Reset Button: Most Innovative Game of 2008

  By Shamus   Dec 29, 2008   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.


A Hundred!A Hundred!18218 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?


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  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.

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