On Prince of Persia and making games too damn Easy.

Posted by Brackynews (4083 posts) -

A little while ago, a fellow made an interesting video, and declared the new PoP the most innovative game of 2008.  Slashdot then ran it under a story regarding the new PoP and Avoiding Wasted Time.  The whole thing smacks of a ludology seminar, which makes it exactly the kind of thing I like to wax philosophical about.

The articles centre around the concept of Penalty Free Learning; something the PoP franchise isn't a market leader in. Travellers Tales has had no-lose gameplay in the entire Lego series; Braid too.  Mr Young's point however is that PoP isn't cutesy.  It's both approachable and respectable as a game that non-gaming grownups can play.  It doesn't have a checkpoint system, so you never have to retrace your steps to progress. (Okay, let's ignore the game's whole mechanic of collecting orbs for this argument, eh?  I can't wade through that kind of irony... ;-)

My concern with this philosophy of game design, is that PC games have long had a god-mode as well, but I'd say that's universally regarded as cheating.  

Back in 1990 I wrote a letter to Nintendo Power, saying it would be great if all games had invincibility on the Easy difficulty, because a superhero like Batman never dies in the movies.  I'm so glad somebody finally listened! ;-)  Now I can trade-in my Game Genie.

Sorry, I can't see a line of distinction between the developer or the player "switching off" death.  I'm not convinced that it's "innovative" for the new PoP to become an extremely patient hand-eye-coordination trainer.  I'm pretty sure I'd learn faster playing Gradius.  Sands of Time and GRID have excellent limited-rewind features.  Part of your skill set becomes forecasting your severe mistakes to get the maximum chance for correction.  In Braid your mistakes become irrelevant, all results come from your success, and that made it the most satisfying puzzle game I played all year.

The notion of people wanting to "save time" in modern games is utterly foolish, as the current zeitgeist encourages completionist players.  Cases in point: WoW grinding; achievements; item collection metagames; multiple difficulties; time trials...  how many DAYS does it take to master completing an average 5-minute stage in less than 90 seconds?

Sure, sure, it's nice to hand the controller to my mother-in-law or grandfather or neice and watch them enjoy playing.  Yes, Rock Band 2 has a no-fail mode for a good reason.  But do you, a serious gamer, really want to keep paying $60 for a game that takes you 5 hours to finish in one sitting?  Wasn't Heavenly Sword ridiculed for that?  I'd say it was 5 hours of entertainment well spent, but it cost me $6 to rent.  I am very happy to value my entertainment time at $2 per hour.

With many console game developers trying to draw more casual players, and present a short cinematic experience, rather than a long narrative... I wonder is it possible that they're deliberately attempting to shift the industry to pay-per-play or digital rentals?  I don't want to play Boom Blox by myself, but I would absolutely pay $4 to activate it every time I set up the Wii with some friends.  The rumblings about disc-less consoles coming into the future generation would support this theory.  If casual gamers are where new profits are being found, that will inescapably result in making "hardcore" game properties more accessible to more players.

Grab a towel to wrap your console in, things are about to get watered down.

#1 Posted by Brackynews (4083 posts) -

A little while ago, a fellow made an interesting video, and declared the new PoP the most innovative game of 2008.  Slashdot then ran it under a story regarding the new PoP and Avoiding Wasted Time.  The whole thing smacks of a ludology seminar, which makes it exactly the kind of thing I like to wax philosophical about.

The articles centre around the concept of Penalty Free Learning; something the PoP franchise isn't a market leader in. Travellers Tales has had no-lose gameplay in the entire Lego series; Braid too.  Mr Young's point however is that PoP isn't cutesy.  It's both approachable and respectable as a game that non-gaming grownups can play.  It doesn't have a checkpoint system, so you never have to retrace your steps to progress. (Okay, let's ignore the game's whole mechanic of collecting orbs for this argument, eh?  I can't wade through that kind of irony... ;-)

My concern with this philosophy of game design, is that PC games have long had a god-mode as well, but I'd say that's universally regarded as cheating.  

Back in 1990 I wrote a letter to Nintendo Power, saying it would be great if all games had invincibility on the Easy difficulty, because a superhero like Batman never dies in the movies.  I'm so glad somebody finally listened! ;-)  Now I can trade-in my Game Genie.

Sorry, I can't see a line of distinction between the developer or the player "switching off" death.  I'm not convinced that it's "innovative" for the new PoP to become an extremely patient hand-eye-coordination trainer.  I'm pretty sure I'd learn faster playing Gradius.  Sands of Time and GRID have excellent limited-rewind features.  Part of your skill set becomes forecasting your severe mistakes to get the maximum chance for correction.  In Braid your mistakes become irrelevant, all results come from your success, and that made it the most satisfying puzzle game I played all year.

The notion of people wanting to "save time" in modern games is utterly foolish, as the current zeitgeist encourages completionist players.  Cases in point: WoW grinding; achievements; item collection metagames; multiple difficulties; time trials...  how many DAYS does it take to master completing an average 5-minute stage in less than 90 seconds?

Sure, sure, it's nice to hand the controller to my mother-in-law or grandfather or neice and watch them enjoy playing.  Yes, Rock Band 2 has a no-fail mode for a good reason.  But do you, a serious gamer, really want to keep paying $60 for a game that takes you 5 hours to finish in one sitting?  Wasn't Heavenly Sword ridiculed for that?  I'd say it was 5 hours of entertainment well spent, but it cost me $6 to rent.  I am very happy to value my entertainment time at $2 per hour.

With many console game developers trying to draw more casual players, and present a short cinematic experience, rather than a long narrative... I wonder is it possible that they're deliberately attempting to shift the industry to pay-per-play or digital rentals?  I don't want to play Boom Blox by myself, but I would absolutely pay $4 to activate it every time I set up the Wii with some friends.  The rumblings about disc-less consoles coming into the future generation would support this theory.  If casual gamers are where new profits are being found, that will inescapably result in making "hardcore" game properties more accessible to more players.

Grab a towel to wrap your console in, things are about to get watered down.

#2 Edited by daniel_beck_90 (3159 posts) -

What bothers me the most is about  Devil May cry franchise ,  Dante or Nero can get killed in the game even though they are actually invulnerable devils  .
 I should  also say that playing POP was a fresh experience for me though the game was not a completely Penalty Free one . there are moments in POP when losing a fight or failing to reach a surface is quite costly .

#3 Posted by Kilzombie (407 posts) -
daniel_beck_90 said:
 there are moments in POP when losing a fight or failing to reach a surface is quite costly ."
Yeah, especially in those platforming sections before the final bossfights and healings, especially near the very end of the game. I don't see PoP as a game without "death", I think of it as a quick reload without the annoying-and sometimes discouraging-GAME OVER screen. Because nothing says "you fail and can't play our game properly" more than having a game over screen.
#4 Posted by daniel_beck_90 (3159 posts) -
Kilzombie said:
"daniel_beck_90 said:
 there are moments in POP when losing a fight or failing to reach a surface is quite costly ."
Yeah, especially in those platforming sections before the final bossfights and healings, especially near the very end of the game. I don't see PoP as a game without "death", I think of it as a quick reload without the annoying-and sometimes discouraging-GAME OVER screen. Because nothing says "you fail and can't play our game properly" more than having a game over screen."
  yeah , it is as if the checkpoints are so frequent 
#5 Edited by TheGreatGuero (9130 posts) -

I don't know if I buy that it's being intentionally done to shift the industry more towards digital rentals. Though episodic content has been trying to make a rise, however I don't think it has had much success outside of Half-Life 2. Personally, I'm a little on the other side of the spectrum where I think games are too long these days. I'm not saying that I think they should all be 5 hours long or anything, but the average game these days is probably going to take you between 15-30 hours to complete, and that's not even considering the fact that just about every game has online multiplayer these days. Plus if you really want to get some good use out of online multiplayer, you're gonna need to spend some time with it, learning new techniques and levels and weapon spawn placement and all sorts of other stuff. That requires quite an investment from the players. Then, like you said, you got achievements and such encouraging players to do speedruns or replay through entire campaigns. That adds up to being quite a lot. I totally have more games than I have time to play these days, and I think it's quite disappointing because no doubt I'm gonna miss out on even having the opportunity to play many of the great recent games that have come out.

As for Prince of Persia, I really enjoyed the game. Heh, on it's difficulty... I think the hardest part for me was adjusting to the way you kind of have to let the game do most of the work for you. I'd keep trying to do more myself and would end up jumping to my death and such. I did get used to it, though, and you know, I can't really rip it all that much. I think it ends up working well, probably making the game more accessible to anyone, while still being entertaining. At times, I did find the fact that you couldn't die to be a bit annoying, but I never had that big of a problem with it. I did find it kind of amusing that you could kind of cheat with many orbs by just jumping out to your death to reach them, which the game allows in many instances. And hey, why wouldn't anyone do it? You just get warped right back up to where you were before the jump. Regardless, it still ended up being one of my favorite games of the year, despite the fact that I had barely any interest in it prior to it's release.

#6 Posted by pause422 (6188 posts) -

Let me just say this right off the bat dude- The new PoP, everything about it, it was making it clear it was going for a super easymode game. If you're holding that against it, that doesn't make much sense. It's doing what it aimed to do from the start, even I am  not one to like super easy games really, but I wouldn't complain about one that made that clear from the start that it was going for that type of experience. It was made so clear in what it was going for, its like complaining that Half Life is being played through a first person perspective, its pointless because its doing what they intended.

#7 Edited by Jayge_ (10221 posts) -

Ease of difficulty regarding the rest of the game or not, the only difference between falling off of a ledge in Prince of Persia and falling off of a ledge or dying in Mario or something is that you don't have to load to some retarded black screen offering you a chance to give up every time you want to continue. It just nicely lets Elika save you and sets you on your merry way. It's the exact same mechanic you've seen in many other games for over 30 years, it just got streamlined and made much less aggravating. I could see how it might annoy someone that they never get a "real" penalty for falling off a ledge (lose a life star, or something), but otherwise, incessant whining about that being a bastion of the game's "too easy"-image is ridiculous.

#8 Posted by Hamz (6846 posts) -
Jayge said:
"Ease of difficulty regarding the rest of the game or not, the only difference between falling off of a ledge in Prince of Persia and falling off of a ledge or dying in Mario or something is that you don't have to load to some retarded black screen offering you a change to give up every time you want to continue. It just nicely lets Elika save you and sets you on your merry way. It's the exact same mechanic you've seen in many other games for over 30 years, it just got streamlined and made much less aggravating. I could see how it might annoy someone that they never get a "real" penalty for falling off a ledge (lose a life star, or something), but otherwise, incessant whining about that being a bastion of the game's "too easy"-image is ridiculous."
I admit I haven't played the new PoP yet but I did watch the gameplay marathon over at Gamespot from start to finish and that was the first thing I noticed. PoP just seems to remove the time and annoyance of loading a previous save or having to watch your character reset through loading screens to continue after a fatal mistake on your part. Instead it just whisks Elika into the mix to save you and get you back into the game without having to waste a few minutes watching loading screens.

Very well written post matey!
#9 Posted by Brackynews (4083 posts) -

I agree with all the commenters that the upshot of these no-death mechanics for us as players is reduced frustration.  It absolutely cuts out the middleman of saving and loading... but that's a modern thing.  The way technology and commerce have evolved is a big factor.  Arcade games needed to end abruptly for profit.   Imagine if arcades never existed, or if 1 quarter was all it took?  Is there an incentive in playing Pac-Man if you can't lose and don't care about score?  What makes it fun?  What makes your heart-rate go up?  The risk and inevitability of being eaten.  The fear and excitement of that is primal.

Jayge: It's the exact same mechanic you've seen in many other games for over 30 years, it just got streamlined and made much less aggravating.
Multiple lives and continuing are absolutely 30 year old mechanics.  But considering 1978 saw Space War and Space Invaders in the arcades, I think we're looking at a more recent phenomenon in terms of user control. 

Rogue was about 1980, and I'd wager that was one of the first games with the potential to save your status for the long haul or an untimely end, with Wizardry and Ultima soon after.  And most early 80s games had a variety of ways to cheat.  How about King's Quest in 1984, a wrong step could mean instant death, and usually an embarrassing game over.  Sierra wore that "trial and error" badge proudly, and I think we can thank them for the mantra "Save early, Save often!"

Pause422: It's doing what it aimed to do from the start, even I am  not one to like super easy games really, but I wouldn't complain about one that made that clear from the start that it was going for that type of experience. It was made so clear in what it was going for, its like complaining that Half Life is being played through a first person perspective, its pointless because its doing what they intended.
I like this, because it highlights the importance of transparency.  Mega Man 9 makes no apologies for its difficulty, and Fallout 3 makes no apologies for its complexity and length.  That itself helps to explain why Fallout 3 has quick save/load and MM9 doesn't.  Using emulators with save states certainly helps the appeal of retro gaming, and that's a perk of PC gaming that consoles didn't give us until recently.

So let's get back to the original question.  if a game is designed from the ground up to be approachable and minimize frustration, while also giving you an entertaining experience, does that make it innovative

Or...does that make it an interactive movie?

#10 Posted by Kilzombie (407 posts) -
Brackynews said:
So let's get back to the original question.  if a game is designed from the ground up to be approachable and minimize frustration, while also giving you an entertaining experience, does that make it innovative

Or...does that make it an interactive movie?

I don't see why it can't be a little of both. In terms of gameplay, I think all they did was take the basic platforming elements, made them look extremely pretty, then just stuck it in the game. But they did design the perfect companion AI, Elika, so in terms of companion AI, they've really raised the bar here.
#11 Posted by Lunarbunny (1025 posts) -

I played the PC version. Consoles have typically been more limited in saving ability for various reasons, but that's changing too, especially because consoles are now using hard drives and therefore can have the same amount of non-volatile memory as your desktop computer. But as a PC gamer, I'm used to excessive saving and quick-saving. This is basically doing what I'd do anyway - hit the quicksave before a puzzle, then quickload about the time I realize I fucked up. Basically it's automatically hitting quicksave for me at every major platform, and Elika's little fly-in-and-save-my-ass routine is the quickload.

#12 Posted by Oni (2098 posts) -
Brackynews said:
"The notion of people wanting to "save time" in modern games is utterly foolish, as the current zeitgeist encourages completionist players.  Cases in point: WoW grinding; achievements; item collection metagames; multiple difficulties; time trials...  how many DAYS does it take to master completing an average 5-minute stage in less than 90 seconds?"
I don't buy that argument at all. That stuff is in there for the hardcore, for the completionists. The average person doesn't care for points that much, and certainly a newcomer wouldn't. Stuff like that does nothing to rope in new players.

What bothers me about PoP is not the lack of a true death mechanic, but the fact that the is already so easy all by itself. It almost plays itself in the platforming parts. Here you have this game with a design philosophy that encourages experimentation and learning, but with gameplay that doesn't really require that at all. It could've been more challenging by keeping the Elika system, but by requiring more on the player's part for the paltforming. A happy medium between Mirror's Edge and PoP, if you will. A missed opportunity.

As a side note, I did really enjoy the game despite auto-platforming, and combat was actually quite challenging at times (Concubine especially).
#13 Posted by LiquidPrince (15952 posts) -

Prince of Persia perfected the instant reload. It's quick and painless, and integrated directly into the story.

#14 Posted by TheHT (11300 posts) -

All that PoP 08 did was cut that intermediary situation where you reload your latest save game. Honestly, everyone does that. When you die, you reload the last save game. I don't see how people can complain about it (some, believe it or not, do) and I don't see how it can be highly praised.

I supposed cutting out the middle man while making the move from dead to alive is technically an innovation, but it's not a deal-maker innovation.

Something being made from the ground up to be approachable, minimize frustration, and still provide a (generally) entertaining experience isn't really an innovation. I really don't think developers start a project with the mindset of "we're gonna make something difficult to pick up, absolutely tedious, and probably not that fun".

It's all about what the game does differently in terms of mechanics that makes it really innovative or not. Of course it's preferable that the title succeeds in executing that mechanic, otherwise it's just a nice thought.

Video games can essentially be interactive movies but to varying degrees. I think that's just a matter of genre instead of the intentions of a designer being to make something accessible and not annoying and just plain old fun. I really don't see how a developer doing just that has to be considered either innovative or an interactive movie.

#15 Posted by Rowr (5671 posts) -
Oni said:
"Brackynews said:
"The notion of people wanting to "save time" in modern games is utterly foolish, as the current zeitgeist encourages completionist players.  Cases in point: WoW grinding; achievements; item collection metagames; multiple difficulties; time trials...  how many DAYS does it take to master completing an average 5-minute stage in less than 90 seconds?"
I don't buy that argument at all. That stuff is in there for the hardcore, for the completionists. The average person doesn't care for points that much, and certainly a newcomer wouldn't. Stuff like that does nothing to rope in new players."
Totally agree with Oni. Often i dont have the time or will to do all of that extra mumbo jumbo (how much time can you spend collecting shit in how many different game? for me the mechanic is played out) , and its nice every now and then in a game not to have it weighing on my mind that i wont get to it all. Personally it pisses me off to no end when games ramp up difficulty, or add all sorts of extra metagame shit just to extend the length of the game. How many DAYS do i want to play a game where im spending all my time meanlessly collecting shit without advancing the story? I might as well be at work.


I wrote this in response to another blog, but i wanted to mention it so : repost.

Kazona said:
"But even so, I still found the boss fights to be sufficiently challenging for the simple reason that I didn't want Elika to need Elika to save my ass.."
Yeh i found that aswell. I felt failure enough with that, I didnt need the game to punish me further. In some ways it worse than some sort of in game punishment, especially with the tendency GAME OVER screens and respawns tend to take you out of the game.

If there had been some sort of small bit where you could see she was dissapointed with you, i think that goes a whole lot further than some arbitary gameplay punishment, and is a concept i would love to see pushed further in games.

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