Reset Button: Most Innovative Game of 2008

By Shamus
on Dec 29, 2008
Filed under:
Movies

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?

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

From the Archives:

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 !%^!@# 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/ )

  4. 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

  5. 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.)

  6. 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.

  7. unknown_gamer says:

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

  8. 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.

  9. Noppa says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. @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.

  14. carlivar says:

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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.)

  22. 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?”

  23. 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.

  24. 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.)

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

    Again, excelent video, congrats!

  26. 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?”

  27. 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).

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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?

  32. 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.

  33. 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*

  34. 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!!!!!

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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?

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. Shamus says:

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

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.)

  49. 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.

  50. 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?

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. Shamus says:

    Samael: Your dissent is noted.

  57. 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.

  58. 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”.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.)

  61. 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.

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