Gods Will Be Watching, But They've Chilled Out

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patrickklepek

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Edited By patrickklepek

When a developer re-balances a game after release, it usually means tweaking a variable here and there, not three new game modes. But that's what happened with Gods Will Be Watching, a pixelated tour of death.

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Gods Will Be Watching is tense, heartbreaking, and hard as hell. In a recent patch, dubbed "The Mercy Update," developer Deconstructeam went back into the code and significantly retooled it.

Here's what Deconstructeam added:

  • Puzzle Mode: All the challenge of Original Mode, but without random factors in play. If you want to remove the element of chance from the game, this is the mode for you.
  • Puzzle Mode Light: The easier version of the game that also removes random factors and chance. If you want to remove the element of chance and face easier puzzles, this is the mode for you.
  • Narrative Mode: The easiest mode and a way to enjoy the game as a narrative experience, without a heavy challenge.

Those changes, especially the inclusion of Narrative Mode, suggest a pretty radical shift in thinking, even if it doesn't preclude players from experiencing Gods Will Be Watching in its original form. The update only adds new options, and doesn't take anything away from the game. You're free to enjoy the game's punishment.

The original game jam prototype for Gods Will Be Watching prompted such an enormous response that Deconstructeam expanded the project's scope, and built a whole game out of it. The game jam version was brutally difficult, as well, and I never ended up seeing the credits roll back when I played it for Worth Playing.

To get a better sense of what prompted Deconstructeam to mess with its game again, I emailed over some questions to game director Jordi de Paco. Here's what he got back to me with:

Giant Bomb: One assumes you released the game in a state you were happy with. What moment did you realize "well, maybe we need to revisit this"?

Jordi de Paco: Well, we were happy, and we are happy, but I have to confess that we were afraid of the reaction of the players after releasing a heavy challenge like this. And, yes, we got a lot of complaints and harsh feedback. But on the other hand, we got to connect with the kind of players we are, who were expecting a game that doesn't hold their hands, and they enjoyed the challenge. It's been great to discover there are a lot of people to which we can appeal with our kind of games. However, as game developers, we want as many people as possible to play--and enjoy--our games, so we analysed carefully all the feedback from players who found the experience frustrating and came with a way of making the game more accessible to all kind of players.

Giant Bomb: Can you talk about the play testing and balancing you did while the game was in development? How did you arrive at what the game shipped with?

De Paco: Originally, the game was even more difficult. We ran this through a lot of players who kindly offered to suffer the terrors of Gods Will Be Watching, and we set the bar where eight out of 10 players were able to beat the game. What we most had to improve was the communication of the game. The hardest challenge in Gods Will Be Watching is communicating failure properly, since there's a lot of things going on at the same time, and the worst that can happen is a player not knowing why they keep failing. We knew there would be still players who wouldn't be able to beat the original experience, but, well, if we wanted to appeal the more hardcore puzzle solvers we had to do it this way!

Giant Bomb: In the press release, you mentioned wanting to make the game "as accessible as possible to every kind of player." Does every game need to be accessible?

De Paco: I don't think so. I mean, making Dark Souls more accessible would make it less appealing for its hardcore audience. But the nature of Gods Will Be Watching allowed us to easily set different levels of challenge. In the end, making it more accessible or not is a decision of the developer, and we felt like Gods Will Be Watching was something that could be enjoyable even as a narrative experience. Seeing that a lot of people were expecting that instead of a hardcore puzzler game, and that we are able to deliver that experience, we went for it.

Giant Bomb: When the team decided to revisit the game's difficulty, where did you start? Clearly, you didn't stop with just including an "easy" mode.

De Paco: The most important cause of the frustration of the players who found the original experience too harsh was the element of chance. When I designed Gods Will Be Watching, I saw that as a way to let the player decide among the amount of risk vs. reward they wanted to take, so you can decide if to play it safer but spending more resources, or you can decide to take your chances when drastic measures are needed. The problem is that there’s an 80% chance it can still go wrong. For some players, that's perceived as unfair, and for others, it just felt natural--as we feel about it. So, the Puzzle Mode's purpose is to keep all the challenge of the original but remove all the luck involved in solving the scenarios, so it's plain fair for everybody. Also, there's the narrative mode for the ones who were expecting more of an interactive story rather than heavy puzzles. We are trying to please as players as much as possible.

"We were afraid of the reaction of the players after releasing a heavy challenge like this."

Giant Bomb: From what I read, the "chance" moments are what really bothered some players. Can you talk about why the game had such moments?

De Paco: There are several reasons. The first is to make every playthrough different. Secondly, it's so there’s not a scripted way of solving a puzzle, so you have to keep adapting your strategy as the puzzle progresses. But I have to say that the element of chance is not an issue if you solve the puzzle. Players who "solve" every situation are able to succeed again and again since if you discover the patterns which rule every chapter. It's not a challenge anymore, but it keeps being interesting, since you always have to adapt you strategies to what the luck element throws in your way.

Giant Bomb: Do you think you're done tinkering with the game's difficulty?

De Paco: Yeah, I think that going any easier wouldn't do any good for the game, because without any challenge, sacrifice loses all of its meaning. And, also, there were these kind of super-players who reported they found the game too easy in its hardest difficulty so... It's impossible to make it rain in the way everybody wants. Five difficulties are enough for Gods Will Be Watching.

Giant Bomb: Generally speaking, what's are the big lessons from this experience, ones the team will take forward to future projects?

De Paco: Making games is hard. Making a game which is loved by most of the players is harder. But, in the end, I believe it's about making the games you want, because this job it's really demanding. If you're not doing something that you really love, working way too many hours a day from Monday to Sunday is definitely impossible. We'll probably keep getting better at entertaining other people as we keep making games, but there's no such thing as improving without making mistakes.

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morningstar

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#1  Edited By morningstar

Neat game. Play it on easy =)

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Wlleiotl

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its a shame that they had to do this, but fair play to them for doing it. hopefully people who (unfairly) wrote it off will give it another chance, and maybe after trying it on the easy levels, go back to the original and realise they were wrong

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LarryDavis

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#3  Edited By LarryDavis

Good for them, because the random factors totally ruined it for me.

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Ghostiet

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As someone who believes that the game has to be experienced in the "original" hardcore way to be properly experienced and to have its moral dimension explored the best, it's a bit of a shame, but good on them for being elastic.

Although it's a shame that people failed to get the idea behind it.

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L44

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#5  Edited By L44

Making games is really fucking hard. Don't stop doing what you're doing.

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nicolenomicon

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#6  Edited By nicolenomicon

I'm glad they did this, if it means more people will play it. But on the other hand I think playing that game in any way other than the most brutal difficulty is completely missing the point.

I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that I will probably never beat chapter 3. Whenever I play GWBW I feel dirty and terrible and wrong, and I feel like I would be a worse person for having finished it, if I ever did so. I love the story and the characters, and the intense management puzzles they provide, but that feeling of being somehow a bad person was what I treasured most of all with my time with it.

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Ghostiet

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I'm glad they did this, if it means more people will play it. But on the other hand I think playing that game in any way other than the most brutal difficulty is completely missing the point.

I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that I will probably never beat chapter 3. Whenever I play GWBW I feel dirty and terrible and wrong, and I feel like I would be a worse person for having finished it, if I ever did so. I love the story and the characters, and the intense management puzzles they provide, but that feeling of being somehow a bad person was what I treasured most of all with my time with it.

Pretty much. The game bought me when it introduced a 100% random element in the torture sequence, since it meant that I need to stop being sentimental and have Jack absorb some fucking punishment instead of pussyfooting to get through the puzzle. It's the first time a video game made me act pragmatic to finish it.

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Humanity

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#8  Edited By Humanity

As a person that played it I can tell you that the patch was necessary if they wanted their experience to be enjoyable. Myst offers interesting puzzles. Braid offers fun puzzles. Even Fez has good puzzle solving. GWBW isn't logically challenging - since the puzzle is readily apparent after only a few minutes in each chapter. The challenge comes from the randomness in some encounters, and the monotony of each chapter that drags on for 40 minutes at a time asking the player to repeat the same handful of actions over and over.

I'm surprised they did testing and no one told them that the game is tiring instead of challenging. I think it's a good story, and a really interesting approach, but no this doesn't have to be experienced in the original difficulty to be understood or appreciated in any way. If we were to make an analogy to Dark Souls then Gods Will be Watching is like playing the entirety of Dark Souls without leveling and only using your fists - an unnecessarily grueling and long winded experience.

This all may sound kind of harsh but I just don't agree with their reaction that they made a difficult but fair game and now they're dumbing it down for the general public. Their game was not properly balanced and even people that enjoyed the beginning would single out later levels as relying too much on random factors to complete.

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GeneralBison

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#9  Edited By GeneralBison

A lot of people don't seem to realise that there is a difference between difficulty and chance. Sticking to the Dark Souls analogy, it's the difference between having the game the way it is and randomly having enemies be invincible and in no way communicating this to the player. It's not difficulty, it's dumb luck.

@Humanity: Fancy seeing you here! Totally agree with you there.

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extintor

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I might have another go at this now. The frustration level was just too high when I played it before.

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Rowr

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I actually appreciate the hard difficulty, but personally I stopped at the second chapter after replaying 8 times, the repetition was a little much especially given the scenario. I want to go back to it, not sure if i'll lower the difficulty or not.

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jackelbeaver

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#12  Edited By jackelbeaver

The Russian Roulette situation is the only thing that i've seen that was insurmountable. you can die on the first chance. you can save up one lie and confess 3 times safely, but you need to survive longer than 4 turns on that day. i literally died on the FIRST revolver shot the last time i played, 1 out of 7 chance. that is the only part that felt like bullshit. its a dice roll 20 minutes into a chapter that you have no control over. its the one part of the game i've seen most people agree was unfair.

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veektarius

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I really, really hated the original flash game, so nothing they do will get me onboard. I suppose that means I'm not in the target audience, though.

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Anjon

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"But I have to say that the element of chance is not an issue if you solve the puzzle. Players who "solve" every situation are able to succeed again and again since if you discover the patterns which rule every chapter."

Is he implying that there's a pattern or rule to the infamous Russian Roulette sequence that makes it consistently beatable? If so, he probably could have just told people what it was and avoided this whole thing, no?

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Brackstone

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As others have said, this developer seems to misunderstand what the problem with their game was. In Dark Souls, when you fail, everything stays the same, so you can learn from your mistakes and succeed on new attempts.You learn and gain skills.

In Gods Will Be Watching, very little content actually changes between attempts (maybe a line of dialogue, that's it), but the amount of random variables can indeed put people in impossible situations, forcing them to replay the section again with no real new content or knowledge of how to improve. It was both unfairly random, and monotonous. There's not much I can learn from an experience when my hunter fails his 70% chance to hunt 5 times in a row and we all die of starvation.

Now, some missions were worse for this than others, and sometimes you'd get a lucky run, but there was a fundamental problem with the game's perception of balance and random factors. With these new modes, I might recommend the game, but honestly, this will do nothing to quell the monotony of each individual chapter.

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thevgamer

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It's amazing how fast one's trust in a company can vanish into thin air. One minute they're the future of entertainment and the other you're incredibly disappointed in them. Just one fuck up is all that takes to undermine years of work.

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Zaxex

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I don't usually like too much of a challenge, especially those involving luck, but I loved Gods Will Be Watching. I'm all the happier for having beaten it before these updates too. I understand the reasoning behind the updates too, I don't expect most people have the patience for GWBW as it was released.

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Murdoc_

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I really want to love this game and I keep going back to it, but christ, I can't get past the first intro mission... so I really have no expectations that I'll ever get through the game.

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Brendan

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@wlleiotl: Or maybe they weren't wrong, and an easier difficulty is perfect for them. The difficulty you like isn't going away.

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cyberfunk

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The random moments were the best parts of that game.It taking every decision really hard.

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Wlleiotl

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#21  Edited By Wlleiotl
@brendan said:

@wlleiotl: Or maybe they weren't wrong, and an easier difficulty is perfect for them. The difficulty you like isn't going away.

what does that even mean? i would hope that people can learn the systems on an easier difficulty and then maybe go back to the real game and realise they were a bit hasty in dismissing the original. you seem to be projecting something that isnt there

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bacongames

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I'm actually curious how narrative mode affects the mechanics. Difficulty is ultimately a bit of a red herring if tedium and/or monotony is the real drag. Certainly that can also vary from player to player but built within the structure of the game is a cloud of obfuscation in front of the player that isn't about role play but execution. Gods Will Be Watching seemed more about solving the meta-puzzle of getting through the scenario, which might work against the player's interest to keep playing if they've failed once or twice and immediately see it as going through the motions to try different combinations just to get through.

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nemesis208

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I gave up on chapter 5. The randomness of the map was just too frustrating. The game worked for me up to that point. They did a good job of letting you know the status of the situation in all the scenarios before so you could make the best possible decision, but with chapter 5, there was no way of knowing if you were doing it correctly as it seem each next encounter was totally random, one which leads to an instant fail. I had no idea if I was improving in my decision making for that chapter.

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Hailinel

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#24  Edited By Hailinel

Basing difficulty on invisible die rolls does not strike me as an ideal way to implement challenge. It discourages learning from trial and error by leaning too heavily on random elements. What the game ideally needed was better puzzle design that didn't require random elements to be challenging.

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Ghostiet

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@hailinel said:

Basing difficulty on invisible die rolls does not strike me as an ideal way to implement challenge. It discourages learning from trial and error by leaning too heavily on random elements. What the game ideally needed was better puzzle design that didn't require random elements to be challenging.

I felt it actually worked so well precisely because it was random chance - it encouraged the player to be elastic with his moral compass. Once you start getting out of the mindset that you are saving everyone and start cutting corners, the way its puzzles are structured starts making sense.

On its intended difficulty, it's not a game about finding the perfect sequence. It's a game of "where can I compromise my morals to get by and feel the least shitty about it". It clicked to me early on when I made a promise to be sexist and not be aggressive with the female hostage. I ended up finishing that chapter by shooting her in the leg so I wouldn't have to handle both kicking her so she wouldn't get too cocky and negotiating with the SWAT team.

It's kind of brilliant, because most games rarely make your moral choices to be something else than sociopath/saint or Hitler/Stalin, let alone forcing you to be practical about the shit you do. It doesn't appeal to everyone, but to me the choice for the game to be about so many random elements that they make you cut corners to even finish a segment is genius.

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mixmixmixmix

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Nice of them to do this.. The first time I encountered the revolver, end credits. Unacceptable in any game for me, personally. So jaded from the experience I can't bring myself to come back.

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GERALTITUDE

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Cool interview! I still need to finish this game so maybe I'll do it in Puzzle Mode. I talked to Jordi de Paco over email once and he seemed like a super dude. I hope the game was successful and him and Deconstructeam keep making games.

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Brackstone

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@ghostiet: The problem is, there's very little moral choice to be had. At no point did I feel like I made a tough moral decision, and at no point did I feel like doing something morally challenging would help my situation. I wasn't failing a mission because I was trying to keep someone alive rather than kill them so there would be more food to go around. I was failing the mission because the act of hunting had a die roll associated with it, or because bad die rolls would put me in a position that was impossible to escape no matter how elastic my moral compass was.

It doesn't help that the characters you make these decisions about aren't very complex or fleshed out, and due to story reasons, any tough moral decisions you might make are almost completely disregarded.

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burgavo

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Really enjoyed what I played of it but I got stuck in the desert and kind of lost interest after a couple of failed atempts, this might get me back in though.

nice write up patrick

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deactivated-5e49e9175da37

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2004: "Remember how stupid artificial difficulty was?"

2014: "Remember how great artificial difficulty was?!"

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thatdudeguy

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I'm sure looking forward to playing the new game modes. I didn't really see the fun or moral consequence heightened by individual random die rolls for success. I also didn't get great feedback from my random failures (can I optimize the odds of the hunter succeeding? I dunno.) I do enjoy FTL quite a bit, which makes me wonder if the difference between the two was how much I feel like I learned from a run and how effectively I could apply that knowledge on the next.

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gexecuter

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Nice article patrick! I wonder if you played the game to completion. I couldn't because the times i lost chapter 4 because of a random thing killed my motivation to go back, i was playing original. Even tough i could play in the new difficulties i would have to start from the beginning and that doesn't entices me very much.

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Anytus2007

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#33  Edited By Anytus2007

@thatdudeguy: I think the primary factors that differentiate random factors in a Roguelike from what's being talked about here are consequences and variance.

First on variance, a Roguelike has TONS of die rolls, each of which affect your game only a tiny amount. Any single bad roll is unlikely to end your playing experience and you can usually work around it. Because there are so many more rolls that combine to create your experience, your run is usually close to an average roll overall and then every now and then an incredibly unlikely set of rolls spices things up. Then you can start learning and planning. It's predictable enough that you can have a plan and then adjust as needed.

Consequences tie into this in that random rolls in a properly balanced Roguelike basically can't, by themselves, kill you. They can make things quite difficult but you basically always 'see' a way around the problem areas. But when the random roll kicks you straight to a 'GAME OVER' state then you might have a problem. It'd probably be better even if the random roll put you in an impossible situation and then something else killed you rather than the roll itself kicking you to credits. I think part of what GWBW needed was an even bigger continuum of 'failure states' where play continues despite the random rolls in a meaningful way.

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AssInAss

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Too many games right now, I have this in my library but haven't found the time to get to it :P

Thanks for the article, Patrick!

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Humanity

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@ghostiet said:

@hailinel said:

Basing difficulty on invisible die rolls does not strike me as an ideal way to implement challenge. It discourages learning from trial and error by leaning too heavily on random elements. What the game ideally needed was better puzzle design that didn't require random elements to be challenging.

I felt it actually worked so well precisely because it was random chance - it encouraged the player to be elastic with his moral compass. Once you start getting out of the mindset that you are saving everyone and start cutting corners, the way its puzzles are structured starts making sense.

On its intended difficulty, it's not a game about finding the perfect sequence. It's a game of "where can I compromise my morals to get by and feel the least shitty about it". It clicked to me early on when I made a promise to be sexist and not be aggressive with the female hostage. I ended up finishing that chapter by shooting her in the leg so I wouldn't have to handle both kicking her so she wouldn't get too cocky and negotiating with the SWAT team.

It's kind of brilliant, because most games rarely make your moral choices to be something else than sociopath/saint or Hitler/Stalin, let alone forcing you to be practical about the shit you do. It doesn't appeal to everyone, but to me the choice for the game to be about so many random elements that they make you cut corners to even finish a segment is genius.

It's not brilliant to waste 40 minutes of someones time with some bad dice rolls. It's also not brilliant to make people play through the same sequence for 40 minutes only to get up to the very end and once again fail because of random dice rolls. Randomness can be good and exhilarating when done right - but when there is practically zero margin of error and your progress does not save in any way you are quite literally robbing people of their time in favor of nothing since you didn't learn anything or figure out a better way to approach the situation. You can only play again and hope that when you choose the only option you have left, the numbers will be in your favor. This is not good game design in the slightest.

Ironically the game becomes so incredibly constrained that you don't get the leisure of making moral choices. Your choices are failure or success, which is an arbitrary choice at best. During the chapter taken straight from the game jam the easiest solution is to kill all but one person excluding the robot and then monotonously manage the same exact cycle for roughly 30 turns. There is no benefit to doing it the harder way of trying to keep everyone alive since the story doesn't change. The game does an amazing job of trivializing moral choices because there are no branching pathways. Since you always arrive at the same conclusion you can indiscriminately sacrifice everyone along the way in the name of moving the game forward.

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KalAl

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#36  Edited By KalAl

I'm glad they're doing this. I bought the game day 1 but stopped playing after a few hours because I was not having any fun at all. Now I might actually end up getting some enjoyment out of that thing I bought.

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development

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This is exactly what the people asked for. Props to them. I'll now be going back in to play Puzzle Mode.

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cornbredx

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I am of the ilk that believes once you release something (as final) it shouldn't be touched.

I get that the world is changing, though, and they are probably better for listening to this feedback and following through on it.

I personally would have stuck to my guns on it. This seems more like a move to make more sales- without the guarantee anyone will care. That's fine, it just seems like a strange thing to do.

It's a bit of value cracking. I can't trust they wont continue to listen to pressure like this in the future and in my eyes they are less for it. It means they don't value their own artistic vision as much as audience pressure.

Just make the game you want to make, learn what works for you and your audience, and iterate.

That's just my opinion, though. I am admittedly old fashioned.

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Ghostiet

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@humanity, @brackstone - then perhaps I had a luckier time with the game. Or maybe approached it different. I stand by what my experience was, though. Perhaps my approach to the way video games work on a person is different, because I felt like shit doing every bad thing to these not fleshed out characters even after the 10th time. It worked for me. Perhaps I'm more tolerant towards what games throw at me. I stand by it. I also get why other people would find the way this game is structured to be unappealing, but I bought it wholesale. Inclusion of mercy modes doesn't insult me or anything, but I feel that playing it that way misses the point.

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slowbird

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WHY DO PEOPLE JUDGE EACH OTHER OVER THEIR PERCEIVED VIDEO GAME SKILL?

ALL DIFFICULTY LEVELS ARE VALID. EASY IS BEST FOR SOME. HARD IS BEST FOR SOME. NONE IS "RIGHT" OR "WRONG" STOP JUDGING AND JUST PLAY.

[/rant]

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Humanity

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@ghostiet: If the ultimate point of any game is having fun then the point was missed. I don't mean that in a snarky way nor am I trying to insult you in any way - I honestly think the developer missed that point when creating their game. Behind each challenge there should be some form of satisfaction. Then again you seemed to have derived enjoyment out of it so maybe there is a very specific and narrow slice of the gaming demographic that this experience is aimed at.

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mrcraggle

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#42  Edited By mrcraggle

Was anyone able to beat the original prototype with all characters surviving? That shit was rough going.

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TC

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Having reviewed this game for a magazine, I'm pretty gutted they only made these changes now. I was reluctant to review it harshly given it's cool premise and style, alas, it was TOO HARD. Video games these days, I can't keep up....

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AMyggen

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@slowbird: Totally agree.

Great article by the way.

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mr_creeper

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This make me want to go back and try playing this again. I had difficulty getting through the first scenario and moved on to Abyss Odyssee. Though, I'd still want to play it on the original settings because I'd feel like I'd be cheating myself otherwise.

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Hailinel

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@ghostiet said:

@hailinel said:

Basing difficulty on invisible die rolls does not strike me as an ideal way to implement challenge. It discourages learning from trial and error by leaning too heavily on random elements. What the game ideally needed was better puzzle design that didn't require random elements to be challenging.

I felt it actually worked so well precisely because it was random chance - it encouraged the player to be elastic with his moral compass. Once you start getting out of the mindset that you are saving everyone and start cutting corners, the way its puzzles are structured starts making sense.

On its intended difficulty, it's not a game about finding the perfect sequence. It's a game of "where can I compromise my morals to get by and feel the least shitty about it". It clicked to me early on when I made a promise to be sexist and not be aggressive with the female hostage. I ended up finishing that chapter by shooting her in the leg so I wouldn't have to handle both kicking her so she wouldn't get too cocky and negotiating with the SWAT team.

It's kind of brilliant, because most games rarely make your moral choices to be something else than sociopath/saint or Hitler/Stalin, let alone forcing you to be practical about the shit you do. It doesn't appeal to everyone, but to me the choice for the game to be about so many random elements that they make you cut corners to even finish a segment is genius.

Elastic in what way?

Just as an example, the hostage/hacking sequence. You need to complete the hack, but you have to also keep the guards at bay and also handle the captives. But the captives behave inconsistently and there's no clear indication of what the "right" way to handle them to progress is. The "moral elasticity" of the scenario allows for acting toward the captives in ways that range from sending them in to a back room to chill out to maiming them, to letting them flee, to shooting them as they attempt to flee. But the connection between the way you treat the captives and progress in the scenario isn't clearly delineated; the only visual cue you get is on the hacking progress screen, which the captives have no direct bearing on. Meanwhile, there are invisible dice rolls happening all the while, and if you're unfortunate, you get a flash bang thrown at you and you have to start the scenario over. And the flash bang's timing is far too random unless you know the intricacies of the resource management needs underpinning the scenario and how the dice rolls are tied to it, which in turn means players start acting in ways to govern the invisible resource meters rather than paying heed to the characters and story. It becomes less about moral elasticity and more about performing the actions that are required to see the scenario through to completion while hoping that all of the dice rolls are in your favor.

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AngeTheDude

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This is very cool especially since the original modes are still available.

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csl316

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I never really understood why Mass Effect 3 included a super easy narrative mode, unless you were new to games.

But after watching the Quick Look and getting stressed, I'd probably pop into narrative mode here. And it made me retroactively appreciate why ME3 offered the same option.

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falling_fast

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#49  Edited By falling_fast

that's cool i guess. this game really is mad frustrating sometimes (i still haven't beat the laboratory level with the explosive cave-in... and i never did beat the original game jam game)

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vhold

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Luck in games is fine, but when you have to tediously repeat something you've already done just because of bad luck, that's when it's a bad design.

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