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You Should Try Failing More Often, Detective Phelps

Why the impulse to always "get it right" is ultimately less interesting.

Could I have avoided this somehow, Zach?

Chasing a fleeing, desperate man across a falling construction set, it dawns upon me:

"I've fucked up."

Virtual heart racing from sprinting, I'm relentlessly tracking down a man that I've, up until this moment, deduced was guilty of a horrifying crime. He killed someone.

He didn't, though. And as I catch up to him, it's clear there are no more locations to visit, no more suspects to talk to, no more pieces of evidence to string along. The end of the road is in sight. While I (the player) know I've bungled the case, I know the suspect's innocent, and there were five questions that I shouldawouldacould answered better if I'd thought about the whole thing longer, my evidence points to him.

Someone has to take the fall, right?

Someone's got to pay, even if that someone isn't actually the right one, so the papers and the bosses and the neighborhood (does the list ever ever end?) are happy, and as the case draws to a close and I'm assigned my two-star rating, all I can feel is bitter disappointment. It's not the kind of controller chucking misery you get from screwing up a boss battle for the upteenth time, but a real "aw, shucks" realization that I've done a truly bad thing and it just felt wrong.

More games should let you fail. It's less rewarding to be right every time; it's not how life is.

In L.A. Noire, failures are still "succeses." The case is "solved." You might curse the sometimes frustrating adventure game logic driving the interrogations, but I can't help but thumbs up experiences where the fail state isn't just a game over screen. It's why seeing the "you got caught" message during the stealth sections feels so out of place. The rest of the game goes so explicitly out of its way to push players into gray areas, while the action remains black and white.

I twitch every time someone on my Twitter feed curses that they've been awarded less than five stars on a case in L.A. Noire and begin the case from scratch. Give failure a chance, ya'll.

Believe me, I understand the impulse--I have it, too. What's powerful is saying no to it and seeing how you respond. As gamers, we've been trained to achieve perfection, whether it's navigating a sea of bullets or collecting some hidden items. We don't like second place, especially if it's preventable. That's boring. Why should it always go your way? We're constantly asking developers to create more emotional gaming experiences, and though I can't say the same for you, but my personal failures burn more than my successes. They're what drive me to be better.

I'm reminded of the spit-take reaction to Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. I'm convinced the developers wouldn't kill her if they made the game today; they'd have made resurrecting her some achievement, otherwise it would tick too many people off. I want to get pissed off, feel sad, experience regret and engage deeper than the latest macho power fantasy (which I like, too!).

Want to play something moving? Try Jordan Magnuson's The Killer. I want that on a large scale.

There was a similar moment in Grand Theft Auto IV that I wrote about, too, in a post titled "My Conscience, And How ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ Made Me Feel Regret." I talked about when you're asked to kill Playboy X or Dwayne. Letting Playboy X live presents a cooler gameplay path, with the possibility to grab a larger apartment, while Dwayne, recently released from prison and seeking redemption, offers me nothing as a player, besides toying with my virtual compassion.

I killed Dwayne. Here's how I reacted back in 2008:

"It felt wrong, though. In my gut, I was killing someone with a second chance. Dwayne served his time. But in a dog-eat-dog virtual world, it was about me. Except it wasn’t. It was about me, the player. When Playboy X called me up after the deed was done and denounced our relationship — calling me 'cold' — he was right. There was a knot in my stomach over this. I made the wrong decision. It was too late; the auto save function had kicked in. Dwayne’s fate was signed, sealed, delivered. I have to live with that decision for the rest of the game."

If I could have done that moment over, reloaded a previous save, I might have. How tragic.

I want more moments like that, please. Don't you?

Patrick Klepek on Google+
206 Comments
Posted by patrickklepek
Could I have avoided this somehow, Zach?

Chasing a fleeing, desperate man across a falling construction set, it dawns upon me:

"I've fucked up."

Virtual heart racing from sprinting, I'm relentlessly tracking down a man that I've, up until this moment, deduced was guilty of a horrifying crime. He killed someone.

He didn't, though. And as I catch up to him, it's clear there are no more locations to visit, no more suspects to talk to, no more pieces of evidence to string along. The end of the road is in sight. While I (the player) know I've bungled the case, I know the suspect's innocent, and there were five questions that I shouldawouldacould answered better if I'd thought about the whole thing longer, my evidence points to him.

Someone has to take the fall, right?

Someone's got to pay, even if that someone isn't actually the right one, so the papers and the bosses and the neighborhood (does the list ever ever end?) are happy, and as the case draws to a close and I'm assigned my two-star rating, all I can feel is bitter disappointment. It's not the kind of controller chucking misery you get from screwing up a boss battle for the upteenth time, but a real "aw, shucks" realization that I've done a truly bad thing and it just felt wrong.

More games should let you fail. It's less rewarding to be right every time; it's not how life is.

In L.A. Noire, failures are still "succeses." The case is "solved." You might curse the sometimes frustrating adventure game logic driving the interrogations, but I can't help but thumbs up experiences where the fail state isn't just a game over screen. It's why seeing the "you got caught" message during the stealth sections feels so out of place. The rest of the game goes so explicitly out of its way to push players into gray areas, while the action remains black and white.

I twitch every time someone on my Twitter feed curses that they've been awarded less than five stars on a case in L.A. Noire and begin the case from scratch. Give failure a chance, ya'll.

Believe me, I understand the impulse--I have it, too. What's powerful is saying no to it and seeing how you respond. As gamers, we've been trained to achieve perfection, whether it's navigating a sea of bullets or collecting some hidden items. We don't like second place, especially if it's preventable. That's boring. Why should it always go your way? We're constantly asking developers to create more emotional gaming experiences, and though I can't say the same for you, but my personal failures burn more than my successes. They're what drive me to be better.

I'm reminded of the spit-take reaction to Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. I'm convinced the developers wouldn't kill her if they made the game today; they'd have made resurrecting her some achievement, otherwise it would tick too many people off. I want to get pissed off, feel sad, experience regret and engage deeper than the latest macho power fantasy (which I like, too!).

Want to play something moving? Try Jordan Magnuson's The Killer. I want that on a large scale.

There was a similar moment in Grand Theft Auto IV that I wrote about, too, in a post titled "My Conscience, And How ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ Made Me Feel Regret." I talked about when you're asked to kill Playboy X or Dwayne. Letting Playboy X live presents a cooler gameplay path, with the possibility to grab a larger apartment, while Dwayne, recently released from prison and seeking redemption, offers me nothing as a player, besides toying with my virtual compassion.

I killed Dwayne. Here's how I reacted back in 2008:

"It felt wrong, though. In my gut, I was killing someone with a second chance. Dwayne served his time. But in a dog-eat-dog virtual world, it was about me. Except it wasn’t. It was about me, the player. When Playboy X called me up after the deed was done and denounced our relationship — calling me 'cold' — he was right. There was a knot in my stomach over this. I made the wrong decision. It was too late; the auto save function had kicked in. Dwayne’s fate was signed, sealed, delivered. I have to live with that decision for the rest of the game."

If I could have done that moment over, reloaded a previous save, I might have. How tragic.

I want more moments like that, please. Don't you?

Staff
Edited by golguin

As for LA Noire, I've never felt such disappointment in myself as I did at the end of the Golden Butterfly case. I got 1 star (the only one I got in the game) and I knew everything had gone to shit during those interviews.

Posted by PhatSeeJay

Think partially because I was more deeply affected by the things in GTAIV, was primarily from the time spent getting to know the characters and relationships between them. I was sick to the core after the ending of GTAIV and how certain things in the family would never be the same when you went one way, while the other would only affect you personally. 
 
LA Noire have moments where you feel Cole fucks up, but since there's no time spent on telling the story of the people off the clock, you just don't understand or care. I was pretty much not reacting at all when Cole made his femme fatale mistake. There was just nothing there to make me feel "Oh shit, I gon fucked up."

Posted by prestonhedges

I'd rather play a video game.

Edited by PrioritySeven

Great write-up, I feel you on the GT4 moment.

Edited by ChrisTaran

Patrick making a Deadly Premonition reference is my favorite thing to happen so far today. 
 
Edit: Article was even more amazing. I love when games present us with these situations. Also, thank you for linking to The Killer, a very interesting experience.  

Posted by RE_Player1
I hate people who try to play these types of games the "right" way. Going through on your second run solve all the cases 100% but your first time through I would encourage going with your gut. In Mass Effect 2 I did not look up anything and in the end one of my favorite characters, Mordin, died. Would I have loved if he lived? Yes but I felt more of an impact watching the end knowing that Mordin made the ultimate sacrifice. This kinda got on my nerves when Brad complained during GOTY that he got the "bad ending".
Posted by Master_Funk

More of these articles please. Just because patrick is the news guy doesn't mean he only needs to do news. Hes a great writer.

Posted by sixghost
@gladspooky said:
I'd rather play a video game.
Enjoy your call of duty
Posted by simian

They should have done away with the rating system all together. It makes the system too gamey especially when they're trying to reach a certain level of realism with how procedural they make the investigation. 

Posted by 1p

I like when story-driven games let you fail and still continue playing. One of the coolest things about Heavy Rain, too.

Posted by FesteringNeon

I killed Playboy X in the first playthrough, then kind of regretted that as Dwayne kept calling me when I just wanted to run around and eff stuff up. The second playthrough I was much more happy killing Dwayne. (that sounds horrible)

Edited by Yeahbuhwhat

I would do that in L.A. Noire if the game's logic wasn't broken in nearly every interrogation. If the game isn't going to play fair, neither am I. I can't count the amount of times the game wanted me to "doubt" to proceed correctly, despite the fact that I had hard evidence in my possession, or the opposite, where I was meant to provide "proof" that was anything but. It's broken and not enough people are acknowledging it.
 
And there's nothing satisfying about failing in L.A. Noire, because the game doesn't even acknowledge it in any meaningful way. Total and utter failure in one case has absolutely no bearing on any subsequent case. It's never even mentioned again. Nothing has any effect on anything to come. Heavy Rain is a game that does that kind of thing right, and I say that as someone that really doesn't like Heavy Rain at all.

Posted by Winternet
@ChrisTaran said:
Patrick making a Deadly Premonition reference is my favorite thing to happen so far today.
Yep.
Posted by Anjon

Like some reviews have pointed out, I think the rating system is a disappointing fault in the gameplay and design of L.A. Noire. It's like the developers just couldn't let it stand alone as an emotional experience and needed to reassure people that it was still a game with "Level ups" and mission ratings. Considering that all it does is determine unlockables and powerups, I wouldn't have mind it being gone. Still, since those game-y things are there, I'm forced into a gamer mode because I think "I might need those intuition points for a crucial part of the game or something". So I HAVE to collect as many as possible.
 
Also, I still think achievements have doomed us all.

Posted by granderojo

The way in which the cases are set up, they clearly want you to replay them to ace it. I think Patrick and others are looking to into this.

Posted by Damodar

I totally agree, Patrick.

I played through Heavy Rain with a friend and going in to it, we said "Whatever happens, happens. No restarting checkpoints." 

Which made scenes where characters could have died so much more intense. I got somebody else killed, nearly got Madison killed, my heart was pounding during those scenes. Any and every mistake I made had repercussions and it made the game so much more memorable. 
 
Then my friend got Jayden killed at the junkyard and replayed the scene about 5 times until he got through it alive. Kinda lessened the impact of everything from there.

Posted by ohnobruno

I always had an idea for making a game in which failure was an important part of moving foward, almost a mechanic even.  Of course I never thought of a good way to implement this. 
Posted by Heavystormdk

Could not agree more! Great article!

Posted by SpudzDK

Thank you for this, Patrick. It is good to see articles reflecting on something other than pure news. And thanks for making me aware of The Killer. It was powerful.

Posted by Minish_Driveby

Heavy Rain is a good example of this. There's no way to mess up the game, but some of your actions make you think you did the wrong thing.

Posted by Creamypies

Jesus... I just played The Killer. Pretty much brought a tear to my eye at the end there. Thanks for that amazing experience Patrick!

Posted by Vigorousjammer

I just tried Jordan Magnuson's "The Killer"
 
after 10 minutes of holding the spacebar to walk, I got bored and closed the page.
 
I don't get it.  However, L.A. Noire has some interesting story stuff, and I agree, players shouldn't always have the urge to be 100% perfect in a world of branching story paths.

Posted by ExplodingTuba

100% Agree with you Patrick!

Posted by TeenageJesusSuperstar

I thought the bad ending in GTA4 achieved this. It was going to be a bummer either way but the bad ending left me with a big black hole in my stomach while the good was more of a "well that kinda sucks" feeling. Never really felt this with L.A. Noire, by failing you were just missing out on important story beats which is ultimately just frustrating.

Posted by Brenderous

This kinda thing really depends on the game for me. Sometimes I want to get the best ending so I don't have to play some 70 hour rpg all over again.

Posted by Xymox

and yet, to me, I feel like going a clear path through the game. Like for example, playing the game and automatically assume EVERYONE is lying. No matter how right it feels in the gut, that a person is innocent or that a certain lead is the right one.. - But yes, the neighbours, people etc get satisfied because someone got caught. However, there needs to be a risk in there. The world can continue, yes, and living with those choises, yes. But at some point how about making it enough? When do you get fired for being an absolutely awful cop? you yourself put before a jury because you're conciously picking innocent people to put away? when do your character feel overwhelmed by guilt as he finds out he's been wrong in so many cases, in case it wasn't deliberate, after having destroyed so many innocent lives, and kills himself? There needs to be consequence for choises to really matter, no? In one way, going thoughout the entire game knowing / feeling some kind of guilt about that "one case you failed on", well that's one way of doing it. But you can't have too much hand-holding, either. A good slap-in-the-face game over screen might not be the right way about it either ofcourse, but it's a definite end... Until you reload your last quick-save/auto-save :/ 

Posted by VilhelmNielsen

I killed Playboy X, and got his apartment. I thought that kind off defeated the purpose. If the game rewards with virtual money or whatever for doing the cynical thing, it shouldn't also reward you for not doing it. That just makes the choice feel a lot less meaningful. 
 
GTA:IV did this many times, including the ending. It gave you absolutely no reason for actually caring for Kate, so when she dies, you actually don't care. Niko does, as a character, but the player has no real reason to give a damn. 
Every other girlfriend gave you some sort of perk, but Kate did nothing. There was no reason for taking her out, and thus you never get a meaningful relationship to the character.

Posted by logson

Consequential mistakes like the issue of Dwayne vs. Playboy X make games with narrative much more interesting for me. I enjoy my Fables and my Elder Scrolls, but I think lacking the ability to grind (im)morality in a game makes for a more true-to-life experience.

Posted by bybeach

I haven't paid too much attention to the stars, they mostly seemed 4's with one five , a 3 and a 2. What I perceive to Patrick and community is that they snuck a flawed or failed protagonist in on us. As I go through the story..well... and I like how they did it. In the GTA's which I stopped playing, you were usually a character that had some bullshit reason for his actions..seemed hypocritical. I think Rockstar, through Team Bondi, kind of did a reverse throw on us with that.. Your consciences bothering you from our earlier games, how about this? But I don't mind Phelps. Though in real life I might have stayed away from him cause he would be climbing up the ladder on my back.
Posted by Tyashki

Failures in LA Noire aren't always "successes." I did actually fail an interrogation once and was forced to start from the beginning of the scene.

Posted by Zippedbinders

Playboy X was an idiot anyway, Dwayne was bro tier and the decision was obvious, at least to me, that Dwayne should live. 
 
Also, does anyone know that one freeware game from 2010 about how you spend the last week or so of life before the world dies or something, Destructoid covered it a few months ago. Actually, everyone should just watch Anthony Burch's Rev Rant videos. 

Posted by Thusian

I liked L.A. Noire and was actually going to write a blog post similar to this, so thanks for saving me the time.  I think the posters who have mentioned Heavy Rain make a good point that if the story threads of the bigger game were affected by you bringing in the wrong man it would be more interesting, but these discussion based games are just starting to emerge (or re-emerge depending on who you ask) and a few games will need to come out before someone gets to benefit from the experiences of other developers.
 
I also think a little Mass Effect could be mixed in.  We get to have discussions in interrogations, and hear our partners talk at us, but we can't have discussions outside of that scenario.  Walking around the ship in Mass Effect and building up relationships is interesting.  It would have been interesting to see the Detective's home life or even just what relationships he built with other people on the force.  Maybe having a friend in evidence  could help you get something quicker out of storage on a cold case etc.  I hope this type of gameplay gets more integrated in to more games to let us control not only how our characters fight, but how they hold discussion, build relationships and find information.
 
On your main point I would also love to see failures just lead you down different paths, not game over.  I recall someone on Weekend confirmed talking about a shooter where if you get caught in one mission the next mission you play another character sent in to break your first character out.  That's cool, you can have discussions with your buddies on how your game played out vs. theirs.

Posted by Thusian

I liked L.A. Noire and was actually going to write a blog post similar to this, so thanks for saving me the time.  I think the posters who have mentioned Heavy Rain make a good point that if the story threads of the bigger game were affected by you bringing in the wrong man it would be more interesting, but these discussion based games are just starting to emerge (or re-emerge depending on who you ask) and a few games will need to come out before someone gets to benefit from the experiences of other developers.
 
I also think a little Mass Effect could be mixed in.  We get to have discussions in interrogations, and hear our partners talk at us, but we can't have discussions outside of that scenario.  Walking around the ship in Mass Effect and building up relationships is interesting.  It would have been interesting to see the Detective's home life or even just what relationships he built with other people on the force.  Maybe having a friend in evidence  could help you get something quicker out of storage on a cold case etc.  I hope this type of gameplay gets more integrated in to more games to let us control not only how our characters fight, but how they hold discussion, build relationships and find information.
 
On your main point I would also love to see failures just lead you down different paths, not game over.  I recall someone on Weekend confirmed talking about a shooter where if you get caught in one mission the next mission you play another character sent in to break your first character out.  That's cool, you can have discussions with your buddies on how your game played out vs. theirs.

Posted by Toms115
that flash game was pretty intense. 
 
@RE_Player92
said:
I hate people who try to play these types of games the "right" way. Going through on your second run solve all the cases 100% but your first time through I would encourage going with your gut. In Mass Effect 2 I did not look up anything and in the end one of my favorite characters, Mordin, died. Would I have loved if he lived? Yes but I felt more of an impact watching the end knowing that Mordin made the ultimate sacrifice. This kinda got on my nerves when Brad complained during GOTY that he got the "bad ending".
playing through me2 right now without any guides. annoyed at myself that i read guides all through it the first time i played.
Posted by TeenageJesusSuperstar

Also, I think that flash game might be one of my least favourite things I have ever played, ever.

Posted by Thusian

I liked L.A. Noire and was actually going to write a blog post similar to this, so thanks for saving me the time.  I think the posters who have mentioned Heavy Rain make a good point that if the story threads of the bigger game were affected by you bringing in the wrong man it would be more interesting, but these discussion based games are just starting to emerge (or re-emerge depending on who you ask) and a few games will need to come out before someone gets to benefit from the experiences of other developers.
 
I also think a little Mass Effect could be mixed in.  We get to have discussions in interrogations, and hear our partners talk at us, but we can't have discussions outside of that scenario.  Walking around the ship in Mass Effect and building up relationships is interesting.  It would have been interesting to see the Detective's home life or even just what relationships he built with other people on the force.  Maybe having a friend in evidence  could help you get something quicker out of storage on a cold case etc.  I hope this type of gameplay gets more integrated in to more games to let us control not only how our characters fight, but how they hold discussion, build relationships and find information.
 
On your main point I would also love to see failures just lead you down different paths, not game over.  I recall someone on Weekend confirmed talking about a shooter where if you get caught in one mission the next mission you play another character sent in to break your first character out.  That's cool, you can have discussions with your buddies on how your game played out vs. theirs.

Posted by RelentlessKnight

What are you talking about when you kill Playboy X, you will get the huge apartment/condo but when you kill Dwayne, you will get 10k. 
 
I always wanted to kill Playboy X and his annoying persona and felt bad for Dwayne because he didn't really have anybody only a hobo with a baseball bat while as Playboy has a gang that you must kill before executing him.
Posted by CarpetRemnant

I think the point you're making in this article is undercut by the game's own systems. When you fail a question in an interview why does it make it so abundantly clear that you failed it? It makes you know exactly where you've mis-stepped. Wouldn't the game be so much better if it kept any stats about your performance hidden from you until the end of the case? Then instead of knowing where the case is going based on how many questions you've answered incorrectly you might finish a case thinking you aced it and then get chewed out by the captain and have to think back over what you did to try and work out where you went wrong. 
 
If L.A. Noire was more like the game you've described in this article it would be almost perfect. As it is it's just exceptionally good.

Posted by MildMolasses

I agree completely with this. Its the reason I won't go back and replay ME2 in order to save everyone. The entire game built up to this suicide mission, and I was expecting people to not make it through. When it was all said and done I lost three people. And that is the save I'm taking into ME3. If I knew beforehand how to game that system and save everyone, it would have made the final area much less impactful
 
To try and force a "right" solution and ending, you stop playing the game how you want to, and instead force yourself to play to someone else's standards. Ultimately, I just don't
Posted by skrutop

I took the pad as well.  Fuck Dwayne.  Nah, seriously i felt bad about it, too.

Posted by orshick

The GTA4 example is a good one, but I think partly what made it work is that you never got any direct feedback from the game on weather you did the right or wrong thing. I'm quite frankly not sure how the LA Noire would have turned out if it didn't have the popup telling me that I was getting a question right or wrong, but having that feedback definitely feeds into the whole mentality of trying to get everything right in the game. It becomes easier to get tricked into thinking that getting the questions right leads to a better game play experience.

Posted by ZmillA

giantbomb needs more editorials

Posted by cooljammer00

Man, The Killer is like a worse version of that game about the bridge in Korea.  The one between NK and SK that tons of people die on.  You crawl through all this barbed wire only to be shot to death near the end.

Posted by PieGuy

I keep quiting and resuming when I fuck up the interrogations at the end of cases. I feel cheated with lie/doubt sort of things as lie tells you the evidence you need to prove it but the conversation doesn't seem to be going in that direction so I assume doubt.

Posted by Aaox

This is a very good article, which pertains to my interests!  
Every time I hear the 'fail' noise in L.A. Noire during an interview, the amount of pressure I put on myself to start from scratch is almost overwhelming.

Posted by Det1

slow day in the news?
I guess this IS an interesting way to approach reward/punishment in games though.

Posted by KillyDarko

I had "played" The Killer before, but couldn't help but experiencing it again. And once more I couldn't help but shed a few tears... It's one of the most beautiful things on the internet.

Posted by Kratch

I definitely enjoyed myself much more playing L.A. Noire when I consciously decided to let go of trying to perfectly solve every case, and just play the game, letting myself fail.  Once I got over this, I started to like the roller-coaster ups and downs of doing shitty on a case and then nailing the next one.

Posted by Helios1337

I would agree with the failing is okay thing if the game didn't pretty much play the price is right incorrect answer sound every time you select the "wrong" answer in an interrogation.