Death And Punishment

Game Over. Insert Coin.

The balance between carrot and stick, reward and punishment, in game design was so much simpler back in the arcade.

Take the gamer's money and give them a limited number of chances to progress, usually called "lives" since failure nearly always means death. When the player runs out of lives, they can pay to keep playing if they agree within a given time period. If not, the game resets itself to the start.

In some ways, it's a magnificently simple and beautiful state of affairs compared to what PC and console gaming has become, where the entire price of a game, hardware included, is bought and paid for in advance, and "pay for play" means online access fees and MMO subscriptions.

How, in an environment where you can't hit the gamer in the pocketbook for failing to demonstrate the requisite skills, can you punish them? Should you even try? Arcade games were designed to be "finished" only by the best of the best, but today's story-driven, cinematic AAA titles cost millions to make-- is it wise to reveal the entirety of one's design only to a select few? Might that not tempt designers to leave the ending out (I'm glancing in your direction, Halo 2, and yours, too, Indigo Prophecy) and focus energies on the beginning-- the part that most reviewers will see?

Is death in games supposed to be punitive, or is it there only to prevent the player from progressing through the game until they've demonstrated a certain minimum level of proficiency? If it is supposed to be punitive, what does it say about designers' opinions of their own game if the worst punishment they can come up with is playing the game more? Isn't the idea of dying, the message of failure, more important than the actual consequences? Or is it? Can a game design aspire to have replayability and still consider repeat play as a punishment for dying? What other punishments can there be? Should there be any punishments at all? Can any punishment be as useful or effective as requiring the player to insert another quarter, and if not, should gaming return to the arcade model, or should it abandon player punishment altogether?

Death Is Overrated

Certainly some PC games, especially in certain genres, don't include death or anything even approaching death-like consequences. Adventure games like the Monkey Island series don't include dying. The worst punishment you can receive is simply the failure to solve the puzzles required to advance, which restricts your access to more content. The content itself is the reward; seeing new screens and new levels. Simply being deprived of it is punishment enough.

Other events in the course of the game that seem like punishments-- blowing up, being captured by cannibals, falling out of a tree and hitting your head-- are all simply events that occur and advance the plot. Some puzzles might have longer or shorter solutions, and some have shortcuts, but when executed properly this kind of design never gets the player into a position where the game can't be completed, and the save game functionality is there to allow you to stop playing and come back later-- not to protect you from making a bad decision or to recover after a failed attempt to play a portion of the game.

Creep And Save

When you combine a game that still keeps player death as a punishment, with the PC (and now console) gamer's expectation that they be able to save their progress, you get creep and save. Every potentially dangerous situation that might result in player death could result in loss of progress, so the logical reaction is to save the game before that situation to avoid the loss of progress, and repeat only the minimum portion of the game absolutely required.

Of course, that leads designers to prohibit saving in certain areas, and furthermore players can never be sure what rooms or areas are dangerous and which ones aren't, so that leads to saving everywhere, saving all the time, saving every time an opportunity presents itself.

Limitiing saving to certain special areas is only a partial answer to this problem, as this often encourages players to backtrack, sometimes considerable distances, in order to reach a save location, and replaces the tedium of repeating the same gameplay sequences over with the tedium of traversing empty game space over again. However, players are willing to do it because while the former feels punitive, because it results from the player's failure to successfully complete a gameplay sequence, the latter does not. Furthermore, the latter is within the player's control, while the former is not.

Checkpoint, One, Two, Three

A further evolution is the checkpoint system. Halo certainly didn't invent the system, but in terms of console shooters it certainly popularized it. With control over saving taken out of the control of the player, it now happens where and when the game decides, according to rules that are only visible to the designers. Depending on where death occurs, the player may have a few seconds or many minutes of gameplay to repeat. Again-- is this supposed to be punitive? It certainly feels punitive. Certain portions of games get reputations for being difficult based on how often death occurs, and how much of the sequence needs to be handled perfectly before triggering such a checkpoint.

Hangar Bay 2 of Halo 2 and the lift room on Truth and Reconciliation immediately spring to mind as long sequences that had to be completed in their entirety without fatal mistakes.

The very least one can expect from designers in such a system is not to link cinematic elements to checkpoints unless you really want players to hate your story. The pumping station at the end of the underground sequence in Gears of War is a great example of this. Dying during that sequence meant being sent back a long walking distance from the encounter, and enduring yet another repetition of a typically corny conversation with Dom. Once or twice, the scene is fine. The tenth repetition lends it little more depth, and by the twentieth the player could be forgiven for giving Dom a lobotomy with the business end of a torque bow bolt.

Send In The Clones

Bioshock took an interesting take on the checkpoint save system by taking the player and resetting them to a previous location in the physical game world, but not returning the state of that game world to a previous state.

So in Gears or Halo when you encounter that massive group of enemies yet again, only to be killed (yet again) by the last one, you know you always have to fight through the entire group again until you get it right.

Not so in Bioshock. Kill the first four in a group of five only to die, and when you resurrect you'll be at less than full health and some distance away from the battle, but you'll only have to face that final enemy. Of course, to make fights challenging, that means making some enemies considerably stronger than they might have been otherwise, which is the role played by the Big Daddies.

It does give the player some interesting choices to make. They can choose to try and prepare carefully in advance for encounters, and complete them without dying. Or, they can approach them aggressively and attempt to defeat enemies by attrition, whittling them down life by life.

In my own playthroughs of Bioshock I tended to deploy both approaches, depending on context. Is the mere fact of death enough to discourage reckless play?

Damn The Torpedoes

In my opinion it is. I tended to want to try and defeat enough tough enemies like Big Daddies without dying, and would carefully collect the best possible weapons for the task, and choose advantageous positions-- usually near hacked missile and gun emplacements. If, however, the attempt failed, the likelihood of my simply rushing in and pouring more firepower into the target, without serious advance planning, would increase with each death.

In actuality this plays out in games with the more traditional checkpoint system anyway. Just recently, while playing Halo 3's The Ark level on Legendary with a number of skulls on, I spent a great deal of time preparing for the very first encounter-- keeping marines alive, giving them sniper weapons to make them more effective, trying to spare ammunition by always going for head shots, and making good use of enemy weapons by killing tough units with plasma pistol combos.

Invariably a long unbroken sequence of successful encounters would end in unexpected death from an unseen carbine jackal or a lucky grunt grenade throw, and each time I began the sequence over, I had less patience for the planning and preparation-- which only led to quicker player death. The end result is encouraging a style of play that is conservative without being too time consuming, and aggressive without being reckless, to minimize the time spent-- because after awhile you want to be rewarded, and reward means seeing the next encounter. Often the first casualties of such an approach are your AI allies. Although the ammunition in their sniper weapons is unlimited, they simply aren't as effective with it as the player can be, and without a vehicle it is hard to control their actions and thus protect them. This is a shame, as keeping marines alive with you is the closest one can get to the best experiences Halo has to offer without network cooperative play.

Home Of The Brief

Because of the increasing price of games and game hardware, the increasing fidelity of audio and visual assets, and the increasing time required to develop games, it has become fashionable to accuse games of being too short.

It is easy to see how the traditional checkpoint system helps protect developers from this problem; gamers conservative enough to want to complete a game with a minimum of deaths will most likely proceed slowly and take more time. Gamers who rush in will likely die and have to repeat sections.

Bioshock's modified system doesn't do much to actively reward players for playing it safe, nor severely punishes them for dying, beyond the bare knowledge of player death itself. As such, it doesn't significantly impact the amount of time required to play the game, and places the pace more into the control of the player than the designer.

Is there a way to control player progression in shooters without death? Should death be punitive, or is failure to progress punishment enough?

Living On The Edge

I'm of the opinion that the optimal design for an encounter, or indeed the sum total of all encounters within a game, is for the player constantly to feel as if they are about to die, but never actually dying.

One may wonder if such a threat is credible if death is not merely possible, but actually happens. This leads to another question-- should the player be able to successfully complete the game the first time through, without dying?

Most games, especially shooters, are simply not designed that way. Players are given very little in the way of battlefield intelligence before being thrown into the fray. The first encounters are to gather the information needed to actually defeat the encounter-- where enemies will spawn, how many, and when. Without that information, player death is an inevitable consequence of player surprise. There's little chance of completing most encounters until you know in advance what will happen. The sole tool for the improvement of one's performance becomes trial and error.

I think it's open to argument, though, whether the actual reality of player death effectively establishes the risk of future player death in order to create dramatic tension. In fact, it may actually desensitize the player to it, as it does in the above example from the Ark level of Halo 3. Player death increases player frustration and impatience, making future deaths more, rather than less, likely.

The Illusion Of Danger

For creating dramatic tension it may be enough just to create the illusion of danger-- situations in which either the player cannot actually die, or is actually unlikely to die, but that feel dangerous to the player.

A good example of this comparison, and how I think designers can sometimes be tempted to mess with a good thing, is the change in the design of Halo's hunters between the first game and the following two.

Hunters in the first Halo game, as in the sequels, were nearly impervious to all damage to areas covered by their armor. However, their exposed points, the largest of which was an inexplicably large patch on their back, was so sensitive to damage that a single pistol shot would do the trick.

This was deemed a poor design as it made dealing with Hunters too quick, and the spot was toughened (and the pistol removed) in later iterations.

But while hunters became tougher to fight in Halo 2 and Halo 3, the encounters themselves became less interesting. Hunters could be destroyed at long range by rockets, or by a sufficient number of grenades, but the satisfaction of the one-shot, close range kill tended to tempt the player into proximity. At that range, the hunter can kill the player with one melee swipe. The swipe itself, however, was predictable, and the payoff so great that it was not a deterrent. Once learned and properly timed, a good player can easily take out a pair of hunters without serious risk.

However, I'd argue that it always felt like a serious risk, even when it wasn't. There is something that feels dangerous about tackling those enemies at close range, about hearing the clinking armor almost feeling the motion of air against your cheek as the melee swipe misses and you pivot around the charging Hunter to get the one shot kill.

By contrast, Hunters in Halo 2 and 3 are harder to kill but much less fun. That they can deliver a follow-up melee hit behind them if they miss the first time means that there's more risk in getting close. That you can't reliably kill them with one shot from any weapon means there's no incentive to get close. That they are tougher means it takes more time and more ammunition to kill them, and the changes to the hunter's weapon makes it also simultaneously more deadly and less dangerous-seeming.

The fuel rod gun bolts of the first Halo game, with their arcing trajectory and massive-sounding explosions, gave further incentive to the player to close within melee distance-- where the hunter would stop using the weapon-- and try for the one shot kill.

By contrast, the continuous beams of Halo 2 and Halo 3 hunters are more deadly, but the lack of an explosion makes them seem less so. They encourage players to stay in cover at a distance, rather than come out into the open and close the gap to the target.

Halo 1 hunters were formidable-looking, dangerous-sounding beasts best killed up close and personal, that bestowed personal satisfaction on the player out of proportion with the actual difficulty involved, but perfectly proportional to the level of danger perceived by the player.

By contrast, hunters in the sequels are pains in the butt best engaged from long distance (like almost everything else in the sequels) that one is glad to be rid of, but that produce little exultation. The exciting, satisfying kills for me in Halo 3, for instance, are usually vehicles, like the Phantom dropship, the Scarab, or even the Prowler and the Wraith. These units not only are dangerous, they feel dangerous-- sometimes more dangerous than they actually are, and player perception is actually more important than reality. Using the audiovisual means at their disposal, those units actually present the perceived risk of death better than other units that are actually more capable and likely of producing it. They better achieve the goal of making the player constantly feel as if they are on the verge of dying, without actually killing them.

Which is good, because I'm all out of quarters.

Hunter Charging Up
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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

First!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

what a meaningful life you must lead

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

QQbabalu

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Congratulations Anonymous, you were first... Butthole.

narcogen's picture
narcogen
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Re: Death And Punishment

Anonymous wrote:

Congratulations Anonymous, you were first... Butthole.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Smiling


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

You can add a whole new dynamic when including difficulty settings.

Going from Easy to Legendary will completely change your strategies whether you like it or not... whether you're a great player or mediocre.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I feel the best game that used saving in the best way possible is Hitman: Blood Money, not the best game in general, but the saving was a good thing. Depending on the difficulty setting, you were given a certain amount of saves per mission, but the ones right after a mission didn't count towards that count. This would prevent someone from saving at every turn, it also give the check and balance system; do you play it safe and save at a regular interval, or only save at where you believe there will be trouble. It also made the player feel responsible for their demise and backtracking, they choose where to save, not the game.

- NM Jeff

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I believe the best example of saving was in Hitman: Blood Money. Not exactly a great game on its own, but the save system was good. Depending on the difficulty level you selected, you were giving a certain amount of saves per level. This worked well because it prevented you from saving at every corner and it put a check and balance system in it. Are you going to play it by chance and save at a regular interval, or only save where you believe trouble will be. And it made the player feel responsible for his/her actions, they choose where to save and how much to backtrack, not the game.
The system should be used more often.

- NM Jeff

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I HEAR RECON!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Loving the ending. Also you can put a skull on so if you die it sends you back to the beggining of the level.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Anonymous wrote:

Loving the ending. Also you can put a skull on so if you die it sends you back to the beggining of the level.

i would assume that having stated he played Halo 3 on Legendary with a number of skulls turned on that he would know this.

either way, interesting points. i agree with the hunter issue in Halo.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I completely agree with this argument. I would add that obtaining the proper weapon to make a kill is equally rewarding. How many of the available weapons in Halo 3 are actually used? What if the only way to kill some of the enemies involved close range use of the SMG? I loved this in mega man, where you had to find the right weapon to quickly dispose of the next boss. Knowing that you need X weapon to complete the level/check point would also change game play as you can only carry two weapons and need to conserve a certain amount of ammo for the encounter. Plus there is satisfaction in figuring out that a certain weapon is more effective against an enemy than another. That feeling of being indestructible is a rush.

-Atticus Fintch

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

As noted in this article, the failure of "punishment" for death leads the player to disregard them.

In real life, death is something that you typically want to avoid, due to the concept of it being "punishment" for being reckless or careless, and of course because it halts your progress through life in a permanent fashion.

I feel that a game designer's job is to determine a way to make you want to survive, through incentives and punishment.

The article suggests that a game's focus should be survive through perceived dangers.

Halo's Checkpoint system does that admirably well. When you DO beat the game, it's because your character survived every single encounter. Your deaths proved to you that there was danger present, while your reaching the end of the game is an acheivement in and of itself, showing that in "alternate realities" your character was able to survive from start to finish, and WOULD have, assuming you had made the correct decisions and actions along the way.

You should not progress through the game while you're dead. Were the deaths to be considered true "punishments", you'd be forced to start from the beginning of the entire game every time. This would be particularly frustrating when you're faced with a Jackal sniper on legendary, hours into the game.

On Gears of War, I'd have to agree though.. the cutscenes, or (worse, in my opinion) the extended "phonecall slowdowns" right after a checkpoint were bad. Similar to the Cortana/Gravemind slowdowns in Halo 3.. which are irritating in terms of replayability, and should have a "disable" method. (ie- force you to go through it once, and then OPTIONALLY every time thereafter).

Bioshock's system merely suggested that I should throw what I've got at whatever I'm trying to kill at that point, and then rush back to do it again if I die... knowing full well that the enemy didn't even regain it's health level during that time. No punishments, no negatives to dying, no requirement to stay alive at all. You lost some of your equipment sometimes, and your money to buy health with.. but what's the point in buying health when all you do is respawn around the corner when you die?

"You have been provided with a death to show you why you are here as a human being, not as a coffee pot." Stephen Hayes

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Anonymous wrote:

You should not progress through the game while you're dead. Were the deaths to be considered true "punishments", you'd be forced to start from the beginning of the entire game every time. This would be particularly frustrating when you're faced with a Jackal sniper on legendary, hours into the game.

I have played one game like that, though it's a rare (& expensive) title with a poor story. This game is Steel Battalion for the original X-Box. The game is very enjoyable, but quite difficult. It's a Mechwarrior style game with a 2 joystick/3 pedal controller made by Capcom. In the campaign mode, once a mission is started, if you do die, you lose all progress & return to the beginning. The game is quite cruel. There is no pause button (though unplugging the controller served that purpose if I remember correctly.) If turn off the system mid mission, you lose your mech, & have to buy a new one next time you try. There is an eject button that will save you, but you lose your mech & have to buy another. As soon as you run out of cash or fail to eject before the explosion, the game is over & you have to start from the beginning. You can play single missions if you have completed them previously.

- Soarer 4 0

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I agree, the first time I encountered Hunters in Halo CE it was actually....scary, they freaked me out. As a long range player and my first time playing it, I didn't want to get to close to them so all I ever saw was the spikes on their backs, I didn't really know what they entirely looked like. I would throw all I had at them and they would still live on, except wherever I would hide I would hear that hideous explosion from their Fuel Rod Cannons, and eventually get blown off the map. I actually gave up the game for about a month because I was stuck on that part, and spooked.

Halo 2 and 3's Hunters just aren't as impressive. You can hide wherever since their Carbon Beams...are just beams, that was one thing I found cool about Halo CE Hunters was that you couldn't hide long because what they shot was explosive...

Oh well..., maybe Bungie will put old school Hunters in Halo 4, without the back patch, now THAT would be a challenge. Props to Bungie for creating such a memorable creature though.

-DolomiteX

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

heh, that was quite nicely elaborated on, and i do agree with the fact that even though H2 and 3 might actually be more challanging, i feel more at ease while playing them than i was when i played Halo CE.
To elaborate myself on the subject, i personally find "death" to be a lesson learned instead of a punishment.

D1Mik

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Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

This was an entertaining read.

What are your feelings toward boss fights in the Halo 2 and other games that have enemies that are huge and menacing and have to be eliminated before moving further... Not the fight with the prophet but with the Enforcer robot and Tartarus (the prophet fight didn't really seem as dangerous to me).

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Failure to progress is definitely punishment enough.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I'm so happy you included that part of Gears of War as an example. I had to do that section over and over again because I played the game for the first time on Hardcore, thinking it was the medium setting. I've actually used that section as a reference in an discussion on game progression.
Beating the game on Insane I went through that part in one shot. I had learned my lesson, not because of the deaths, but because I didn't want to endure the dialogue again.

I understand your argument in the latter sections but I have to say, I engaged and killed both hunters in Halo 3's "The Storm" with Dual Magnums. It was exhilarating.

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narcogen
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Re: Death And Punishment

Anonymous wrote:

I'm so happy you included that part of Gears of War as an example. I had to do that section over and over again because I played the game for the first time on Hardcore, thinking it was the medium setting. I've actually used that section as a reference in an discussion on game progression.
Beating the game on Insane I went through that part in one shot. I had learned my lesson, not because of the deaths, but because I didn't want to endure the dialogue again.

I've mentioned it before, but that dialogue had me screaming at the screen after a few attempts. How often does the wind say 'hostiles' to me, Dom? All the damn time, that's how often!

Anonymous wrote:

I understand your argument in the latter sections but I have to say, I engaged and killed both hunters in Halo 3's "The Storm" with Dual Magnums. It was exhilarating.

I can see where that would be exciting-- but I think that the ways in which H1's design encouraged you to take on Hunters was exciting by default, whereas in H3 you have to intentionally create those situations.

The blame for this doesn't really rest with H3-- it rests with H2, which all but instructed you to use a turret on them anyway.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I felt a monumental disappointment the first time one of halo 2's hunters fired its beam at me, I loved the originals, and for all the improvement in effects they felt so much less dangerous; especially in halo 3 here the player can widen the orange target by weakening their armour. I felt similarly about the flood; one I'd been given the option to totally 'destroy' the combat forms (which initially gave me a buzz) I was subsequently disappointed as I then KNEW that they wouldn't be getting up again.

There was also something more formidable about the original sword wielding elites; having to backpedal slower than they could run, and facing an imminent death gave a real sense of buzz and danger, likewise the payoff of hearing their sword 'explode' once they'd been finished off was a great somatic reward.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

I agree, the first time I encountered Hunters in Halo CE it was actually....scary, they freaked me out. As a long range player and my first time playing it, I didn't want to get to close to them so all I ever saw was the spikes on their backs, I didn't really know what they entirely looked like. I would throw all I had at them and they would still live on, except wherever I would hide I would hear that hideous explosion from their Fuel Rod Cannons, and eventually get blown off the map. I actually gave up the game for about a month because I was stuck on that part, and spooked.

Halo 2 and 3's Hunters just aren't as impressive. You can hide wherever since their Carbon Beams...are just beams, that was one thing I found cool about Halo CE Hunters was that you couldn't hide long because what they shot was explosive...

Oh well..., maybe Bungie will put old school Hunters in Halo 4, without the back patch, now THAT would be a challenge. Props to Bungie for creating such a memorable creature though.

-DolomiteX

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

Another good read Narcogen.

Whilst reading I was reminded of something Hideo Kojima once said in an interview. From around 2000. Something about wanting to make a game where if you die that's it. Game over.

I've often thought of what he said. To expand I'll have to talk about Metal Gear. Remember boys and girls who love the series. This is just my personal opinion. And you don't change the personal opinion of a 40 year old easy.
Just talking about the recent games now I loved MGS(1). I liked the Snake parts of MGS2. Never played 3 or 4. I'd like to play 4. It looks good. But, personally speaking, it's the only game I'd buy for the PS3. Up to now of course. Price is out of my league though.
So some people see Hideo as a genius. All I get is a bad gut feeling from him. But that's me. Regarding what he said to me it sounds typical Hideo. Way out leftfield. TOO way out leftfield. But I've often thought about it.
Could he, or anyone, make a game where if you die it's game over? That's it. I'd assume he'd want everybody who played to have a good experience. No matter if you finished it or not.
Or am I giving Hideo too much credit? Was he worried about everybody having a good experience or not? Maybe not but he might have so much clout at Konami that it would of been made anyway.

Red_Breast

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Re: Death And Punishment

Anonymous wrote:

Another good read Narcogen.

Whilst reading I was reminded of something Hideo Kojima once said in an interview. From around 2000. Something about wanting to make a game where if you die that's it. Game over.

Red_Breast

Actually I don't hate that idea.

In multiplayer.

I'm just kind of perverse.

In solo, you're the hero. You're supposed to be nigh invulnerable, yet so throughly outnumbered that you just might die if you're not careful-- but not TOO careful, since that's not (always) that much fun.

In multiplayer, people go bunny hopping all over the place, the game moves at seemingly twice the speed in a fraction of the space. Average lifetimes in slayer games are less than 30 seconds sometimes. Sometimes significantly less than that. I realize it's an action game, but sheesh. How the heck badass can ANY Spartan be when even the best don't stay alive more than a couple of minutes, and the losers last twelve seconds?

Death in multiplayer is less punitive. Add some drama to it by making a player's life mean something. The whole thing will be over in a few minutes anyway and you can start over. Aside from objective games like KOTH and oddball, I like weird modes like Zombies and Run where either players have only one life, or something significant happens after losing that first life that turns the game into something else.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Death And Punishment

http://www.badcyborg.net

Nice writing as usual Narcogen. I'll chip in my own thoughts on the dying business.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I like to play a game like it's real, and in particular that means that if I die, it's game over. I failed, and I start the level again. Obviously that won't be to everyone's taste, but it does help maintain the illusion of reality (which gets somewhat broken if you get killed and then magically continue!), and it also rachets up the tension, especially towards the end of a level. If you're the sort of player that routinely continues on after a checkpoint, I'm not sure you'll really know the sort of feeling I'm on about, and maybe that's a loss for you. To some extent, you'd be inured to the business of dying; it'll just be a routine fact of life (ho ho). I'm not saying that's an inferior attitude, just that it's not for me; not if I'm playing seriously at any rate.

However, if a player dies during a level, I do think they're fooling themselves if they really think they 'succeeded' in any significant way. No you didn't; you died! You don't deserve a medal for that, soldier! Well, the game might give you one (I guess I'm talking about H1 in particular now), but it really shouldn't. If it was up to me (which it isn't, because Bungie never did phone me up to offer me the job of project leader - really annoying), the game would only give you a shoddy-looking medal for getting through if you died in the process. You'd only get a nice polished one when you manage to get through without dying. A polished medal for a polished performance. I think that would've been good, and would've encouraged more thoughtful play. But because you get the medal even for a shoddy performance, a lot of players probably don't even think about the idea of playing carefully so they get through in one piece. They think they've 'beaten the level', but it's a hollow victory at best.

One last thing. Because of my "die and it's over" attitude, it's crucial for me that a game gives me a reasonable chance at getting through a level without dying, once I've become reasonably good. But I think that there are developers who don't take that approach into account at all. I'm talking about what I'd class as nasty old-skool die-and-retry stuff. To me that's just poor design. I don't play games widely so I'm not going to be much good at going into examples (I'm more a Halo player than a full-blown 'gamer'), but one game that comes to mind is Ninja Gaiden. I had some interest in that, but never got it. Why? Because of all the people saying how pigging hard it was, and how often you could expect to die, again and again. I suspect a game like that was specifically designed around the 'die-and-retry' mentality, and unfortunately that means it's a no-go for me. Actually there was later 'Ninja Gaiden Black' which was apparently a little more forgiving to make it more widely accessible, but reviews didn't convince me enough on that score and I got the impression that the concession to easiness was only done grudgingly - a bad sign - so I never did get down to any nasty-business with a katana. Ah well.

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Re: Death And Punishment

Rockslider wrote:

http://www.badcyborg.net

Nice writing as usual Narcogen. I'll chip in my own thoughts on the dying business.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I like to play a game like it's real, and in particular that means that if I die, it's game over. I failed, and I start the level again. Obviously that won't be to everyone's taste, but it does help maintain the illusion of reality (which gets somewhat broken if you get killed and then magically continue!), and it also rachets up the tension, especially towards the end of a level.

Let's start out by saying I agree-- in principle, anyway-- and that I think for what you call "realism" I still say "verisimilitude" is enough.

[snip]

Rockslider wrote:

However, if a player dies during a level, I do think they're fooling themselves if they really think they 'succeeded' in any significant way. No you didn't; you died! You don't deserve a medal for that, soldier! Well, the game might give you one (I guess I'm talking about H1 in particular now), but it really shouldn't.

Well it depends on what one means by "success". There is a sense in which that's harkening back to the arcade, where games exist to test your skill, and the more skilful you are, the more play you get for the same quarter.

In the console world, you've paid for the box, you've paid for the game. Whether everyone agrees with it or not, I'd say gaming has almost entirely completed a shift to a model where they are not testing your skill, but offering you an entertainment experience. Games offer multiple difficulties so that, regardless of your skill level, you can have a chance to get the complete experience you paid for.

By your criteria above, if I play on Easy and finish without dying I've accomplished something and deserve a medal, but if I play on Legendary and die once, I should really start over from the beginning?

Not fun.

Rockslider wrote:

If it was up to me (which it isn't, because Bungie never did phone me up to offer me the job of project leader - really annoying),

You neither? Sheesh. Must've been my complete lack of skill in programming, or art, or indeed much of anything other than stringing long sequences of words together. What ever happened to text adventures?

Rockslider wrote:

the game would only give you a shoddy-looking medal for getting through if you died in the process. You'd only get a nice polished one when you manage to get through without dying. A polished medal for a polished performance.

I think players would quickly determine that the battle-worn medals looked better!

[snip]

Rockslider wrote:

One last thing. Because of my "die and it's over" attitude, it's crucial for me that a game gives me a reasonable chance at getting through a level without dying, once I've become reasonably good. But I think that there are developers who don't take that approach into account at all. I'm talking about what I'd class as nasty old-skool die-and-retry stuff. To me that's just poor design.

You, sir, have hit the nail on the head, and that's why I'm down on punitive death. Not because there isn't value in it. There's a lot of great dramatic tension to be created when a player really needs to be careful, and a lot that is lost when you run around knowing dying doesn't cost you anything.

But for me, that reasonable chance absolutely, positively would have to be there-- and it just isn't. I don't think anyone yet has come up with a workable alternative to trial and error. Look at the ways in which battle situations in Halo fail to have verisimilitude-- you're a cyborg, for heaven's sake, but you don't get a MAP? You can't detect enemy units more than a few meters away? You don't have advance intelligence about what enemy units you'll be facing? You can't stow a third weapon in a Warthog?

I'm glad the Iron skull is an option, although I really think it's an option only after you know all the levels really well. Even so, I'm having trouble finding a way to make using it fun. I'm not good enough to use it on Legendary; you simply die too quickly and there are too many units that can take you by surprise no matter how careful you are (mostly involving some sort of plasma turret) and the damage model being what it is you're dead in about second.

On Easy and Normal, playing conservatively gets much too boring-- you start wanting to step out, take some risks, wade into the battle, and since I also always, always play with Catch on, sometimes a Grunt gets a lucky tag and there you are, restarting the level over.

Heroic is normally my sweet spot and I'll probably try that next, but even there I don't habitually make it through without dying. I think I may need to turn Catch off.

[snip]

Also, I had the same lack of interest in Ninja Gaiden, for the same reason.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Rockslider's picture
Rockslider
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Re: Death And Punishment

narcogen wrote:

Let's start out by saying I agree-- in principle, anyway-- and that I think for what you call "realism" I still say "verisimilitude" is enough.

Heck, with that many syllables it's plenty! I'm sure I basically mean the same as you; I mean 'realism subject to certain concessions to the world of videogaming', or something like that. Actually that could probably be a whole other discussion (or topic for you to blabber on about for us one day), but let's not get sidetracked here.

narcogen wrote:

By your criteria above, if I play on Easy and finish without dying I've accomplished something and deserve a medal, but if I play on Legendary and die once, I should really start over from the beginning?

Not fun.

I need to clarify. My 'die and it's over' policy only fully comes into force once I'm fairly fluent with the level, at the difficulty level I'm attempting. Prior to that it's like training or practice, and I typically wouldn't take it so seriously though I might try to get through alive on my very first try, just to see how feasible that actually is (bearing in mind that on your first run you don't have much advance knowledge!). This training phase isn't where the serious gaming lies for me. Once I'm up to speed and fluent with the controls and whatnot, and stand a fair chance of getting through alive, that's when the real fun begins for me, and it's when I'm get into that tension-building 'die and it's over' mode.

narcogen wrote:

I think players would quickly determine that the battle-worn medals looked better!

Flippin' bunch of slovenly hooligans…

narcogen wrote:

I'm glad the Iron skull is an option…

But it's a complete waste of a skull slot! If you want to play 'die and it's over', you don't need a skull - you just restart by yourself. We could've had a useful skull instead of that one - like maybe an 'infinite ammo' skull. With that I could've had nonstop Brute shot rampages through levels. Yummy! There never was enough ammo for that monster, a great frustration to me because I just love that thing. It absolutely rocks.

narcogen wrote:

…although I really think it's an option only after you know all the levels really well. Even so, I'm having trouble finding a way to make using it fun. I'm not good enough to use it on Legendary; you simply die too quickly and there are too many units that can take you by surprise no matter how careful you are (mostly involving some sort of plasma turret) and the damage model being what it is you're dead in about second.

I generally don't bother with Legendary on H3, due to the instant-death business with Jackal snipers plus the almost-instant-death nature of enemy Ghosts and other vehicle (given that I like to go on foot). Vehicle fire is way too severe to make for fun gameplay if you're on foot, in my books. But like I said, I'm only going to be doing the 'die and it's over' business if I stand a decent chance of getting through (and, implicitly, still having fun). So yeah, I'm not about to suggest Legendary H3 is the best situation for my hardline policy!

I usually play H1 on Legendary though, unless handicapping myself with weapon limitations. Getting through AOTCR in one piece, on foot… now that is one engrossing marathon adventure! Love that level…

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Re: Death And Punishment

Well, at the risk of getting sidetracked.. when I say "verisimilitude" I really don't mean "realism with concessions" I do mean something entirely different.

It means that the appearance of reality, however achieved, is more important than the reality itself.

For instance, I had a school project where you had to build a model of a wall and a battering ram. One student took a "compromised realism" approach. He took lumber, cut it into cubes, stained them, glued the cubes together, and made a wall.

I went to my father's modeling supplies, and glued some wall textures to a styrofoam block.

Neither is particularly more realistic. The former has slightly more realism, while the latter has quite a bit more verisimilitude, and that's all that's needed for a model, just as I feel it's all that's needed in a game.

There are two competing "realities" at work in an action game that features a character like the Master Chief, and they work directly against each other:

1) You are the most important person in the universe, the ultimate soldier, and a complete badass
2) You are up against insuperable odds and unfair situations and death may come for you at any moment

It is hard for one design to combine these elements. Play on Easy and you get #1, but not #2. Play on Legendary and #2 is easy to come by, #1 not so much unless you're very good.

What I'm really on about with the death thing is that if you have to choose one of these two elements in Halo's design to keep, I think it's #1. You can fake #2. Do all that you can to make the player feel like they are flirting with death, but don't actually kill them unless you really, really have to.

In fact, Normal comes close to achieving this, although AI units still back off and respond too slowly; but the weapons effects and sounds still do an admirable job of convincing the player there is a threat, at least at close range-- even when there really isn't.

As for the Iron skull-- I may come to the conclusion that it's a waste, but for other reasons. I, for one, need the forced discipline. After the first couple of deaths I want to chuck it and play normally. If I hadn't activated the skull, I couldn't trust myself to reset manually.

I've actually spent the last couple days trying the game on Normal with Iron on (as well as a few other skulls, depending on level) and it's been a wildly varied experience so far. Sierra 117 and Tsavo Highway were both doddles, first time through without a hitch. Crow's Nest and the Storm... a much different story, but I'll write that up when I'm done.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Anton P Nym
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Re: Death And Punishment

Rockslider wrote:

I need to clarify. My 'die and it's over' policy only fully comes into force once I'm fairly fluent with the level, at the difficulty level I'm attempting. Prior to that it's like training or practice, and I typically wouldn't take it so seriously though I might try to get through alive on my very first try, just to see how feasible that actually is (bearing in mind that on your first run you don't have much advance knowledge!).

But the article was discussing stock game design... that the original arcade modes forced you into "die and it's over" on the first play.

I'm happy that the death penalty is becoming a player-selectable option in games, myself... I learn by trial and error, and if the game changes from that sort of learning experience into an experience in forced repetition in order to reach the next chance to try something new I get frustrated and bored. I'd rather be playing scales on the piano, as at least that repetition is useful outside of its own experience.

Making it selectable means that games can appeal to both audiences, of those wanting the sudden death experience and those who'd rather skip it.

Quote:

But it's a complete waste of a skull slot! If you want to play 'die and it's over', you don't need a skull - you just restart by yourself. We could've had a useful skull instead of that one - like maybe an 'infinite ammo' skull.

True, it's a "waste" from that perspective... but from the perspective of rewarding competitive players, the Iron skull means an extra points modifier for the scoreboard for playing tough and therefor extra ego-boo and bragging rights. An "infinite ammo" skull ("Feast", as it's the opposite of "Famine"?) wouldn't do that, and would play merry Hobb with the level design to boot.

Quote:

I generally don't bother with Legendary on H3, due to the instant-death business with Jackal snipers plus the almost-instant-death nature of enemy Ghosts and other vehicle (given that I like to go on foot).

Oddly enough, despite never progressing beyond the Cairo in Halo 2's Legendary difficulty, I find myself prefering Legendary (no scoring skulls) in campaign play. Then again, I preferred Legendary on Halo 1 after learning it.

I guess it comes down to this; Halo is great because it rewards a great many styles of play, and it's this very flexibility that allows it to access such a broad market of players. Making Iron an option instead of default plays to this strength, rewarding those who enjoy that style of play without penalising those who don't.

-- Steve's all for "dial-a-game" options.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

While widely regarded as unfair and pointless I'd like to throw in Diable 2 hardcore as case study. No one that has ever played that game in hardcore mode ever touched non-hardcore carebear mode again. It sounds totally stupid until you try it. You have no idea how much panic and adrenaline you can experience in a game unless you are surrounded and out of healing pots with your 6 months old character. Either you do the right thing in the next 0.5 seconds and save your skin or everything you played for will be lost. One way or the other you will end up with a story to tell Smiling Playing is much much more intense, with moments of fear and relieve. Saving someone's ass while risking your own char has meaning and consequences, bringing party play to new levels (and resulting in more tragic stories to tell!). You can't be a hero when you have no consequences to fear.

Having lost a number of high level D2 hc characters I always accepted those deaths as some kind of natural conclusion - and started a new character, obviously.
Permadeath does work, at least if you know what's going on, and being mentally prepared. I was overjoyed to hear Diablo 3 will include a permadeath mode again. I can hardly wait. Time to live and time to die, again!

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Red_Breast
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Re: Death And Punishment

Regarding the multiplayer thing.

I don't play multiplayer these days. Through Friends and Family I tried Halo 3 beta. I used to play HaloPC and Custom Ed. a bit.
I wonder sometimes if it's an age thing as like I say I used to play m/p a bit. Quake, Unreal T. etc as well. But I always preferred objective anyway. Capture the Flag for example.
I've got to say I liked the H3 beta. Well from the Friday it started to just before the Crackdown legions entered. I even won a couple of games of deathmatch.
But generally yeah, usually I respawn, just start to get my bearings and blam. I'm on the deck again.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Death And Punishment

In the PS2 Prince of Persia games, when you died, there was (most of the time) an option to reverse time for about 5 seconds. I thought it was good because in most of the platforming puzzles a screw-up or a missed jump meant falling to your death or starting the long trek back through a puzzle you may of been 75% through. The challenge was you could only do it a certain number of times (depending on how many "sand tanks" you had collected). It seemed to me that even with a replay available dying felt like losing. Every time you reversed time and lost another replay, it seemed like punishment and if you were stuck in a tough puzzle with some story line narration or dialogue in it you might listen to the same stupid one-liner or depressing comment repeatedly. It was like Gears of War with more frequent repetition. I kind of liked the system of a few retries though. Not enough to make you feel invincible, but not to few to make it feel like you would never win.

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