Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Games That Won’t Let You Die
Awesome or Bad Design?
From Kohyunu

Kohyunu was wondering something about the latest Prince of Persia game.

“One of the biggest thing I noticed was that you cannot die. Even if you deliberately try and fall off a cliff, Elika is there to save you. She even saved me when she was trapped and couldn’t move herself!

What’s your take on it? What was your initial reaction to the ‘No death’ design choice, and how did you feel when you played it? (If you played it that is 😛 )”

Well, to be quite honest I haven’t played the latest Prince of Persia so consider my opinion highly academic, but I have discussed the game with people who have played it and I’ve come to some conclusions about it.

First of all, not being able to die in games isn’t that uncommon. Some of my favorite games don’t always have a death condition. Particularly adventure games and puzzle games of a story nature (like Professor Layton, Myst and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) don’t ever allow you to die unless it’s a story ending possibility (though those three examples don’t have that). Dying in those games doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as it just causes you some frustration and you never pick that option again. They’re like choose your own adventure books (my guilty pleasure as a child) where you would pick the option you thought was best, mark the page, peek ahead and if it abruptly ended the story you would pick the other option.

In fact, my favorite game of 2008 did not allow you to die. A game called Braid which was about time travel (and apparently nuclear weapons), and every time you died you would simply rewind time to a point before your death was imminent. Given that the game was about time travel and that rewinding time allowed you to try and retry the gameplay puzzles to your heart’s content, it worked perfectly for that game (and when gameplay also expresses ideas, it’s a true joy to behold). The Prince of Persia Sands of Time had a somewhat similar ability to rewind time, but it had a limitation on it to prevent the game from being too easy. It seems the latest PoP has done away with that limitation.

The first problem with an action game that doesn’t allow you to die, is that there is no challenge to the game anymore. The point of an action game is to develop your twitch gaming skills to allow you to advance through obstacles that may have been too tough only a moment ago. With an NPC basically dragging your ass through everything, you don’t really develop your abilities and as the game progresses in difficulty, you will continue to suck at it so you will spend more and more of your time being rescued by the secondary character. Not exactly heroic…

The second problem with an action game that doesn’t allow you to die, is that the primary reason to play has been done away with. If there is no risk of death in combat or skill challenges (because everytime you fall you are rescued), why are you playing? If the story is good, that’s great, but that’s a reason to watch a movie, not play a game. If you don’t have to work to get the next tidbit of story, what are you really achieving by playing? How can you take pride in your victory if you didn’t really accomplish anything to get it?

Well apparently the solution to this is to make the boss encounters reset everytime you would normally have died but are saved. What are the boss encounters? Well they’re sequences of button presses that are displayed on the screen. Probably the worst style of gameplay ever invented. This stuff came from the original Dragon’s Lair and is the subject of my rant on Quicktime Events in games.

To reiterate my points on that though, you’re basically forced to push a sequence of buttons which cover the screen and interrupt your view of the gameplay, and if you fail you have to try to push the same sequence of buttons again exactly. “But Commander, isn’t that in essence what every game is,” you ask?

NO!

In most games you get to choose how you solve a problem as well as exactly how you do it. There are margins for error in many directions in those situations. If the button presses are exactly the same everytime then there is no element of discovery, you’re just playing Simon Says, but not even a fun version of it. You’re told a button to push and you push it. It’s more a reaction time test than anything else, which can be fun for a few minutes but should never ever ever ever ever be the basis of an ENTIRE FRACKIN GAME!

Yes, I know, you Dragon’s Lair diehards are totally pissed at me now. I’m sorry but Dragon’s Lair at least he had the good taste to hide the button pressing gameplay within the game itself. It’s still a reaction test but at the very least you can still see the whole sequence play out without some stupid button appearing on the screen. Though to be honest, Dragon’s Lair was more a memorization test, because I don’t know anyone who had a fast enough reaction time to play that game without having done it at least 100 times before.

So, not being able to die in games is not inherently bad. I just don’t think it was the right solution for an action game like Prince of Persia. Between the latest Prince of Persia and Mirror’s Edge (in which you die constantly and must frustratingly start over and over and over) I think there’s a happy medium. Perhaps Prince of Persia Sands of Time got it right with their limited time rewind?

No, I take that back.

I think the correct answer for Prince of Persia is to come up with a more compelling reason to play. From what I’m hearing, continuing through the story is the only satisfaction you get, and the rest of the gameplay is the annoyance that’s in your way to that. You trudge through constantly being saved by your companion, but there’s no fun in mastery because there’s no chance of defeat. Perhaps what Prince of Persia needs is some actual thought provoking decisions to make during gameplay that aren’t just jumping puzzles or Quicktime Event boss fights.

I think most action games are missing that “something new” that will escalate their gameplay to the next level. We need a mixing of genres that will make all games more compelling. Right now, Braid is the only game to have truly impressed me as far as that goes, but I can’t help but think that if all these game companies would try to actually innovate in the area of gameplay instead of slightly improving what they already have, we might have a wonderful revolution in games.

Time will reveal all I suppose.

posted by CommanderHate at 7:46 pm  

5 Comments »

  1. Good points there Commander.

    Thanks for the insight.

    I have to say though, I haven’t really thought Prince of Persia as an action game, but more of a platformer.

    Quick Time Events aren’t exactly my cup of tea either. Showing you buttons what to do when you need to attack seems stupid to me as well.

    But nowadays boss levels seem to have only one way of killing them anyways. Like you dodge a series of attack, wait for an opening, then attack, and then dodge before they retaliate.

    Almost the same as Quick Time Events without the buttons there to tell you what to do. Though it would be great to have bosses where you can have multiple choices on how you will overcome them (And not like an RPG type of way where you can ‘talk’ your way out)

    Personally the best moments in Prince of Persia was more of the platforming aspects than the combat. It was streamlined and linear, but maybe I’ve enjoyed it because it was just a blast to see the Prince in a well animated fashion. And maybe I’ve become too docile as a gamer and don’t like frustrations in general.

    One thing personally is the controls. If the game provides tight controls, then I would fault myself rather than fault the game. But there are times when I cry ‘Aw COME ON!!’ one too many times in the same place over and over again that I lose the ‘in the moment’ mood.

    I’ve played Mirror’s Edge, and there were times I would attempt a move set, and it didn’t string as you’d think they should.

    Prince of Persia was no different, there were numerous times when I thought I pressed the right button, and the Prince would do something totally different (resulting in a semi-death sequence)
    But due to the savings, I save that grief time and can move on.I know I’m making alot of hardcore action gamers angry out there.

    I agree with challenges in games, but I disagree in frustrations. Prince of Persia made the safe choice of ‘No frustrations’ and I guess I agreed to that.

    Still.. Having all said, I enjoyed Ninja Gaiden. But I don’t think I can take that type of games too much 😛

    =================================================

    As a side-point, maybe the ‘No death’ choice in PoP was to create a bond with the Princess. She’s useful, she’s always there to save your hind, and later when you make a choice for her, you would choose to do what the developers intended.
    (Although I disagreed with that in a story point of view, but that’s a totally different story)

    Thanks again as always Commander Hate

    Comment by Kohyunu — December 15, 2008 @ 9:56 pm

  2. Well with games that seem as free flowing as PoP and Mirror’s Edge, you have to worry about the player not understanding exactly what they can and can’t do. Defeating player expectations by having the controls be sloppy is a bad thing, but I don’t think that either game suffers from that problem. Take for example, Assassin’s Creed where everything happens smoothly and there are no real “moves” as far as navigating the environment. Everything just sort of happens for you. That game wasn’t very fun (IMO) either.

    As to frustrations in games. PoP didn’t say no to frustrations. You can still get frustrated on a boss encounter if you just can’t press the sequence of buttons correctly or your reaction time is too slow. What they said no to was seeing a loading screen everytime you die, which isn’t a bad thing. I just think that they could have made the gameplay such that you didn’t feel like you were being babysat the whole time.

    Comment by CommanderHate — December 16, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  3. No load times! YES!! I prefer Next-gen games to have as least load times as possible 😛

    I had some terrible experiences with recent action games that made the game load every time you died. Maybe that’s what made PoP ‘feel’ better than the other games I played this year.

    The Nintendo first party Gamecube games had great ‘load times’ In my opinion. (Almost none!)

    Oh how I thought that was the future direction for Next-gen games. How naive I was..

    Comment by Kohyunu — December 16, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  4. The problem with no load times is that it can force the game into a direction it’s not meant to go. Like PoP having no possibility of failure isn’t necessarily the right thing for a platformer/action game.

    Though given the alternative of Mirror’s Edge I think we all would prefer PoP’s solution.

    But let’s look at the horror genre. They allow you to save the game in only very specific locations, and if you die, you go all the way back to that save. It’s done for a specific reason, and that’s to make the gameplay more terrifying by offering the possibility of death. If you can’t die in a horror game you’re not really going to be scared. Or are you? You can’t die while watching a horror movie… But the characters in the movie can.

    I guess that’s the trouble with making a game. Your character needs to live or die by your hand for you to feel a part of the gameplay. This is giving me some interesting ideas for a new game concept though.

    You start as one protagonist, but if you die, you must continue the story as another character within the storyline. These are your “lives” and if you exhaust them, the story ends at that point taking into account whatever your characters were able to accomplish so far. Hmm…

    Comment by CommanderHate — December 17, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  5. Awesome ideas brewing up there Commander.

    I agree that dying and not dying would depend on the genre, story and whatever else the game designer was intending.

    How PoP closely followed the creator’s original intentions, I’m not sure.

    I am all for ‘deaths for characters’ as long as the load time isn’t excruciating.

    Metal Gear Solid was a good example for having the character to die. The flash back Snake sees when he dies in MGS4 is amazing to it’s own right. And funny sometimes because usually what Snake remembers before he sees to his doom are the interesting bits in the cinematic.. (Such as Akiba taking a dump etc..)

    “the story ends at that point taking into account whatever your characters were able to accomplish so far”

    This reminded me of an old game called ‘Lost Eden’ It was an adventure game if I recall correctly. You would go through the story, but if you die, the narrator (that was one of the supporting cast) ends the tale saying ‘And that was the tale of ….’

    There weren’t any other character to continue the story, but having the character’s death actually ending the game to the credits was an interesting move for me at the time.. Although it was a glorified ‘Game Over’, I hope your new idea takes it to new heights! 😀

    Comment by Kohyunu — December 18, 2008 @ 2:29 am

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