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Hey guys! I just finished my newest article about game design. It's kind of long, but I'll paste some highlights.


So what exactly is frustration? What causes it? What makes a player want to turn off the game and never play it again?

Frustration occurs when the player feels as if his time has been wasted, and that the game is at fault.

There are two important parts to that statement, so let’s break it down. The first part has to do with the value of a player’s time, which is an important concept to understand in modern gaming. Thirty years ago—or twenty—or hell, ten—players valued their time differently. Games back then were a lot harder (and a lot more frustrating) than they are today. This isn’t to say that players’ time was less valuable. Accessibility to videogames was different, and gamers didn’t have the luxury of thousands of games available to them at a moment’s notice. In today’s world, if someone doesn’t like your game—maybe because they feel that it’s not worth their time—they can just delete it and find another one within moments. Twenty years ago, if a game frustrated a player, they didn’t really have that option, so they kept pushing through until the game was beaten.

Gaming culture has changed, and game design changes to accommodate the lifestyles of games. You can’t get away with wasting your player’s time.

So what is a waste of the player’s time? Think about the times that you have gotten mad at a videogame. Maybe you died and were forced to replay a huge area—maybe you were forced to sit through that long cutscene again and again. Maybe you were just about to land the final blow on a boss that you’ve been fighting for an hour, and he hits you with a cheap shot, leaving you to do it all over again. Or maybe you find yourself in a random battle every other goddamn step you take.

Check out the full article on Finalbossblues
"My father told me this would happen."
I haven't read the article yet, but this topic intrigues me. I've actually been pondering something recently: Can a game still be called good even if it causes frustration via wasting the player's time? Because "waste of time" can be a very subjective thing, I feel.

I've been playing Ninja Senki. And it's been frustrating me a little bit. There are a lot of jumps with cleverly placed enemies that often result in death. This usually doesn't bug me because I'm in the old crowd of gamers who pushed through difficult games. But in this case it did, because there was only one checkpoint per each stage, and offered no powerups to my knowledge. I think the only way to recover your health or get 1ups was by building up your score. So obviously this is a game that heralds back to the old arcade days. Where said frustration was a thing that you could get away with. But I'm loath to say that this is the game's fault at this point.

The common opinion is that games that cause anger and frustration are bad and terrible. But I often hear of people who play frustrating games, beat them, and have fonder memories of them afterward. Not always the case, but it's there. Most people look on Castlevania and Mega Man 2 fondly for instance. But to new players those are pretty tough games that offer their share of frustrating elements! I don't think there's anyone who'd stretch to call either of those bad games.

So I'm wondering whether or not Ninja Senki could be called a bad game on the virtue of it's frustrating elements alone. Or if all good games should never frustrate players. I would say no, because I think the more frustrating elements are actually elements of good design when done correctly: Overcoming them can provide a healthy sense of accomplishment that leaves a lasting impression of the game as an experience.

There's also the fact that I have a tendency to just plow through a game, rather than taking my time with it and approaching things slowly.
Having a signature is too mainstream. I'm not part of your system!
Megaman and Castlevania are hard but fair(in most cases). Bad design or glitched are some example of things that won't ever be enjoyable.
Haven't checked the article yet, but a game gets frustrating when:
-It isn't clear what to do. Unless the game is a puzzle game, it needs to be clear what the player is supposed to do, and how to do it.
-Challenges must involve as little luck as possible. The more luck involved, the more frustrating it gets.
-The gameplay must support the challenge. Bad gameplay in challenging content is annoying and frustrating.
-Resetting player's progress for failing a challenge is frustrating. Allow the player to re-try on the spot, or allow a save right before the challenge.
-When the challenge is a brick wall between player and goal. It helps to offer hints, or an option to lower difficulty after the player fails.

I'm guilty of some of these in my first game, lol.=D
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
As I was reading the article, I was thinking of Pokemon(any of them, really) And how it started out and never really got harder, just using your starter pokemon can almost win you the game. If anything, those games were harder to begin with and once your starter or whatever you were using got to a certain level no other trainer or pokemon even came close in level.
The elite four is difficult the first time, MAYBE. Depends how you planned your team, and how you used them.
Anyways, thought it was funny to see that picture since I was thinking about Pokemon even before getting to that part. (because random encounters in caves = REPELSx1000)

It was a good article! I'm going to be looking into my game and seeing what might be considered frustrating and what can possibly be added to bring more joy out of the gameplay, and not frustration.
Was Built From Pixels Up
This is really just the discussion of the SNES era fake difficulty/fake length/fake puzzles etc.
As much as anything, back then gaming was simply in its infancy and developers were still learning what makes games fun. Some people may have got frustrated with games as they were, but the fact was that not everyone actually got that annoyed by them, they just played them and enjoyed it.

Nowadays people demand more since gaming as an industry has developed, the developers have learnt and improved the craft and evolved into making games with genuine difficulty and length that doesn't rely on the "fake" suffix.

But you could also just argue that having more options makes people more picky. The more games there are out there, the less it takes for someone to decide "Crap" and not even give it a chance before moving on; and that's not something that's restricted to games. Tv, movies, books, porn; everything has that same problem.

Or is it the viewers/players that have the problem? I suppose that's a question for another day!
Knowledge is the difference between difficulty and frustration in an RPG (in a platformer, it's placement and powerups, as said above). Example: Let's say you have some super-mega marathon boss. To make matters worse, it regenerates a fairly sizeable chunk of hp each turn.

Here's what I mean. If at some point, the party members say something along the lines of:

"It's healing too fast, what do we do?"
"It seems to be drawing energy from all the cold air over here. Sigh... if only that GIANT FAN wasn't there, we could melt all this ice."

(Solution: Attack the giant fan with fire magic, which removes regen by event. Keep attacking it to destroy it or 5 turns later, it will put regen back on)

Without that, you might be tempted to think the fan was just a backup enemy, and spend all of your effort on the boss. Or you might be tempted to bash at the monster, which would kill it but not break the effect. Good hints mean the maker cares enough to make it difficult (the boss still has good attack, and a huge amount of hp) but solveable.
On the subject of difficulty in RPG's, I really hate it when a game doesn't show health bars on enemies in an RPG. It's just impossible to know how much health a boss has left, so the player cannot really make strategic choices besides trying to stay alive while doing damage. For example, the player can try to do a desperate final offensive against a boss if he sees the boss is low on health and his party is about to be wiped. Even if the player doesn't make it, he knows he was at least close to beating it, and can confidently try again using skills a little better on the next try. Without health bars the player is left in the dark, not having an idea of how close the boss was to dying, and that's frustrating.
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
^To what Milennin said, I always liked the skill option in a game to "Scan" an enemy and see how much HP, etc. they have. You might not know what life total they are at currently, but it can always give you a good idea. Especially if you can sorta keep up with rough estimates of damage you have done.
On a side note, I think scanning (and inflating the length with hp constraints) is why we have final bosses with multiple forms.
I liked this article and you nailed a bunch of good points.

I totally agree with the health bar thing, by the way. In so many RPGs you are huge, untrackable numbers to enemies and trying to estimate how long to kill an enemy - even one you've already faced - is difficult. On bosses it's obviously impossible unless you have access to a Scan... and to some extent I still feel irritated that I have to waste a turn and an equipment slot to tell me what I should already know.

At least do what DnD 4E does - you find out when the enemies are bloodied (below half HP) so you can be some judge of progress, and form a strategy accordingly.

Anyway, I think the important thing here is to analyze each aspect of your game critically. Just because old RPGs had random encounters every 5 steps and Experience Points doesn't mean yours does!
@slash: Examples of RPGs that reveal enemy HP without the need to "scan" are as follows:

*SRPGs in general
*Legend of Heroes III, IV, and V (PC/Windows version)
*Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World
I read over a review (actually, a Let's Play) of Soul Shepherd.

While I might be tempted not to be overly critical of the game, I must rise above that temptation. It's one thing to make battles difficult to get through, it's quite different to make a game so kill-happy that in one turn on the very first enemy group, your party gets nearly wiped out (3 players were dead). The game proposes to force players to use strategy, but I think this is a side effect of poor balance.

Which led me to a conclusion of a formula to avoid frustration. Now, there are types of frustration:

1. Puzzle frustration (usually avoided by checking whether the puzzle is solvable, and also making it skippable as a bonus treasure puzzle, it it's unreasonable)
2. Grind frustration (making less battles to level usually helps)
3. Challenge frustration (see below)

The theory I eventually came up with regarding challenge is this, what I like to call the 1/3 rule. Elemental weakness to heroes should not exceed 100% first off and normally, characters should have be 1/3 resistance (speaking technically it's 2/3) or 30% for D. Why? Because somewhere along the line, you'll want an enemy that deals 9999 damage. This is much more forgiving if it kills off the one character weak to fire, rather than the entire party and leaves the rest with 3333 less hp.

But this rule is two parts. It also means that the average enemy (not a boss, they can get away with heavy damage) at your level, at even the most challenging game, should not deal more than 1/3 your total hp or at most half (1/2 only for critical, not a common attack). Meaning four enemies, in a game that favors strategy, should require 3 turns to attack a party of four before people die, or if someone dies die on turn one, it's because they were triple-teamed. In the playthrough of the game in question, at one turn, 3 members were dead, which even with 4 monsters shouldn't be possible without one-hit-KOs.
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
For the record the dude making Soul Shepherd has put more thought into the balance of that game than you've put into your entire life.

I have literally talked with him personally for over 400 hours about game balance for that game, and he has spent well over 10 hours talking to me just about tuning the first battle. That is just the time he spent talking to me, not the time he spent talking to other people, thinking through it, or testing possibilities.

You're apparently intolerant of the level of challenge you perceive in that game, either due to disliking adversity in the first place or due to not being good enough at RPGs to overcome it. This isn't the same thing as the game having poor balance or being set up frustratingly. You just like easier games. That's fine, that's a valid preference. Please stop pretending it's anything else. You are capable of seeing a topic brought up and parroting the language in it to make someone look bad, but apparently not capable of actually understanding what's being said, because nothing in this discussion actually applies to what you're talking about.

Your numbers are arbitrary and pulled out of thin air. In fact the actual amount of damage that the player can survive is all but one of his health - whether dealing that much is a good idea or not depends on how powerful healing is and how much focus you want on defense vs. offense.

On the flip side, his enemies in the first battle actually do exactly the damage you suggested: about 1/3 the health of a party member. It's impossible for the enemies to kill two heroes in one round in the first dungeon unless they started out below full HP. At no point in the LP did they ever actually do the crazy amount of damage you're suggesting - I know because I was the one playing in the video. Holy shit, you're full of shit.

So yeah I'd appreciate it if you didn't just pop into random threads for no reason except to publically badmouth a game you apparently have some inexplicable grudge against from two years ago, and haven't even played since he reworked the entire game from scratch. Stop being an intolerable little shit. There are games I don't like but I dont pop into random unrelated threads in the game design forum just to say how bad they are.
I played the (older version, I noticed suckier tent) for roughly half the time he spent talking to you (roughly 5 hours straight). Well, no, not really. Maybe one to three hours. Well no, some arbitrary number of hours. But it was a hell of a lot more than I give most games, due to my woefully short

The number I gave is well, mostly arbitrary. But it's based on a guideline, I came up with, testing my own battles (and retesting, and retesting, until yea I agree I can't can't get a good sense of balance). Most of my battles are too easy, or freakishly long and hard (my bonus boss having nearly 10 million, and you probably need top tier equips to do even halfway decent damage, or spend all day on him). What I found was a good mix of challenge and fun was something like 2-3 full party rounds (as in, all members attack), specialized weaknesses, and if the enemy is intended to be a challenge, you should at least be able to last three turns against them.

His new game version, may actually be balanced according to this model, which is good for him. His older wasn't, from what I remember. I strongly remember one-hit kills, just from wandering about the main path (yes, the easy one with bats, and yes after trying to grind a few levels and get some monster souls). Unless you are grossly underlevel, one hit kills should NEVER happen (I tested my level 7 fighters against and estimated level 50 dragon, and only got one hitted by about 300 more than their total hp... it wasn't the strongest attack but still).

Invalid YouTube URLhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6CA_Sf6Whww
Your party in Soul Shepherd: 440 (why doesn't he have more? He's the hero), 410, 410, 280 HP. Damage in order: 129 (fine), 239 (fine, critical), 245 (okay, critical shouldn't be that common), 406 (critical plus kill, ummm no, that's exactly what I'm talking about, 406/410). If this was the average for the game (you assured me it isn't, so to humor you, I'll take your word for it), would you not call that frustrating? It's because one hit kills = frustration.

So first point, is basically yea, as told above. But obviously, if this were all there was to it, I could just write this off as a crappy game. (well, actually having played a ton of games, maybe I can anyway but we'll get to that later) So let's examine other sources of frustration.

Slow grind is at the top of the list. At the average game, after 5 hours of straight grind, I should be at least level 10. At 15-20 hours, I should be level 30. If it's an easy game, level 30ish should help me kill the last boss (typical for Kingdom Hearts, provided I have Second Wind or whatever it's called that gives 1 hp remaining, which I can then spam heal and counter). For magic instead of defense, and the game on Brave, it ends up closer to 50. If I've been gaining huge amounts of exp, and barely leveling to level 3 after as many hours, I tend to ragequit. Grind should keep up with leveling, if it doesn't (Legend of Dragoon is a fair example, you get to disc 2 before enemies start giving decent gold and exp, and then I grinded for almost 10 hours or so to earn enough (I can be persistent with a game, if it is interesting enough) to some of the auto wargods or whatever (the good kind) and then grinded some more to get phantom helmets or whatever)), there should either be sweet spots where enemies are easy to find and give you what you need if you can handle the added challenge, or what TvTropes calls Metal Slimes, all but unkillable monsters that allow easy leveling.

Second, savepoints. Now, there are pros and cons about savepoints in general. But a rule of thumb is, is you force people to trek from savepoint to savepoint or risk losing your game, at least some of them should have a separate healing point, call tents, or have the savepoint itself heal you.

Then there's the gameover. You can have a flat gameover (which completely sucks, Earthbound and even Mother with its straight grind offered some sort of continue option). Generally, even if you lose gold (or exp), if you get to keep that ultra-rare item you picked up that you spent five hours finding, it's worth it.

I found Soul Shepherd thoroughly unlikeable on so many levels (sorry, no) starting with the literally soulless backup characters, that the fact that the game's balance was so far against me, and grind didn't seem to do any good when you actually did do it, just turned frustration to anger. But as this is not even about that, it's about frustration, I just used this as a token example of what not to do in order to endear yourself to the average player.

Game balance is just that, the battle either can go either way. Game balance that tries to kill the player, and never lets up is not balanced. This is not rocket science. But you seem bent proving I'm a slacker or something, so I will download this game again.
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
So yeah I'd appreciate it if you didn't just pop into random threads for no reason except to publically badmouth a game you apparently have some inexplicable grudge against from two years ago, and haven't even played since he reworked the entire game from scratch. Stop being an intolerable little shit. There are games I don't like but I dont pop into random unrelated threads in the game design forum just to say how bad they are.

Seriously holy shit what is your problem
My problem is after spending two years to forget a game that literally annoyed me on every level (not just the battles, the way the thing was, and is, set up is almost evil by design), you go and remind me of it.

My opinions are my opinions, you have no obligation to believe them. Likewise, I'd appreciate you not trying to force feed me stuff I don't believe. My other problem is exactly this, people who feel the need to "persuade" (force) others to see their views. I don't care if he explained balance for 4 million hours, to me, he's full of crap. Balance is about balance, that the tide of the game swings either way with careful planning, something which I never saw any of for hours of grind (just endless fighting on the defensive). If you like it, you like it. But trying to make me like it, when I very definitely don't agree, saying, what was it? Oh yes.

You're apparently intolerant of the level of challenge you perceive in that game, either due to disliking adversity in the first place or due to not being good enough at RPGs to overcome it.

Really? I have a collection of RPG and other games I've beaten right over there (KH1-BBS, Okami, several times, the latest getting all but two of the beads in addition to beating the game, several Final Fantasy games (FF7-FF12 sans FF11 since I don't have net hookup, and the SNES ones too), Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia, Legend of Dragoon, and pretty much all of them but Rogue Galaxy and Chrono Cross, the last because I've gotten confused by the branches and alternate timelines and not really sure how to proceed, and other I can legitimately say I wasn't up to beating the last boss.
And there lies a key difference, Rogue Galaxy is a challenging Rpg, it uses fighting style 3D combat to keep you dodging, blocking, etc to survive enemies and at least a third of them have some armor type that has to be broken. A challenging game makes you pay attention to do well. A frustrating game pisses you off because it's relying instead on someone's luck programming and beats you up before you can heal) that says otherwise.

You know what's another "fun" game? Rygar. At least the programmers bothered to put some real fun, and some plot into it, instead of making it about "challenge". A game is bad, either have the decency to call it thus (yes, even one of my own, I'm no hypocrite) in which case the creator should take the criticism and work harder to make it good, or if you can't do so, don't tell people they are "lesser" players for being unwilling to put up with frustration (which, btw, if you asked, this isn't some apropos of nothing bash of some game I hate, it's actually relevant under "games that frustrate the hell out of you").

Just for that, I'm gonna play Rogue Galaxy and/or Rygar. And dammit, this time I'm gonna finish it, at least that's a better use of my time.
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
I didn't remind you of it, you just sort of hijacked someone's perfectly good game design & theory topic at random to bring it up
I was minding my own business, when some random search of games brought me to that game and your Let's Play of it. Making obviously all your fault, and not at all my own stupid fault for having the dumb luck to stumble upon it at 3am or whenever.

You believe me, right?
Umm Locke, I think you're really overreacting here. bulmabriefs is really just using Souls Shepherd as a reference/example to get to the point of this topic. He didn't hijack it. More of like you pushed it. And it's his opinion. Even if you don't agree with him, take it to PM please and not here because you're actually the one starting to go off topic here.
Anyway, for me, frustration only comes in when I keep failing in something again and again and again without a solution. But getting mad over a game can sometimes be a good thing because it has the great potential to lead you back to the game again (after you have cooled down, of course) just to overcome a certain obstacle Of course, with the internet and all, players can always find solutions to certain obstacles if they've had enough of that. So that kind of eliminates the frustration to some extent.
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