Do it again, stupid

By Shamus
on Apr 24, 2006
Filed under:
Game Design

162 comments

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.

Some examples:

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?

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A Hundred!2020202Many comments. 162, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

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  1. Bailey says:

    Alice the madness returns (╬ಠ益ಠ) the game looks awesome the story is interesting but the GODDAMN JUMPING I swear the game is laughing at me saying ‘jump monkey jump’ I have had to replay so many sections of that game making it up until the last jump over and over again. I mean come on щ(゚Д゚щ)(屮゚Д゚)屮 I just want to continue on with the story but no no no you can’t until you jump on this invisible platform that you can only see when you’re shrunk and can’t jump…oh and did I mention that they move? GAWD (ಥ‿ಥ)

  2. TheArtfulNudger says:

    I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this one but Star Wars:the Empire Strikes Back was, to quote Cracked.com, “Hard as Brass Balls”, especially on the SNES. DIAS doesn’t quite capture the teeth grinding arduousness of the whole experience.

  3. Eva says:

    I just spent 3 hours getting the damn Goran hammer in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the end I felt nothing but more anger that I was forced to run up a tiny staircase a hundred times in a timed race with the threat of falling halfway through the dungeon hanging over my head if I swerved too far to the right. I otherwise love this game, but this just about made me rage-quit it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Devil May Cry as a series does this with distressing regularity. The games (except #2 in the series) are all really well done and fun to play for me, but there’s a huge amount of this design philosophy. Mitigating factors that were used to make DIAS less unpleasant:
    – game fairness: every enemy and boss has audio and visual cues before executing an attack, allowing you to dodge out of the way in time; every enemy is beatable with any weapon setup, though some may work better than others
    – Skippable cutscenes: self-explanatory
    – Dynamic content: boss attack patterns are mostly random or semirandom; enemy spawn points are constant but behaviour is dynamic;
    – Little randomness/luck: Attacks all do a constant amount of damage, with no randomness or variation. Attacks hitting or missing is a role solely of dodging correctly or incorrectly, and if correctly dodged there is a 0% chance of being damaged.
    – Easier difficulties than the default for players who struggle
    – The ability to cheese your way past any fight or point of difficulty beyond the first level (farm red orbs for items and/or powerups if all else fails – 2-3 holy waters will win any boss fight in the game on easy mode without requiring any skill whatsoever).
    Even with these it still is probably not for those who want to see the story unfold or explore the world presented. As the story and plot of the games are largely stupid and terrible from the very outset to the end, this is perhaps unsurprising.

    Fundamentally, to really get into this DIAS game mindset you have to forget trying to view the game as you exploring a world or viewing the plot or cutscenes or whatever, and instead view the game as a method of training you to incrementally become better at whatever the game espouses. In DMC this might be reflexes, game-knowledge (enemies, attacks, defenses, timings, spawn locations,etc), ability to execute strategies. In Starcraft it might be macro/micro/grand strategy.

    People who are really into and enjoy the gameplay in and of itself will have less problem with DIAS scenarios, as they want to play and get better at playing, and the game letting them progress (to later levels, higher difficulties, etc.) is a barometer of their progress. People who want to see the plot unfold, see the rest of the world, etc will be disappointed and hate these games.

  5. […] decision-making, hours spent, etc), chores with no other purpose than to waste my time, DIAS (Do It Again Stupid), rules that sabotage the game’s strongest points and excessive hand-holding at the cost of […]

  6. […] mechanics and context), meta-ludonarrative dissonance (conflict between player and context) and DIAS: Do It Again Stupid (conflict between player and mechanics). Share this:FacebookDiggRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe […]

  7. […] Success and failure are binary. You either win this fight unconditionally or you die and restart. There’s no room given to make even the smallest mistake. There’s no creativity or innovation. You will die repeatedly until you learn exactly what the designer wants you to do, and in the process you will probably waste more time swearing at loading screens than you will actually playing. A classic and terminal case of Do It Again, Stupid. […]

  8. […] like Fallout:3. No missing conversations or broken quests like KOTOR:2. No controller demolishing DIAS quests that filled the GTA sequels. No excessive amounts of cowbell. It isn’t a game that needs […]

  9. […] “gotcha” moments that most of the time translate to instant death. It’s not quite DIAS, but it certainly comes […]

  10. […] Super-Famous Actors cluttering up the place with strangely lousy voice acting. And no frustrating Do It Again, Stupid gameplay (as in earlier BioShocks, death is only really a minor inconvenience; you come back with […]

  11. […] to go by, GTA V will have numerous punishingly hard missions that are almost impossible to finish the first time, aircraft that are only slightly easier to fly than the real things, and a split personality in […]

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    Jesus, coming back here and reading the comments by those kids from Gamefaqs is painful. I can’t even imagine what those deleted ones said.

    The worst part is that those dingbats don’t even understand the problem here. Specially those that claim that the NES games were the same (and then go and say they were better for it).

    The problem is: DIAS is not difficulty. That’d be like saying that having a test for a subject you never studied would be “difficult”. No, that’s not the proper word. Difficulty implies having a challenge based on knowledge you have. Just like a test, you’re supposed to overcome the challenge by applying what you’ve learned. When they literally don’t teach you what you need to know you can’t claim that’s “difficulty”. That’s unfairness and nothing else. Because once you have the knowledge, playing the stage is ridiculously easy, so there’s really no difficulty involved.

    In the subject of the old NES games. Those games had to do that because the technology for having actual difficulty-based challenge just didn’t exist at that point. They had to do that because there was no other way to include replayability. Games have no excuse for doing such a thing nowadays. It’s like buying a new car that’s made with the most comfortable seats and aerodynamic looks but still needs a horse to pull it. You know damn well there’s no need for such a thing because technology has advanced past it. Including it is pure laziness.

  13. […] more brutal approach, forcing you to start again if you’re caught and killed. This is termed DIAS on Twenty Sided, where it stands for “Do it again stupid” and is a terrible thing in […]

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8 Trackbacks

  1. By Finding my voice « Indigo Static on December 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    […] decision-making, hours spent, etc), chores with no other purpose than to waste my time, DIAS (Do It Again Stupid), rules that sabotage the game’s strongest points and excessive hand-holding at the cost of […]

  2. By The game triangle « Indigo Static on April 18, 2012 at 3:37 am

    […] mechanics and context), meta-ludonarrative dissonance (conflict between player and context) and DIAS: Do It Again Stupid (conflict between player and mechanics). Share this:FacebookDiggRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe […]

  3. […] Success and failure are binary. You either win this fight unconditionally or you die and restart. There’s no room given to make even the smallest mistake. There’s no creativity or innovation. You will die repeatedly until you learn exactly what the designer wants you to do, and in the process you will probably waste more time swearing at loading screens than you will actually playing. A classic and terminal case of Do It Again, Stupid. […]

  4. By Nonsensituation Room on September 25, 2012 at 10:32 am

    […] like Fallout:3. No missing conversations or broken quests like KOTOR:2. No controller demolishing DIAS quests that filled the GTA sequels. No excessive amounts of cowbell. It isn’t a game that needs […]

  5. By Dark Souls critique « Indigo Static on October 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    […] “gotcha” moments that most of the time translate to instant death. It’s not quite DIAS, but it certainly comes […]

  6. By » Back from Columbia How to Spot a Psychopath on April 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    […] Super-Famous Actors cluttering up the place with strangely lousy voice acting. And no frustrating Do It Again, Stupid gameplay (as in earlier BioShocks, death is only really a minor inconvenience; you come back with […]

  7. […] to go by, GTA V will have numerous punishingly hard missions that are almost impossible to finish the first time, aircraft that are only slightly easier to fly than the real things, and a split personality in […]

  8. By Breaking the Boolean - 3DTotal Games3DTotal Games on September 13, 2016 at 10:02 am

    […] more brutal approach, forcing you to start again if you’re caught and killed. This is termed DIAS on Twenty Sided, where it stands for “Do it again stupid” and is a terrible thing in […]

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