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Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!
July 24, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

These are all the Twinkie Denial Conditions described in my “Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!” Designer’s Notebook columns. Each one is an egregious design error, although many of them have appeared in otherwise great games.
posted by Joe Beese (110 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a very, very good list. I don't know anyone who has played video games for any amount of time without running into at least five or six of these conditions in the first ten minutes.

No On-Demand Save Game and/or No Pause Game

YES. YES. YES. I remember playing Mario RPG, the first JRPG I'd ever really gotten into after being whupped senseless by trying to play Dragon Quest 2 while a) six and b) not having a very good grasp of the English language. I asked a friend of using savestates (I was playing it in an emulator) was "cheating," to which he replied "we're adults. We have better things to do than put pointless, extra time into a video game just to be able to walk away from it." Truer words...

Puzzles Requiring Extreme Lateral Thinking

I think the Cat Hair Puzzle (spoilers, obviously) in Gabriel Knight 3 is worth of its own FPP.
posted by griphus at 1:04 PM on July 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


holy shit, I need to blockquote this for y'all, 'cause damn:
I've got a message for the no-talent clods who insist on putting puerile humor and outrageously-breasted women into computer games. How to put it diplomatically? Oh, I've got it:

Grow up.

You're an embarrassment and a disgrace. It's because of the example you set that the rest of us have to explain to our in-laws, friends, and for that matter, Congressmen, that we're not all tasteless money-grubbing louts, only you guys are. I have spent a lot of time trying to convince non-gamers (but people who vote) that you drooling peep-show habitués are actually a minority whose imbecile products and total lack of judgment unfairly tarnish the rest of the industry. Of course, if you actually cared about what effect your self-indulgent display of adolescent lubriciousness has on the reputation of the business or its possible consequences for the political debate over regulating video games, you wouldn't do it, but no, you're too wrapped up in your own infantile fantasies to pay attention to anything beyond the ends of your priapic phalluses.

It might be tolerable if you were actually any good at it, but your products aren't even decent erotica. They're stupid, they're offensive, and they're not sexy or even funny. I take some comfort in the knowledge that as the market matures, you will eventually be forced out, or at least reduced to irrelevancy. In the end the porno kings stopped trying to pretend that they were legitimate moviemakers and went off to form their own industry with its own low standards of quality. Why don't you do the same? Then you can have your own trade shows, your own awards, and hang around with your own kind: sweaty-palmed, heavy-breathing sloped-forehead gonad-brains. Grow up or get out.
posted by shmegegge at 1:13 PM on July 24, 2010 [34 favorites]


While I certainly agree with a lot of the points made...Dude, it's pretty rich complaining about bad design from inside a motherfucking HTML frame. No Twinkie.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:14 PM on July 24, 2010 [39 favorites]


I do not know if it qualifies as a puzzle requiring Extreme Lateral Thinking, but as a kid I remember to this very day playing the Apple IIgs shooter/puzzle game Alien Mind and being irredeemably stumped by a puzzle having to do with a 'scale' -- I spent most of a summer punching in various words and phrases even tangentially related to various scales and metrics. It was only after the 'invention' of the internet that I was able to Google the answer: CDEFGAB. It completely destroyed my interest in that game, I mean it was absolutely maddening that the answer could not be found anywhere in the game and struck me (in retrospect) as too clever by half. And I was playing piano and well-versed in music at the time, too, which only made it worse in hindsight. Sigh.

CDEFGA[expletive deleted]B
posted by joe lisboa at 1:22 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it went without saying that failing to answer the puzzle prevented you from continuing to play the game in any meaningful way. I am still pissed. GRAR.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:23 PM on July 24, 2010


Here is the offending game in question, complete with a list of puzzle answers.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:24 PM on July 24, 2010


Kill Monster/Take Sword/Sell Sword/Buy A Different Sword/Kill Another Monster

...or in other words, the canonical RPG experience. You may have heard John F. Kennedy’s joke that Washington D.C. is a city of southern efficiency and northern charm. Well, in my opinion most RPG’s combine the pulse-pounding excitement of a business simulation with the intellectual challenge of a shooter. I play games of medieval adventure and heroism to slay princesses and rescue dragons; I don’t play them to spend two-thirds of my time dickering with shopkeepers. I want to be a hero, but the game forces me to be an itinerant second-hand arms dealer. Earning money by robbing corpses doesn’t make me feel all that noble, either.


Maybe It's just my neckbeard talking, but I sort of like that... depending on the game of course. I don't subscribe to the idea that games should be "just fun" and use that as the only metric for success. Sometimes a game has to stop being fun to be challenging, and "fun" is a hard thing to describe and varies by person. Just because you want to be a hero doesn't mean I don't want to be a scavenging mercenary who kills shit to become more powerful.

Pretty good points overall, though.
posted by codacorolla at 1:31 PM on July 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just because you want to be a hero doesn't mean I don't want to be a scavenging mercenary who kills shit to become more powerful.

Right. But while you're granted your experience, no matter how conflicting it is with the storyline and characterization, he has an inability to experience a congruity between character action and the story.
posted by griphus at 1:35 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


My problem with lists like that is that some of the actual design points can be excepted by the right kind of game. For example, on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some games.
posted by JHarris at 1:44 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


He seems to be ranting rather than trying to impart any useful insight - the force of his opinions unrelated to the significance of the issue being discussed.

The interesting observations are greatly outnumbered by those that are either obvious or just matters of taste.
posted by Lorc at 1:54 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


... off to play Red Dead: Redemption some more. Talk about nailing the atmospherics and immersion. And yes, I still look the most forward to picking wildflowers on horseback, ala Oblivion.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2010


For example, on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some games.

I would disagree and correct that to "on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some attitudes toward/ideas about some games".
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


The interesting observations are greatly outnumbered by those that are either obvious or just matters of taste.

Agreed. Some of these are are just complaints, and some are non-starters. I also was going to say it looks like he's complaining about games from 20 years ago, and than noticed the first article is from '98.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:04 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


For example, on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some games.

For instance? As Pope Guilty said, it seems more of an issue of "violating intended design." There's no reason every game can't have a Quick Save/Quick Load feature at the minimum.
posted by griphus at 2:07 PM on July 24, 2010


the two things that get me that i can't understand how it's just not fixed all over the industry yet are completely mappable controllers and if you have a camera, being able to reverse it.
posted by nadawi at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Does everybody else also read these in the voice of Comic Book Guy?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:27 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know if he mentions it, but my friends and I call it, "Last Level, New Skill" - you know, the game where you've spent 20 levels shooting bad guys, now, at the very end, demands driving (Halo!) or jumping (Armored Core) or say gives you awesome chain blade combos and then gives you a sword, that doesn't work at all like the weapons you've been mastering this whole time, and throws you in with a cheap boss (God of War).

It's not only a cheap way of making difficulty, it's also just bad design in that the players spent hours playing your game because they found the core experience to be fun, and you just ripped it out for the last level to gimp all the mastery they've developed.

Bleh.
posted by yeloson at 2:30 PM on July 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


This was both delightful and fascinating, because I know nothing of how video games are made, and discussing how the break gives you insight into that. Thank you very much, Joe. I must hit save now and go out on a short, optional mini-quest for Zebra cakes, because after reading the word Twinkies for about an hour gives me inappropriate chemical cravings.
posted by Diablevert at 2:32 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does everybody else also read these in the voice of Comic Book Guy?

I read everything in the cool, dulcet tones of Rick Moranis.
posted by griphus at 2:33 PM on July 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't know if he mentions it, but my friends and I call it, "Last Level, New Skill" - you know, the game where you've spent 20 levels shooting bad guys, now, at the very end, demands driving (Halo!) or jumping (Armored Core) or say gives you awesome chain blade combos and then gives you a sword, that doesn't work at all like the weapons you've been mastering this whole time, and throws you in with a cheap boss (God of War).

One of the raid bosses that launched with Wrath of the Lich King for WoW was Malygos, a huge dragon. The first two phases of the fight are normal, if gimmicky, and then Malygos destroys the floor and everybody falls onto these smaller dragons that you steer and use their own special abilities to finish the fight.

The problem with this is that a) it's not immediately obvious, if you haven't read up and done that one quest that lets you practice the rotation you need to do, what exactly to do now that you're on the dragon and b) I've just spent eighty levels getting good at playing a Priest. I enjoy playing a Priest. I have no desire to play a dragon. Let the dragons do the dragoning.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I once played a game that let you save at any point, including one point where I was poisoned and at extremely low health and had no access to any method to remove poison. (I think it was one of the Golden Sun games). So I'd load it up, run about 20 seconds in any direction, and die of poison, then be presented with the option to start from my last save. (Granted, this is just a flaw in the save anytime implementation, could have been solved by not letting dots drop you below 1 hp, or several other methods). But save anytime does carry the risk of saving from a point in the conceptual decision/consequence tree where losing is for some reason inevitable. Some games may validly have points like that, in the same way that the writer excused trivia games for asking questions which would be unfair in a FPS.
posted by SomeOneElse at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2010


That flaw, SomeOneElse, is the perfect reason to institute a dual Save/QuickSave system. If you screw up your quicksave, you can always go back to one of the "real" saves. When they re-released FFIV for the DS, this is exactly what they used. The "real" saves were spread out in the way the designers insisted upon for the SNES game, but you had one quicksave slot to be used at any point in time.
posted by griphus at 2:49 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


off to play Red Dead: Redemption some more.

Character in cutscenes loses all abilities, knowledge, and skills observed while under player control...

Bad game designer!, No Twinkie.
posted by ecurtz at 2:59 PM on July 24, 2010


Character in cutscenes loses all abilities, knowledge, and skills observed while under player control...

Aww. Well I am enjoying it.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2010


For example, on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some games.

For instance?


Super Mario Brothers
posted by empath at 3:13 PM on July 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


On-demand saving works great for Super Mario Brothers. Load it up in an emulator and use the savestate function. Works fine.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:18 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, but it ruins the game.
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, it changes the game in a way that you don't like.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:23 PM on July 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yes, but it ruins the game.

This is the reasoning I've always seen. Easily-available cheat codes ruin the game too. So does GameFAQs and strategy guides with walkthroughs. No one is compelling the use of the function. If you don't have the self-control to not ruin the game for yourself because you can abuse a feature, the flaw is not in the design.
posted by griphus at 3:24 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I read everything in the cool, dulcet tones of Rick Moranis.

I read everything in the smooth, relaxing tones of Wallace Shawn.
posted by The Confessor at 3:24 PM on July 24, 2010


No, it changes the game in a way that you don't like.

It changes it in a way that makes it not fun. If you have quick saves in SMB, then the game is trivially easy. This is why people hack super hard levels that would be impossible without quick save. It's the only way to make the game challenging and interesting when you can save at any point.

Having a save game feature in the game means that you need to take the ability to save instantly into account when designing levels. If it's there, then using it is not cheating, it's just part of the game. If being able to quick save and reload instantly makes the game trivially easy and uninteresting, then you've destroyed the game.

You can't just slap a quick save into any game and not fundamentally change the balance and fun of the game.

Another example -- Trials HD would also be ruined by a quick save. It has lots of checkpoints, but if you could just save at any point of the race, it would ruin the competitiveness, and challenge that actually makes the game interesting.

For some game designs, failure must be possible. Quicksaves remove the possibility of failure.
posted by empath at 3:36 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Having a save game feature in the game means that you need to take the ability to save instantly into account when designing levels.

I don't see how you can make that assumption. Again, quicksave was inserted into FFIV when it received a mobile release. Did this break or ruin the game, which otherwise remained unchanged from 1991? No. It let people put down the GBA/DS whenever they wanted to.

If being able to quick save and reload instantly makes the game trivially easy and uninteresting, then you've destroyed the game.

The save feature in Fallout made it trivially easy for me, because I abused it. Does that make Fallout a bad game?
posted by griphus at 3:40 PM on July 24, 2010


Was being a challenge the primary point of the game? Then probably not.
posted by empath at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2010


Again, quicksave was inserted into FFIV when it received a mobile release. Did this break or ruin the game, which otherwise remained unchanged from 1991?

Not all games are FF4. More games could do with instant save, anywhere, but not all.

Generally, though, my opinion is that it's probably a good game design choice to make it so a player doesn't lose anything more than 10-15 minutes of work at a time, or, if it's a platformer game with short levels, to probably put a couple of checkpoints in. (Which is the big improvement Sonic made over SMB when it first came out).
posted by yeloson at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2010


I love video games and I hate being frustrated. Easy difficulty levels, semi-cheats (love the auto-targeting option in RDR), and convenient saves are hugely important to me. I'll just give up a game before I grind my way through 10 repetitions of a task.
posted by nev at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Let's look at another example -- Super Mario Galaxy.

I played this level for about 4 hours trying to beat it, alternately frustrated and thrilled. If I could have quick saved, I'd have spent 10 minutes on it and not gotten anything whatsoever out of it.

Sometimes you don't want quick save as an option, you really don't.
posted by empath at 3:51 PM on July 24, 2010


Yeah, I'm not getting where I ever said that quick saves were always bad. I'm just trying to make the point that some games should not have them.
posted by empath at 3:52 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You spent five hours on it in what looks like individual two-minute sessions. I'll agree that some scenarios should not have them, with the feature to be wholly absent only if the game is entirely made up of those sorts of scenarios.
posted by griphus at 4:02 PM on July 24, 2010


Nobody's forcing you to save.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


nadawi: "the two things that get me that i can't understand how it's just not fixed all over the industry yet are completely mappable controllers and if you have a camera, being able to reverse it."

Oh god yes. I can never get the hang of Gears of War because it's a first person camera control in a 3rd person game. That is, when I'm in first-person, I push the direction I want to look, but in 3rd person, I invert it because to me it's rotating the camera. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like that was the issue I was having (It's been a few years and only played it on a friends 360).

Same thing happened with the Transformers game I tried...

This is referring to horizontal, not vertical. I think most games allow vertical change (though I could be wrong).
posted by symbioid at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding on-demand saving: ignignokt and I have been trying to get through 8-1 on New Super Mario Bros. Wii for hours, and we finally got to the point where Luigi had to show us how it's done, and then we finally moved on to 8-2, only to die and get GAME OVER TOO BAD and get sent right back to the start of World 8.

Which made me think: an awesome item in a game where you couldn't save anywhere would be a portable save point. You're far away from the last spot you saved, and you're at a level you can't get past, or you just beat a level you really don't want to revisit, so you reach into your backpack and boom, save point. But they're very rare and you can't reuse them, so use wisely!

Does something like that already exist in any games? If not, game designers, get on that.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Confessor: "I read everything in the cool, dulcet tones of Rick Moranis.
I read everything in the smooth, relaxing tones of Wallace Shawn.
"

I READ EVERYTHING IN THE SHOUTY, UNNERVING TONES OF BILLY MAYS!
posted by symbioid at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Uninterruptible Movies

I am glad to see this listed. I LOATHE no-skip narrative and cut-scenes/"cinematics", especially in the many many many games (especially Japanese RPGs but Western games are increasingly offending as badly) which think that they are telling an engaging story when they are in fact not. I have refused point-blank to play otherwise very highly reviewed games if they fail to include an easy, quick no-skip buttons on every story or cut-scene and typically (with rare exceptions) skip the scene immediately the first time and every time after that.

A subspecies of this annoyance which isn't mentioned in the database (I think) are in-game non-cutscene story elements which force the player to read some pointless "story" or "dialogue" script. These are usually skippable but there are usually so many of them and the skipping itself takes a couple of seconds each so it all builds up so that they're a real pain.

With a tiny minority of exceptions, game designers SUCK at stories and they should stay away completely from trying that. THE END.
posted by Bwithh at 4:14 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think Enemy Zero had a save system along those lines. From GameFAQs: "When you save it is done through an electronic voice recorder--on a normal game you have 80 units in the battery, a save costs 8 points and a load 2 points(it's only 20 units on Hard and it makes the game quite difficult to finish)."

(Weird fact about Enemy Zero: composer Michael Nyman did the soundtrack and later reused parts of it for an original score to Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera.)
posted by griphus at 4:16 PM on July 24, 2010


I READ EVERYTHING IN THE SHOUTY, UNNERVING TONES OF BILLY MAYS!


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
posted by joe lisboa at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I LOATHE no-skip narrative and cut-scenes/"cinematics", especially in the many many many games (especially Japanese RPGs but Western games are increasingly offending as badly) which think that they are telling an engaging story when they are in fact not.

Being able to skip is no improvement when it means you have no idea what's going on in the game afterwards. If RDR had a flaw it was an over-reliance on cut scenes.

You know how the rule in movies is 'show don't tell'?

The rule in games should be 'play don't show'.

I don't want to watch a movie when I'm playing a game, I don't care how good it is. I want to play. Let me play.
posted by empath at 4:25 PM on July 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


For instance?

Silent Hill. Any horror game, actually, is generally considerably less scary if you can constantly save and reload.
posted by graventy at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Regarding on-demand saving: ignignokt and I have been trying to get through 8-1 on New Super Mario Bros. Wii for hours, and we finally got to the point where Luigi had to show us how it's done, and then we finally moved on to 8-2, only to die and get GAME OVER TOO BAD and get sent right back to the start of World 8.

Are you playing it single player? Or did you both just happen to die at the same time? Every time one of us died in multiplayer when I was playing it they just came back with five lives, and we threw ourselves at the level again. Level 8 was pretty darn hard.
posted by graventy at 4:43 PM on July 24, 2010


I don't know if he mentions it, but my friends and I call it, "Last Level, New Skill" - you know, the game where you've spent 20 levels shooting bad guys, now, at the very end, demands driving (Halo!) or jumping (Armored Core) or say gives you awesome chain blade combos and then gives you a sword, that doesn't work at all like the weapons you've been mastering this whole time, and throws you in with a cheap boss (God of War).

Oh, man, this one is awful when it happens. I played Geist and really enjoyed it right up until the end. What I thought was the final boss, see, was super-sweet and awesome and fit right into the game; you had to abandon your body, possess a missile hurtling toward you, direct it with poltergeist power into the main bad dude, who then spat out some Evil Ghosts. These would possess your body and start running it towards the furnaces at either end of the room, so you had to race back to your body and battle for dominance, then whip out your ghost-gun and splatter the spooks before the next missile popped out. It combined ALL of the skills and abilities you'd gained and learned to use throughout the game into a ball of cool.

Then came the actual boss fight. Which was, um, some kind of rail-shooter Gyruss thing that I couldn't beat because I suck at aiming and the controls were twitchy and weird and not at all like the rest of the game. It was like... you HAD the perfect final boss fight for your game, people! Why did you have to put another one on it?

Devil May Cry did the same damned thing, too. Why are final bosses always freaking rail shooters?
posted by Scattercat at 4:48 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


In regard to saving, I sometimes enjoy playing games with checkpoints (Call of Duty 4, Mirror's Edge), because I can't trust myself not to hit F6 every few seconds. It lets me concentrate on the game more, while at the same time giving me more of a challenge.

There are other items on this list that I disagree with. These are by no means universal.
posted by archagon at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2010


Dead Opponents Resurrected While You Sleep…

This is why I can't play Bioshock. The game remembers every enemy I've killed, and even which health dispenser I accidentally destroyed while fighting with a Big Daddy. However, when I finally killed the thing, it came back to life damn-near immediately. I could spend the entire day killing a Big Daddy, leaving the room, and then coming back and killing the same one again. It's ridiculous, and makes the game entirely unplayable for me.
posted by god hates math at 5:01 PM on July 24, 2010


Also, I agree with empath in that I would get a lot less satisfaction from completing some of the more difficult challenges in checkpoint-based games if they allowed me to quicksave. (Luigi's Purple Coins, yes!) The point of such challenges is to complete them in one continuous motion, and using quicksaves to essentially divide them into smaller, easier segments beats the entire point. Why not add an infinite health toggle while you're add it?

I think a good alternative would be to have quicksaving as a cheat, so as to not ruin the integrity of the game.
posted by archagon at 5:07 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


*at it
posted by archagon at 5:08 PM on July 24, 2010


I would disagree and correct that to "on-demand saving absolutely doesn't work for some attitudes toward/ideas about some games".

Some games do not make sense to play if you don't approach them with an appropriate attitude. Of course, the roguelikes are a prime example of this. If you claim to win at Nethack, then later let it slip that you relied on metagaming tactics to win, you will get absolutely no respect from a serious 'hacker. It is of the "Mount Everest" school of game design, a big, hard rock you must climb. You could play through it while cheating for your personal enjoyment. It is not like there is a Game Police out there to crush your hands for doing that. The point, however, is that you are denying yourself potentially greater enjoyment from doing it the intended way, and in the long run the number of games out there is a finite resource. There is only one Nethack; I would consider it is best to get what you can from it before you deplete it.

You can very well claim that you should be able to play a game however you like, and this holds true to an extent. But there are whole categories of games where this breaks down when you take it beyond a certain point. Arcade games are the primary example; there are plenty of games in which some aspect of them are ruined by using save states. Games intended to play in tournament settings are another (which are wrapped up in a meta game in which technical metagaming are cheating). Online multiplayer games are a third.

By your reasoning, your own attitude matters more than that intended by the designer, and any game that doesn't fit with your narrow perception of what a video game should be is worthless, discarded out of hand. Eww, why would you want to play that? When you die you have to start over! It may make sense to you, but this list seeks to speak generally about all games and all players, not just those you and Ernst Adams likes, and thus I can only proclaim it, on some level, a failure.

But nearly all lists of this type are failures; all you have to do is find one person who likes a game that violates an item on the list and that item is defeated, and I personally like several games that violate several items, not because it is an error made by a great game but because of it. There is rhetorical benefit to speaking strongly, for who likes weasel words, but one should be careful exactly what one says.

This has made me very cautious about making hard rules about what a game should be. I can come up with counter examples, some theoretical but many real and existing, to nearly every hard proclamation about game design I've seen. It has led me to believe that teaching game design should be done additively, concerning elements a game should have, rather than definitively, about things it definitely must or must not have. If you treat this as a list of shoulds, it is much better.

I actually like Ernst Adams, he writes good stuff overall, but I do take issue with some of this list.
posted by JHarris at 5:38 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It changes it in a way that makes it not fun.

Not being able to beat a #$*& level is even less fun. This is the no variable skill level problem at work.


Being able to skip is no improvement when it means you have no idea what's going on in the game afterwards.

Maybe I'm playing the game for the gameplay, and not the plot (Metal Gear Solid, anyone?) Maybe I've already watched the stupid thing, but dying reset the level and forced me to sit through this tripe for the 53rd time. Maybe I've already beaten the game and know the plot and want to tool through it again for shits and giggles. Skippable cutscenes are an absolute must.
posted by Evilspork at 5:38 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know how the rule in movies is 'show don't tell'? The rule in games should be 'play don't show'.

AMEN.

I enjoy thinking of exceptions though. My first exception to the cutscene rule is when they are randomized and thus could have different important game information each time through. My second is games with quick time events (which I generally don't like, but again I'm speaking generally).

My third exception is Space Channel 5, where the cutscenes convey important timing information. concerning keeping the beat. Also, nearly every area in the game ends with a little sequence where the game provides three distinctive music beats, which right afterward you must hit with the same timing. This is little more than a cutscene, and there is little penalty for failure at it. But it's done because at the VERY END OF THE GAME it happens again, this time without explanation! The assembled crowd of characters in the game provide the timing, and you have to intuit that what you are supposed to do is hit the buttons with that timing. If you do it, you win. If you don't, you immediately lose (and get a funny reaction). If you think this sounds sucky I actually have to disagree, once I figured it out I did it easily and it was fun to figure it out. (It probably helps a bit that the levels are fairly short, so "losing" doesn't mean replaying too much.)

Those are exceptions to the rule. But if you treat the no unskippable-cutscenes-thing as good advice that applies to 95% of games, rather than a design imperative, it makes much much more sense. You may think "well duh" to my statement, but lots of people treat things that should be as things that absolutely must be, as so obvious they aren't worth expending thought about. This happens all the time. Many of the people who do it work in management.
posted by JHarris at 5:52 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the Cat Hair Puzzle (spoilers, obviously) in Gabriel Knight 3 is worth of its own FPP.

Besides that flaw, GK3 was a great game. It also preempted Dan Brown and the current vampire craze by 10 years. I never understood why there wasn't a GK4, but I guess the death of Sierra and the move away from point in click was a large factor.

I'm excited for Jane Jensen's upcoming Grey Matter, if it doesn't turn out to be vaporware. Outside of Rockstar there hasn't really been that many exciting games. I always say that and then a bunch of good games come out, but it has besides RDR it has been sort of boring out there.
posted by geoff. at 5:53 PM on July 24, 2010


empath: "For some game designs, failure must be possible. Quicksaves remove the possibility of failure."

There's a middle ground here, where you can pause save and the save is deleted on resumption. Using The New Mario Bros. Wii as the example, I really don't see the point for it. The game is already available in bite sized pieces, and has mid level saves.

The argument that quicksaves are mandatory because you don't have time to waste failing at video games is a better argument for putting the controller down and get back to writing that thesis or writing that program or whatever else you're putting off.
posted by pwnguin at 5:53 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see how you can make that assumption. Again, quicksave was inserted into FFIV when it received a mobile release. Did this break or ruin the game, which otherwise remained unchanged from 1991? No. It let people put down the GBA/DS whenever they wanted to.

We should define terms. "Quicksave" is most commonly used to refer to the FPS shooter, which lets you return to a point at any time and can be reused indefinitely. What these portable games have could be more properly termed a suspend save. You can save your place, but when you restore it the save is deleted. This is necessary in long games on portables because of battery issues, and it serves as a useful analogue for games intended to be played in longer sessions.
posted by JHarris at 6:03 PM on July 24, 2010


The argument that quicksaves are mandatory because you don't have time to waste failing at video games is a better argument for putting the controller down and get back to writing that thesis or writing that program or whatever else you're putting off.

WHOA! Them be geek fighting-words!
posted by joe lisboa at 6:04 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Silent Hill. Any horror game, actually, is generally considerably less scary if you can constantly save and reload.

Actually, I think Silent Hill 1 and 2 are scary regardless because they focus on creating an oppressive atmosphere of dread instead of relying on Resident Evil-style "oh shit you gonna die" moments.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:11 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the suspend save/roguelike-style save is the type which I'm referring to as necessary for most, if not all games. Something that lets you walk away without having the leave the console on/program running. It isn't a matter of writing a thesis, it's the fact that my girlfriend doesn't want to watch me play an RPG until I find a save point because she showed up fifteen minutes before I expected her to. We are adults and we lead busy lives that do not revolve around video games and the latter should accommodate the former. Make it bulky enough, and it also becomes a pain in the ass to abuse in the Luigi's Purple Coins scenario.

Also, what sort of metagaming cheats could one do in NetHack? I'm really bad at/don't like playing the actual game ("devteam thinks of everything" gives me virtual agoraphobia,) but I love reading about it.
posted by griphus at 6:16 PM on July 24, 2010


The game is already available in bite sized pieces, and has mid level saves.

I've only played the DS New Super Mario Bros., but that game egregiously violated proper save behavior for a mobile game. I'm not even referring to insta-save, but the fact that you couldn't save after beating a level was ridiculous, and moreso was the fact that there wasn't any clear indication as to when you'd open the next save slot. Might be one level over, might be five.
posted by griphus at 6:19 PM on July 24, 2010


Nethack has an Explore Mode that allows you to scum saves. Since this effectively grants immortality anyhow, the game will also let you choose not to die if your HP drops to zero. The only downside is that you won't get on the high score board.

I think that's a good way to handle quicksaves.

>Nobody's forcing you to save.

Nobody's forcing you to play the game at all. Talking about "force" does not make sense in the context of the interaction between designer and player.

Designers determine what challenges to present to the player, and what tools the player has to surmount those. Clever designers present these in such a way as to manipulate the player into having a particular experience. If the presence or absence of quicksaves can be used to manipulate the player, it should be, in whatever situations it makes the game better. Roguelikes for example.

First-person shooters that offer quicksaves tend to encourage a style of play where you quicksave every time you step around a corner. This means that if you step a bit too far and get shot, or miss a shot yourself, you can just hit a key and try it again. So you don't have to master the intricacies of the weapons in order to make an apparently flawless run through the game.

If the designer wants to make a game about learning the intricacies of the weapons, they'll be rightly pissed to find that most people played through the lazy way. Why bother playing the game at all, then? For all the "play" you did, you might as well have watched a movie. But the tendency to take the path of least resistance through every challenge is well-nigh universal. If your players perceive that savescumming is a legitimate way to play, they'll just do it. They will not stop to think that they might be ruining their own game experience. They're too busy "playing".
posted by LogicalDash at 6:21 PM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


>Also, what sort of metagaming cheats could one do in NetHack? I'm really bad at/don't like playing the actual game ("devteam thinks of everything" gives me virtual agoraphobia,) but I love reading about it.

You can start it in Wizard Mode, designed to let the developers test the interactions between items. You have a Wand of Wishing with infinite charges.

You might be able to trick the game into accepting saves that have been loaded already. There are some safeguards against this, but much as with DRM, there's always a way to circumvent.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:29 PM on July 24, 2010


I hate lazy game design more than anything in the computer world. In this day and age there is no excuse for FIFA commentary to be substandard, for strategy games not to have unbelievably large amounts of units, for maps to be small (this is my biggest issue with strategy games - see AOE, Red Alert, etc.), for their to be limits on unit numbers, for there being NO ABILITY TO JUMP OVER MINOR OBSTACLES, etc.

...and anybody that thinks it was cool that you had to put your controller in Port 2 to beat Psycho Mantis on PSX is a fucking dick.

Also, I really wanted that huge materia in Cid's rocket, but I hadn't saved for like four hours and there was no way I was doing that fucking cutscene again despite how epic the soundtrack was at that point.

posted by doublehappy at 6:37 PM on July 24, 2010


their? Obviously I mean 'there'.
posted by doublehappy at 6:37 PM on July 24, 2010


...and anybody that thinks it was cool that you had to put your controller in Port 2 to beat Psycho Mantis on PSX is a fucking dick.

Double dick.
posted by griphus at 6:42 PM on July 24, 2010


Actually, I think Silent Hill 1 and 2 are scary regardless because they focus on creating an oppressive atmosphere of dread instead of relying on Resident Evil-style "oh shit you gonna die" moments.

Part of what makes the atmosphere so oppressive is that you can't save at any point. It would be a completely different game if you could F5, run through a hallway past nurses, F5 again, die to pyramid head, reload, etc etc.

Resident Evil is more of a shooter, absolutely, but both games rely upon limited saving systems, and limited ammo, to up the tension.
posted by graventy at 6:52 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bad Split-Screen Design

LOL

To print this article: Click once somewhere in the article text (you will not see anything happen), then select Print from your browser’s menu or tool bar. In the Print dialog box, look for an option marked “The selected frame” or “Only the selected frame” and be sure it is checked.

WTFLOLBBQ
posted by Meatbomb at 7:20 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not every game can be for everyone, and I think the game designer should be able to make the ultimate decision on game saves, based on what he's trying to get across with his games. I think RPGs and adventure games should have quicksaves in most cases. I think platformers and twitch action games probably should not. But rules are made to be broken.
posted by empath at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2010


Yeah, the suspend save/roguelike-style save is the type which I'm referring to as necessary for most, if not all games. Something that lets you walk away without having the leave the console on/program running.

This is more reasonable, yes, provided the game is long enough to support it.

Also, what sort of metagaming cheats could one do in NetHack? I'm really bad at/don't like playing the actual game ("devteam thinks of everything" gives me virtual agoraphobia,) but I love reading about it.

One can back up saved games and restore them to get around death. There is also the previously-mentioned discover and wizard modes. LogicalDash is slightly incorrect about the wand of wishing; instead, you can just wish at any time with (I think it was) CTRL-W. You can even wish for things you can't wish for in normal play, like dungeon features and unique game objects like the Amulet of Yendor.

Beyond that we get to things like savefile hacking. Nethack will end your game if it detects savefile hacking, with the cause of death being "A trickery." (I hear it won't end your game, and in fact will give you a special message, if it detects a trickery in wizard mode.)
posted by JHarris at 7:26 PM on July 24, 2010


What I really really like, and I've only played a few games that utilize it (most notably Star Ocean 4): cutscenes you can skip, followed by a summary while the game loads. I think FF13 gives you summaries of what's going on in the in-game journal, but it's not quite as handy.
posted by graventy at 7:42 PM on July 24, 2010


"If it can only go one way, make it a cut scene. If the player has control of the character, let the player's actions make a difference, and affect the outcome. If it's a part of the game's 'style' to let the player 'play' through what are essentially cut scenes, then make it that way throughout the game so that we know the game is going to be this way, and don't just surprise us with it at the end."

I generally agree, but I can think of one exception that proves the rule. Near the beginnning of God of War II, after you've been smooshed by the dying Colossus' hand, you have to fight Zeus in your weakened state. At the end of this fight, no matter what, Zeus kills you and you end up in Hades. But I thought this "fight" was a really wonderful touch. You're slowly tottering around, barely able to lift your own sword. You're fucked from the get go, but I loved that element of interactivity in what usually would have been a cutscene. I actually found it pretty emotionally affecting.
posted by brundlefly at 8:05 PM on July 24, 2010


Pshaw. The fundamental requirement of a game is that it put off, for as long a time as possible, the moment when a crate appears.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:26 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why do *you* care if I get through a game "easily", or without experiencing the full challenge, or whatever? It's *my* game, I paid good money for it, let me interact with the bits in the way that I like. Trust me, I'm still enjoying it just fine. It's not your concern.

If you don't like arbitrary save points, don't use them. Don't cripple the rest of us. We don't shit on your game experience, no reason to shit on ours.

Some of us really don't like having to replay a large amount of content only to get to the vital spot where one tiny mistake means we have to do the whole damn thing all over again. I have better things to do with my time than redo the parts I already know I can do. I want to see the *rest* of the game already.

Give me a good easy setting, and infinite save points, and give YOU the uber-hard-impossible setting, and ZERO save points, and we can both be happy. There is no reason for game designers not to satisfy both of us, and lots of money involved if they do, actually.
posted by marble at 9:37 PM on July 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


> I've only played the DS New Super Mario Bros., but that game egregiously violated proper save behavior for a mobile game. I'm not even referring to insta-save, but the fact that you couldn't save after beating a level was ridiculous, and moreso was the fact that there wasn't any clear indication as to when you'd open the next save slot. Might be one level over, might be five.
... and once you beat the game, you're rewarded with the ability to save any time you want. The capability to do so was programmed into the game, but not available until you finish it. What the hell Nintendo?
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 9:50 PM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Resident Evil is more of a shooter, absolutely, but both games rely upon limited saving systems, and limited ammo, to up the tension.

Fuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuu RE4 and your lack of ammo. I had a Shelf Level Event pretty early on in that game caused by "overspending" ammo at a crucial juncture.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:53 PM on July 24, 2010


The game experience is supplied by the features (and sometimes bugs) that are included in the game. A lack of a feature such as saving would dictate the game, at this point in time, would mean the game is meant to be played that way. You could go back to when a save feature just wasn't thought of or wasn't common enough to be thought of to be put in a game and rightly claim some games needed a save feature, but some games were not meant to have one and should not have one. Some games you play, than you die. Or win.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:04 PM on July 24, 2010


oh god, the purple coins! only 4 hours? i had to come back to that one for days... yeah, insta-save would ruin that, tho...although the game would totally suck if every level were that hard...but it's one of the cool things about the mario series...there's always one level thats totally killer. remember the pachinko machine from super mario sunshine...*shudder*

also, is it just me, or does the perverse idea of including ALL of these (or at least riffs on them) in one game sound like it just might be totally awesome? like, "sure there's 4 gold pieces in that dead centaur...right up its ass. Have Fun!"
posted by sexyrobot at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2010


Fuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuu RE4 and your lack of ammo. I had a Shelf Level Event pretty early on in that game caused by "overspending" ammo at a crucial juncture.

Which is very odd, as RE4 is set up to provide people who chew through ammo like popcorn with more of it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:34 AM on July 25, 2010


The salient point that everyone here seems to be missing is that Twinkies are toxic garbage made expressly for children and the intellectually disabled.

They are not a reward in any sense.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:17 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Designers determine what challenges to present to the player, and what tools the player has to surmount those. Clever designers present these in such a way as to manipulate the player into having a particular experience.

This. There's a lot to be said about challenge, mastery, and the experience of playing a game the first time through. I remember showing people Halo on the Xbox and them being incredulous that there was no cheat codes to use. But then again, if you've played through, you have a shared experience of certain areas, of zones that were just more challenging to get to checkpoint to checkpoint.

Saying, "You don't have to use instant saves" is rather like saying, "You don't have to use the missle launcher" - why would any player avoid using every resource they can on the first playthrough in a game? And that first playthrough is going to color your view of the game and whether you want to come back or not.

I'm one of the biggest advocates for more casual games, more short games, but I'm totally ok without necessarily needing instant saves in every game.
posted by yeloson at 1:36 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


>I have better things to do with my time than redo the parts I already know I can do. I want to see the *rest* of the game already.

Supposing that the save points are appropriately spaced, you won't have that problem. If you want to complain that games aren't letting you save often enough, you have a case.

I kind of liked the "save points" of Eternal Darkness. Every room was a save point, but you could only save if there were no enemies there.

Give me a good easy setting, and infinite save points, and give YOU the uber-hard-impossible setting, and ZERO save points, and we can both be happy. There is no reason for game designers not to satisfy both of us, and lots of money involved if they do, actually.

I don't think the market is exactly lacking in easy games at the moment. You could just play one of those.

If you insist that every game should have some appeal to the casual player... well, see above about Explore Mode. That said, I don't know why you would want to play a game like Nethack if you don't want to master it someday.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:02 AM on July 25, 2010


Yes, suspend saves! Every game though have those.

Quicksaves, I appreciate having. And I don't think they necessarily remove all challenge from a game. I tend to end up using them if I've backed myself into an extremely precarious situation — hardly any health or ammo, say — which I'd normally just have to retry dozens of times. Quicksaves allow you to split the section up into more manageable chunks, but you still have to replay each chunk a few times to try and achieve a good run. I also like the idea that I'm some kind of time traveller stitching together one perfect timeline with threads from hundreds of less fortunate universes.

Without quicksaves, nigh-impossible situations are something I either skip back to a previous save to try and mitigate, or tedious annoyances I have to grind through. With quicksaves, they turn into slightly more challenging situations that are seriously cool to survive through.

That said, the thing I most appreciate in a game is having well placed checkpoints. Like with user interfaces, it's tempting to just give the user a load of setting options, but it's usually better for you to determine the likely best solution and just give them that.
I think ideally I'd have both good checkpoints and quicksaves, like giving the user the options but also making sure your default settings are really great.
posted by lucidium at 7:38 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As one of the easier-is-better players, I don't need to be able to save in every scenario. I don't even assume that I can save during missions or battles. But I enjoyed GT4 way better than any of the earlier GT games in part because the missions had mid-stream checkpoints (and yes I turned on cheats immediately because there's no difficulty setting).
posted by nev at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2010


Which is very odd, as RE4 is set up to provide people who chew through ammo like popcorn with more of it.

Resident Evil 4 gives you ammo depending on what you already have, but there is also a random component that almost seems aimed at causing critical shortages in much-used weapons. I've noticed that it's possible to have greatly different ammo amounts on different playthroughs.
posted by JHarris at 10:31 AM on July 25, 2010


> Bad Split-Screen Design

LOL


Newsflash, Meatbomb: Bart is not a horse. Chuckling that a website about game design has questionable web design is plucking at bitter, exceedingly low-hanging fruit.

Yes, suspend saves! Every game though have those.

Absolutely. I feel like this isn't even a design decision issue so much as a basic design literacy thing these days, but while savepoint distribution/availability has generally gotten a lot less brutal on average over time its still not something that's always handled well. A suspend save system doesn't have the same problematic implications that any sort of arbitrary re-usable save system might; it just makes sense as a politeness to players who have busy lives that are easily interruptible. Hopefully the ongoing success of newer portable systems will help cement the practice in the minds of designers in general.

In general, I think it's interesting how much of the discussion here is about saving, specifically. It's not a gameplay feature in the traditional sense—you don't think of saving your game as part of how or why you play a game, there's no Super Savepoint Brothers franches—but as a practical design feature it has such an overwhelming effect on the experience of gaming in general that it's hard to believe that designers still fuck it up. That games that legitimately need better save systems don't have them.

I would have as a child been thankful for readily available suspend saves on my NES games (or an internal state-save function in the console itself—imagine that alternate universe), but I think my parents would have been doubly thankful for same. No more "no, I have to finish this level/playthrough" or "no, I really really need to leave the console on" discussions. Just save, kiddo, and stop.

I'm also big on the idea of having easy difficulty levels (and crazy hard difficulty levels!) on games wherever it makes sense at all to do so, and I think it's not done enough. It's another aspect of design that isn't a core gameplay issue but has an invasive presence in gaming in general for a lot of people. Discrete (and, where possible, adjustable) difficulty levels are one clear solution to getting people to actually play through and enjoy the content you've bothered creating with a lot more consistency (no need to abandon a fun game just because it's hard) and a lot less controller hurling (people remember the game more for the fun parts than for the Oh Fuck You parts).

The move by some designers toward more flexible difficulty systems that adjust on the fly based on player performance is a good one, in my mind. I like that RE5 has on-the-sly difficulty adjustments within the major difficulty settings, for example.

I tend to default to easy one my first playthrough of most things these days; I'm a competent gamer and will often on replay of a game jump up to Hard if I feel like going back, but more and more I just want a game first and foremost to be a meal, not a wrestling match; I want to enjoy seeing what was prepared for me if it's primarily a narrative or cinematic experience, with the gameplay as a point of engagement and source of fun but not a new discipline I have to put grind into just to earn a pass to see the game I bought.
posted by cortex at 11:21 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


cortex: "there's no Super Savepoint Brothers"

Yet.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2010


Resident Evil 4 gives you ammo depending on what you already have, but there is also a random component that almost seems aimed at causing critical shortages in much-used weapons. I've noticed that it's possible to have greatly different ammo amounts on different playthroughs.

I'm curious about what's going on behind the scenes there, yeah. I know explicitly that RE5 adjusts difficulty on the fly, as above, but it wouldn't surprise me if 4 was doing the same as well. How random the ammo drops are is one question, but how hard it is to kill a given species of enemy would also presumably have an effect on your ammo supply through not collection but, er, redistribution.

But I'm a fucking miser in survival horror games. I recall feeling like I was short on ammo occasionally in RE4 and 5, but I don't think I ever really ended up critically low, just violated my own "I want to be ready for anything" hoarding threshold.

My own "I'm screwed" moment with the RE franchise, and really in that sense my proper introduction to old-school survival horror as a genre, was about an hour or two into my first-ever playthrough of Resident Evil on the playstation. I was staying at a friend's house for a few days and playing it by myself, and didn't really know what I was getting into; when he got back to the house, he saw me trying to figure out how to deal with too many zombies and no ammo left and broke the news to me that I had to either instantly become a ninja about navigating blind corners with fixed camera angles in order to dodge every remaining zombie, or I had to start over and not shoot so goddam many bullets.

Which, that right there could have been the end of survival horror for me. Whether it's a design flaw or a definition of what makes the genre what it is is a subjective debate, but if I hadn't decided I was okay with that constraint on gameplay—that I would have to learn to opt on the side of evasion (with deeply clunky controls, no less) instead of blowing away every enemy I encountered, that I would have to learn to like not having enough ammo—I would have set the game down and never come back to it.
posted by cortex at 11:38 AM on July 25, 2010


I don't think the market is exactly lacking in easy games at the moment. You could just play one of those.

Err...how am I supposed to know whether a game is tooth-grindingly difficult or a walk in the park until I've started playing it, by which point I've already shelled out a bunch of cash? I think marble's idea of tying save availability to the difficulty level is a great one - if I want an easier game that still lets me experience the story, characterisation, awesome weapons and beautiful levels, why exactly should I be denied that if it's fairly easy to implement?

On the subject of difficulty settings, Colin McRae: Dirt did this very well - there's five difficulty settings, any of which is selectable for any race. Easier races give you less reward (lower prize money), but obviously you have a higher chance of winning it in the first place. And, crucially, if you're completely destroying your opponents, the voice that comments on your progress between stages tells you, but doesn't force you, to go up to the next difficulty setting. The result is a nicely balanced game that still leaves control in the hands of the user, not the designer.
posted by ZsigE at 12:11 PM on July 25, 2010


The Lurkers Support Me in Email: "
> I've only played the DS New Super Mario Bros., but that game egregiously violated proper save behavior for a mobile game. I'm not even referring to insta-save, but the fact that you couldn't save after beating a level was ridiculous, and moreso was the fact that there wasn't any clear indication as to when you'd open the next save slot. Might be one level over, might be five.
... and once you beat the game, you're rewarded with the ability to save any time you want. The capability to do so was programmed into the game, but not available until you finish it. What the hell Nintendo?
"

Wait... I just borrowed NSMBWii from a friend last night, and couldn't figure out why I couldn't save. Is this why? Mother fuck how annoying.
posted by symbioid at 12:25 PM on July 25, 2010


Also on Resident Evil et al and saves as an expression of difficulty: I have always liked (in an abstract "I will probably never directly experience this feature" way) that the RE games made saves reasonably available (if, still, sort of pointlessly limited in the first few games with the ink ribbon bullshit) but provided an explicit reward for the player willing to voluntarily forgo saving. The RE games would give you a grade at the end, and potentially a slightly different ending and unlockable secrets, based on how well you performed in the game, and one of the metrics there was how often you saved. It's a nice way to reward the hardcore player for doing something audacious while not making the default game experience unnecessarily annoying for folks who'd rather play conservatively or select a lighter difficulty.

New SMB Wii has, as I recall, a suspend save mechanism in the (as always with Wii for some reason kind of unintuitive) menu area. I'd have to load it up to verify, though, I may be misremembering generously or transferring a feature over from Galaxy 2.
posted by cortex at 12:45 PM on July 25, 2010


cortex: "Discrete (and, where possible, adjustable) difficulty levels are one clear solution to getting people to actually play through and enjoy the content you've bothered creating with a lot more consistency (no need to abandon a fun game just because it's hard) and a lot less controller hurling (people remember the game more for the fun parts than for the Oh Fuck You parts)."

Also, I think making the difficulty of the game readily apparent is an awesome thing. The new Ninja Gaiden games were marketed on the basis that they were holy fuck hard. You couldn't read a single review without witnessing this. This is good. I liked the Ninja Gaiden games as a kid, and I'm just plain bad at "hard" games, and don't enjoy them. I know that I don't even need to consider purchasing Ninja Gaiden because it'll be on the shelf in a week and I'll be frustrated and out sixty bucks. Like Pope Guilty said above: let the dragons do the dragoning.
posted by griphus at 1:18 PM on July 25, 2010


You know what I don't like about NSMBWii? (Besides the uselessness of 3D rendering in a 2D environment and "OMG Mario STFU FFS!") It's just way too sluggish. The characters move too slowly, they jump all floatily, and consequently it's completely out of sync with my 25 years of Mario muscle memory. What's up with that?

Mario has always been a jerk about the saves, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:19 PM on July 25, 2010


Sys Rq - based on the few minutes I played last night (up to 1-3?) I'd have to say yeah. that was really really annoying. It just didn't feel like a fun run and stomp mario game. Maybe the multiplayer component really messed with it. Maybe it's more fun w/2 or more players, but as a single player game it just doesn't grab me :(
posted by symbioid at 1:22 PM on July 25, 2010


I'm glad it's not just me.

Also, hey Nintendo: Not everything needs to be written in a giant, cartoony, extra-bold font with a yellow-black gradient. Seriously, cut that shit out. It ruins everything.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2010


I haven't given New SMB Wii any real single player time, but enjoyed playing through it in co-op with my wife. As a two-player game it's a lot of (sometimes complicated, frustrating) fun. I'm curious to see how it plays in single player some time, actually, especially with your negative takes on it; I wouldn't be surprised if to some extent it's just kind of harder in subtle ways because you don't have the flexibility that two players have to deal creatively with some kinds of obstacles according to one another's platforming strengths.

The one thing that jumps out at me re: "sluggish" is that that's exactly how the original SMB character movement feels to me whenever I come back to it these days. Not that "that's how it was in the original" is intended as a defense, but it's an interesting thing to me in any case.

Mario has been working out over the years, I guess.
posted by cortex at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2010


I have spent my entire. life. thinking saving at all in a game was sort of cheating. This is because of Super Mario Brothers and other NES games that had no save and whose point was to force you to play all the way through in one playthrough. Kid Icarus, I'm looking in your direction. What's with the sheepish look on your face, Ninja Gaiden? Where are you off to, R Type?

The games were meant to be fucking hard, and playing through them was meant to be an accomplishment.

On the other hand, I agree completely with cortex that these days I don't want to earn the right to see what a game has to offer me. I still live with some guilt residue from the hard old days, but I'm pretty much over it. Saving is the way to go. I can play one of cave's bullet hell shooters (on my iphone, even! espgaluda 2 coming out for that platform is awesomeness embodied.) if I want a hard unforgiving experience.

And then I played through Final Fantasy XIII, and I wanted to kill somebody. Save points? In an rpg? An rpg with no overworld? I know save points have been standard fare in the ff series since time immemorial, but at least you had an overworld you could save in any time. It was only dungeons that forced you to use save points. But then you play the latest entry, and it's save points all the way down. On top of that, whole features of gameplay, and colossally huge areas of the game, are useless or outright unavailable to you until you've beaten the game. It fills one's mind with murder. Oh, I can upgrade my weapons? Sweet! How much money does it cost? What?! I won't earn enough money to do it properly till I've beaten the game? There's a hunting side quest, a la ffxii, but you can't do more than 10 or so hunts from it till you've beaten the game. The overwhelming majority of the special items in the game are simply not available till after completion. I beat the fucking game intending to do all of that, and when I had... I just didn't care any more. I was happier to put the fucking disc away and never take it out again.

I haven't been this mad at Square since Ehrgeiz.
posted by shmegegge at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The games were meant to be fucking hard, and playing through them was meant to be an accomplishment.

There will always be an (underperforming) hardcore gamer in my brain, high-fiving that sentiment and waxing nostalgic about historical acts of badassery. It's why I still love (and am shit at) roguelikes; it's why I come back to hard mode on games that deserve a second playthrough and give me a workable (rather than brutal) step up from Normal.

That said, those old games were hard in no small part because hard was how you made up for slightness in content. If R-Type wasn't fucking hard, it'd be over in, what, fifteen or twenty minutes? You can speedrun SMB in five or six. Final Fantasy minus time spent in fight screens would be a half hour walking/sailing/canoeing/airshipping tour (and would be a lot shorter in any case just minus time spent grinding).

It's the quarter-crunching philosophy of the arcade industry brought to the home console. You didn't have to stick quarters into your NES, but you had to drop a lot of quarters in the first place to get your hands on Contra or Gradius or whatever, and so in a perversion of economics you were rewarded for your sunk cost with the requirement to really bang your head against the game you now owned. It's a good thing some of these games happened to be pretty nicely kickass in the meantime, but let's not forget that Atari's E.T. cart was also fucking hard.
posted by cortex at 1:40 PM on July 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Besides the uselessness of 3D rendering in a 2D environment...

I like this. At least, it's great for 2D fighting games, which are one of my favorite genres (and have long ago become a niche) but god damn did it new some new life infused into it. There's only so much you can do with animated characters -- the King of Fighters games have looked the same since 1999 -- and even the big fans were getting sick of the repetition.

The overwhelming majority of the special items in the game are simply not available till after completion.

The old JRPG dependence on replay value by way of obsessive otaku is failing in this day and age and Japan hasn't caught up yet. So they're shoehorning in reasons to replay the game, without actually having discovered why people want replay value. I really, really want there to be some sort of RPG-cultural-revolution in Japan wherein the old guard is kicked into the street (well, not all of them, we can send the designers to re-education facilities) and a new paradigm emerges. What is so goddamn wrong with encounter rates which let you level up appropriately while naturally progressing through the game? It's 2010, for chrissake.

I haven't been this mad at Square since Ehrgeiz.

Keystone Kops: God Bless The Ring
posted by griphus at 1:42 PM on July 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Regarding his disparagement of RPG mechanics:

If you don't get a thrill from watching stat bars rise, then it might be time to start considering a new hobby altogether. -- Erik "Old Man Murray & 'Portal' Writer" Wolpaw

Regarding quicksaves:

I'm a huge believer in save-anywhere. There's a ton of console games that I have hugely enjoyed but never, ever would have finished if I hadn't been playing on an emulator that let me save anywhere.

But there have been other games I've played without quicksaves, that were much more fun because I didn't have that safety net.

The problem is, it's really only in hindsight that you can see when not having quicksaves made the game edge-of-your-seat great and when not having quicksaves allowed tedious repetition to suck all the fun out of the game. So it doesn't really work to say, "Let me choose whether to abuse quicksaves or not," because it's hard to know ahead of time whether this is a game that will genuinely be more rewarding if you don't quicksave.

On the other hand, game designers don't seem to be very good at telling the difference either, so you might as well give me the choice. I'm probably as likely as they are to make the right decision. (One game where I've hit a sweet spot is Far Cry 2 - it has quicksaves, but I try very hard to never use them, and the game is so much better that way.)
posted by straight at 11:41 PM on July 25, 2010


I'm playing Split/Second now, and the menu navigation is infuriating. Typically a game menu is navigated with "A" to move forward in the menu or 'yes', and "B" to move back or 'no'. In Split/Second, sometimes "B" means go back, and sometimes it means to go forward when it wants a third button "Y" to go back.

Once every three races or so, I restart a race I just completed when I've meant to exit out and go to the main menu.
posted by yeti at 8:33 AM on July 26, 2010


Sword and Poker, one of the best games for iPhone, basically locks you in a battle. You can hop off to email or a call or something, but if you've committed to fight a bad guy -- that's it. Win, or restart the level from scratch.

Here's the deal: It's awesome. It means that there's actually something at stake with each battle. Not hours, usually, but definitely hard won fights. It makes the game 100x as fun. Seriously.
posted by effugas at 8:46 AM on July 26, 2010


When a game mocks the player, it's not jovial banter, it's rude, like insulting a stranger. It's really the designer mocking the player, and that's not fair because the designer holds all the cards and the player can't respond. Don't mock the player for his failures. It's juvenile and self-indulgent.

This attitude is bizarre, he's getting mad at a pre-programmed bark in a game? I've never gotten personally offended at games trash talking me. I usually find that enemy taunts in combat games motivating*, but then again I'm usually yelling, "What now motherfucker/spacealienfreak/asshole?!" at the games, anyway so if they weren't insulting me back it'd just be weird. Yup, because the game is yelling back insulting an inanimate, emotionless, non-sentient object is totally normal. Totally. Normal.


*The one exception to this is the thud noises in Mirror's Edge, spinny dizzy vertigo and bone-crunching noises is a bad combo for me and my lunch.

posted by edbles at 9:40 AM on July 26, 2010


If you don't get a thrill from watching stat bars rise, then it might be time to start considering a new hobby altogether. -- Erik "Old Man Murray & 'Portal' Writer" Wolpaw

It's not the bars that are ever thrilling but what they represent. In too many cases that is weak, arbitrary advancement, saying "Look, you're now one better!," a bone thrown from the designer to the player in exchange for his free time. That is grind, and it is bad design.

edbles, quoting Adams:
When a game mocks the player, it's not jovial banter, it's rude, like insulting a stranger. It's really the designer mocking the player, and that's not fair because the designer holds all the cards and the player can't respond. Don't mock the player for his failures. It's juvenile and self-indulgent.

Again, I can think of exceptions to this as a hard rule, but as a solid suggestion it is right on. There have been games that have driven me to rage when, after failing some task for the thirtieth time, I've been mortally offended by the particular "dinky-dink, too-bad-so-sad" tone of the failure song. (I'm looking at you, Clubhouse Games Mission Mode.) Games that actually insult the player I tend not to play for long.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 AM on July 26, 2010


This is why I can't play Bioshock. The game remembers every enemy I've killed, and even which health dispenser I accidentally destroyed while fighting with a Big Daddy. However, when I finally killed the thing, it came back to life damn-near immediately. I could spend the entire day killing a Big Daddy, leaving the room, and then coming back and killing the same one again. It's ridiculous, and makes the game entirely unplayable for me.

Umm... you know you don't have to kill every Big Daddy you see, right? You only need/want to snuff the ones that have Little Sisters with them (only like 2-3 per level, usually), and while they do respawn, they don't become hostile unless you shoot 'em.. they're actually a benefit at that point, because you can get them to kill splicers for you.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:57 AM on July 26, 2010


My take on the whole quicksave thing: one of the things that I appreciated about the Marathon trilogy is that it didn't have the opportunity to save after every third mob you'd killed; getting to the next save point (or even being able to find it in the first place) was part of the strategy that you had to develop for each level. Disabling saves while in combat is also one of the more challenging things about Mass Effect/ME2.

As for the rest... meh. Things like "Birds That Carry Swords" and "Bad Guys With Vanishing Weapons" seem to be mostly a problem with insufficient ability to suspend disbelief (I always thought that, if a mob's weapon didn't drop, it was because it had been irreparably damaged or destroyed during battle), and a lot of other things are really nitpicky. It reminds me of when I first played a necromancer in Diablo II and realized that even completely nonhumanoid creatures had skeletons in them that I could reanimate; really, it was more amusing than anything. It's like picking through your plate of beans to find the ones that aren't intact or otherwise fit for the label of the can and then writing an entire thesis on them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just way too sluggish. The characters move too slowly, they jump all floatily, and consequently it's completely out of sync with my 25 years of Mario muscle memory. What's up with that?

...

Sys Rq - based on the few minutes I played last night (up to 1-3?) I'd have to say yeah. that was really really annoying. It just didn't feel like a fun run and stomp mario game. Maybe the multiplayer component really messed with it.


You guys are holding that run button down, right?
posted by Amanojaku at 8:58 PM on July 26, 2010


Maybe the multiplayer component really messed with it.

THIS IS THE BEST PART OF THAT GAME. Get 4 people together and the main levels are absolute chaos, the boss battles on the other hand are easy as pie. There is nothing funnier than getting drunk with 4 of your buddies and hearing one of them yell, "GODDAMMIT Toad stop jumping on my head." Oh man! And team bubbling is the funniest of all deaths. (Also seconding the run button).
posted by edbles at 4:54 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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