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Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"
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Thomas Offline
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Post: #1
Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

About how trial-and-error mechanics can be in the way of more emotional games with deeper meanings.

http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com/2010...games.html
04-11-2010 09:58 PM
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naturon Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

I mostly agree with you regarding the prospect of trial-and-error breaking the immersion of games. I disagree however that taking trial-and-error out of the picture would ultimately make the experience better. You can't forget that players are playing a game, and without any sort of chance of losing, the player has nothing to fear from anything he may encounter. You mentioned that making the player's decisions affect the world around him, both positively and negatively, and I find that is a very good idea. The problem is, this would mean that a frustratingly large amount of time would be dedicated solely to writing all of the possible consequences to your actions. You would have to take account for anything and everything that could happen, and I have rarely ever seen games pull this off. Regardless it is a noble pursuit, and it would be quite amazing if a fully engrossing game world is ever created.

That being said, I also love a good challenge. If I can stroll through the game without ever dying or facing any kind of hazard then the game better have an excellent story, and told even better. If you can accomplish this, then perhaps having no trial-and-error system might be for the best. I do mainly play games for an experience however. If the setting is great, the atmosphere appropriate and the gameplay immersive, then I don't mind it if I don't face any real physical barriers. If the game can incorporate let's say some powerful moments where the player must decide between something, and that you actually care what the outcome might be, then the feeling one gets out of making a "wrong" choice could be equally as frustrating as dying. This would have to mean that your progress is permanently saved as you go along, otherwise people would just reload, and choose the more beneficial option. Nice article though, very thought-provoking. I'm not exactly sure where my stance is. I love playing through challenging games because the fulfillment one gets from beating a tough section is very nice, although I also love more cinematic type games, based in story and atmosphere more than gameplay.
04-14-2010 09:23 PM
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Thomas Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

Quote:If the game can incorporate let's say some powerful moments where the player must decide between something, and that you actually care what the outcome might be, then the feeling one gets out of making a "wrong" choice could be equally as frustrating as dying.

This is a very hard problem indeed. It is a bit up to the players to face the consequences of their action, which is something not everyone can. I think it is something one perhaps must learn and I think that it can make games feel more special. There are some Interactive Fiction games where I have reloaded because something strange happened and then done according to walkthrough, but suddenly, it did not feel like MY adventure, and if I had just stuck to my choice it would have been better for me.

However, it is also up to the designer to make outcomes that are in some degree equally "compelling". If an NPC dies, then it does not feels like you lost them, but like she sacrificed herself for you, thus creating a movement of strong emotions. This is very hard though and it will probably never work for all players. Also, it is important that it does not feel random, due to bad controls, etc. In those cases death and restart is to prefer because if you have the feeling of "Hey! I did not intend to do that!!!", then that huge immersion breaker.

Quote:I love playing through challenging games because the fulfillment one gets from beating a tough section is very nice, although I also love more cinematic type games, based in story and atmosphere more than gameplay.
Apart from not liking the term "cinematic", I totally agree! And I hope it is possible to have both Smile Just not always both in the same game....
04-15-2010 02:38 PM
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naturon Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

Quote:This is a very hard problem indeed. It is a bit up to the players to face the consequences of their action, which is something not everyone can. I think it is something one perhaps must learn and I think that it can make games feel more special. There are some Interactive Fiction games where I have reloaded because something strange happened and then done according to walkthrough, but suddenly, it did not feel like MY adventure, and if I had just stuck to my choice it would have been better for me.

I couldn't agree with more. I have fallen prey to this a few times before where I have gotten myself in a bit of a predicament in a game, and have to replay the same section over and over again to succeed, only to give up and view a walkthrough of it, to find my way was a lot less efficient than the one in the walkthrough. This especially holds true for the Hitman series. Despite being linear in gameplay and story, the game's missions are mostly open-ended, as there are many ways to complete one mission usually, and something is definitely missing when I follow a walkthrough instead of figuring out what to do myself. This is not exactly what you were talking about, but for a lack of a better example this is the only one I can give, I think you know what I'm talking about though.

Quote:However, it is also up to the designer to make outcomes that are in some degree equally "compelling". If an NPC dies, then it does not feels like you lost them, but like she sacrificed herself for you, thus creating a movement of strong emotions. This is very hard though and it will probably never work for all players. Also, it is important that it does not feel random, due to bad controls, etc. In those cases death and restart is to prefer because if you have the feeling of "Hey! I did not intend to do that!!!", then that huge immersion breaker.

And this I also agree with. Although it is very difficult sometimes, somehow writing in situations that are able to at least somewhat affect the player in an emotional way but have no real "wrong choice" is what more games need to do. By wrong choice I mean a choice that ultimately leads to death or more ironically a glitch in the story. I also hate when the only reason a game is difficult is because the controls are bad.

Quote:Apart from not liking the term "cinematic", I totally agree! And I hope it is possible to have both Smile Just not always both in the same game....

Something is quite off about the word cinematic for me as well, because games should absolutely not imitate movies, but I'm not sure what else to say.
04-15-2010 09:05 PM
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wcer Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

I agree with your blog, that said I'm wondering if this is something you guys learned from trial and error and plan to avoid or if it's something we're going to see more of in Amnesia.

I only recently played through the penumbra triad (after reading said post in fact), and I couldn't help but notice the games tended towards exactly what you say the problem is as the series progressed. A deep immersion grasped me in Overture, Black Plague started to lose me, and Requiem completely butchered my immersion with precisely these sort of trial and error mechanics. For some reason the
Spoiler below!
"oh I need a way up there and there just happens to be a perfectly coorindated series of moving pistons/platforms/exploading barrels/whatever to do so" makes it painfully obvious that it is a game for me. Likewise with things like the blue ball + blue lasers = do it over, combined with your engines at times frustrating control scheme and physics it really ruined the fun for me.

That said I did pre-order Amnesia, and while your games are cool and have atmosphere despite the issues you discuss in your blog I do hope your post means you are going to try and avoid these mistakes. Then again to be fair maybe I just wasn't playing BP and Req. right, and the error was on my end rather than yours.
04-16-2010 07:11 PM
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Thomas Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

Quote:that said I'm wondering if this is something you guys learned from trial and error and plan to avoid or if it's something we're going to see more of in Amnesia.
Amensia will not be a revolution in game design with no trial-and-error, etc. But we are trying out new stuff and trying to work in ideas that we get. Reducing trial-and-error has been something we have tried to do since Penumbra Overture and we are doing our best to take immersion etc a step further in Amneisa.

Quote:A deep immersion grasped me in Overture, Black Plague started to lose me...
Interesting that you found Black Plague less immersive, because I that is the part that (at least I think) had the least amount of trial and error. What did you feel lost immersion in BP?

Requiem was just meant to be a puzzle game and we know that disappointed quite a few. I mistake we have learned from! Smile
(This post was last modified: 04-16-2010 09:33 PM by Thomas.)
04-16-2010 09:32 PM
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wcer Offline
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Post: #7
RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

Honestly i played them pretty much back to back over 1-2 days so i may be confusing parts, i'll give them another play through and get back to you with more details.

I figured requiem was largely an experimental thing on your guys part. I didn't hate it, but I wasn't expecting lovecraftian portal after the other two Tongue
04-16-2010 10:02 PM
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naturon Offline
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Post: #8
RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

My take on it is:

Spoiler below!
Black Plague pretty much removed all of the trial and error found in Overture by introducing the Tuurngait zombie enemies instead of the wolves. If a wolf saw you then you had to fight, cause they run twice as fast as you. However in Black Plague if you're spotted you have a very good chance of getting away and hiding (provided you aren't too scared to even move), so the only real trial and error sections I found were the room with the rock worm and Dr. Wilbur Frisk in the walls, but those two sections didn't cause the game to grind to a halt or anything, just died three or four times. Otherwise I found I actually didn't die that often at all, and found the game to be a very fluent but also hard game.

On Requiem: I actually didn't hate this game at all. Some of the levels had some ingenious puzzles and a great atmosphere. Unfortunately I think it was vastly inferior mainly due to the fact that the puzzles don't have any thought behind them, no real main theme. Not mindless, but without context in my opinion. I know exactly why it was made this way but I still don't like it. I enjoyed playing it though, it was short enough for me to not get bored with the game.
04-16-2010 10:16 PM
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TeleProd Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

I agree with the blog. It is just a question just a question of finding a consequence for "playing bad" that fulfills two conditions: 1) It does not make the game trial and error. 2) It is meaningful and feared. Trial and error does make the horror dissappear, but so does the discovery that there is nothing to be afraid of.

I can think of two ways to lessen the trial and error in a penumbra style game: Firstly, you can widen the gap between "all OK" and death. It means creating a feeling of danger but making sure death (and the following retry) is not very likely. Health is obviously one such method but awfully trite and probably not sufficient alone. In Team Fortress 2 (not a horror game) there's a melee weapon that makes you more powerful the less health you have. I think the idea could be used here: when your health gets lower, you become more powerful. That way, you can put the player in more danger and tension because they are more likely to survive it. There still obviously needs to be consequences to be afraid of. *PENUMBRA SPOILER* Also, a comparable method could be implemented to the part where you flee from the worm: it moves slower or faster depending on how well you're doing.

The other method is actually finding an alternative gameplay design for failing other than trying again. It would need to be something that the player wants to avoid, but at the same time something that doesn't warrant a reload. For example, on "death" you could make the player enter a maze-like or scary world. When they go through it, they emerge victorious from their encounter. For this to work, reloading and simply trying again should be the less attractive option. That exact suggestion might not work with all scripted encounters but searching alternatives for death is an idea worth exploring.

To wrap it up, I want to share an experience I had with Afraid of Monsters last night. For those that don't know, Afraid of Monsters is an horror mod for Half-Life 1 with a scary atmosphere and a lot of combat. Thinking I would do fine on hard, I selected hard (I have beaten Half-Life on hard several times, after all). Boy was I wrong. I had to reload A LOT. Even the slightest mistake, using too much ammo or just simply exploring too long with flashlight on could make the game VERY HARD further on. I continually exploited the AI (very possible and easy in HL) because I just couldn't finish it otherwise. Even so I had to use a cheat in the end, because there was a part I just couldn't humanly beat. I started at about 10 PM and thought I'd play until 12 AM. I eventually finished it at around 4 AM. I probably had the most intense and scary time of my life (competing with Penumbra). By the end I was a wreck. That was despite the fact that there was a lot of trial and error. In fact, I think it was because everything posed an immense threat of making you try again. It shows that I can have good horror with trial and error, although I don't prefer it.
04-16-2010 11:31 PM
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Thomas Offline
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RE: Blog: "Why Trial and Error will Doom Games"

TeleProd:
I am curious if the immersion you obviously felt was with the game world or if it was with the act of playing. I have played some games, where I have been extremely tensed, been low on energy and know that the slightest mistake would lead to death and a lot of replay. During these plays I feel quite jumpy, concentrated and also extremly immersed in the experience. Even though al ot of trial-and-error might be involved. But it is not the game world I am immersed in, it is the game. I do not care about the characters or what my actions really mean, etc. It is more of a me against the game experience and it is quite different from being immersed in a simulated world and getting fear/tension of that.

I am interested to know how you consider your "Afraid of Monsters" - experience in respect to the above.
(This post was last modified: 04-17-2010 12:15 AM by Thomas.)
04-17-2010 12:14 AM
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