What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

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killbot
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What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by killbot » Wed Oct 02, 2013 11:26 am

Back in the day games were simple. You got hit, you lost a life. You lost all your lives, you died and had to start again. That system was founded when a. games usually consisted of one or two endlessly looping screens and b. were played on arcade machines, the operators of which wanted you to get off it so the next person could pay for a go. But even when home videogames became common the tactic persisted, throughout the 8-and 16-bit eras you still had three lives and (if you were lucky) an energy bar. Lose the lot and it was back to the start with you.

Things started to get muddy around the time the PlayStation hit. Suddenly games were too big to play in one sitting. It might take you ten hours or more to complete a game. So developers rustled around for ways to keep the challenge while using a 'save' mechanic and came up with 'save points', a concept which seemed to borrow from the JRPG scene and the Metroidvania genre. Now you could lose all your lives without having to restart, but you would have to go back to the last place you saved which might have been 20 or 30 minutes earlier. That meant that in-game actions still had an associated risk - fall off that platform and there will still be a consequence. Some franchises, such as Sonic and Mario, still employ this system though they are increasingly isolated.

But another thing that was happening alongside this was that games were becoming more cinematic, with professional actors appearing and professional scriptwriters penning the stories. Developers were proud of these stories they were crafting, and didn't want a situation where 80% of the people playing would give up before seeing the end. So a new system appeared, based around checkpoints. Lives were done away with and instead you had a single energy bar - only now the game would automatically save every minute or two. You wouldn't even have to hunt for save points any more, and dying would only cost you - at worst - a couple of minutes of progress. This seemed to remove a lot of the skill - if you came across a difficult bit you didn't need to worry because you knew you only had to bluff your way through it once and never see it again. The days of having to memorise sections because you'd have to play through them again and again seemed a million miles away.

The developers of the Lego games tried a different tack. In their games you had four lives but losing them all cost you no progress whatsoever. You would simply explode and then reappear exactly where you had been a moment later. You would, however, lose a handful of studs which might make the difference between getting or not getting the 'hero' rating for the level. So there was still a degree of punishment for bad play, although it was now pathetically small.

The other day I was playing Lego City Undercover and realised that when I died nothing happened. I exploded, then I reappeared. I didn't lose any studs. I didn't lose any progress. It seemed an almost metaphysical experience - as if the developer were saying 'this is a videogame, and the convention is that you have to be seen to be able to fail at it, but in reality you can't'. What is the point of a videogame where it is literally impossible to fail? The only thing that can cause me to stop playing is my own boredom threshold and the point at which I shut off the game.

Am I alone in looking back fondly at a time when you bought a game knowing that only hours of blood, sweat and tears would result in seeing the end credits? Where you had to memorise patterns and puzzles and hone your joypad skills to a knife edge if you wanted to get to the end? When every jump was heart-in-mouth stuff because if you stuffed it up you'd really have to pay?
Last edited by killbot on Wed Oct 02, 2013 11:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by koopa42 » Wed Oct 02, 2013 11:37 am

Content tourism

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Fightersmegamix
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by Fightersmegamix » Wed Oct 02, 2013 11:43 am

You need to play dark souls :) I'd agree with most of what you said. I think a lot of it is due to gamer greed, we expect a new game every week so anything that stops progress is a pain.

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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by koopa42 » Wed Oct 02, 2013 12:06 pm

I'm currently platying Doom 3 BFG ..... on nightmare ....... there is lots of deaths indeed but still, the checkpoint system makes it more of a series of mini-encounters to be honest, it's still a fun challenge though especially as I won't use the 'save anytime' system. The hardest challenge was (my self impossed challenge) to get the 'complete a level with taking any damge' cheevo ..... again, I refused to use the save. That said? I suppose it's my own willpower rather than the game making it difficult

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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by killbot » Wed Oct 02, 2013 12:36 pm

Fightersmegamix wrote:You need to play dark souls :) I'd agree with most of what you said. I think a lot of it is due to gamer greed, we expect a new game every week so anything that stops progress is a pain.
Yes, I wonder about that too. Back in the day kids could only afford a new console game two or three times a year, so longevity and difficulty became a selling point. Publishers wanted players to know that the game would last them a long time. Now the opposite is true - the audience the industry is chasing is young, single professionals with big disposable incomes who can buy a game a week if they want. Now being able to finish a game quickly and with minimal fuss seems to be the idea. Of course the best developers (Nintendo, TT, Rockstar) make sure to add in a lot of after-game content so that the game lasts as long or as short a time as you want. Other developers do the same thing but call it 'DLC' and charge you for the privelage.

Incidentally I recently downloaded New Super Luigi U - now that's a tough, old-school challenge. For one thing it's possible to run out of lives and lose an evening's progress, and for another thing the platforming itself is tough.
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by nakamura » Wed Oct 02, 2013 12:50 pm

Playing Assassin's Creed 3 the other night. Started in a opera house with a mission to kill someone. It suggested I find a path where nobody could see me approach the man. No censored. I am playing an Assassin, of course I don't want to be seen. Not only did the game show me exactly what to do, it pointed me in every direction.

Turned it off. Watched a movie.
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by joefish » Wed Oct 02, 2013 1:02 pm

It's because the people marketing the game want to predict exactly when you'll finish a game so they can pitch the next one to you.

The first game I noticed that didn't have 'lives' as such was Abe's Oddysee, on the Playstation, as the OP said. Instead, it knocked you back to a sort-of autosave; the point at which you entered a particular section of the game. So if you got killed, you still had to go back and repeat your last few rescues cleanly and get to the next bit. That was challenge enough, and it was a great game.

HALO was another one that did things well, with your shield/health combo adjusting well with the difficulty level, and kicking you back to the beginning of set-pieces. But now a lot of games just have auto-healing if you stay out of a firefight for a while; most of the time you have no health bar. I'm not too keen on that. I think it's pandering to an impatient generation of players who are playing 18-rated games when they shouldn't.

But then there are problems - with a huge game, having a very tricky level like HALO's Library, or the city assault in G-Police, or one particularly complex battle in Colony Wars might mean you never get to see the rest of the game you've paid for. And then you feel cheated. Just like if a movie stopped and wouldn't show you the end if you hadn't solved the mystery yourself. Or a book needed a password to unlock the last page. You wouldn't be happy.

Though I think with TT LEGO games you're missing the point. They are aimed at very young kids. They're happy with the sort of rolling-sandbox play these games provide, where you can just ignore your objectives and muck about on the hub level all day if you want to. I remember running an all-nighter overseeing a scout exercise where we left 4-player Gauntlet II running on my ST as a drop-in drop-out game. In our various stages of sleep-deprivation it was ideal.

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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by killbot » Wed Oct 02, 2013 1:24 pm

nakamura wrote:Playing Assassin's Creed 3 the other night. Started in a opera house with a mission to kill someone. It suggested I find a path where nobody could see me approach the man. No censored. I am playing an Assassin, of course I don't want to be seen. Not only did the game show me exactly what to do, it pointed me in every direction.

Turned it off. Watched a movie.
That was the other thing about Lego City - the puzzles were rendered moot by the fact that when you picked up an item a huge green arrow appeared telling you where to use it. What happened to the days of Dizzy where you had to work that out for yourself?
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by Prof Mango B Coconut » Wed Oct 02, 2013 2:03 pm

killbot wrote:
nakamura wrote:Playing Assassin's Creed 3 the other night. Started in a opera house with a mission to kill someone. It suggested I find a path where nobody could see me approach the man. No censored. I am playing an Assassin, of course I don't want to be seen. Not only did the game show me exactly what to do, it pointed me in every direction.

Turned it off. Watched a movie.
That was the other thing about Lego City - the puzzles were rendered moot by the fact that when you picked up an item a huge green arrow appeared telling you where to use it. What happened to the days of Dizzy where you had to work that out for yourself?
It wouldn't matter either way these days. As soon as anyone got stuck they'd immediately hit the internet to a consult a walk-through.
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by Dam » Wed Oct 02, 2013 2:06 pm

This is one of the reasons I don't really like many modern games. Transformers Fall of Cybertron is really bad for it, so what if you die, you just go back about 2 mins and try again.

I quite liked the old resident evil typewriter/ink ribbon idea, in that you can't just save willy-nilly, and there is tension as to whether you will make it to the next safe room with low health/ammo.

Its also another reason why PS1 Doom is so great, it might not be as difficult as the PC original, but you can't censored through it with save states.

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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by gman72 » Wed Oct 02, 2013 2:27 pm

If I may be succinct, its all because consumer tastes develop and change, games grow with the technology that develops them and the decline of arcade games. :D
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by Megamixer » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:16 pm

Sometimes I like not being able to fail. I still like challenging games that you can say "I've beaten that" about but at the same time, I do love games with a great story that you don't need to be a control pad ninja to see the whole thing.

Hard games are great but if they get too tricky then I often can't be bothered to see them through to the end. That's just me though; I'm a 90's kid and don't like to come home from a crap day at work to get beaten up by my games too :)
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by Fightersmegamix » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:35 pm

Short development cycles play a role too. Do you spend months play testing to get the difficulty curve just right or put checkpoints every 30 seconds / almost infinite healthpacks to get your game out before xmas?

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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by gman72 » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:38 pm

Megamixer wrote:Sometimes I like not being able to fail. I still like challenging games that you can say "I've beaten that" about but at the same time, I do love games with a great story that you don't need to be a control pad ninja to see the whole thing.

Hard games are great but if they get too tricky then I often can't be bothered to see them through to the end. That's just me though; I'm a 90's kid and don't like to come home from a crap day at work to get beaten up by my games too :)
Same here really. When I was younger I used to love hard games, but these days I just cant be bothered ive lost count of how many games I was enjoying but had to abandon because of a stupidly difficult boss encounter. These days if we had never moved on from the three strikes and you are out ethos I would probably not be a gamer.
That said, don't iphone games now use a more old fashioned method of lives etc?
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Re: What happened to the ability to 'fail' at a game?

Post by paranoid marvin » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:57 pm

Companies don't want you to fail - they want you to finish the game. That way you can buy the next one, or download (for a fee of course) extra content/levels etc.

It's also what gamers want. Back in the day games were hard because they were short; ie had only a handful of levels or just one increasing dificulty. Make it too easy and the game would be over too quickly, thereby getting rubbish reviews and few sales. What tended to happen was that a game would appear, then a couple of months later maps/pokes/tips would appear helping you to complete it, or at least get much further until you got bored; value for money had been had and now it was time to move on.

The really clever ones would devise a series of games; you get the first and keep playing it until the next game came out which was slightly different and slightly better. Skills could be transferred to the new game, and so the franchise was born, with devotees wuite happy to splash the cash every 6/12 months or so.

In short, people don't have the time or the patience to get really good at games these days. They want to complete them and move on. Firstly completing a game makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you feel you've got value for money because you've seen the whole thing (well 90%) and it leaves you free to go out and buy another game. Because for many (myself included) getting/buying a new game is almost as much fun (the anticipation, the expectation etc) as playing it.
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