This Blog Post is Punishing the Player

In playing a game, more than likely you will eventually come across a side-mission or scripted event. This side-mission or event lies in wait until you, the player, trigger it.

Imagine this scenario:
You are playing a game and have just been tasked to getting a herb located in the mountains or else the blacksmith in town who can craft your special weapons dies. So what do you do? Time to level grind for a bit during this side mission while the game sits and waits for you to return with the herb to continue the side-story. Several hours later (probably several days in game time) you return to the town with the herb, heal the blacksmith, and you get your special weapons.

What should happen? So you spend a few hours level grinding and return with the herb to heal the blacksmith. Only this time you spent too long in grinding, the blacksmith died, and no one else knows the secret for making your special weapons. All is not lost however! Prior to triggering the side-mission the game auto-saves and now you have two choices: lose all the level grinding you did, but get another chance to get the herb and save the blacksmith or keep going on with your higher levels, but losing out on finishing this particular side-mission.

Too often, games present challenges for the player that don't really punish indecisivness or taking too much time. Instead the game just sits there waiting for the player to finish before it continues. Imagine near the beginning of Bioshock, just after Jack injects himself with a plasmid for the first time. You use your newly aquired electrobolt to trigger the door and walk though; suddenly you see the plane that had sunk earlier crash into the corridor and the door you just walked though locks behind you. Glass is beginning to crack and leak and through the murky water you see a parallel corridor implode from the pressure of the sea.

These scripted events work to build a sense or urgency for the player, and for their part works well. However, as a player I could just sit in that corridor all day and the game will just wait until I have move into the next room. What should happen is that after a certain amount of time, the corridor you're passing though should finally give way and implode, whether you are still in it or not. Should you still be in the corridor when it does implode then it's game over, load up the previous check point or save.

Environmental interaction is another lost opportunity, though this may be due to budget restraints and hardware limitations. Bioshock again, this time in a room with large vaulted ceilings and huge windows showcasing the ocean floor below. As a player, you have a rocket launcher and continually fire it at the window. Eventually the glass should begin to crack and finally buckel under pressure and break, flooding the room.

It is understandable that not everything can implemented with this current generation of hardware, PCs included. However, I would like to see game development step more in this direction, where side-missions and scripted events have negative repercussions for not following though correctly. Games as a medium are about interaction, that is what sets them apart from other entertainment; and part of that interaction are the wrong choices the player may make. Think along the lines of the original Dragon's Lair: there are multiple outcomes in each room that face Dirk. Now add to that more direct player control; sure your could do many different things in this room, but not all things you do will let you leave alive.


tl;dr
Just wanting to see more negative repurcussions in player interactivity.
Take too long to finish a side-mission, you won't be able to finish it; blow a hole in the wall holding water in, you drown.

11 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by Eelcire

In playing a game, more than likely you will eventually come across a side-mission or scripted event. This side-mission or event lies in wait until you, the player, trigger it.

Imagine this scenario:
You are playing a game and have just been tasked to getting a herb located in the mountains or else the blacksmith in town who can craft your special weapons dies. So what do you do? Time to level grind for a bit during this side mission while the game sits and waits for you to return with the herb to continue the side-story. Several hours later (probably several days in game time) you return to the town with the herb, heal the blacksmith, and you get your special weapons.

What should happen? So you spend a few hours level grinding and return with the herb to heal the blacksmith. Only this time you spent too long in grinding, the blacksmith died, and no one else knows the secret for making your special weapons. All is not lost however! Prior to triggering the side-mission the game auto-saves and now you have two choices: lose all the level grinding you did, but get another chance to get the herb and save the blacksmith or keep going on with your higher levels, but losing out on finishing this particular side-mission.

Too often, games present challenges for the player that don't really punish indecisivness or taking too much time. Instead the game just sits there waiting for the player to finish before it continues. Imagine near the beginning of Bioshock, just after Jack injects himself with a plasmid for the first time. You use your newly aquired electrobolt to trigger the door and walk though; suddenly you see the plane that had sunk earlier crash into the corridor and the door you just walked though locks behind you. Glass is beginning to crack and leak and through the murky water you see a parallel corridor implode from the pressure of the sea.

These scripted events work to build a sense or urgency for the player, and for their part works well. However, as a player I could just sit in that corridor all day and the game will just wait until I have move into the next room. What should happen is that after a certain amount of time, the corridor you're passing though should finally give way and implode, whether you are still in it or not. Should you still be in the corridor when it does implode then it's game over, load up the previous check point or save.

Environmental interaction is another lost opportunity, though this may be due to budget restraints and hardware limitations. Bioshock again, this time in a room with large vaulted ceilings and huge windows showcasing the ocean floor below. As a player, you have a rocket launcher and continually fire it at the window. Eventually the glass should begin to crack and finally buckel under pressure and break, flooding the room.

It is understandable that not everything can implemented with this current generation of hardware, PCs included. However, I would like to see game development step more in this direction, where side-missions and scripted events have negative repercussions for not following though correctly. Games as a medium are about interaction, that is what sets them apart from other entertainment; and part of that interaction are the wrong choices the player may make. Think along the lines of the original Dragon's Lair: there are multiple outcomes in each room that face Dirk. Now add to that more direct player control; sure your could do many different things in this room, but not all things you do will let you leave alive.


tl;dr
Just wanting to see more negative repurcussions in player interactivity.
Take too long to finish a side-mission, you won't be able to finish it; blow a hole in the wall holding water in, you drown.

Posted by MB

The reason you don't see more of this in current games is that it doesn't sound very fun. Games are supposed to be fun, you know. Punish players too much and they won't play the game.

Moderator
Posted by Eelcire

I don't disagree with your comment, but at the same time make the game too easy and I get bored. My post wasn't really a calling out to punish everything the player did, but to offer more consequences for not following through. And there is fun to be had in finding where developers thought ahead in what the players might try.

In playing Tales of Vesperia I had been trying to maximize the cooking abilities of all the players; this meant making the same food over and over. A scripted event eventually came up of the characters complaining about eating the same thing all the time. What my post was about was taking this one step further, what if making the same food over and over ended up lowering stats temporary instead of increasing them? It would certainly encourage me to try out different recipies.

Posted by HandsomeDead
MB said:
"Games are supposed to be fun, you know."
But that's what's making games stale. Making them fun is basically enforcing a single genre and the conventions are becoming really so apparent.
Posted by iAmJohn

What you're suggesting is exactly why people hated Dead Rising.

Posted by JJOR64
MB said:
"The reason you don't see more of this in current games is that it doesn't sound very fun. Games are supposed to be fun, you know. Punish players too much and they won't play the game."
MB is right.  That's like in the very first Mario Party.  In some mini-games if you lose, you actually lost coins.  When ever this happened to me I got pissed off.
Edited by Eelcire
iAmJohn said:
"What you're suggesting is exactly why people hated Dead Rising."
I loved Dead Rising, could do so much stuff! But you also had to time everything if you wanted to try to save everyone; you needed to know where to be and when. Why it worked was Frank didn't lose his stats on each subsequent replay, and so each time you played through there was more moves to gain and higher stats. At the same time though, you could lose survivors even after they were in the safe rooms.

JJOR64 said:
"MB said:
"The reason you don't see more of this in current games is that it doesn't sound very fun. Games are supposed to be fun, you know. Punish players too much and they won't play the game."
MB is right.  That's like in the very first Mario Party.  In some mini-games if you lose, you actually lost coins.  When ever this happened to me I got pissed off."
Well, Mario Party isn't quite the type of game I had in mind when I wrote this.
Posted by pissedoffthewitch

mario party yeah i agree

Posted by Swish

I completly agree with everything you said.. except in bioshock the reason the glass didn't break is because you wern't kindly asked to destroy the glass with a rocket launcher
I always find this problem worst in rpgs where like an entire city is about to be destroyed if you don't hurry but you can always explore for another hour or so and then wander over if you feel like it and then it feels completely broken when you rush to a location to save somebody and they are already dead, why not give me the chance or atleast perceived chance to direct the outcome of my actions.

Posted by TekZero

I agree with you.  I'd love to see the storyline in rpg's actually cater to the character you choose to play.  Say you played through the entire game as the most evil being on the planet, you shouldn't get an option to save that planet and have everyone live in peace at the end.  You're freaking evil, your only option should be to enslave those same people.  The final big decision underwrites every morality system in games... What's the point in playing evil if there's no pay off in the end?  Mass Effect, Fallout 3 are 2 games that immediately come to mind that do this.

A good game that doesn't do this....Fallout 2.

Posted by Swish

Mass effect kind of does, but it also rewards you for it, but mass effect 2 may redeem that fact and fallout 3 had a broken ending whether you were good or evil.
I think this ties into the discussion destructoid had on whether a game should delete your previous save when you make a moral choice so you care about it more. Right now even if your actions directly affected a certain scernio just by how you played it out, it wouldn't really have a bearing on the importance of what has happened if you can just load a save a see what the other choice would have done. For example say the blacksmith scernio did play out and he died after you grinded for a couple of hours, whats to stop you from saving that game and then reloading to the time before he died, you could see the benefits of his life (aka the strength of the magic weapon) and compare that to the value of time you spent grinding.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Really good point.  I think things like this would inject a bit more vitality in games which, to me, feel a bit too safe. 

I felt the same way about, and have always wanted to talk about, this exact feeling I got while playing Final Fantasy VII.  The comet (or whatever it was) draws close to the planet, but it waits for you to grind and complete all these insane side quests.  That in itself is not too big a deal, but it robs the story of all its weight.  It's more a way for people with a bit of the compulsive need to complete everything not to feel like the door shut in their face.  But really, it's what gaming should experiment more often.  It helps with the replay value, especially if both options don't shut the game down completely.

Since video games sort of invite experimentation with the player, it wouldn't hurt to help make the world feel more like those experiments have consequences. 

I'm not suggesting we go back to constant reloads or arbitrary deaths, but like you say, when these decisions matter, make them really matter in the context of the game itself.  Go too far in one direction and everything feels safe, but wan.  Go too far in the other direction, though, and old schoolers like me might be amused, but maybe it's OK we've moved on from the save-game wrecking bad decision. 

The autosave decision gate idea is a welcome remedy to the latter!