:

    Please name for me:

    * Console platformer which supports instant quicksaves.
    * Console platformer which offers an accessible experience to someone who has never held a controller before.

    (And anyway, Quicksaves / loads usually involve flow-breaking pauses in the gameplay. Here the process is invisible and seamless.)

    By arguing that it’s “whining” from people who aren’t “good enough” is to support my point. These are people who want to play, but have no way to learn except to slam their face into some hardcore game for hours on end.

    They want to join you in your hobby, and out of the hundreds of hardcore games out each year, Ubisoft has the audacity to release ONE which might let some of those new folks into the hobby, and you throw a tantrum like someone took away your MegaMan.

    I actually have a post coming on Friday that will talk about how the game could be re-balanced to include both hardcore AND newbies.

    I can keep repeating these points which were set down in the video, and you can keep pretending I didn’t make them, but it’s not helping your side of the debate.

    Bonus points for transposing my name with that of the Evil God of Torment from Silent Hill.

  158. Christian Groff says:

    *softly applauds*

    THIS is what I want people who hate video games to see! Not to say I am a fan of Prince of Persia. I’m a rare animal – an adult who actually likes ‘cutesy’ games. After all, I am a Pokemon maniac. ^_^

    I’m so glad someone had the guts to upload a video to Youtube talking about how unfair most games are. I don’t hate first-person shotters because they’re “hard”, but because there isn’t a family-friendly FPS – it’s all World Wars and post-apocalypses and other gloom-and-doom. I’d hate it in a second.

    Is that what your voice sounds like, Shamus? Wow, that’s amazing. Mine sounds like a chipmunk with a cold. *lulz*

  159. r4nge says:

    I appreciate your effort, however, you are seriously wrong. I am sick of games being dumbed down for the lowest common denominator. I am tired of oversimplified games. Let the newbs play simple games but lets not make every game for whiney retards who don’t wanna die. Yes, die, and go back the the beginning. Its called risk and reward. it’s called a challenge. Stop being a carebear!!!!!

  160. Danny says:

    I’m not much of a gamer and I found this video to be very enlightening and entertaining.

    However, I’m not sure I agree with one of your theories for why the Wii has become so popular. Specifically, your hypothesis that many enjoy the Wii because everyone is trying to figure out the controller together (i.e. know one had a head start). Couldn’t the same be said about almost any new console that is released. It’s not as though everyone knew how to use the X-Box or GameCube controllers when they were first released. If we accept your assumption that people are probably more drawn to gaming if they’re learning how to use a controller at the same time as everyone else, shouldn’t each new controller draw in more and more gamers because everyone would be learning how to use it at the same time? Though I think that conclusion follows logically from your premise, in the real world, we don’t see that happening.

  161. JT says:

    Also, do you seriously want a play-by-play demonstration of a battle that you lost and how to win it? I mean…FAQs? Guides?

    Let the newbs play simple games but lets not make every game for whiney retards who don't wanna die. Yes, die, and go back the the beginning. Its called risk and reward. it's called a challenge. Stop being a carebear!!!!!

    I don’t think this is something that’s going to be resolved by who can engage in harder chest-beating. The problem is that the definition of “fun” is inherently subjective and will be different for everybody. Obviously some of the Slashdot traffic’s definition of “fun” is in the self-satisfaction they get from accomplishing something that’s near-impossible to accomplish (sort of an update on “nyah nyah, I can do X but you can’t”). Others of us might define “fun” as experiencing a fictional environment & story as if you were transported there via your participation (the participative involvement being what separates games from books, TV, & movies).

    Why must those two be mutually exclusive in games? Why must it be heads or tails, one or the other? Why can’t one game come out that gamers of both schools of thought can buy, play, & enjoy, through innovations in difficulty tuning?

    The big difference in the two arguments, that I’ve seen, is that the Hardcore seem to want every game to be Hardcore and those who can’t handle Hardcore can go f#@k themselves (stop being a carebear, indeed), while the Experiential don’t want to take away the Hardcore’s Hardcore setting, they just want an accessible experience of the same content to be available to them too.

  162. Shamus says:

    I think it’s interesting how many dissenters aren’t really offering an opposing viewpoint, they’re just ANGRY and OUTRAGED that people who “suck” are being let into their hobby.

    Some people have way too much of their self-esteem invested into their videogame-playing skills.

  163. Imaginary Friend says:

    “They want to join you in your hobby, and out of the hundreds of hardcore games out each year, Ubisoft has the audacity to release ONE which might let some of those new folks into the hobby, and you throw a tantrum like someone took away your MegaMan.”

    Is there a reason that you’re assuming that anyone who has never played a video game, or someone who does it with such infrequent regularity that they can’t even be considered casual, are so incompetent that games to them are magically complicated processes? Because that is the only thing I can say would give your arguments a worthy validation.

    What Samael has said is pretty much a summation of my thoughts of this video. His blog posts ask one question that really resonates with me and that is “why is the gaming industry the only one that is so hung up on the people who DON’T participate in the medium?” Why should we CARE if someone actually finds playing Halo hard(which they shouldn’t). I can think of FEW games that really require some really deep level of knowledge of the medium to grasp.

    I mean the industry is so hung up that besides there being MANUALS for every game to give you the basics on how to play, most games also have tutorials when you play them that *GASP* show you how to play the game. If someone isn’t willing to take the time to learn how to play a game, if they’re that impatient, then I don’t see how that is a problem for anyone but them. Once again: Videogames are not a complicated medium. If you’re really worried about people getting into the hobby; get them a wii. A console whose fucking motto is “appeal to the casual” and guess what? It’s 99% full of cheap, useless, unplayable and awful games that are shills for a gimmicky motion.

    That’s all I have to add, and it’s not much mostly because Samael has managed to address all of your qualms quite deftly.

  164. Shamus says:

    Imaginary Friend: I have introduced many to the hobby. Look at this site. Hundreds and hundreds of posts on videogames. I have brought new people in, and I’ve watched the bafflement and they come to grips with the controller.

    Manuals don’t teach you to play any more than your car manual teaches you to drive. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about muscle memory.

    I would also point out that for every one of you growling fanboys, there are a dozen people in this thread hoping game designers take notice. Maybe you’re the one that lacks perspective on the shape of the gaming community.

    But you guys keep jumping up and down and shouting at me. I’m sure that you’ll be able to convince all these people that they’re not really having fun until they’re playing YOUR WAY.

  165. Chimera says:

    It is beyond contemptible that you wittle down opposing viewpoints to something as ignorant as “they're just ANGRY and OUTRAGED that people who ‘suck’ are being let into their hobby. Some people have way too much of their self-esteem invested into their videogame-playing skills.”

    I mean honestly, do you get your jollies from utterly ignoring every point that has been made thus far? Do you enjoy indulging in baseless assumptions along with demonizing people who disagree with you?

  166. JT says:

    @ImaginaryFriend:
    “why is the gaming industry the only one that is so hung up on the people who DON'T participate in the medium?”

    Not to belittle you or anything, but… EVERY industry on the PLANET is hung up on the people who aren’t already their customers. The companies that make up that industry WANT the money in those non-customers’ wallets, and therefore they do whatever they can to try to get that money.

    Competition among similar companies for market share is sometimes referred to as “fighting for a bigger piece of the pie”. When companies take steps to bring more new customers in (as opposed to taking customers from competitors), that’s called “making the pie bigger”. THAT’s why every industry cares about the people who aren’t yet participating, and you’re wrong if you think the game industry is the only one that does.

  167. Samael says:

    The content of the “challenge” you posed is an absurd strawmen that not only failed to address any of the points I made, but that ignores that by the standards you gave in your own video, you defined Prince of Persia as innovative and revolutionary for the whole of gaming. If you had have limited such an idiotically sweeping generality to platforming, I would have been less loath to disagree, but you didn’t, so games in other genres are just as fair game to contest your misguided point as games in platforming would be. But you know what? I’m magnanimous at heart. I’ll take your silly challenge:

    “Please name for me:

    Console platformer which supports instant quicksaves.”

    Abes Exoddus. A game that came out almost exactly 10 years ago. So much for the revolution that PoP was apparently supposed to encapsulate.

    “Console platformer which offers an accessible experience to someone who has never held a controller before.”

    Even easier. Super Mario Brothers 1, Donkey Kong Country 1, the Genesis Sonic series are all games that involve nothing more intensive than holding the right button and tapping a jump button whenever something that’s coming towards you is in your path. Sonic possibly being the most easy of the games I listed because of its innately automatic nature. Ironically enough, most of these are games I’m relatively certain your readers possibly started out with.

    If you wish for more modern examples, I could cite what’s simultaneously one of the most enjoyable and one of the easiest platforming series’ available: Sly Cooper. You get the benefits of level design, intuitivity and simplicity all in an accessible package without insulting the player in presuming that anything involving dying is “punishment”. And given your unvarnished Wii fellatio, I’m surprised you failed to note that Mario Galaxy has all of the elements that make it utterly easy and “accessible” for non-gamers to pick up and play while *gasp* not betraying any of the elements that make the games good to begin with.

    “By arguing that it's “whining” from people who aren't “good enough” is to support my point. These are people who want to play, but have no way to learn except to slam their face into some hardcore game for hours on end.”

    That would be perfectly valid if that actually was my argument, but it was little more than words taken out of context while the points in my post were either blatantly ignored or uncomprehended. My argument which was glossed over in the post and perfectly elaborated in the link I gave you was that the problem you claim to exist has neither the prevalence or even the severity of the annoyance that you gave to it, and that it’s been entirely addressed by several alterations in the industry including but not limited to the frequency of save points, the existence of checkpoints, the abolishment of the “Extra Lives” system and other such advances.

    The problem people have with games has absolutely nothing to do with people not being able to learn, it has to do with the perception of the craft combined with the wall the general pricing of it and its games offer to people who view the medium as a child-indulged toy as opposed to anything that’s respectable or predominately indulged by adults. I outlined all of this in the blog post I linked, which you’ve apparently yet to read. I elaborate on all of this more thoroughly: http://earwa.blogspot.com/2008/12/reset-button-change-your-whole-argument.html

    “Ubisoft has the audacity to release ONE which might let some of those new folks into the hobby, and you throw a tantrum like someone took away your MegaMan.”

    Characterizing arguments I haven’t made into statements I haven’t supported is hardly a way to persuasively make your case. Where did I fault Ubisoft for releasing it? My qualm was with your rationale for calling PoP “innovative” and “revolutionary” and your insanely exaggerated panning of a qualm that’s been modified and altered so drastically as to not be a general problem in the modern era. My argument was and remains to be with you, it has nothing to do with “audacity” or “MegaMan” or me not wanting new gamers.

    And the wall for gaming is not complexity so much as pricing. Not two years ago the next generation required the equivalent of a month of groceries, or a rent payment to purchase a system in a medium that’s considered juvenile which doesn’t even FACTOR peripherals and price of games. Affordability, not accessibility is the wall that stifles the growth of the industry and it’s one that applies to both the hardcore AND casual. If people want to get into games, it has to not be a sacrifice to spend money on a console or to buy a new release. A luxury afforded to near every other entertainment medium in existence.

    “I can keep repeating these points which were set down in the video, and you can keep pretending I didn't make them, but it's not helping your side of the debate.”

    I’m not pretending you’re failing to make them, I’m rightfully noting them as either incorrect or invalid. Repeating something over and over and over again does absolutely nothing to make a logical fallacy any truer, and it’s certainly not helping your side of the debate.

  168. Shamus says:

    Imaginary fried: “mentally retarded”? No, you have to leave now. Bye.

  169. Imaginary Friend says:

    Did you actually find that offensive? Because if so, you’re the one who was basically saying it with your argument. I never said non-gamers were incompetent. You’re the one making them out to be by saying that games are too complex.

  170. Samael says:

    Imaginary Friend asked a completely valid question in the post you deleted, too. What are we fanboys of, exactly? I’ve hailed no series as superior, or used comparisons to another game to contest your argument. You’re tediously using sloppy and unsupported ad hominems by saying we’re “raging” and “angry” while showing absolutely nothing in our posts that demonstrates that. Disagreeance is not the same as wrath. The distinction is one you’d do well to note.

  171. Shamus says:

    Samael: Fine, when I want to introduce someone new to the hobby I will search out TEN AND TWENTY YEAR OLD GAMES, and make them play those first until they are good enough to play games along with you ‘leet players.

    By “revolutionary” I was talking about – and I SAID THIS IN THE VIDEO – that it offers them a way in to the fun we’re having. They get to be an awesome badass, to play a grown-up game with grown-up characters. That is, NOT Mario, NOT Abe. Something an adult who has never played before might want to do. Like I said in the movie.

    You keep pointing these people in the direction of Animal Crossing and Mario. “Go play kids games”.

    You can insist that “price” is keeping people out. There is certainly merit in that position. But, since people have to PLAY videogames before they want to BUY videogames, I think it still goes back to entertaining newbies. Who would buy a piece of entertainment equipment that was unable to entertain them? I have no idea what circles you travel in. I know in my personal experience this is not the case. Shrug.

  172. Shamus says:

    Samael: He insinuated that my friends were “mentally retarded” because… I don’t remember why now. I don’t care. I certainly shouldn’t have to explain why that was a foolish thing to say.

  173. Shamus says:

    Samael: Re: The “fanboy” charge –

    “The XBox is the best console and if you disagree you’re X”

    “MGS is the best game and if you disagree you are an X”

    “Brute-force challenge is the only reason to play games and if you disagree you are an idiot / you suck / you just want a WIN button.”

    These are fanboy arguments. They assume everyone else holds the same values. Or should.

    There are a LOT of reasons people game.

    Re: Your blog post: You fail to differentiate between a game with no punishments and a game with no obstacles. The conversation can’t even BEGIN until we have basics like that squared away, or this will be an endless exchange of us talking past one another. (You know, like the last five or six exchanges.)

  174. Samael says:

    It’s adorable how you pose a challenge to me, and then deride the entirely valid examples given based on perimeters you neglected to point out, Shamus. Almost as adorable as the fact that you ignored the referencing of Sly Cooper and Mario Galaxy as valid platforming experiences that met your criteria for accessibility, and neither of those games are 10 years old. Nor are they really for children, so much as they’re accessible to them. Just because a game has an “E” on it doesn’t mean it’s a child’s game, any more than putting an M on a Conker game makes it authentically mature. That’s actually an infinitely more prevalent and destructive fallacy amongst gamers than what you mentioned.

    And as for your ridiculous deriding of older games, the best part about that – that I’ve intentionally neglected to mention for fairness’ sake – is that they DON’T have to “search them out”. In fact, introducing people to older games has never been more effortless. It’s no more difficult than having a person shell out 20 dollars for a Logitech USB controller and…download an emulator and a ROM. They’d simultaneously have access to entire libraries of excellent training-wheel games and for free, no less. You DO think that non-gamers are capable of right-clicking, right?

    If you’re willing to grant them that much competence – since blatant hand-holding, painstaking tutorials, and instruction manuals aren’t good enough, apparently – then you not only have a means for them to “PLAY before they BUY” but you’d have a perfect starting point for them.

  175. Samael says:

    “The XBox is the best console and if you disagree you're X”

    “MGS is the best game and if you disagree you are an X”

    “Brute-force challenge is the only reason to play games and if you disagree you are an idiot / you suck / you just want a WIN button.”

    These are fanboy arguments.”

    Yes, they are fanboy arguments. They’re also arguments I’ve neither made or insinuated. Where in the pseudo-quotes you posted do you have any support or justification in leveling that charge towards me?

  176. Shamus says:

    Samael: I said in the video about PoP appealing to grownups. I specifically discounted the cartoony characters – a number of times – talking about how they may put some people off. The entire section on the Wii was dedicated to the idea that some adults might want something less cartoony.

    And here you come with Mario and Abe and Sly Cooper.

    Now you’re bringing up emulators? You are all over the place here, dancing around, declaring yourself the winner of a game I’m not even playing.

    Fine. If I want to introduce any more people to the hobby I’ll download an emulator and a few ROMS, and I’ll ease them up through the strata until they are ready to enter your Utopian playground of perfectly-aligned challenge.

  177. Samael says:

    You discounted “cartoony characters” without even defining what cartoony was. If we’re going by visual aesthetic, cel-shading automatically and inherently adds an element of cartoonishness that would be silly to discount, no matter how the character models look. The same argument can be given to Gungrave, Guilty Gear XX, and Killer 7 and it would be equally as valid as calling those games cartoony.

    And seriously, have you even played an Oddworld game before? The only way you can define that game as cartoonish is if you’re going by nothing by the cover. If the visuals are your only excuse for classifying the game that way, then all of the other games I mentioned – including PoP – qualify as “cartoony”. Is that the argument you seriously want to make?

    You’re absurdly painting me into a caricature of a stereotype you’ve already typified in your mind without even noting how contradictory they are to the remarks I’ve made. I’ve made no utopian comments, I’m a fanboy of nothing, I didn’t say I wanted games to be harder or more challenging, I’ve made not one elitist remark, and I’m not trying to “win” anything so much as I’m attempting to have an expressive discussion.

    If the content of my posts don’t match the opinions you’re attributing to me you should either read more carefully or start backspacing them.

  178. Shamus says:

    I thought the distinction between cartoony and not was pretty clear. If you disagree, well. I’m not going to argue with you over something so subjective. Abe strikes me as “Shrek-ish” in style, while PoP strikes closer to (say) “Pirates of the Caribbean” level stylized realism. It’s that pseudo-watercolor styling the game has that makes it seem more serious and less whimsical to me.

    Where are you coming from, exactly? After all the invective you’ve hurled my way, I STILL have no idea what your problem is. What is it about my thesis that you don’t like, besides the charge of “revolutionary”.

    The charge of “fanboy” was placed on you because you objected to the idea of a non-punishing game. Why do you care what other people like? I’m not calling for the abolishment of challenge, I’m just calling for a few entry-level games.

    This is not something about which reasonable people become angry.

  179. Samael says:

    Why do you confuse disagreement for invective? I challenge and contest both your broader points and the comments you use to support them because I disagree with them. This is neither complicated or personal, and I’ve given no indication of being “angry”. I didn’t like your thesis because I thought it was wrong for reasons I’ve stated ad nauseam in nearly all of my previous remarks which have been addressed either to you or to comments you’ve made.

    I don’t agree with your reasoning for calling PoP being innovative or revolutionary, I don’t believe that the reason you gave for calling it so is enough of a problem (even if it were unique) to be solely worth the praise given it, I don’t agree that PoP is the only game to have addressed this problem, I don’t agree that there’s a dearth of inaccessible games, nor do I agree that non-existent complexity is the barrier that stifles the industries growth. I don’t agree with why you called the Wii successful, I don’t agree that it’s a necessity to water down or simplify gaming to appeal to people who aren’t apart of it. And I don’t agree that the question of how to make the industry grow – whether it’s through accessibility or finances – is a more paramount question than what elements make a game good, period. Nor do I agree with the distinction and attempts to appeal to either “hardcore” or “casual” gaming brings us any closer to perfecting what those elements are.

    It has nothing to do with caring what other people like and it’s vaguely hypocritical for you to levee that charge at me given that you’re also showing care for what other people like by wishing games to be less punishing. And what’s worse, those people you’re speaking for are imaginary. You’re using hypothetical’s to determine PoP’s accessibility; it’s not supported by anything approaching a study or wide-ranging success in getting people into gaming with it that I’ve seen.

    No one here is angry. I merely do not see the point in conceding that you’re right when I don’t see that to be the case, and I’m expressing how that’s so. A thesis is little more than an argument. Dissent should be an expected result of publicizing it.

  180. Kirin says:

    A quick comment about the choice of the title. I like the title because it did seem strange at first, even more so when you set it up as a “most intuitive game of the year” comparison. I was confused and thought it was out of place, but once you began to touch on the failure-punishment relationship it made more sense. I was reminded of a time i spent 45 minutes one the final boss of a game. I used all my phoenix downs and had fought the boss valiantly down to 5 health when i died. It set me at the very beginning of the level with all my phoenix downs still gone. The first thing i did (after chucking my Wavebird at a cabinet) was to turn the whole thing off. A game that helped make me realize why i valued winning (other than the brilliant Portal) was I Wanna Be The Guy. Its a free, insanely hard platformer with simple controls and premise but enragingly hard (for my 8 hour runthrough i had 2000 deaths). Every time you die it sends you back to the save point which is usually close on normal mode. Every time i got to a save point I got a profound sense of joy that kept me at it again and again for hours. It punished lightly but did it so much that seeing the next screen became its own reward.

  181. Shamus says:

    Samael: Your dissent is noted.

  182. James says:

    I think one of the biggest problems is that easier difficulties often don’t really give you any tools to better tackle the harder ones. For many developers easy simply equals you do x more damage while the enemy does y less and attacks every fifteen seconds instead of every 5. That’s all well and good, however it does nothing to help you try to tackle the higher tiers. Rather than the enemies slowly becoming smarter and employing different tactics that you have to learn to deal with you eventually just end up where you need to hit them 20 times for them to die and if they breathe in your direction you’re dead. There’s nothing there to learn because they act the same on all difficulties except damage. Arbitrary difficulty does not equal challenging. If there’s nothing there for you to capitalize on for future attempts, it’s a flaw in the game.

    Now i do think you need some kind of punishment for dying because it does make you become more aware of what you’re doing instead of just going until you bang it out like the monkey writing shakespeare. When there is an active penalty you won’t be so forgiving and will make sure you get better. For POP, even though I haven’t played it, I think that’s a fair system, if a little lenient. Starting you over on the last flat land does punish you for being unable to employ the right commands in time, but allows you to hone your timing and ability without making you do a whole level over again. I don’t really think being punished harsher makes victory that much sweeter or else managing to get through the first level of Ninja Gaiden (XBox) would have been amazing instead of just making me return it if that’s what the experience was going to be like, but it does act asa regulator to ensure you actually know what you’re doing.

  183. Shamus says:

    James: You’re right, and I think this is is a common complaint, that difficulty levels are a pretty crude instrument of adjusting the game. They’re great for a beginner who is just trying to learn the basics, but cranking things up to super-hard isn’t always satisfying for more talented players. They’re often looking for a deeper challenge (smarter enemies, as you hinted at) rather than simply a steeper version of the same hill.

    It’s a tough problem to solve. (Because writing solid AI is often so hard.)

    I like the idea of depriving the player of meta-game information. Remove the targeting reticule, hide the status bars of the enemy, hide the enemies on the map, etc. It makes the game harder in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways and makes it more “realistic”.

  184. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “It's a tough problem to solve. (Because writing solid AI is often so hard.)”

    It is.But it is doable.The problem is that AI development doesnt get enough resources.

    Also,very few developers let the fans help them.And there are always those with skills and will to do so.And for free!So why not let them glimpse at the code and improve your product so it would satisfy larger audience?So what if one or two people would use that code to earn money themselves?Youd double your customers.

  185. Kevin says:

    Great job, Shamus! Very interesting and compelling all the way through! Especially for me, who enjoys videogames, but only finishes MAYBE a quarter of them because I always hit some point in the game I can’t get past, and rather than continuing to beat my head against a wall, I just put down the controller. This has led to me almost completely stopping my videogame purchases years ago, and just playing WoW. (I’ve stuck my toe back in a couple of times, but always come away regretful that I spent the money.)

  186. Matt says:

    My friend and I have a philosophy from our game playing days that if something has more than one joystick and two buttons, then it’s too complicated, so I totally agree with your point about games. It’s a big reason I don’t really play games on a console. Saying that, I thought the video could have been done in a fraction of the time while getting the same point across. I still have a hard time seeing how a big name title made casual gamer friendly beats out LittleBigPlanet for innovation though.

  187. tussock says:

    I always figured the problem with platform games was the required precision. It’s not like you have to be perfect with every shot and movement in a FPS, just close enough on average.

    Modern RTS games tend to suffer the same precision problems; you have to follow a certain build order down to the second early on due to the exponential growth of assets, only they’re not polite enough to tell you when you’ve misstepped along the way.

    That the latest PoP’s got an automatic instant reload doesn’t really help that; it’s not different to many old platformers that just walk you back to the start of each short sequence. You’ve still got to be (the modern equivalent of) pixel-perfect to progress every little step of the way.

    OK, it does help compared to making a five-minute rail treck just to try each precise little jump: but I don’t imagine that’s as common as you make out.

  188. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @tussock

    Not true about FPS/RTS.In multiplayer you have to be precise in FPSs,and have to follow the order in RTSs,but in singleplayer this is not required on normal and lower difficulties.

    Assassins creed did quite a lot to remove that precision from platforming.Now that was a revolution of the genre.

  189. Telas says:

    …and thanks especially for reminding me why I don’t go to slashdot any more…

  190. Dix says:

    in after whinefest!!!1!!

    I still say you should make more of these videos. I have high hopes someone (like, uh, der, the Escapist?) will pick them up!

  191. nehumanuscrede says:

    While there isn’t an easy solution to the console controller.
    ( They SUCK, I’m sorry. I will take a mouse over that damn
    analog stick any time ) There is an easy solution to keep the
    hardcore folks happy.

    Mode selection:

    Normal
    Doom on You

    The first allows us a bit of leeway in learning the game.

    The second permanently kills your character upon the first
    mistake making you start over from the beginning. I believe
    Diablo did this in hardcore mode.

    The hardcore fanboys fail to realize that unless the
    developer can get enough folks to play the damn thing to
    begin with, the game will never get made.

    I’m curious to see how well Darkfall is going to do upon
    it’s release later this month. It promises to be the new
    Ultima Online, right down to the ultimate PvP full loot
    system.

    While a new concept for the current generation of MMO’s, I
    don’t think enough folks are going to continue playing it
    once they realize just how punishing death is going to be.
    Much like Ultima Online, if you’re killed by another player
    everything you have on the character is subject to looting.

    The majority ( which is who developers try to market to ) will simply not tolerate that lol.

    Once the masses quit, the game will implode due to lack of
    active players on the servers. Server merges will happen in
    an attempt to salvage it as long as possible but, in the
    end, it will simply go away.

  192. Adam says:

    I just picked up “Braid” from XBLA, and have to say that game easily achieves the lack-of-penalty aspect even better. You actually get to rewind, speed up and slow down time and review your mistakes right at the point of failure…or any point in the game. It also serves as an interesting puzzle metric that feels reminiscent of super paper mario.

    this really makes platformers amazingly accessible. I was in the middle of a particularly difficult jump, and could simply reverse time and change aspects of the jump, even in mid-air. Items are persistent, so after I get the key, I can backtrack incredibly fast by rewinding back up to that ledge I was on previously, etc.

  193. Gorthol says:

    I guess after having read some of the exchange between Samael and Shamus (and I’m worried about reviving it here), I must say that this mechanic in PoP really doesn’t seem innovative.

    I thought it might have been innovative for platformers, but apparently, it was available on some older platformers. So really, it’s not doing anything that hasn’t been done before.

    I think the key idea here is that you shouldn’t have to play a TRAINING game just to hone your skills to the point where you can play newly released games. PoP is a new game building on a rather large legacy that COULD have been extraordinarily punitive, but instead chose to go in a different direction. (As someone mentioned, PoP1 was very unforgiving, and I would say that PoP2 was even more so.)

    Since I don’t want to put words in Shamus’s mouth, I’ll briefly say what I personally think his video is trying to tell me. What it looks like he’s trying to say is that they were innovative because they were brave enough to make a big title non-punitive. And that’s fair (I think).

  194. Bruno says:

    About your question on what is appealing to difficulty and punishment, you have to read Jesper Juul’s essay: Fear of failing? The many meanings of difficulty in video games.

  195. AmstradHero says:

    Excellent video, and I have to say I love the Descent music. The funny thing was that I didn’t even read the text below the video and was waiting to see you mention Descent in the credits! My copy of the midis for Descent 1 & 2 have survived numerous computer upgrades and several hard drive crashes.

  196. ryanlb says:

    That video was great! Entertaining and informative. I am already planning to buy Prince of Persia (after I finish the Sands of Time trilogy, which I just bought, and after it’s a little cheaper), but now I’ll also have to make my wife play it.

  197. Eric says:

    @ shamus: For pop I thought they got it right with the whole sands mechanic, the only thing I found wrong with it was that they made the sand a little to rare for my tastes. Now they could also take a page from the new alone in the dark game and allow the player to skip a very frustrating part, at their discretion. If you want to skip a puzzle, boss fight, or even quick time events that you may find to challenging, you should have the option. I still believe this all comes to whether or not you want to play the game, or experience it. For example, Little big planet. While it can be challenging at times, it’s mostly just a relaxing romp through the developers artistic creativity. It’s pretty much a lazy sunday afternoon. Now take God of War, a game that was meant to be challenging at practically all times, it’s just like overcoming one of your projects that you have been working on as of late, most of the time it was a bitch, but after it’s done you take a look at what you’ve done, and can’t help but feel proud of what you acomplished.

  198. Stringycustard says:

    I like the way you’re thinking here, Shamus. It’s something I’ve been striving to find – a good game that non-gamers can get into. I’ve been trying to get my girlfriend (and other girls, too) into games and I found that the only games they played were things like Peggle, not because it was fun (they got bored after a while after the initial fun-times) but because it didn’t take them 12 days to learn how to run around a corner or jump an obstacle. World of goo also hit home quite a bit, the learning curve in that game is fantastic – it gets hard but it still works well to introduce players.

    I tried other games of the more gamer-style sort of thing. Neverwinter Nights 2 was pretty decent due to the story I guess, but my girlfriend stopped that pretty soon after the rules bogged her down (d20 is just not explained at all well in d20 pc games – and it’s complex anyway).

    But PoP looks like a good bet. I hope I keep in mind your ideas when I make my own games.

    Side note: interesting that you place PoP and Mirror’s Edge in together – they have the exact opposite philosophy or punishment ethic. I’m a good platformer and I died about 30 times in the first 2 minutes I sat down to play that one. Great game but really unforgiving.

  199. Thomas says:

    I have to say, i did not like this, this is just your view on gaming and seems completly different to mine….

    When you die, you restart at the start of the level…not in most games i play, there are checkpoints, you learn from your mistake and play again from the checkpoint, just like you would do if you missed a shot in basketball, learn from your mistake and try again.

    Feels to me your just trying to explain away your inadequacies in gaming..

  200. Clint Olson says:

    Just wanted to say: While I agree with the sentiments expressed in the video in concept, I just finished playing the new Prince of Persia… and the (extremely railroaded) ending is a nice, solid kick in the nuts. I’m mildly ticked at the game right now.

  201. Rick says:

    I picked up PoP a few weeks ago and just beat the game. I came back here and took a look at your PoP posts (specifically this one). I have to say: I agree and disagree with your assessment.

    First some background: I grew up with consoles (Atari, Nintendo, N64), then moved to PC and now own a PS3. I play maybe 1-2 hours per night after the kids are in bed. I’d probably be thrown in the hardcore bucket, but I’m not a super awesome gamer.

    Here’s where I agree: The game is innovative – “easy” but entertaining, looks great and makes you feel like a hero (at times). New comers may like the “you can’t die/lose” the game offers.

    Here’s where I disagree:
    Bosses: You get them too close to a wall/cliff/etc. and it’s no longer a fight. It’s a bunch of QTEs that range from easy to impossible. If you are holding down the block button, the QTE starts and you haven’t released block button fast enough you auto-fail the QTE. I’m an experienced gamer and I found this incredibly frustrating. This is not going to win new gamers over.
    Railroaded: There is one path and you must cross it to get to the next area. Say you are a new comer who isn’t quite fast enough to handle an area. You are forced to get it right – and there is only one right way to do it. There is no, “let’s try jumping left instead of right.” A wall running sequence comes to mind. This was a prolonged run that forced you to move left or right. Sometimes there was only one choice. The only way past was to memorize the sequence. It took my a dozen tries and there was the punishment of getting sent back to the beginning power plate. Although for most of the game they put platforms in between longer sequences. And there are a couple of areas that you can just co-op jump your way through, but you never knew if you could until you found out the “hard” way by dying.
    Dying: Sure you don’t get punished but I still don’t like “losing.” I can play through some games and only die a few times. But this game I “died” every 30 seconds. My Hero wasn’t being very heroic…
    Easy: If you really are going to play the whole game you will get bored. Nothing gets harder… the whole game is the same difficulty. Once you’ve honed your skills on the first four areas, the rest of the game is the same. Maybe the sequences were longer, but then it just got to be a chore. “Ok, I have to go from points A to B, but this time I have to hit 10 buttons instead of 5.” Boring…

    The game was OK and may get a few people into gaming, but I think you are giving it too much credit.

  202. kuertee says:

    Hey shamus! Thank you for this video. I really enjoyed it.

    And as an experiment, I added a “Reset button” option to my Oblivion mod Alternatives to death and reload: http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=23862.

    The Reset button option teleports the player a safe-distance back the way they came when the player is near-death.

    Keep up the good work!

  203. NBSRDan says:

    The video as a whole was very well articulated and edited, though I can’t help but be skeptical of one major point: I don’t think Ubisoft was going for an enlightened approach to game design. It seems more like they just decided “let’s make an easy game”, making a much deeper philosophical mistake in thinking that reducing the penalty for failure also reduces difficulty. Ubisoft and other companies will probably take Prince of Persia’s sales as an indication of whether gamers want easy games.

  204. VonBraun says:

    I just noticed that today it has been exactly a year since you uploaded that video.

    When can we expect to see another episode? Have you talked to the video-people at The Escapist?

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