HONEST CHALLENGE, AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

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A lot of the arguments I get into in other threads seem to come down to a basic difference in game design philosophy than some of the other people on the board. I thought I would dedicate a thread to it instead of letting it keep coming up in other threads. So, once again, I've decided to show off my basic incompetence vis a vis brevity, and drop a stream-of-consciousness-dump on you.

So there seems to be recurring philosophy in the mind of game makers that basically boils down to your players being your enemy. The line of thinking seems to go that you are in direct competition with your players, and that you should pull out every stop to make sure that they do not have an easy time beating your games.

Now I love a good challenge, and in fact some of my favorite games are fiendishly difficult--I'm a huge fan of Treasure shooters, and almost always go after the insane things that RPG developers expect you to do in the postgame.

Problem is, a lot of the difficulty that I find game developers falling prey to isn't legitimate difficulty. It's not clever AI that's difficult to outsmart, or an infernally difficult puzzle to be solved. It's 1980's arcade bullshit, like limited numbers of continues, or puzzles that the game has given no indication of the nature of, or clumsily used rubber band AI, or randomly changing the game's genre or the rules of how the game is played. These are not fun challenges or real challenges. These are the challenges of lazy developers. The same sort of developer who makes a "difficult boss" in an RPG by just doubling the HP. (Which, by the way, is part of why I haven't brought up multiple difficulty levels. Generally speaking, especially in RPGs, they do little more than changing certain constants to decrease the damage the hero does or increase the damage enemies do, or both, which tends to feel artificial and stupid.)

So anyway, when challenge can be made fun, I enjoy a good challenge. But here's the thing: I recognize that not every gamer is like me. There are plenty of people out there who just want to get through the game, either to get to the next step in the gameplay evolution (this especially applies in RPGs and Adventure games), or because they've only got a limited amount of time to finish the game, or in some cases even because they want to see the next plot development.

So the issue here is this: you have an audience made up of both people who want to be challenged, and people who just want to have fun. By making a game challenging in such a way that the second group can't do what they want to do, you are actively alienating a significant portion your audience.

Okay, so maybe you're okay with that. "My game is significant, and only the truly elite will recognize its greatness." That's fine--it's not like the size of your audience is all that matters. But to my mind, there's nothing more affirming about the making of games than the knowledge that you're entertaining as many people as you can, even if you've never met them. If there is ever a time when you can reach more people without alienating the people you're already aiming for, it's crazy not to take advantage of that opportunity.

Which is why I feel that the majority of problems of this nature can be dealt with in a very easy manner: stop punishing your players, and start rewarding them. Taking things away from your players, like items, powers, or even just their time is basically biting the hand that feeds you. These people are deigning to play your game (never think you're the one doing them the favor. If you're an amateur, chances are you haven't earned the right to think that way yet, and even if you have it's probably a good way to evolve into what psychologists refer to as a "total dick."), so it's pretty counterintuitive to throw rocks at them like that. When you force them to sit through tedium (for example: cutscenes they've already seen, puzzles they've already solved, maps they've already been to that haven't had some pretty major changes made to them, Mr. Resetti...), you're punishing your player. When you take away something they've already earned, something that might very well be the reason they play the game, you're punishing the player. When you start flashing colored filters on the screen and play annoying noise to induce epileptic shock, you're punishing your player. And possibly assaulting him.

And the thing is....none of that is necessary. You do not have to punish your player for making mistakes, or not overcoming all the hurdles you've set for them. Instead, why not reward them for their victories? Stop taking things away from the bad players, and start giving bonuses to the good players. Everyone gets to get through the game, face the monsters, see the puzzles, hear the music, whatever it is that's the "draw" for your game. But the ones who do it best get some extra stuff.

To give an example, XBox 360 and PS3 both have Achievements these days (And I think Steam has something similar, on PC), which provide a great way to reward players who do challenging things without punishing players who don't. Tales of Vesperia's a good example of how RPG's can use this sort of system. The game itself is not very difficult at all. But pretty much each boss fight has some "Secret Mission:" special criteria you have to fulfill to get an achievement for having beaten them. On top of that, for people who don't care about achievements but still want some sort of reward for going above and beyond the call of duty, you tend to get better drops from the bosses when you pull these special missions off.

The player who doesn't wish to challenge himself and pull off these things is able to keep playing the game without really losing anything significant. Maybe the players who are taking the challenges are getting a few weapons earlier because of synthesis or something, but that's about it.

There's no reason our games couldn't implement something similar. I mean no, it doesn't show up on your Gamer Card or anything, but it still feels good to look back on a record of some of the cool stuff you've accomplished, even if you don't really have a chance to lord it over anyone else.

In the end, positive reinforcement means you're not alienating either audience. Hardcore gamers get their stuff to be proud of, more casual gamers get to just play the game.

tl;dr: Stop punishing your players, reward them instead, and for god sakes don't be proud of how difficult your game is unless it's because the puzzles are incredibly elegant or your AI is too clever by half.

Or unless you're making bullet hell shooters. I will forgive ridiculously unforgiving bullet spam that relies on memorizing levels in that case.
This has been a lot on discussion around lately. Or so I've felt anyway. So I'm going to link to two articles by Shamus Young on the issue instead of making a proper response.

The Need for Challenge

Auto-adjusting Frustration

There's also a video:
Reset Button that sort of deals with the things.
Ocean
Resident foodmonster
11006
Yeah, I agree. I found the links Shinan posted pretty interesting. Yeah, a lot of the times I think the difficulty is due to poor design or something stupid (Like the controls not really making sense, oh I didn't even see that hole you had to go into, or things like that). I recognize that I am pretty bad at games, but I have very different reactions when I lose because it's my fault, and when I lose because the game is poorly designed. Or sometimes I just think it's more difficult than it actually is because I don't fully understand how the game/AI works and am applying real life logic in it instead.

What I generally do for an RPG is make the main quest on the easy side. The optional stuff I can ramp up the difficulty. I've also never liked it when the last boss or last dungeon is a huge leap in difficulty compared to the rest of the game. That's fine for optional dungeons. I like to think about the people still playing for the story (by then, the ending), or that just want to beat it. Even worse is when the last boss is really difficult and requires learning new techniques/methods that the player never had to deal with in the game itself. I've seen a few games that do this.

I was playing Beyond Good and evil. The game rarely made me use the special attack, and even then you never were really pressed for time to pull one off (only really having to avoid the enemies attacks, that's all), and it was rarely necessary to use it. The last boss however, you had a very short time where you had to charge and attack with it, and if you failed you had to repeat the pattern over and over until you get it right, and you have to get it right multiple times. Not only that, but the first attack very easily led to a combo attack, which instantly made you run out of time to pull off a charge. It was the most frustrating part of the game for me.

Beyond Good and Evil for the most part though was forgiving. If you failed a puzzle, died in a fight or something, you just get sent outside the room with half of your health. You don't have to restart, get sent to the last save point, or get a game over, you just try again. When you accomplish something, you get a heroic sound effect to let you know that you solved it. I thought those were nice touches. Even in the last boss battle, when you died, you only go back one form and retain your items from then, you don't have to redo every single form.

Also, if a game doesn't have a story at all, then you know that if the game is hard, that the players are playing it for the difficult puzzles/fights/whatever, not because they want to enjoy the story but are getting frustrated because the gameplay is being an obstacle to the next part of the story for them.

This is a nice quote:
The question of why play if you can't lose assumes that everyone plays for the same reason. Or at least, that they should. It assumes that the development and proving of raw skill is the central drive of playing videogames. But we all play for different reasons
I agree, mostly because of this quote alone. Thanks for that article, Shinan!

But failure (in-game death, penalties, setbacks, and so on) stops every other type of player from having fun. They stop seeing new things. They stop having new conversations. The story stops. The sense of accomplishment stops. The spectacle stops. They stop experiencing new dialog, scenery, plot developments, new characters, new jokes, new foes to conquer, and all the other things that might have been entertaining them. All they have left is this single challenge.

Now this is something that everyone should take note of. Like the articles and Shadowtext said, punishment is basically on one side of the field by itself, while all the good features that you could be missing out on are on the other side. By putting in punishment, the risk of losing all other aspects of the game increases. I see it too many times these days when the creator of a game will say that their game gets better after *insert place here*. I don't know why some would even say that, since they're basically creating an obstacle for the player to overcome just to get to the good stuff. I don't think this has to do with real difficulty of a game though, because a game can still be difficult while keeping things open for all players. The main issue is just the punishment, like setbacks. Punishments and setbacks absolutely kill amateur games, because the players attention span is ridiculously short. So if they have to sit through that 5 minute cutscene again, they probably won't do it.

So yeah, I don't think it's about playing through games like they're a breeze or anything. It's more along the lines of coming across something that's unnecessarily difficult or punishes you because the developer can't think of any other way to keep the player interested.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts Shadowtext. There was nothing I really disagreed on. People should take note of these things.
The real solution is to use Difficulty levels. Rewarding more the good player its useless if the game itself its a piece of crap, because you will feel like a totally stupid when you see that you have 99 potions in every moment. ¿Where is the challengue here?
Rewards are interesting, but death, penalities, setbacks... are need to create tension. The real reward must be the satisfaction of the player who see that with effort, he can beat incredible things.

But failure (in-game death, penalties, setbacks, and so on) stops every other type of player from having fun. They stop seeing new things. They stop having new conversations. The story stops. The sense of accomplishment stops. The spectacle stops. They stop experiencing new dialog, scenery, plot developments, new characters, new jokes, new foes to conquer, and all the other things that might have been entertaining them. All they have left is this single challenge.

The problem is that you are assuming that the gameplay itself can't be also the spectacle. Nowadays a lot of people play only for mindless historys, but playing RPG its fun for some people. See older games, like SNES or NES, why people played them?

Now i have a play station 2, but im playing Dragon Quest V and the original Phantasy Star. ¿Why? ¿Why im going to sell a lot of rpgs i have(like ffx, rogue galaxy, suikoden, etc)?
Because they are BORING. Makes me thing im STUPID. Because my mother can beat they.

PS and DQ are intelligent games. You need to plan your moves, use your brain, its a challengue. I dont think good history and challengue are enemies, just use an Scene Skip system and move on.

Sorry but i think you all are a frustrated cinema directors or book writers. If you can't make and interesting gameplay that works with history, its your problem, but this is a interactive medium.

The basic of rule of everything: to become better you need practice and anticipation. Without that, you will never make nothing. Death, failure, are needed. If you cant make wrong things, you cant grow as a player... or as a person. I dont want to be a spectator.
Yes, Shadowtext, I understand what you, and the rest of you, are saying. But, still, there are a few points I disagree on. Back in the day, RPGs were some of the more challenging games out there, but nowadays, difficulty in MOST games is scarce; but that's not the point...

I will give you an example: Tales of Symphonia 2: Dawn of the New World.
I played this game all the way through and it was EXTREMELY easy. I will admit, there were a few times I lost and had some actual fun, but I was disappointed. Essentially most games nowadays, asside from the mature rated ones, are targeted toward younger audiences. This actually pisses me off; fuck kids. They're stupid.

But what I'm really trying to say is stop calling tedium and punishment bad game design. It is not "bad game design", it's simply tedium/punishment and nothing more. Calling it bad game design sounds like you're saying the creator(s) were retarded monkeys with low IQ's. Most ALL games are DESIGNED well, but the tedium and punishment have barely anything to do with...

Nevermind. I don't feel like explaining my opinion. It just depends on the player.

You raise a good argument, Shadowtext, but there are some people who aren't bothered by certain things such as this. Me being one; the truth is, I am not a picky gamer/game designer; tedium will probably not bother me. Just so as long as the game is beatable and keeps my attention, I will continue to play it, even if I'm not rewarded.
Punishment doesn't detract from the game if it is done well, but a lack of punishment is always completely game-breaking. For instance, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed dissapointed me so much because the death system made things ridiculously easy; being respawned yet having the enemies I had killed before dying already dead meant dying wasn't a threat at all. In fact, dying was preferable sometimes because it fully healed you. What the hell use is that?
author=Fallen-Griever link=topic=3052.msg59732#msg59732 date=1233412605
Punishment doesn't detract from the game if it is done well, but a lack of punishment is always completely game-breaking. For instance, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed dissapointed me so much because the death system made things ridiculously easy; being respawned yet having the enemies I had killed before dying already dead meant dying wasn't a threat at all. In fact, dying was preferable sometimes because it fully healed you. What the hell use is that?

I have seen other games like this, Griever, and when things like that happened, I was like "WTF?! That's stupid!". Games like that are targeted for kids who shouldn't be playing video in the first place.
http://kayin.pyoko.org/iwbtg/


Those who recognize that might think I'm thinking this as an example of difficulty taken to th extreme, but in reality it's a perfect example of how to do difficult challenges RIGHT.

I played this game for about an hour straight last night, I didn't get very far (haven't survived against the Wiley in the Bowser-Flying-Clown-Head yet, but I ENJOYED what I played.

Each new challenge let me try as much as I wanted, and I was driven to beat JUST this one section.

"Darnit this is tough! But I am not losing to this area, I'll stop after I beat this..." and that continued for a while. :)

Challenge can be tough, unforgiving, and even cruel, but what I think you need to watch out for is the retry-value, or basically "How hard is it to try again?"

I WILL get frustrated with the old Megaman games while I won't with that game, why?

Because if I die too often trying in Megaman I'm SEVERELY punished by having a game over. Now I have to wait wait for the game over screen, titlescreen, load the level, and work my way back to the challenge area. UGH!

If I'm stuck on a challenge I want to attempt it repeatedly, I'm sure we've all felt that with a tough fight that is preceeded by lengthy dialog, all we want each time is that "stupid story to just go away! I've seen you three times already! I just wanna smack down that stupid boss!"

What I got from that game was a new challenge all the time and accomplishing each one left me with a sense of achievement, even though dying wasn't a real punishment since you do it every 3-10 seconds. :)

I don't think there are any rule-sets for what works and what does, I think it's more about balancing your own game based on how it plays, always giving the player a challenge that they will feel good after they accomplish, but most importantly don't cause them severe frustration when they fail to something you specifically made challenging!

ps. Tedium is bad game design. Why are you making someone playing something for fun experience tedium? And no, making them repeat something isn't necessarily tedium, but something that players feel is boring IS tedium. That's why opinions outside your "god almight I'm the designer" and the "I'm psycho-analyzing your design with my experience and giving you high-level feedback" isn't nearly as important as "I'm an average player who is playing your game" feedback.

I get more quality feedback from normal players than I probably ever will from the overly detailed analysis and reviews of my stuff.
Removing tedium is hard. Developers have been using it for so long as a means to artificially increase difficulty, most gamers find it interchangeable with "challenge" or can't really tell the difference anymore. Furthermore, the biggest flaw in the kind of positive reinforcement you're suggesting, Shadow (even though I completely agree with you), is that most players anticipating challenge want their objectives on auto-pilot. If they're forced to look for the challenge or make it for themselves, they're likely not to notice it and will eventually stop playing. They'd rather it be a natural part of the game than something optional they can invest their time in.
Ocean
Resident foodmonster
11006
author=gerkrt link=topic=3052.msg59727#msg59727 date=1233410073
The real solution is to use Difficulty levels. Rewarding more the good player its useless if the game itself its a piece of crap, because you will feel like a totally stupid when you see that you have 99 potions in every moment. ¿Where is the challengue here?
Rewards are interesting, but death, penalities, setbacks... are need to create tension. The real reward must be the satisfaction of the player who see that with effort, he can beat incredible things.

But failure (in-game death, penalties, setbacks, and so on) stops every other type of player from having fun. They stop seeing new things. They stop having new conversations. The story stops. The sense of accomplishment stops. The spectacle stops. They stop experiencing new dialog, scenery, plot developments, new characters, new jokes, new foes to conquer, and all the other things that might have been entertaining them. All they have left is this single challenge.

The problem is that you are assuming that the gameplay itself can't be also the spectacle. Nowadays a lot of people play only for mindless historys, but playing RPG its fun for some people. See older games, like SNES or NES, why people played them?

Now i have a play station 2, but im playing Dragon Quest V and the original Phantasy Star. ¿Why? ¿Why im going to sell a lot of rpgs i have(like ffx, rogue galaxy, suikoden, etc)?
Because they are BORING. Makes me thing im STUPID. Because my mother can beat they.

PS and DQ are intelligent games. You need to plan your moves, use your brain, its a challengue. I dont think good history and challengue are enemies, just use an Scene Skip system and move on.

Sorry but i think you all are a frustrated cinema directors or book writers. If you can't make and interesting gameplay that works with history, its your problem, but this is a interactive medium.

The basic of rule of everything: to become better you need practice and anticipation. Without that, you will never make nothing. Death, failure, are needed. If you cant make wrong things, you cant grow as a player... or as a person. I dont want to be a spectator.
Yeah, we're not arguing that "There should be a win button because anything that is remotely challenging is too difficult", or that we should be a passive spectator. You can require a strategy to beat battles/bosses in an RPG and still do it without it being unforgiving, or having to redo a whole puzzle, then listen to a big cutscene, then go back to fighting it every time you lose. Gameplay itself can be fun without it being very difficult as well. I'm sure most people don't really consider FF6 to be extremely hard yet that's thought of as one of the best FF RPGs.

Hell, when I work on a game, I first work on trying to make the gameplay interesting long before I even think about the story or anything.
dragonheartman
Developer, Starless Umbra / Heroes of Umbra
2750
I like what you had to say and to address this I implemented a difficulty select feature in my game. Easy mode is geared towards players who want to get through it quickly without any serious challenge to enjoy the story. Normal is for people who like puzzles and are up for a decent challenge. Expert is just my sadistic way of trying to punish the players (who are into that sort of thing, of course ;)).
author=Mitsuhide_The_Vagrant link=topic=3052.msg59731#msg59731 date=1233412543
Back in the day, RPGs were some of the more challenging games out there,

No, "difficult" RPGs were never hard. They were plain fucking stupid, see Random Battles, monsters that come out of nowhere and would cast sleep on your entire party + rape you, some stuff about creating the GOD WEAPON but you wouldn't know about it unless given a guide, bosses that pull death spells out of their asses, etc.
God Hand describes itself as "Tough but fair" which I completely agree with. Its a hard game where the player will die a lot but the game never punishes the player for it. When the player dies, all they get is the enemy taunts ("My style is impetuous!" "My defences are impregnable!" "You're not Alexander!"), Continue Yes/No, and then you respawn at the last checkpoint at full health and the amount of orbs/GodHand when you reached the checkpoint (unless you had no orbs, then the game will give you one). You keep everything when you died (moves, money, ect.) and you keep your enemies defeated counter. The only thing you lose is all enemies you killed between reaching the checkpoint and dying respawn and your level gauge drops (aka the rubber band AI level).

It cuts all the crap when you die and it can even be exploited to your advantage: Kill a bunch of guys, die, and kill them again! The game lets you get right back up when you die with the great cost of just having to kill some enemies again. It gives you everything you need to get good at the game without kicking you when you aren't.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
@Shadowtext: You make a lot of good points but I'm going to A. Play Devil's Advocate and B. Be extremely crude to do so.

And the thing is....none of that is necessary. You do not have to punish your player for making mistakes, or not overcoming all the hurdles you've set for them. Instead, why not reward them for their victories? Stop taking things away from the bad players, and start giving bonuses to the good players. Everyone gets to get through the game, face the monsters, see the puzzles, hear the music, whatever it is that's the "draw" for your game. But the ones who do it best get some extra stuff.

What you're saying is, in other words, make candy-ass games where it's impossible to die because you're too much of a pussy to kill the player due to fear that they'll stop playing. This kind of wussified game design philosophy just makes me ANGRY.

I would like to point out that I lost interest in the otherwise excellent RM game Starless Umbra by dragonheartman midway through the first or second chapter for EXACTLY this reason. The game's battles were so laughably easy that it was literally impossible to die, and I just stopped playing. What was the point?

I think there is a happy medium between AUTOPILOT and punishing the players. I am a moderate in this debate...but I am a pretty militant moderate.
It's perfectly fine to die because of something challenging Max, but it's not okay if you die and have the punishment of going through a long cutscene again or fighting the 3 mini bosses before you get to the real boss again. If this scenario happened in Starless Umbra, would that somehow make the game more fun because you died and had to redo pointless things?

The player has already passed that scene or those other bosses, why make them go through it again? They already proved that they were capable of handling everything until that last battle (which can still be challenging, that's okay). I don't think anybody wants to play a game that is really really easy since most of us here are pretty skilled, but there are a lot of things that just don't seem necessary when trying to add difficulty.

The game Anaryu mentioned reminds me of Spelunky. It's a VERY hard game and it actually punishes you by taking you back to the first level of the game if you die. But it is so easy to get back into the game since it literally takes 3 seconds to select your level and try again. The challenge of the game also comes from most of the players actions, most accidents that happen in the game are really the players fault.

No matter how good your game is, if you can't let the player get right back to the action of where they were, they WILL shut it off because of the frustration. This is almost guaranteed.
The replies to this post exemplify the importance of the debate beautifully. Gerkrt, Mitsuhide, and perhaps Griever will not enjoy your game if it is not challenging. For every Gerkrt, Mitsuhide, and Griever you please, there will be a person who then becomes displeased with your game. That's the point of the argument; not that challenge is bad, but that there is a LOT of people out there that don't play games BECAUSE of the challenge. They're in it for something else.

It's obviously impossible to make everyone happy. The argument that Shadowtext is making is that rewarding skilled gameplay is BETTER than punishing people for poor gameplay, and I agree with this. Every game has its own style and pace, and with this pace comes a different threshold for acceptable punishment and reward. For example, Griever mentions that the difficulty level in TFU is silly because death doesn't mean anything. And perhaps it is a little extreme; if you go back to a checkpoint, then the enemies you killed after it should have respawned. But does the prospect of re-doing a portion of a level over and over again really excite you? Or really reward you after you overcome it?

Consider this: you have a game that uses save points, and a system that will give you the option to re-try a fight immediately if you die. You know that if you win the fight without failing, you will get a better reward, however you're welcome to just click a button to attempt the battle again. If you want the reward, you'd have to end the game and re-load from a save point if you fail the fight. This introduces a player-selectable threshold for desired difficulty, and the only difference is the effort:reward ratio.

I think Shadowtext is crazy in this topic because I recall debating him because he thought that game overs were bad game design.
Save points have to be intelligent. Look old NES dungeons, without saving. They were fun because the main objective of the player was to beat the dungeon in general. Later, as in games like FFV, the combat grows in importance. You can't make clasic dungeons here, because the complexity and interest of the combat has increased.

In FFV the dungeon itself was a test to your resources, before fighting the boss.

But the savepoints are important. They create a segment of gameplay, with a defined goal and rules. Also give tension. The savepoints have to be created in relation of the type of challengue and gameplay of your game. Im trying to make somehthing new for my game, i think it will surpass classic structures in this type of coherence.
author=Feldschlacht IV link=topic=3052.msg59818#msg59818 date=1233441582
I think Shadowtext is crazy in this topic because I recall debating him because he thought that game overs were bad game design.

That is a scandalous accusation. I am crazy in every topic.
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