Because of the Liberated Pixel Cup that’s coming up, I’ve been thinking about videogames, and more specifically, Video Game Failures. And I’m not talking about horrible videogames, but about not being able to achieve or complete a goal.
Part of this post comes from the best videogame
junkie addict researcher I know… My brother Alan.
The starting points are… do we really need to punish the player for not successfully achieving the goal? And how much must we punish the player for failing?
The Magical Princess
Prince of Persia is an Action-Adventure game that has you running through all sorts of cliffs, doing long sequences of button mashing that you’ve got to memorize and react to, and fight a couple of bad guys along the way.
The way they handle fail here? There’s a Princess with magical powers that pulls you from certain death… to the platform you were standing on before falling (despite being mere centimeters from the next platform). You can’t die. If you’re fighting bad guys, she jumps in, smacks the bad guy a bit, he gets his life recovered, you get your life recovered, and we start the dance again, and again, and again. Why punish the players, at all?
The Second Wind
On Kingdom Hearts 2, an awesome Disney / Final Fantasy cross-over RPG, we learned that on the toughest of battles.. the ones where you’d normally lose? A well known Rodent would come and save you when you did. There’s a GameFAQs guide that explains the process neatly, but in summary… He pops in, kicks ass, and heals you for a second chance to defeat the enemy. Think of it as a Very Cool Continue or an Extra Life.
Fable 2 handles Death in a very similar fashion. You’re magically brought back to life, but your character now has a permanent scar on his face or body. The only punishment? You know you failed but get to keep playing, without having to reload from the last checkpoint / savepoint.
The Auto-Save Method
Completing a game often requires saving mid-way so you can take a break, but in some games, saving your state is so unorthodox that you completely forget to save, until you’re defeated and have to start from the beginning. This happened to my brother all the time while playing Last Remnant: He’d play for hours without saving, get to a wild fight he couldn’t win… and the game punished him by having him restart from the last save point, hours ago.
Needless to say, he never finished the game. Having to restart from the beginning once is punishment enough, but have it happen several times and you no longer want to hear about the game and its unskippable cutscenes.
Luckily, most other games have you save early, save often, and games like Half Life 2 and Halo set up Auto-Save checkpoints so that when you fail (Because they’re certain you will fail), you can just reload to the last known safe spot.
Other games, like Zelda: Skyward Sword has Save Statues spread around everywhere, always within a few minutes of reach. Every time you saw one, you might as well use it and save. On Zelda: Ocarina of Time, they had the Save option inside the menu, which players would often forget to use (Though personally? I saved every time I opened the menu regardless of why I opened the menu).
The You-Suck Solution
On Super Mario Galaxy 2 and other new Wii games, whenever you fail often enough, Big Brother Miyamoto shows you how you’re supposed to beat the level. Watch out, it may be patented though. In Mario’s case, the game takes control of Mario showing you perfect jumps through the impossible platforms they’ve set up.
Basically, if you see the player struggling to beat a level, the game could offer the player to lower difficulty, just so that you can skip the level and continue with the story you wanted to see. Oblivion and Half Life 2 are examples of games that let you change difficulty at any moment, without having to start a new save file.
To sum things up… You shouldn’t always punish the player for failure. They’re playing a game, and trying to reach the ending. Every time they fail to achieve something pushes them away from replaying your game or creating fond memories. Here’s another very interesting article on Failure, if you’re interested.