"Don't go here yet." or Extremely Blatant Roadblocks

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by kirbwarrior, Mar 1, 2019.

  1. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Indeed, it's one of my favorite kinds of roadblocks. Essentially, "get good" rather than "you need to do this, then this, then this". Of course, they can only be used in places where the designer is okay with the player getting through it earlier than expected. Very hard to use a beefgate to force the player to see some important part of the story before proceeding, right?

    This places it more in line with a somewhat immersive roadblock (it's only a 'game over' in the most technical sense, not in any substantive sense)... and that's good by me!! Sounds like a great solution to have a bit of a sense of danger, without forcing the player to lose an hour of progress.

    In my opinion (which should be taken with the understanding that I'm one of the most anti-roadblock people out there), yes it is bad. Everything inside me would scream, "I'm a Level 84 Hero! Why can't I grab the cat and fling it behind me with such force that PETA will show up in my next random encounter? (Or simply walk forward and make it run away?)"

    It would add insult to injury when I do the damned four-part sidequest to 'earn' cat food so I can bait the cat out and get into the casino, and then I walk into the casino and everyone is just sitting there playing casino games happily, like they had no problems getting in. And I couldn't even ask for the manager and kvetch at him! (I sound like a lovely person right now, don't I?)

    I dunno. In an extremely silly game, I guess it would be okay. But in a game that takes itself even the slightest bit seriously, I'd prefer something like @Tai_MT's proposition of a "Members Only" restriction for an exclusive casino, and/or placing the casino somewhere where you might have to do a sidequest or learn a skill to get near it but once you do you can get in...

    ...Or the (for some reason rare and apparently blasphemous, if most JRPGs are to be taken as gospel) approach of simply letting the player into the casino early on, with no restrictions or roadblocks whatsoever, so they can enjoy it as a side activity all game long! Where there's no compelling reason to stop the player from doing something, I tend to like letting the player do it.

    ===

    Not at all! Your perspective as a player is important, and very much worth taking seriously, even though (like mine) it's not representative of all perspectives.

    Signposting is definitely the biggest issue here. You shouldn't have to get halfway into a challenge before you know you're not supposed to be taking it on yet. Graphical signs, changes in music or screen tone, character dialogue (especially), really tough (and different-looking) monster upfront, a change in the location name, help text that spells out the player is taking on additional challenge... all of this helps and (unless you go for the help text) you probably need to do more than one of these things to make it clear.

    As far as rewards for the challenge, generally you want to reward the player with a single element of either power or variety that they otherwise wouldn't be able to obtain until considerably later in the game. That usually feels satisfying. Getting a spell that deals 3x the damage of what you've been working with so far (even if it also costs 5x as much) will make the player feel a rush of power for a while, and eventually they'll learn spells on par with it (in the midgame) so it's only gamebreaking for a little while. Alternately, you can open up something like a character or a special cutscene that is only available if you take the challenge on before a certain point - this is extremely satisfying as a reward, but it also opens you up to dissatisfaction from players who didn't take it on as a "missable".

    I'm not sure they need to be scaled. When the power of most things scales up throughout the game, all you really need to do is place a later-game reward at the end of your balanced-for-later-game (but available in early-game) challenges.

    These are two cardinal sins! Anything that is handled via "mechanic" (rather than used as, for example, a bias of the RNG to present random story-hook events that may come your way) should be clearly spelled out for the player. Even if it doesn't tell you "there's a 0.01% chance each step a Grue will eat you", the Cursed status should say something like "Stay away from dark areas - unknown and deadly dangers lurk there, and they want YOU".

    Sounds like it!

    I think you make a really great point about how audiences from different eras will read something like this!! Obviously, when designing games today, it's the most important to keep the expectations of modern audiences in mind (as anyone playing a new game you make has probably played a few other games in the last decade). But when looking back at games to understand why they did what they did, the historical perspective that you mention is a great tool to have front and center in your mind.

    One interesting point to consider - if the player is literally told (or understands) "You will die if you go any further without a light source", then why not just have the artificial roadblock? What player in their right mind would intentionally press forward knowing they are about to take an automatic Game Over? I'd argue there are players that would still want to do this (mostly the "Spade" types of Bartle's Taxonomy) just to see how it happens. So it's not a bad idea to signpost it in very obvious terms, and then still let the player be self-destructive if they wish.

    Total agreement that the genre and especially the "purpose" of a game should be considered when evaluating whether certain mechanics are necessary or just annoying.

    I personally think that being able to stumble around and solve puzzles in darkness (even on your first run) would be really cool. Not only as an optional extra challenge, but also as an additional way forward if you found you couldn't solve the light puzzle. You asked something to the effect of "why would I do something self-destructive like bumble in the darkness", but that second reason (additional way forward) is a compelling one, especially in an age before GameFAQs. It may be the only way you get to keep playing the game.

    Now, as far as your second run, where you've already seen this exact same puzzle before (and completed it and died much later on and had to restart because it's a roguelike), I would argue there is absolutely no engagement for me or for most other players in re-doing a puzzle I already figured out. It becomes busywork. A mandatory chore that falls well into the 'Apathy' or 'Boredom' sections of the Flow Diagram. Giving the player who has already done it a "shortcut" (solve it in darkness) would actually be a great mechanic for a roguelike, in my opinion!

    As a quick tangent - in my game timeblazer I do force the player to replay the entire (five-minute) dungeon every time they fail a boss battle, and that's a very intentional choice intended to break up too much battle time in a row. I feel that this works only because everything you do in the dungeon has a skill element to it. Dungeons are made up entirely of minigames - either action-based ones, which have an obvious skill factor and replayability associated, or perception/puzzle-based ones, which are randomized each time so that it's still interesting and challenging even after you've solved it once. (Worth noting is that it's impossible to "get stuck" - you have 60 seconds to solve any puzzle, and if you fail you still get to move on.)

    If you're designing a roguelike and you want to force players to solve puzzles that they've already solved on previous runs, randomizing the setup of those puzzles is one way to keep it interesting and challenging in each run.

    Absolutely! The expectations that the game has created in you, through its previous gameplay, is one of the best signposts of all!

    I still feel that other signposts are necessary where you're using a new trick or one that runs counter to most things that the player has done so far, to avoid the kind of feeling you mentioned earlier with Dark Souls' "newbie traps".

    (FF3 does repeat the instant game over thing a couple of times, but not enough to make it an expectation - and it felt especially unfair the first time I encountered it, in the swamp.)

    Total and wholehearted agreement!! I don't like obviously-contrived roadblocks. The more natural a roadblock is (not only in its environment, but in its role in the plot), and the more "negotiable" it is (allowing a skilled player to find ways through or around it), the more I like it.

    The one thing I'll disagree on is your question of "why not just place this second path through the forest later on in the game?" - I think that a lot of players enjoy having this optional challenge available (especially if the rewards are good). I'm one of them! It's a rush, it's a visceral sense of risk and danger, and often represents one of my 'high moments' in a great game.

    I tend to get very immersed in games. I forget about the real world around me. I forget about certain contrivances, like Saves, if there aren't any save points to remind me. I generally remember about once an hour. (If I'm getting game overs a lot, I become more cognizant and try to save more, but I find doing to excruciatingly boring and immersion-breaking.)

    Now, I live in South Florida (lightning capital of the world), so yes, sometimes power outages screw me. It sucks, but that's force majeure. It doesn't hurt as much to retread ground because of a lightning strike, as it does to retread it because of an instant-death blindside. I can laugh about a lot of things, but I genuinely feel frustrated when I have to do this.

    Whoa, that's surprising, in light of what you said before about "as the dev, consider whether you need the roadblock at all".

    I certainly don't like these either, but I think the more common form of roadblock is that the dev wants to make sure that you experience all their "hard work" doing a menial sidequest that, ultimately, wasn't really necessary to advance the plot.
     
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  2. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    As a player, my experience with "rewards" is that what I expect to get out of them depends largely upon the effort I had to personally put into getting them. Otherwise, it feels "underwhelming".

    I'll go back to my Scorchbeast example quick. After all the effort we put in to defeat it and kill it, and how many deaths we accrued to do so... all the ammo and health items we expended.... all the physical time we spent (well over an hour to plink it to death)… and we got 2 levels out of it. Despite the huge gap in level disparity and resources we expended, that's all we got.

    My expectation at the point we killed it was this: 10 or 12 gained levels a minimum, a Legendary quality weapon or at least a difficult to obtain piece of armor, maybe some unique crafting materials or a blueprint.

    Here's what we got: 2 levels for everyone. Basic, but slightly modified Laser Pistol/SMG/Sledgehammer (loot is instanced). 1 food item a piece (each a different piece of the Scorch Beast).

    Now, at Level 50, the experience gain is about half of a level (pretty good for level 50). The loot is slightly underwhelming for Level 50, but at that point you also have a recipe to make the most of the Scorch Beast food. The weapons themselves, at level 50, could be dismantled for their unique modification blueprints if you didn't already have them. At level 50, this fight would've also taken at most, 15 minutes depending on how good your weapons were at that point and how often you could get it to Land.

    So, the loot was scaled for a Level 50 player... But, it wasn't scaled in consideration for what a low level player might do. We used skill, tactics, and our resources to tackle a monster/area we were not meant to. We prevailed in a situation many others never would have.

    And what did we get for our trouble? 2 levels, loot we couldn't use (it was scaled up to Level 50, so we couldn't use it, and once we became level 50, we had better modified weapons at that point), and food that we could only "grill" and eat plainly because we didn't have the recipe (and food degrades over time, so it's use it or lose it).

    Keep in mind, we were fighting a creature that only appears in like 5 locations in the entire world. The game treats it as a "final boss fight" (there's a stronger version of it tied to main story completion, and it can scale up in level depending on your own level, but Level 50 is essentially player cap in the game.). We were fighting "end game content". We were fighting "the big boss", essentially. And, at our low levels... that's what we got for our efforts.

    What I'm talking about is the dev needing to "temper" the expectations of the player. If I am getting romped by your creatures, but I manage to struggle and succeed and win anyway... I expect proper compensation for my achievement. I expect the reward to be on par with the challenge. I expect the reward to let me tackle even more powerful challenges. I should gain enough power that I could actually tackle the next "out of depth" challenge without a second thought for my safety, because it's powerful enough to put me "on par" with that next challenge.

    Many devs don't do this.

    It's one of the reasons I've come to just love the "instant-death" gating rather than "these monsters are 20 levels above you" gating. I've come to simply expect that your reward behind those high level monsters isn't worth the effort. I'll come back later when my level is more in line with what you expect. I've come to expect that the loot behind these powerful monsters simply isn't even worth it for the level required to get back there. It's some silly trinket... or some skill I'll never use 'cause I've already got something better through normal progression... And the experience gain doesn't really matter all that much, 'cause I'm probably overpowered anyway by the time I come back... and the xp isn't worth it if I were to tackle it at low levels as it would only put me 5 levels ahead of the curve and I could just grind the monsters of my level for that advantage and expend no resources and not hard fight for it...

    That's what I mean about needing to scale it properly. Setting the player's expectation of what they will get for completing the challenge. Most devs don't do that because:

    1. The high level area was created at the same time the low level area was created. So, at the time of creation, the loot was amazing! But, 200 dev hours passed that point, and normal progression loot turns out to actually be a lot better.
    2. Devs rarely try to tackle their high level challenges at low levels during testing. They play the game in its proper order and give rewards according to that.
    3. Devs often assume that players won't tackle this extra challenge merely because of the high level monsters. "It's enough deterrent", they think. They do not count on players bashing their faces against this content and brute-forcing the content in hopes of gaining a massive advantage. Most players will attempt this. Even coming back repeatedly after gaining more levels to knock it out at the minimum amount of skill or level they could tackle it, just to get to the reward at the end. This behavior is almost never accounted for by devs. Humans, by and large, will not avoid danger at all if they think a massive reward is on the other side of all that pain. One need only look to see how many people participate in National Lotteries to see that behavior in action. And yet, devs do not account for this behavior at all.

    This is why I'd rather just suffer the instant death of "don't go here yet". It's better than frustration and disappointment and disillusionment with the game. Frustration in getting to the reward. Disappointment in seeing that the reward wasn't worth all the effort (juice was not worth the squeeze). Disillusionment through knowing that all the side areas are going to be the same, not worth tackling, ever, the dev didn't plan on me being able to do what I did, so didn't balance the game properly... I've seen behind the curtain and peeked at Oz.

    For me... the death is better. It's a one-time annoyance. It isn't a several hour commitment with too many downsides. It's a matter of taking a few seconds, annoying me for a moment, and I get to move on with my day.

    Well, the game was designed by a Russian Indie dev, who made the game for free... basing it on Dungeons and Dragons. Plus... rogue-like. Ha ha. Not excuses, but sort of "par for the course" in all cases. The game itself is fun, and once you figure out how you're getting cursed, it's easy to avoid ever getting cursed again. But... it hurts a lot to never know what it is. Signposting is fantastic, everyone should use it!

    Because of players like me. :D I'm the reason there's no roadblock there. Every time the game puts me on a high cliff... I attempt to jump off of it to my death. Not because there's anything wrong with my psychologically... but because I want to know if the game will let me. I want to know if I can physically kill my own character if I decide I need/want to. I want to see how far your programming has gone in interpreting my death. Do I ragdoll? Do I just fall into a disappointing void? Do I splatter into a thousand gibs? Do the NPC's I'm escorting even take notice that I've killed my character? Is the death unique, boring, or funny?

    Most of the fun in a point-and-click or text based adventure is reading the ways in which you can and do die. It satisfies morbid curiosity. "If you take a step into this swamp, you will die". I'd check it anyway. Do I really? What's that look like? I take the step to see if you actually programmed me to hit Game Over right there.

    I'm not the only one like this either. There are YouTube videos that chronicle every single way the main character in Dead Space 1, Dead Space 2, and Dead Space 3 can die. Every single death. These videos have a large amount of views. We're curious to see all the ways our characters have been programmed to die. How much detail did the devs actually put into their game world?

    Even with a warning, there's a great many of us that would ignore it for the sake of curiosity. :D

    I suppose that could be true. But, we do have to remind ourselves that we live in the age of the internet. If your puzzle has been solved at all... someone posted the solution somewhere. There is no more "getting stuck", unless nobody has posted the solution somewhere.

    In the days of Zork, part of the initial challenge was that you completed every single puzzle. Being able to bypass a puzzle was actively removing intended challenge from the game.

    Consider it sort of like this:

    You have a boss that you want the player to fight. You've designed the game so that they must fight the boss. They must endure that challenge. But, you neglected a minor detail in your game somewhere. Perhaps by approaching the fight in a certain way (perhaps an unintended consequence of using a couple skills together), the fight is over in the first turn. Challenge over. As a dev, you then need to make a decision. Do you allow that to happen again? Or, do you let the player completely destroy that challenge? What if the boss fight is 50x harder if you have Silver Equipment equipped, but you could still win it through bashing your head against the challenge enough? If the dev has intended for you to unequip your Silver stuff before attempting the boss, and you decide not to... is that really a good way to go about the design? What is the correct design decision here? Do you allow a player to make the game incredibly difficult for themselves for no reason... or incredibly easy for themselves for no reason... or do you attempt to keep the player from circumventing your planned gameplay?

    That's the question. Do you let players circumvent what you've designed?

    To be honest, the mechanic works for a game of its time. It wouldn't work in modern games. What I'd do instead... is no light puzzle. No darkness room. Instead, it's a randomized puzzle every single time you encounter it. Died and forgot to save? Solve the same puzzle again, except it's a new configuration that tests all the same concepts. Something like that is possible even in RPG Maker engines, and I think it works better. It's a solution to the issue that you implemented as well. It's a good solution to the "play the same content again" issue of puzzle games and perhaps rogue-likes.

    Games should properly set up the expectation. I don't like "newbie traps". They exist merely to kill/hinder a player picking up the game for the first time. Guaranteed points of death for the new players. The dev giving their audience a middle finger for no reason.

    Signposting expectations early in the game is crucial. Not just that, but continuously using and reinforcing those expectations. If you die to an instant-death trap, it needs to be clear in the first 30 minutes of gameplay that you will, that you should avoid them, and what they probably look like. It should be part of the standard gameplay loop.

    We likely differ as players on this subject. As discussed before, I've just been burned too many times by these "optional challenges" not being worth the amount of effort or time I've had to put in... in order to complete them. To me, they feel too artificial. They feel like the dev is putting out red carpet and saying, "come this way for good loot... you just gotta beat these monsters first...!"

    Cue me doing a few things:
    1. Ignoring it until I'm much stronger and can cakewalk the thing.
    2. If I do challenge it, I run from every single encounter in the area and just tackle the boss fight.
    3. Use the area to get massively over-leveled on your tough monsters to steamroll the next boss fight in your story. I'll fight a single encounter near the exit to the path... or in the first room... and leave once it starts hurting me. Then, go heal up, and come back to do it again. Exploiting the XP and Currency reward to break the rest of the challenge in your game.

    Honestly, it's just easier to put a road block in place... or move the high level area further into the game.

    I'm also the sort of player that prefers a challenge of tactics instead of stats. Monsters with higher stats than me don't interest me for combat or challenge. Monsters that do new things and force me to rethink my strategies are what interest me. As such, I simply have little interest in expending time and resources to wail on "bullet sponge" enemies for their rewards. Now, if your enemies are stronger for a different reason than higher stats... yeah, I'll go explore that area.

    I'm just not the kind of player who enjoys feeling like he only won the fight 'cause he "cheesed" it. If the challenge can be overcome at any level, and is preserved because of what the enemies do rather than their innate stats... I feel far better for winning a fight like that. But, if a challenge can only be overcome if you're at the proper level or you find a way to exploit the game that allows you to win (like say, just carrying 99 Potions and spamming them every turn while you papercut the enemy to death), then... I have no interest. It feels like cheating. It feels cheap. It feels dull.

    If I'm not meant to handle this area, just kill me instantly... or keep it shut until I'm meant to be here. Don't give me the ability to Brute Force your side area. Most games allow you to brute force these areas without skill or tactics at all. I should know, I used to do it in quite a lot of games.

    I've never really been that immersed in a video game. I get that way reading books, but not games. Games are too... gamey. With a book, I will begin reading... and then not even notice I'm reading. My eyes become clouded with the scene unfolding before me. Covering my entire vision. Dulling all my other senses.

    Never happened to me playing a video game. I'm fairly aware I'm playing a game anytime I see numbers pop up for damage... anytime I have to interact with a menu... anytime I have to alternate between reading text and watching the choreography of characters on screen... etcetera. It is less fluid for me than the act of reading a book. Too many physical interruptions. Too much conscious behavior. Opened my menu? I should save while I'm in here. Everyone is done talking? I should save. Just got a new item and have to open my menu to equip it? I should save. Just cleared this area and got back to town? I should save here.

    I used to live in rural farmland. Having the game mess up for any reason was generally detrimental. When you don't have a lot of time to play games each day, you value your time with them far more. Losing progress due to power outage was something you never wanted to happen, because who knows when you'd be able to play again? Or have time to invest that hour again? So, we learned to save frequently. As often as possible. Maximize time with the game and minimize redoing content.

    I prefer the older roadblocks like that because they make a lot more sense. Of course you can't cross the ocean with a ship. You aren't even aware this is a roadblock until the game says, "Hey, we need to cross the ocean to this other kingdom, let's try to secure a boat for passage". Then, suddenly, as a player, you're aware of the roadblock. It's even better if you can't see reasons to obviously cross the water (like land on the other side you can't access). The same is true of mountains. Or, with the castle wall... the player may assume they come in through the front door later, but no, instead, you blow a hole through the castle wall with explosives. The wall was a roadblock? I thought it was the guys guarding the gate!

    That's the reason I tend to prefer the old classics to the new methods. Namely, you don't realize you're being roadblocked... until you're told you are... the moment before you given the means to bypass the roadblock (you're told it's a roadblock 5 minutes before they give you the method to get passed it). This works a lot better for me. It feels a lot less artificial. It's handled a lot more elegantly. It isn't a tease. It doesn't have arbitrary restrictions.

    Yeah, it is the most common way. One of the reasons I just dislike roadblocks at all in games.

    Probably why I'd prefer the dev just outright kill my party and give me a game-over if I'm not where I'm meant to be. Or... maybe just not include roadblocks at all and let me go anywhere provided I have the actual means to get there.

    That's one of the things I enjoyed about Breath of the Wild. They give you all the tools you could need right at the beginning and just let you go into the world. Climb pretty much anything. Is it cheating? No. There are no real roadblocks. If you decide to, you can go straight to the end boss right after completing the tutorial section. There are weapons in the boss's location that allow you to damage him. So, you pick them up, and can beat the game immediately. With enough skill, anyway.

    The game never once restricted me from going anywhere I wanted to go. Want to climb the volcano? Go for it. It's easier if you have fire resist equipment or food buffs... but... you can climb to the top without them, provided you heal yourself enough and make quick climbing paths.

    There are definitely some valuable lessons to be learn about game design from "Breath of the Wild". Especially about whether or not roadblocks are even beneficial or necessary to a game.
     
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  3. wintyrbarnes

    wintyrbarnes Jack of a Few Trades Veteran

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    I don't really mind roadblocks for the most part, honestly. It just gets filtered out like some other game mechanics do (though I save obsessively frequently). But, obviously, not everyone looks at a game they're playing the same way I do. So my two fixes are giving an illusion of progress and requiring a game-relevant item.

    The illusion of progress idea means that you don't just beat the boss and suddenly there's no fallen tree. Instead, as you progress through the area, you can go back and see actual progress being made to remove the fallen tree. It's jarring to go to the roadblock exactly as it was when you first came across it, beat the boss, and it's miraculously gone. It takes some more effort to add those in-between parts, but I like to go the extra mile to make a world feel "alive" even if it's something I wouldn't notice as a player; there is someone out there who would notice and appreciate it. Maybe that little detail would help influence their decision to replay the game, or check out another game I made, or check out the sequel to the game. I mean, I'm adding flavor text to every last thing you can examine... I can event in some new NPCs that look like they're chopping up the tree (or look like they're on break from chopping up the tree).

    Requiring game-relevant items is my adaptation to the approach used in some aspects of Pokemon: you need Cut to get through these bushes. You use Cut elsewhere in the game, not just to clear roadblocks. So if the fallen tree is a fallen cursed tree that can only be removed by a cursed ax, it's silly to just let the special cursed ax languish in your inventory. Why not require it to fell optional cursed trees later on, for rewards or more encounters or whatever? This one I learned the hard way; one of my games requires an ice pick to get to the next area. You find it in the dungeon, but it's literally only useful to open up the door to the next room. I felt really stupid for overlooking that when someone played the game and asked where else they could use the ice pick. I was so focused on making sure everything technically worked right that I ignored something that I, as a player, would do: try to break every last icicle in the dungeon for loot and getting disappointed if there wasn't even a "You can't use that here" response to trying. There's still a time and a place for Special Keys You Get For Completing The Related Quest, but it's tedious for every new area to be blocked off like that.

    One thing I don't like is having to go back through most of an entire level to return to the roadblock. I feel like the option should be there so it's easier for completionists to pick up hidden things they missed, but there should also be a shortcut that leads, at most, a couple of loading zones away. I'm watching someone play through Paper Mario 64 and it reminded me that, oh yeah, you have to go all the way back through Mt. Rugged after the boss fight. I prefer to have the choice to take a previously-hidden alternate route or fast travel or something, so I like giving players that choice as well.
     
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  4. Seacliff

    Seacliff RPG Maker Mastermind Veteran

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    Just jumping straight to the end of this thread.
    But maybe the best way to handle roadblocks in a traditional RPG is to actively have the player solve the roadblock itself, the worst kind of roadblocks are the ones that have no ties to the main story itself "ie: Bridge fell down, I'll fix it by the time you get the McGuffin", but instead you could have "Evil Barrier prevents passage, you need X Mcguffin to pass"

    It is annoying, however, if the use of a Mcguffin is a one-time thing, I'm just using it for a concise example.

    If you really have to have the PC to force themselves out of a location, the motive for doing so needs to make sense.
     
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  5. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    @Seacliff That sounds a little like the pattern that Collect-a-thon games (like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, etc.) use. I think you might mean it more in the sense of the framing for it, rather than as an actual game mechanic... but the two intertwine very nicely.

    @Tai_MT I can't even imagine how long it took you to write up that response. Sometimes I feel like some kind of temporal mosquito, sucking up every last drop of your time. Buzz buzz buzz!
    The trick is to give the player something they couldn't earn by easier means at (or near) that point in the game. That's the difference between the example that I gave of a unique spell whose power is in line with spells you receive 25% further into the game, which will feel cool and rewarding, versus the level-ups you obtained by beating the Scorchbeast, which felt underwhelming because there were a thousand other (easier) ways you could have gotten those level-ups.

    To be clear, I was referring to optional challenges that are supposed to be inviting to players looking for a challenge. If the dev is actively trying to discourage all players from going somewhere (but doesn't want to artificially restrict it), there's no need for a great reward for making it down that path/completing the soft sequence-break. For many Spades, knowing that the game doesn't have full control over your will is reward enough.

    I understand your (implicit) argument that the two types of challenges are easily conflated, and that many players will walk into the sequence-break type expecting a reward because they're facing difficulties along the way. That's absolutely a good point in favor of "I'd just prefer the instant death".

    Dude, this is the gaming community. It's not just our right, but our responsibility to cute at people who spend years of their life making things and giving those things to us for free, just because we didn't like every detail of it!
    *chest puffs with pride*

    I have no idea why, but the first thing I pictured in my mind when I read that was a character that looks like your avatar strolling right off a cliff, several seconds of nothing happening, and then all the nearby NPCs suddenly giving each other high-fives and drinking champagne. And, typing this, I'm still laughing out loud right now. :D

    Admittedly we've come a long way from the days of Zork, where your only option if you couldn't solve a puzzle after hours of earnest effort was to hope that a local friend also played the game and knows the solution.

    I personally believe that still doesn't excuse designers from finding a way to allow the player forward if they can't solve an arbitrary puzzle, but I admit that's an approach with pros and cons.

    That's a great analogy you're making. The issue is nuanced enough that it would require an entire tangent to our tangent of this discussion, but to keep it very brief:
    • I would let the player break the designed challenge if "breaking it" requires a level of thought that few players will easily find it on their own. (Otherwise, I'd rework the mechanic so it's not quite as exploitable.)
    • And in fact, when I do work on narrative-focused RPGs, I specifically try to include combats or puzzles that some players might find too tough or unintuitive.
    • I would never design a battle that was 50x harder with a certain type of armor that the player would reasonably be wearing into the fight, unless the armor were something like a "training weights" item where the player knew exactly what they were doing when they equipped it.

    Good point. Signposting and "learning" are especially important. For example, the first time a Dark Souls-like Instant Death trap appears, it should appear right after a save point that is sitting right in the middle of your path (so that everyone saves). And it should actually encourage you to fall into it (perhaps disguised at the edge of very slippery terrain), so that you can go back a few seconds to your last save and now you know what that type of trap does.

    I make things easy on myself by just not including the Instant Death traps in the first place :)

    It's done wrong all the time, but I think that the fact that it can (easily) be done right means that you should try to do it right rather than not do it! This has shades of our debate about Visual Encounters (which I've started implementing in one of my games - and I'm having trouble with GameMaker's "Paths", but I'll definitely show you once I'm happy with the VE system. Feeling really good about my design.) - don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

    I don't think I follow. Which examples are "new" or "old" style roadblocks, and what are their "old" or "new" equivalents?

    My ideal RPG would let you blow through the castle wall OR convince the guards to let you through OR bribe the guards OR fight the guards OR sneak through the sewers into the castle, and not limit you to a single pre-designed solution when so many other obvious ones are in plain sight.

    I don't have a Switch so I haven't gotten the chance to play it yet, but Breath of the Wild sounds awesome.
     
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  6. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    Um... like an hour and a half, I think. I did some of it early in the morning and the rest during my lunch hour. Super lengthy posts are just the nature of interacting with me. Well... probably like 30% of the time. The problem is, I spend that 30% on these forums, talking about something I'm extremely passionate about.

    So long as you want to have a conversation with me, I don't mind spending that time to carry it on with me.

    I agree that this is a good reward, but the dev will need to come back and ensure balancing of that reward. It is easy to create the optional side area and have the reward be thought of as proper for the location (or the assumed 25% further into the game), and then promptly forget about it... and the rest of your scaling gets out of hand as you design the rest of your game, because you've filled the next 6 hours of gameplay with new items, new spells, new events... tweaked enemies and equipment in those areas for challenge, etcetera.

    The dev must account for the player not just tackling the optional side challenge the moment it opens up... but also at a later time when the player feels more comfortable tackling the challenge (like say, the same level as the monsters). Is the reward still worth it at that point, as well?

    At early levels, having "Cure 2" as a reward for completing this optional challenge could be impressive and worth the effort. But, you know, through regular progression, you may have given the player "Cure 3" for a story beat. Is "Cure 2" then still valuable at all?

    What if the optional content gives you an item instead? Let's say you're given the Demi-Infinity Sword if you complete this content. It's good for the next 2 hours of the game. It has unique properties like granting you health regen and high critical hit chance... But, if the player bypassed it and obtained the Infinity +1 Sword that inflicts 4 states on the enemy on strike much later in the game, and decided to come back to finish the challenge... is that reward still worth obtaining for a player who bypassed it?

    You then have a very valid argument to be made there. Isn't it just faster to ignore the challenge for a reward that ultimately isn't all that worth it? I could obtain better equipment and spells by sticking to the main route. The main route which is far easier and doesn't tax my resources. Essentially, never needing the "reward" at the end of the optional path.

    I'm not saying it's pointless to have these optional side challenges. I'm just saying that it would be very difficult to balance their rewards against what you've created after each optional challenge. It would also be very difficult to temper the expectations of the player.

    I mean, I have an open world game that engages in optional side challenges as well. I'm not even positive that my rewards are worth the effort the player would expend to get to them. Those rewards include things like granting one of the 3 collectibles which are valuable in and of themselves... or granting stat points to the player that they could use to actually become more powerful (with the stat points being equivalent to the challenge involved).

    My solution was simply to have the rewards be 100% valuable no matter where/when you obtained them in the game. If you got through with early game stats and equipment, the reward was incredibly valuable. If you blew through it later with end game equipment and stats... still quite valuable.

    But, I have no guarantee the player will find the same things valuable that I do. No guarantee the player will care about these rewards.

    That's the trick though. As a dev, how do you differentiate the two challenges? Even reading yours, I assumed it was a roadblock and not an "optional challenge". I tailored a reply based upon that assumption. After all, we're in a thread that is talking about road blocks.

    If a "monsters are stronger here, don't go ahead" roadblock exists... how do you tell the player that... if you also have optional challenges of stronger monsters as well?

    Either way, as a player, I'd expect a reward for tackling a challenge beyond my depth. The reward would need to be on par with the effort I expended as well.

    I think it's trickier to execute well than we assume it would be.

    Such a response would be worth the act of killing my character. I used to love the similar responses in Halo when you died. My favorite being the little easily killed "Grunts" yelling "Can I have his helmet/weapon?" once you were dead. The world reacting to the death of my character is a nice little detail I appreciate in many games. It tells me the dev cared about the small details as well as cared about making even your death an enjoyable experience.

    That's sort of what I'm getting at here. Each dev will draw the lines at different places. What do we find personally acceptable for the player to be doing? Which is good design and which isn't?

    Like you, I prefer that there are other solutions than the intended one to complete a challenge. I try to design them into my game as I think of them.

    However, for the same token... there is something to be said for not letting a player bypass a challenge at all, and enforcing that challenge. Ensuring that they understand the mechanics involved and ensuring that they have mastery over those mechanics.

    Which is the right way? I think both have very valid points, especially depending on their goals and intent.

    I think it works in Zork, because that's the point and intent of that game. To ensure you have understood and mastered each and every puzzle. Could this design be frustrating? Sure.

    But, so could the design of "optional solutions". What if I don't have all the necessary information/resources to tackle the challenge in the way I'd like? What if I'm not aware of all the ways I could challenge it and am required to stumble upon them? At which point, I'm likely to require a walkthrough of some kind so I can choose the "right" decisions. Namely, the ones I perceive as the best ones. Likewise, telling me all the possible solutions up front could break immersion of the game.

    I don't necessarily think one option is better than the other, but that they have different purposes in a game.

    To be fair, it's a special type of player who enjoys the challenge of frequent instant-death traps. I'm not really one of them, but I do prefer them to "beef gates" in most instances. I do also prefer them to absolutely silly roadblocks (unless your game is comedy based... and every roadblock in that game has a comedic element... like pencil shaped statues being removed with a "pencil eraser". Ha, get it? It's an item that erases pencils!).

    To my mind, most games from before 2000 are the "old style roadblocks". Though, there are plenty of games that do what they did as well.

    The "old style" roadblocks are best exemplified by Final Fantasy 1 (or, at least, it's the clearest example to illustrate what I mean). You start the game on a tiny little island with two castles. A broken and busted one, and essentially the town where you get the first mission. There's no way off this island, so you're heavily restricted in what you can do. This is not a good example, but is indicative of what you'll see frequently in the whole game. Once the quest is completed in the area, the king builds a bridge next to the castle that goes to the "main continent". That body of water you didn't know was a roadblock now has a bridge over it. You then get the credits as you've just completed the "tutorial" of the game. But, the game is filled with many instances like this (this is the most intrusive one, the rest are far more subtle). After you cross the bridge, you sort of just wander around the main continent in a mostly linear path. You hit town after town, fighting new enemies, following the path to the next location you need to be at. Once you arrive at the very last town... oh hey, there's a ship docked here. Some pirates are in town. What's that about? You beat the pirates and steal their ship. A ship you didn't even know you needed up until you hit that last town and there was nowhere left to go. You get the solution the roadblock the moment it is presented to you.

    After getting the ship, you can explore what you assume is an ocean (it's a massive lake, instead) and reach the rest of the towns. Namely, the ones on the southern part of the continent. You do some quests for the Elves and they give you some explosives. You're then told what you need to do with these explosives. You need to go to this little strait of land on the far left hand side of the continent, the edge of the lake... and set them there. They blow up the land and allow you to get your ship into the open ocean now. To traverse practically anywhere! You didn't even know that strip of land was a road block until the moment they told you to go blow it up.

    That's the sort of roadblock I'm talking about. The newer ones are all very onerous and obvious. This door is locked until you find a key or complete a quest. This guy blocks the road until you've completed a quest. Etcetera.

    I prefer that I don't know there's a roadblock... until it's been removed. It feels far more fluid that way. It doesn't break my immersion as much. It doesn't require me remember to come back to this location every time I complete some quest or get some item to see if I can now pass this obstacle.

    I like this sort of freedom in most games. But, if the game isn't designed for that sort of freedom... I tend to just prefer the roadblocks be non-existent... or as invisible as possible.

    Parts of it are. It's a Zelda game... that isn't really Zelda. There really aren't any "dungeons" in the game. Just small puzzles. 120 of those small puzzles. Most of which, you'll cheat. The game shines in terms of combat and open world exploration, however. It's just that the usual experience of "do a dungeon, collect a McGuffin" is sort of... well... gone. Substituted with something much worse.

    It's worth picking up, at least. If for no other reason than most fights come down to tactics, strategy, and skill... and it's the most open and explorable of open worlds I've ever interacted with.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2019
    #66
  7. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Tai, I think you're onto something that I've never seen discussed before, with this (d)evolution in the way that roadblocks have been presented by game devs!
    So if I understand you correctly, there are at least two factors that go into creating an "old-school" roadblock:
    1. The roadblock is placed so that a player traveling on the most obvious path will find the solution before they find the roadblock (or at least before they realize they are completely roadblocked)
    2. The roadblock is something the player would expect to be non-negotiable, like a strip of land blocking access from one ocean to another, rather than something the player would expect to be negotiable, like a single whirlpool or a guard boat saying "you can't go further"
    3. (Anything else? Is lack of backtracking a crucial ingredient here?)
    Indeed, I think this kind of design feels a lot less onerous, in theory - almost like you're "opening up the layers of a world" rather than being run through mandatory chores to progress the plot. And most RPGs I've played have been from post-2000, but the few I can remember from before that did seem to follow along with your theory that the roadblocks were less obvious - and felt far less contrived as a result.

    I suppose one major drawback is that in those old-school games, I sometimes had no idea what I was even supposed to be doing to progress, but making it more obvious in the uncommon case you find the roadblock before you find the solution could be a good compromise.

    To anyone who's reading this, I'd be very curious to hear what you think! Were roadblocks in "old-school" games significantly different than roadblocks in "new-school" games? Do you feel the old-school approach was better?


    At the most general level, the best way to ensure your reward will be "valuable" is to make it unique (and just to make sure it's not balanced so terribly that no one wants to use it - that's not a hard task). For example, a Demi spell in a game where all the other damage is based on traditional formulas, or an accessory that makes all your attack magic deal either 30% (half the time) or 200% (half the time) of its usual damage, or an entirely new (optional) party member. All of these things offer an exciting new way to play, and should be a good reward no matter when the player finds it.

    With that said, if the optional path is mostly challenging because of the high-level enemies there, I would question whether we even need to make sure the reward is good for a player who comes back much later in the game and stomps it with their highly-leveled party. After all, if there's no longer any great challenge, then why should there be a great reward? I think it's nice to have something exciting still awaiting at the end of that path, but not necessary for the player who didn't take it on when it was difficult. That's why I think that a spell or equip that you normally wouldn't get until considerably later in the game is a fine reward. Because it's still very exciting for a player who takes on the challenge when it's... you know, challenging.

    The fact that there was a clear, wide, bright, forward-facing "main path", as well as a shadowy, crookedy (but still clearly visible) "side path", at a fork in the dungeon was certainly a good hint.

    Sure, that's funny, but would it be as funny if you knew you had to go back and redo the last hour of your game? At best, it would be akin to those Whammies from Press Your Luck - (humorous) insult to injury.

    That's why I really like what @kirbwarrior pointed out: that these instant death sequences can be a great add to a game as a substitute for a traditional roadblock, as long as they put you right back where you were a few seconds before you walked into them. Best of both worlds, I think, as long as your game doesn't heavily rely on risk/reward as a core dynamic for building tension.

    [​IMG]

    I think there's an argument to be made either way when the challenges are consistent. When you have a lot of puzzles/challenges of the same type, sure, there's a pride that comes with being able to solve/overcome, and the game may feel a bit pointless or empty if you can skip anything that you want to. (That should be balanced against the very real frustration that comes with not being able to enjoy the rest of the game if you happen to get stuck on one of those puzzles/challenges.)

    And of course, if you're going to see a lot of a certain type of challenge later, the game should make sure you're ready for it by forcing you to complete the earlier version.

    However, my problem isn't as much with the consistent challenges, as the ones that feel very arbitrary. Puzzles in RPGs (where the core challenge dynamic is from party management and combat) are a good example, and the instant deaths like FF3's Swamp are an even better example. But even a pure puzzle game can have challenge element that feels completely arbitrary. For example, a puzzle game filled with logic puzzles, math puzzles, search-for-items type puzzles, detective work... and then out of the blue they throw some random poem at you as a puzzle that requires Biblical knowledge to decipher. You're enjoying those logic puzzles or that detective work. You came for it. You learned the skills and you're applying them. And now you can't do any of those anymore, because you didn't know that certain words from the poem made up a passage from Jacob 27:19, and all of those other puzzles you enjoy are behind a padlock whose code is 2-7-1-9.

    [​IMG]

    Hey, he kind of looks like a Whammy!

    I sure hope most players don't think this way!! The most fun part of these optional solutions is the idea that anything you come up with - things the game didn't tell you upfront - might be a legitimate way to do things. You feel smart that you figured something out. You feel a sense of wonder about how your own solution will affect things. And you can't help but smile as the game gracefully handles your input like a clever DM that's always ready for whatever crazy shenanigans your party wants to try to pull.

    Looking up every single solution after playing the game through once makes a lot of sense, to vicariously enjoy the creativity that went into the game (I did this with Undertale for instance), or to try out things that you missed and get the entire experience... but playing such a game with a walkthrough on your first run - in my eyes, at least - would be entirely missing the point!
     
    #67
  8. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    The lack of Backtracking isn't necessarily important, but it does help. As with the example with the Elves, you are given some quests, go further into the continent, complete a dungeon, and then have to come back to the Elven castle to even get your explosives. Though, it's signposted well in that you are essentially rescuing a princess and must bring her back to the castle.

    As for the first two factors:

    Yes, absolutely. I think these are the best way to roadblock your players. For me, they feel less arbitrary. They feel pretty clever of the dev when you suddenly realize you were roadblocked the whole time and now the restriction has been lifted.

    There is no feeling of "I need to come back here later". There is no assumption on the part of the player that "I don't need to explore everything here, because I'll be back later to clear this roadblock". You are just playing the game. You are just playing in the way you would normally play the game. Completing the tasks set before you, moving down the path, exploring everything on the mostly linear road... and suddenly you are given the solution to a roadblock you didn't know existed.

    "This black goo that looked like set dressing or for ambiance can be cleared with this laser gun? NICE! What can I find by clearing this stuff???"

    There are some modern games that do this. Not very many, but some do (in the black goo example, most games make it 90000% obvious that the black goo can be cleared long before giving you the means to do so... highlighting it as an obvious roadblock, which ruins the sense of wonder and exploration and forces you to remember every single instance of the roadblock so you can come back later to clear it). For me, such a thing is an absolute delight. It reinvigorates my sense of exploration all over again. Just as with getting the ship. "I can traverse the ocean now? Where can I go???" And later, "I get to drive my boat into the actual ocean and get out of this lake? What is waiting for me out there???" A limitation I didn't know I had is suddenly removed. Some unseen shackles have been unlocked.


    Though, yeah, you would need to signpost where the player is meant to go. A lot of the old school games tended to do this by just keeping the player to a relatively linear path. Or, opening up the world in "sections". Once you'd seen everything in the section you were in, you were given the means to travel to the next one. Sort of like a "room and corridor" design philosophy, except with world maps. And it wasn't really obvious that you were moving through rooms and corridors. Because... well... great map design.

    While this is true, you then have to balance the rest of the game around such powerful spells, items, and characters. You'll have to operate on the assumption that the player will have them the moment the game offers them to the player. So, you'll now be balancing for two types of players. The type that never bothered to get the reward... and the type who did manage to get the reward. Not just for the next boss encounter... but for the entire rest of the game. A player with access to extra power is naturally going to be a much more powerful party down the line (not just from this reward, but from quickly and easily vacuuming up more XP, monster drops, and currency due to being able to handle more powerful threats and needing to expend less resources) than one without this extra power. It can easily turn into a "snowball effect". The more of these "optional challenges" you have, the more types of players you'll need to balance for. What if someone skipped the first challenge, but did the second one? You now need to balance for their scale of power as well as the person who did both optional challenges and the one who did neither. You then also have to balance for the player who did the first challenge, but skipped the second. You now need to balance for four levels of power. It gets exponentially more difficult as you continue to add more "optional challenges" with spells/items/new characters as rewards.

    And that's nothing to say of then needing to consider that some players will go backwards to the previous challenges after completing new ones in order to reap those rewards as well.

    Which is, of course, assuming the reward is valuable as "direct power" to the player to begin with. Very tricky to make "direct power" valuable to both players at the beginning of the game and players at the end of the game, without destroying balance of your encounters and boss fights altogether.

    I think something of utility to the player would go over better. "Indirect Power". Something they can use at any level and stage in the game in order to obtain direct power. A membership card to the Casino, perhaps (where you can trade chips for valuable weapons/armor/items/etcetera)? An item that lets them teleport back to the beginning of a dungeon and doesn't get consumed?

    I think indirect power would work best. But, that's just my opinion. I can not imagine trying to balance a game around direct power like that. Or at least... attempting to preserve the challenge I'd wanted for the players.

    On paper, that seems very reasonable. They skipped the reward, so when they come back to do it, the reward isn't worth as much.

    However... in practice... you're then not creating "optional" rewards. The reward is only valuable at low levels, so the challenge must be tackled the instant it is available. There is no option to come back later. Get it now to gain the edge, because it's not an edge later. By and large... a player will seek out that edge if they know it is one. The optional path is now the Optimal way to Play. We're then running into the issue Pokémon had quite a while back with one of their "challenges".

    There was a gym in which it was a "quiz show" (they've repeated this mistake quite a lot, but haven't repeated the quiz show idea). You had to answer a piece of trivia. If you answered correctly, the door opened and you didn't have to fight. This is the least optimal way to play. Ever. Here's how you should approach it: Challenge the person to a fight, win the fight. Trainer encounters give more experience than wild encounters. Trainer encounters are also the only way to get Currency (aside from selling items you find). Deliberately fail the trivia portion, get the fight, unlock the door when it's over. Pokémon has repeated this mistake in many gyms (Oh, you failed this portion of the puzzle, now you have to fight a Trainer!). The failure state is better than the success state.

    I see a similar issue here if you don't balance the item for a player to pick it up at any stage in the game. The only real way to play is to tackle it regardless. It's only an option for players ignorant of the design of it. The moment they complete any optional challenge and realize what power lies in wait... they'll go back to the previous ones. At higher power levels, they'll immediately realize that what they're given is only valuable the moment they get access to the area. All future optional challenges then cease to become challenges and instead become mandatory content (as a dev, you didn't plan it as mandatory, but the player will feel it is, will act as if it is, and will operate on the assumption that your game is balanced for this content and they need it in order to curb stomp your content).

    It is difficult to manage the expectations of your players. Very difficult to hit the target of "reward equals the challenge". Especially if that reward has to be balanced for the rest of a 20 hour game (or more). Especially if you want to keep the reward from allowing the player to trounce the rest of your game with ease.

    It's still not always obvious. Is this just a regular side path or is it optional challenge? Is this optional challenge, or a second path through this area and I'm meant to backtrack through here later at a later point for plot reasons?

    As a player, you have no way to know. Not until you're already on the path.

    An instant-death roadblock here might be a good indicator to the player that they don't have what is necessary to progress this way if it's meant to be a roadblock...

    But... aren't really strong monsters a roadblock? Some devs think so.

    In Fallout: New Vegas, the "main path" to New Vegas is blocked off to you as a new player at Level 1 by extremely annoying and powerful enemies that will kill you in nearly one shot. However, a clever/lucky player can get through this path without issue and bypass about 40% of the game's content by doing so. At level 1. With crap gear.

    If they miss that way to get to New Vegas, there's a secondary road you can take a little later that gives you a direct route to New Vegas as well. It's similarly guarded by strong creatures (less strong than the first ones). A clever player can take this path and use the geometry to kill the strong enemies without getting touched/killed, and bypass about 30% of the content of the game in doing so. At about Level 3-5, provided they have enough ammo to kill a single enemy. Or, maybe two, if they're unlucky with the spawns.

    In both instances, the player can reach the goal of the game, which is "New Vegas", at very early levels, and immediately jump several scales in power by doing so. New Vegas has encounters near it that are fairly trivial and drop very good equipment for low levels (the equipment isn't worth picking up if you had come around the intended path). The power jump in this equipment is so pronounced to a Level 1-5, that it allows those players to actually tackle enemies meant for Level 11-15 without too much issue and "power level" their character in doing so. The challenge of the game has been broken. It isn't much longer after that, that they can then go back to those "road blocks" of tough enemies and kill them legitimately and farm them for more levels. End game enemies able to be farmed in the game in about 5 hours of play time. All a player has to do is be moderately clever and slightly lucky.

    So, how is a player to know that your "optional content" of strong enemies isn't just a road block instead? Or know that it's not a path they come back through into this location later (this also happens a lot in games, where you loop back around to previous areas by tackling high level content along your way)?

    Signposting is crucial, but I'm not sure there's much of a way to do it in this instance without breaking some immersion. If the monsters appear too strong, it appears as a roadblock. If too weak, it doesn't appear they're an "optional challenge" either.

    Basically... stronger enemies don't make for very good gating. Clever players will always find a way around them to break your game.

    That happens to me quite frequently. In the example I listed from Halo, where the enemies mock you or say funny things after killing you... sometimes the checkpoint was 10-15 minutes ago. Sometimes it was 30 minutes ago. Depending on when you hit it and how hard you had to struggle to get to the location you died at. Sometimes, you were a single room away from triggering the next checkpoint.

    Death was frustrating, but the enemy's reaction to it lessened the blow for me in a lot of cases. This time they wanted my helmet. Last time, they were ecstatic that "the Demon is dead!". Saying it in a slightly incredulous voice as if I'd been quite the challenge to them. As if I were the stuff of nightmares to them. As if I had been "the final boss" to THEIR video game.

    It's a nice detail in games that I enjoy, regardless. If the death animation/actions feel worth it to me, I don't mind the death. Do I like losing an hour of progress? No. But, if the death was fairly amusing or interesting... I'm far more likely to forgive it since I'm still getting something out of it. It isn't just, "reload last save?". It is, "oh, you died, but here's a 10 second animation of how horrific that death was" or "the NPC's are absolutely horrified and scared that you died". Or, maybe, just maybe... it's the enemies who killed you complimenting you by wanting to turn you into a trophy... or being completely and utterly surprised that THEY won the fight instead.

    It's the little things.

    I don't have an issue with them putting you right back to the moment you died. The moment before you jumped off the cliff. Some games do this and it allows me to jump off a second time... or third time... or twenty fifth time... as the mood suits me and if the death is amusing. :D Yes, I've jumped off of the highest mountain in Skyrim at least 200 times in varying methods and degrees, just to watch myself ragdoll down to ground level. I've done the same to my horses.

    I'm probably the only one who feels like any puzzles in an RPG are completely arbitrary. :D If that puzzle isn't related to resource management or combat, it tends to just feel completely arbitrary to me.

    I also hate them as roadblocks.

    Seriously, I don't want to track down 3 key fragments of some emblem for a door in order to get it to unlock. This is silly. It's a waste of time. It's padding. Either let me open the door the moment I find it... or make your dungeon longer so I spend the requisite amount of time you wanted me to spend in here searching for your freakin' key things before I find the door.

    If I want to solve puzzles, I'll play a puzzle game. I'll play "Portal", which does it better than any RPG. I'll play "The Witness" if I want something truly frustrating in terms of puzzles. If I want to solve logic puzzles, I'll go online to a website that hosts them and allows me to solve them for points or ranking or whatever instead. I'll go somewhere where solving the puzzle actually has value beyond "you get to complete the rest of the game now" or "you get something really powerful to make completing the game much easier now".

    There's a reason I tend to use guides for so many games these days...

    Arbitrary inclusion of puzzles is one of them.

    No, I don't care if your RPG has puzzles a core gameplay component either (a la Golden Sun). If you stop me every 5 minutes to do a puzzle of some sort, when I'm here to play an RPG... your game is gonna be completed by Walkthrough... if I still care enough to actually complete your game.

    There are just much better roadblocks and progression blockades than puzzles.

    [​IMG]

    I'll leave the picture in here to illustrate the way I feel about encountering a puzzle in an RPG.

    I start most games without a guide. I tend to enjoy exploring on my own, figuring things out on my own, enjoying the experience.

    However, most games take the "Deus Ex" approach to choices of solving things. What I think would be the easiest and most logical solution to any given issue... is never accounted for. So, I have to search for the solutions the game developer intended of me. Then, they have the issue of "not all solutions are equal". Even if I didn't place my own personal value on a solution... games often put their own tangible value on their solutions. If you don't kill all the people, your coworkers like you better. If you don't bust open this wall, it is difficult to save all the hostages (still doable, but far more difficult than busting the wall).

    The games also give you no indication on which solutions produce which results and which are "optimal" either.

    That's not even getting into actual treasure and loot put behind specific choices either.

    I end up using a guide for most of these types of "choice" games. How do I tackle this? Well, let me google what the best solution is here. Ah, it's a persuasion check on the castle guards and convincing them that I'm their new jester. Sneaking in through the treasury is least optimal as stealing the treasure makes them tax the peasants more... but pretending to be a jester just leaves me accountable.

    Much as I love a hundred solutions to solving any problem in an RPG... it does quite often lead me to just grabbing a guide. What is the best way to get through this area? What choices give the optimal solution to me... as a player?

    The very nature of not signposting all the solutions and making some solutions far better than others... well... kills the fun of "exploring" for me. Kills the fun of "feeling clever". Especially when I know that my solution is probably not the best one, and there was some solution that was even better, that I didn't know about, and probably could've never known about without incredible leaps in logic.

    In fact, the most powerful experience I ever had with an RPG was Mass Effect 1. The game is all about choices and trying to do clever things to solve problems (at least through talking and making actions from a wheel, rather than freeform open world type stuff).

    I thought the best solution I could make at the time was to sacrifice the crew member that I couldn't romance in order to get the romance achievement later. I thought, for sure, there was a way to save both of them. I didn't know how to do it, but I thought there was a way. There had to be a way. I had no access to the internet at the time. I tried everything I could think of to save them both, and thought it was beyond me when I couldn't. So, I made my choice to preserve the achievement.

    The game berated me for doing this. Guilted me into making the choice based on 'romance' and not on any strategic or tactical decision. My romance option felt guilty and ashamed of being chosen over the other crew member.

    Later, when I had access to the internet... yeah, there's no way to save both. I had to look it up. Just had to know if there was a way to save them both. I'd tried everything, after all. These games always have a more clever solution. One you didn't consider. A list of requirements and options that are arbitrary or obscure, so you can do all the good things in the game and save everyone and have the best sunshine rainbow happy ending possible.

    But, no. The decision I had made... was the best decision I could have made. There was no trick. I didn't miss anything. Someone had to die.

    The realization later that there was nothing I could've done, despite this game and all of the other video games before it telling me I could've done something more... That was powerful. It will stick with me forever. The best decision was the one in which I made, no matter what it was. It was made because I put value on the decision, not because the game did. The game doesn't change depending on who I keep alive. If I had chosen the other person who wasn't my romance interest... they'd have berated me and felt guilty as well. They'd have felt my decision wasn't justified either. There was no way to win here. The best outcome was the one in which I'd convinced myself was the best outcome. There are no negative or lasting consequences for either choice. I was told to make a choice, live with the consequences, and try to justify that choice to myself any way I could.

    Let me tell you, that choice rings pretty hollow when you make it for something like an Achievement, and then your surviving teammate calls you out on it. Disapproves of it.

    I've never seen a game before or since do that to a player. Not just have a situation in which you have to make an impossible choice, but kick you while you're down over it as well. Berating you for whatever justification you gave for making the choice. Even a non-committal answer. A choice that ultimately matters very little, if at all to the gameplay, the ending, or the overall arc of the story.

    Not many games engage in this sort of "choice". Most of it is environmental choice with real and tangible rewards. Some methods are better than others. There are optimal solutions.

    I still haven't seen a game like Mass Effect where there is no optimal solution... and the game tells me I should've found one anyway. Then, the characters telling me that I made the wrong choice and my justifications are flimsy at best.

    So... I grab a guide for most of these games. Which solutions are optimal? What's the best possible outcome? The game has a best option in mind, after all. Killing fewer people is measured as good in this game. Not robbing people is measured as good in this game. Doing things without being seen is the best option in this game.

    If you have choices in overcoming a roadblock... there's always a "best choice". At least, in my experience. It becomes less about what choice I'd personally make and more about what choice the game expects me to make, because it will reward me the best for having chosen it.
     
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