on Apr 24, 2006
There are some games that really, really annoy me. Popular games. Games that have sold well and are beloved by millions. Some of these games I hate with such intensity that it’s difficult to talk about them without employing profanity. I find myself shaking my head at these games thinking: Why did they MAKE it this way? And who PLAYS these games, anyway?
I’m noticing that there is an important distinction between the games that I like and the games I hate. In games I like, the appeal is a steady march to the end of the game. There is no failure (or failure is rare) but only minor setbacks. The very best ones are self-balancing. Barring that, they should at least allow the careful and thoughtful player to proceed through the game with minimal use of the “reload” and “retry” options.
The OTHER type of game, the kind that has always perplexed me, is something my brother and I refer to as a “Do it again, stupid” game. The game will pose a challenge, and the player is almost certainly doomed to fail on their first attempt. And the second. And maybe a few subsequent attempts as well. Usually we’re talking about a “mission” of some sort. As in, “do something quite difficult before the time runs out”.
If I have to do the mission twice, it must be twice as fun, right? So if I have to do the mission ten times…
It becomes clear when you do this that the designers never intended for you to succeed on the first try. They intend for you to do the mission over and over until you meet some arbitrary goal or time limit. Often the mission with have some sort of surprise “gotcha” moment that foils you. You must then remember this and plan ahead on your next attempt. An example: In Grand Theft Auto you have a street race where on one particular corner a car will ALWAYS jump out from a side street and pull in front of you. Once this happens a few times you realize it isn’t a fluke: It’s scripted, and you need to avoid it by driving on the sidewalk in that area.
I cannot describe how much I hate this. Every failure feels like wasted time to me. As in, “Hey, I’m doing this mission again. I’ve seen the cutscene. I’ve heard the dialog. I’ve seen it. Now I’m done with it and would like to move on. The Tony Hawk, Jakk, and Grand Theft Auto franchises all come to mind. Too hard. Too frustrating.
But other people love this sort of game. I’m guessing that for them the appeal is the thrill they get when they at last beat the mission. The harder the mission, the more rewarding it is when they at last pull it off. They seem to dislike the “steady progress” games that I love, because to them victory is inevitable.
For me, the do it again stupid (DIAS) games are horrible. I don’t get any sense of satisfaction when I beat a mission. I’m still ticked off that I just spent twenty minutes replaying the same three minutes of the game over and over. I resent the wasted time. I think to the one attempt ten minutes ago when I almost beat the mission but missed the goal by a quarter-second, and I’m even MORE bitter about the time spent re-playing the mission since then. More importantly, the misery I get from my half-dozen failures far outweighs the pleasure of the one final success.
A while back I picked up Starfox Adventures, which is supposedly a kid’s game. At one point there was a challenge I couldn’t beat. I’ve been playing video games for a quarter century, now. I’ve beaten my share of video games and proven myself to be an above-average player, but this mission was beyond me. I couldn’t do it. I got sick of trying. I never beat the game, and took it back to the store in disgust. Nothing like being beaten by a “kid’s game”.
Jakk II did this to me as well: The game came highly recommended and had fantastic visuals, but there was a “race over here real fast” mission about an hour in, and I couldn’t even come close to beating it. I realized that I was still in the early “easy” part of the game, and that the difficulty curve was only going up from here. I quit playing, and in the end I saw less than a tenth of it. (Luckily Jakk II was borrowed so at least I didn’t waste my money.)
That’s right, I’m wasted. Just like the last twenty minutes.
The thing that annoys me with these games is that there is no fail-safe. No matter how many times you fail, no matter how badly you fail, and no matter how long you remain stuck, you are never any closer to beating the mission than you were the first time you tried. There is no system to help frustrated players along or let them skip after so many attempts. There is no consolation prize. You have no new items or stats or experience to show for your work. You’re in stasis until you can jump through these hoops. It really is time wasted.
If every mission takes an average of 4 attempts for every success, then to me 80% of my playing time is being wasted. It also seems arbitrary: Like, if they want to make the game more “fun”, why not make it twice as hard? Why not just have the whole game as one long confusing mission, and every time you fail you go back to the very beginning of the game? Just think of it! Hundreds and hundreds of hours of gameplay! Think of the thrill when you at last beat it! Yay!
It sucks, and games like this need a warning label so I know to avoid them.
Over the years I’ve grown more and more wary of these sorts of games. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older and I’m not as sharp or a quick as I used to be. Maybe it’s because I have less time for games than I did when I was twenty-two, and I’m more careful about how I spent my limited gaming time. Maybe I’m just cranky. :)
Just for fun: List any DIAS games that really ticked you off in the comments. What games were the most heartless and frustrating when it came to wasting your time?
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.