Design Crutch: Artificial Obstruction In Games

What got me started on this article was a conversation with Ben Garney last week about how he was going through all of the old Nintendo games with an emulator. He noticed that playing with the tools to not have to go back to the start of the level after dieing actually made the games much more fun.

Game Frustration

Last night my kids were at the house for dinner, and I asked Jon to bring Rock Band 2 so we could have a little social gaming interaction. After setting up the game, the first thing we had to do was go to the Internet to find and enter a cheat code to unlock all of the songs. It didn’t work at first, and for a while we thought we would have to play the game’s entry level songs. That kind of pissed us all off, and was the tipping point to make me write this article.

Why, after all of these years of game design evolution do we, as an industry, still rely on cheap design tricks like “unlocking” songs, starting over levels, only allowing saves at certain points in the game, etc.? Especially in a social game like Rock Band, what is the point of not allowing the owner to play all of the songs? Jon just paid $170 for the game. Isn’t that enough “earning”?

When a player gets killed in a platformer or FPS, why does he have to go back three levels or to the beginning of the level/chapter? Why can’t players save anywhere in a game? I know the answer that will be given, i.e. to give the player a feeling of anxiety and tension. I call bullshit on that answer. That kind of tension is not the kind of tension that a designer should want to create. External tension that the player simply does not want to waste more time traversing a part of the game already explored has nothing to do with the real design/game tension that should come from the game’s internals.

Playing LucasArts adventure games was more fun to me than Sierra adventure games because I knew I could not die. Even in the adventure games I designed and directed, I succumbed to the “player character must die” design mechanic. I remember distinctly caving in to pressure from Sierra, but mostly I remember it being easier from a design standpoint.

It seems to me that this pseudo role play, leveling up mechanic is industry design dogma, i.e. it has been done for so long that people in the industry don’t even question it. I know most people in the industry will be against my opinion here, but I have to speak up (again). The first time I raised this point was in 1989 when we were finally releasing our first Affiliated Label games, A-10 Tankkiller and David Wolf: Secret Agent. We put in a feature called the VCR Interface, that allowed players to move to the next level or fast forward past the part they could not conquer.
Dynamix Customer Welcome Letter
This post could be incredibly long, and I will continue to address this point as I start writing posts for my Games for the Non-Hardcore series. I look forward to seeing how all of you feel about this subject.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games

  • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

    For those of you playing along at home, Nestopia is the NES emulator to use. You have to manually enable rewind, however.

    Try it out for yourself. Literally every Nintendo game is more fun with rewind, especially rewind bound to a button on your gamepad.

  • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

    For those of you playing along at home, Nestopia is the NES emulator to use. You have to manually enable rewind, however.

    Try it out for yourself. Literally every Nintendo game is more fun with rewind, especially rewind bound to a button on your gamepad.

  • JeremyAlessi

    World of Goo has an interesting feature similar to the one you proposed for A-10 Tank Killer. I think it limits the number of “level skips” you get though.

    @ Ben, I'm a big fan of playing old titles thinking from a design standpoint. Last year I was in a bit of a rut and for a long while I did nothing but play old games to remind me what made games great. Forget graphics, forget tech, trends, everything current and just focus on the timeless fun that a good game has.

    I still pull out the actual consoles every now and again. Unfortunately, the last one I took out didn't make it :( As a child I got po'd at my Atari Lynx and either squeezed it really hard or threw it and the sound never worked quite right. I always wanted to take it apart to see if I could fix it but couldn't quite figure it out as a kid. Just recently I took another crack at it and successfully dismantled it. Now not only does the sound not work but neither does the input, graphics, power light … well it just doesn't work ;) Luckily there was no shortage of them available for cheap on ebay.

  • JeremyAlessi

    World of Goo has an interesting feature similar to the one you proposed for A-10 Tank Killer. I think it limits the number of “level skips” you get though.

    @ Ben, I'm a big fan of playing old titles thinking from a design standpoint. Last year I was in a bit of a rut and for a long while I did nothing but play old games to remind me what made games great. Forget graphics, forget tech, trends, everything current and just focus on the timeless fun that a good game has.

    I still pull out the actual consoles every now and again. Unfortunately, the last one I took out didn't make it :( As a child I got po'd at my Atari Lynx and either squeezed it really hard or threw it and the sound never worked quite right. I always wanted to take it apart to see if I could fix it but couldn't quite figure it out as a kid. Just recently I took another crack at it and successfully dismantled it. Now not only does the sound not work but neither does the input, graphics, power light … well it just doesn't work ;) Luckily there was no shortage of them available for cheap on ebay.

  • http://har0ld.com Harold

    I agree. The easier design process with fake tension is part of the fact that we reinvent the wheel and consume a lot of energy elsewhere like on engine or render parts of a game.

    In the other hand the hard punishment in 80s 90s japanese arcade games was something I didn't find unfair at that time because it was telling me “you're doing it wrong, manage your ressources and beat that boss”. Now I'm almost 30 and of course, I hate artificial difficulty. Life is sufficient on that point.

    As a gamer I love when I'm free. Thinking about it, fps always attracted me maybe because I could save everywhere, at the time of Wolfenstein it was incredible. And so cool.

    I loved World of Goo when it didn't arbitrary stopped me because I missed a puzzle. I loved Braid for that too. Tony Hawk was kind of cool with the “unlock grind”. Well you get my point :) Look forward to read your GfNH series!

  • http://har0ld.com Harold

    I agree. The easier design process with fake tension is part of the fact that we reinvent the wheel and consume a lot of energy elsewhere like on engine or render parts of a game.

    In the other hand the hard punishment in 80s 90s japanese arcade games was something I didn't find unfair at that time because it was telling me “you're doing it wrong, manage your ressources and beat that boss”. Now I'm almost 30 and of course, I hate artificial difficulty. Life is sufficient on that point.

    As a gamer I love when I'm free. Thinking about it, fps always attracted me maybe because I could save everywhere, at the time of Wolfenstein it was incredible. And so cool.

    I loved World of Goo when it didn't arbitrary stopped me because I missed a puzzle. I loved Braid for that too. Tony Hawk was kind of cool with the “unlock grind”. Well you get my point :) Look forward to read your GfNH series!

    • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

      In a certain sense, really hard games to me seem like an expression of pride on the part of the developer. “My game,” he or she boasts, “is so awesome that only those who master it will ever make it past the first screen.”

      Those who are masters should be rewarded. But there are plenty of ways for the marginally competent to be able to experience the game without cheapening the experience for the experts.

      Game developers should be humble, and let players experience the game in their own way. Developers don't have to give up the Insane difficulty level, but they should make sure there's an easy path, too.

  • DaveMyers

    Wow – this is a timely subject for me personally.

    I am playing through Final Fantasy 4 on the DS. This is your standard “can't-save-anywhere-but-outside-good-luck-figuring-out-how-to-defeat-this-boss-stuck-on-rails-because-the-designer-wants-to-tell-a-story-why-don't-you-become-a-movie-maker-instead” jRPG. Yet, as annoying as the game is I can't help but continue to forge my way through.

    If the game is casual enough in other respects (like FF4 is for me), I can almost stomach some of these annoyances. But then again – this is a port of a 17-year-old-game. I *expect* it to have these annoyances. I do *not* expect a current-day game to have the same issues, and when I do stumble upon them I am reminded why sometimes even *I* want to just pop bubbles…

    BTW – My wife and I *love* Rock Band 1 and 2 – we don't play the unlock game, we just do free play. We have a drum throne, a mic stand, and are eyeballing the ION drum kit. We have bought many many DLC for Rock Band and will continue to do so, because at the end of the day this game is just plain fun, even if you look like a dork playing it. ;)

  • DaveMyers

    Wow – this is a timely subject for me personally.

    I am playing through Final Fantasy 4 on the DS. This is your standard “can't-save-anywhere-but-outside-good-luck-figuring-out-how-to-defeat-this-boss-stuck-on-rails-because-the-designer-wants-to-tell-a-story-why-don't-you-become-a-movie-maker-instead” jRPG. Yet, as annoying as the game is I can't help but continue to forge my way through.

    If the game is casual enough in other respects (like FF4 is for me), I can almost stomach some of these annoyances. But then again – this is a port of a 17-year-old-game. I *expect* it to have these annoyances. I do *not* expect a current-day game to have the same issues, and when I do stumble upon them I am reminded why sometimes even *I* want to just pop bubbles…

    BTW – My wife and I *love* Rock Band 1 and 2 – we don't play the unlock game, we just do free play. We have a drum throne, a mic stand, and are eyeballing the ION drum kit. We have bought many many DLC for Rock Band and will continue to do so, because at the end of the day this game is just plain fun, even if you look like a dork playing it. ;)

  • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

    In a certain sense, really hard games to me seem like an expression of pride on the part of the developer. “My game,” he or she boasts, “is so awesome that only those who master it will ever make it past the first screen.”

    Those who are masters should be rewarded. But there are plenty of ways for the marginally competent to be able to experience the game without cheapening the experience for the experts.

    Game developers should be humble, and let players experience the game in their own way. Developers don't have to give up the Insane difficulty level, but they should make sure there's an easy path, too.

  • http://coamithra.lamaars.nl CoamIthra

    I disagree. Without losing there is no winning. We seek external reinforcement of our improvement, implemented in guitar hero/rock band by unlocking new tiers of songs.

  • http://coamithra.lamaars.nl CoamIthra

    I disagree. Without losing there is no winning. We seek external reinforcement of our improvement, implemented in guitar hero/rock band by unlocking new tiers of songs.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Like I said, I expected disagreement. Guitar Hero/Rock Band designers have stumbled upon a new version of Karaoke. It is a very social game. Should a room full of people be punished because the owner of the game has not “earned” the new songs? Especially when the answer is an unlock? I argue no. It is a very artificial limit on the game. Maybe a single player career mode where the songs are unlocked would be appropriate and a compromise. But, for the way these games are played the majority of the time, the unlocking process, IMO, is inappropriate.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Like I said, I expected disagreement. Guitar Hero/Rock Band designers have stumbled upon a new version of Karaoke. It is a very social game. Should a room full of people be punished because the owner of the game has not “earned” the new songs? Especially when the answer is an unlock? I argue no. It is a very artificial limit on the game. Maybe a single player career mode where the songs are unlocked would be appropriate and a compromise. But, for the way these games are played the majority of the time, the unlocking process, IMO, is inappropriate.

  • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

    I enjoyed this blog, very well put. I have always had problems with games that don't let you save anywhere. I really wish I could have played the first Prince of Persia remake on the Xbox for example, but I remember going 30 minutes once without a place to save my game. When I die, I don't have that kind of time to waste anymore. I certainly don't enjoy retracing my steps. If anything, I get more upset or frustrated and will quit playing the game.

    Games should be about player choice. If the player wants that kind of external difficulty factor, then the player can do that with a save anywhere system. He or she just won't save anywhere.

    As for unlocking stuff, I agree that can be more annoying in social games. I don't mind it so much when playing solo. But there should always be a fast-forward type of function if you get stuck or fail a level so many times. Guitar Hero 3 did that with the boss battles and it was appreciated. And why not again just give the player ultimate control of their experience and have an “all unlocked” mode? Then the players can decide for themselves how best to enjoy the experience. The game designer doesn't always know best.

  • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

    I enjoyed this blog, very well put. I have always had problems with games that don't let you save anywhere. I really wish I could have played the first Prince of Persia remake on the Xbox for example, but I remember going 30 minutes once without a place to save my game. When I die, I don't have that kind of time to waste anymore. I certainly don't enjoy retracing my steps. If anything, I get more upset or frustrated and will quit playing the game.

    Games should be about player choice. If the player wants that kind of external difficulty factor, then the player can do that with a save anywhere system. He or she just won't save anywhere.

    As for unlocking stuff, I agree that can be more annoying in social games. I don't mind it so much when playing solo. But there should always be a fast-forward type of function if you get stuck or fail a level so many times. Guitar Hero 3 did that with the boss battles and it was appreciated. And why not again just give the player ultimate control of their experience and have an “all unlocked” mode? Then the players can decide for themselves how best to enjoy the experience. The game designer doesn't always know best.

  • JeremyAlessi

    I agree about Rock Band and multiplayer games in general. The fun of multiplayer is other people. There is something to be said for accomplishment and reward but I think a simple score should suffice to let you know you are becoming a master.

    I also have to acknowlege that I know people who enjoy unlockables. The action/reward cycle can be fun. In fact some games could get boring quickly if all the content is unlocked up front. Imagine handing over the keys of a big game studio to a starry eyed teen? He/she wouldn't appreciate it past the first day. Half the fun is working toward the big goal.

    That being said artificial barriers don't suit every game.

  • JeremyAlessi

    I agree about Rock Band and multiplayer games in general. The fun of multiplayer is other people. There is something to be said for accomplishment and reward but I think a simple score should suffice to let you know you are becoming a master.

    I also have to acknowlege that I know people who enjoy unlockables. The action/reward cycle can be fun. In fact some games could get boring quickly if all the content is unlocked up front. Imagine handing over the keys of a big game studio to a starry eyed teen? He/she wouldn't appreciate it past the first day. Half the fun is working toward the big goal.

    That being said artificial barriers don't suit every game.

    • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

      Artificial barriers are good – but they shouldn't be mandatory especially in a game like Rock Band that is social. I think Jeff's illustration above is a perfect example of why there should be an option to skip it. Maybe the cheat code is the best middle ground.

  • http://www.timtekindustries.com Tim

    Nice! I'm often wondering the same things myself, I'm glad I'm not the only one. There's a lot to be said for unlocking alternative equivalents but when games force you to grind away just to get to the fun then you know it's ridiculous.

  • http://www.timtekindustries.com Tim

    Nice! I'm often wondering the same things myself, I'm glad I'm not the only one. There's a lot to be said for unlocking alternative equivalents but when games force you to grind away just to get to the fun then you know it's ridiculous.

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com -Todd

    There are certainly games that the “die and start the level over” mechanic is appropriate in, like say Pac-Man for example. And there are cases where the “save anywhere” option arguably permits “gaming the system” to the extent that is breaks any suspension of disbelief or immersion, but in the latter case, usually call B.S. on that as well.

    I think you nailed it on the head, it is being done because it has been done that way for so long that young designers (and this is still very a young industry), just don't stop to think outside that convention.

    I have always hated the solve the level by trial and error ie dieing a hell of a lot approach to game design. I think it is more often than not just lazy else unskilled design. Gimmicky design is weak titillation in the place of simple, solid, and fun core mechanics of play.

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com -Todd

    There are certainly games that the “die and start the level over” mechanic is appropriate in, like say Pac-Man for example. And there are cases where the “save anywhere” option arguably permits “gaming the system” to the extent that is breaks any suspension of disbelief or immersion, but in the latter case, usually call B.S. on that as well.

    I think you nailed it on the head, it is being done because it has been done that way for so long that young designers (and this is still very a young industry), just don't stop to think outside that convention.

    I have always hated the solve the level by trial and error ie dieing a hell of a lot approach to game design. I think it is more often than not just lazy else unskilled design. Gimmicky design is weak titillation in the place of simple, solid, and fun core mechanics of play.

  • http://www.redthumbgames.com joshuadallman

    Just to play devil's advocate, consider that the developers of Rock Band 2 WANT you to go onto the internet to unlock all the songs, as a super under-handed way to help build player community. Afterall, the internet and cheat codes on it have become such a mainstay that's it's hard to argue that it's truly a barrier. We can go on the internet on on phones, our computers, our iPods, our microwaves, etc etc. How hard is it to look up the cheat codes? And yet every user looking them up, is another win for the developer (more traffic, more eyeballs, more search words for their game, etc).

    Every point you make about Rock Band is valid though. What's “cheap” is to use essential game content as unlockables, instead of providing bonus content as unlockables. If I have to unlock a character, that sucks. If I get a bonus skin for a character for completing a special task, that's awesome. It's non-essential.

    I also disagree that the old NES games are more fun by re-winding them. I'm a huge fan of old NES and SNES ROMS in particular, I have played every single one (it took an entire summer). As a specific example, I played through Super Metroid with rewinds, and without. The experience of playing (and beating) the game without rewinds was tons more satisfying than with. It got to where I was over-using the rewinds so much that it became more about the rewinds than the game. In terms of “fourth wall” and all that, every time I rewound it reminded me I was playing a game, instead of immersing me in it.

    I submit to principles of balance and variety. That is, forcing players to restart 3 levels is ONE EXTREME. But, allowing players to arbitrarily start over at any point from any point is ANOTHER EXTREME. You've got your hardcore-hardcores on one side, and your hardcore-casuals on the other. Between the two there is a balance. Being a good game designer means finding that sweet spot. On the topic of variety, why can't you have your cake and eat it too? Doom had everything from whiz-through-the-game-easy to see all the game content, to still-having-nightmares-hard to challenge and have bragging rights. No difficulty level variance? Bad designer, no twinkie. Come on, even bowling has an easy mode with no gutterballs for “just fun.” Why can't all games do the same?

    An intriguing design tactic is to design a game to allow both kinds of play, without overtly having a difficulty selection. Example: the new Mega Man 9. Bosses are very difficult. If you're good, you can beat them with the standard number of lives you're allotted. If you suck, instead of making the bosses easier, you can collect more power-ups before hand, which gives you the ability to re-fill your life during the battle, so that even the worst players, if they save up enough energy, can persevere — and still have the feeling of reward the tougher players get from beating that super hard boss.

    World of Goo handles the “fourth wall” thing brilliantly by integrating rewinds into the game design. On some levels there's little “take back a move” lightning bugs. Click one and the bug disappears, and so does your last move. It keeps you immersed in the game while providing an intuitive difficulty level selector.

    For my part, in Shelled Online, there's some single player mission levels that are tough. Really tough. Instead of making them easier, I allow you to skip them. You can even go straight to the boss of the game, without even playing level 1. However, it does not know which levels you've completed and which you haven't – it just doesn't force you to complete all of them to see all of the game content. Stuck on a level? No problem, skip it and go back when you're a more well versed player.

  • http://www.redthumbgames.com joshuadallman

    Just to play devil's advocate, consider that the developers of Rock Band 2 WANT you to go onto the internet to unlock all the songs, as a super under-handed way to help build player community. Afterall, the internet and cheat codes on it have become such a mainstay that's it's hard to argue that it's truly a barrier. We can go on the internet on on phones, our computers, our iPods, our microwaves, etc etc. How hard is it to look up the cheat codes? And yet every user looking them up, is another win for the developer (more traffic, more eyeballs, more search words for their game, etc).

    Every point you make about Rock Band is valid though. What's “cheap” is to use essential game content as unlockables, instead of providing bonus content as unlockables. If I have to unlock a character, that sucks. If I get a bonus skin for a character for completing a special task, that's awesome. It's non-essential.

    I also disagree that the old NES games are more fun by re-winding them. I'm a huge fan of old NES and SNES ROMS in particular, I have played every single one (it took an entire summer). As a specific example, I played through Super Metroid with rewinds, and without. The experience of playing (and beating) the game without rewinds was tons more satisfying than with. It got to where I was over-using the rewinds so much that it became more about the rewinds than the game. In terms of “fourth wall” and all that, every time I rewound it reminded me I was playing a game, instead of immersing me in it.

    I submit to principles of balance and variety. That is, forcing players to restart 3 levels is ONE EXTREME. But, allowing players to arbitrarily start over at any point from any point is ANOTHER EXTREME. You've got your hardcore-hardcores on one side, and your hardcore-casuals on the other. Between the two there is a balance. Being a good game designer means finding that sweet spot. On the topic of variety, why can't you have your cake and eat it too? Doom had everything from whiz-through-the-game-easy to see all the game content, to still-having-nightmares-hard to challenge and have bragging rights. No difficulty level variance? Bad designer, no twinkie. Come on, even bowling has an easy mode with no gutterballs for “just fun.” Why can't all games do the same?

    An intriguing design tactic is to design a game to allow both kinds of play, without overtly having a difficulty selection. Example: the new Mega Man 9. Bosses are very difficult. If you're good, you can beat them with the standard number of lives you're allotted. If you suck, instead of making the bosses easier, you can collect more power-ups before hand, which gives you the ability to re-fill your life during the battle, so that even the worst players, if they save up enough energy, can persevere — and still have the feeling of reward the tougher players get from beating that super hard boss.

    World of Goo handles the “fourth wall” thing brilliantly by integrating rewinds into the game design. On some levels there's little “take back a move” lightning bugs. Click one and the bug disappears, and so does your last move. It keeps you immersed in the game while providing an intuitive difficulty level selector.

    For my part, in Shelled Online, there's some single player mission levels that are tough. Really tough. Instead of making them easier, I allow you to skip them. You can even go straight to the boss of the game, without even playing level 1. However, it does not know which levels you've completed and which you haven't – it just doesn't force you to complete all of them to see all of the game content. Stuck on a level? No problem, skip it and go back when you're a more well versed player.

    • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

      You made it to a boss on Mega Man 9? You're a really good Mega Man player. I couldn't get past the first ten screens. :)

      You're right, having barriers is important. But I like the NES emulator because I can choose my experience. If I want to relax and play through a game with rewind, I can. If I want to work hard to beat it, I can do that, too.

      Obviously not every game needs to implement a full rewind feature. But they should provide an easy path for players. Maybe it's a level skip, or an easy mode up front, or maybe they add features like rewind. Not doing that is putting the cart before the horse, IMO.

  • DaveMyers

    What about something like Nethack? That's one exception for me personally where I don't mind the hardcore-gamer design. You die once, new character. You can save at any time, but only to quit.

    This works for me because of the ridiculous number of possible outcomes and item/ability interactions.

  • DaveMyers

    What about something like Nethack? That's one exception for me personally where I don't mind the hardcore-gamer design. You die once, new character. You can save at any time, but only to quit.

    This works for me because of the ridiculous number of possible outcomes and item/ability interactions.

  • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

    Artificial barriers are good – but they shouldn't be mandatory especially in a game like Rock Band that is social. I think Jeff's illustration above is a perfect example of why there should be an option to skip it. Maybe the cheat code is the best middle ground.

  • http://coderhump.com Ben Garney

    You made it to a boss on Mega Man 9? You're a really good Mega Man player. I couldn't get past the first ten screens. :)

    You're right, having barriers is important. But I like the NES emulator because I can choose my experience. If I want to relax and play through a game with rewind, I can. If I want to work hard to beat it, I can do that, too.

    Obviously not every game needs to implement a full rewind feature. But they should provide an easy path for players. Maybe it's a level skip, or an easy mode up front, or maybe they add features like rewind. Not doing that is putting the cart before the horse, IMO.

  • ori

    i must be one of the people who realy hate the punishment method. but during the 90's i had my own way of dealing with it, if it was artificial saving with game wizard (a cheating program that let you save any where any time inside any game) or finding the right trainer, cheat, or using cheat machine, game wizard to cheat my way into it. yes you could also skip levels if you knew how to cheat well.

    @jeff – i was just reading the letter you wrote to all the new clients, copy protection is an interesting subject, its another way of punishing your clients, if someone wants to find a way to pass a copy protection, normally you cant stop him and the only one who gets annoyed is the client, what changed your mind when you started GG and decided to add the copy protection method (serials)?

    -ori

  • ori

    i must be one of the people who realy hate the punishment method. but during the 90's i had my own way of dealing with it, if it was artificial saving with game wizard (a cheating program that let you save any where any time inside any game) or finding the right trainer, cheat, or using cheat machine, game wizard to cheat my way into it. yes you could also skip levels if you knew how to cheat well.

    @jeff – i was just reading the letter you wrote to all the new clients, copy protection is an interesting subject, its another way of punishing your clients, if someone wants to find a way to pass a copy protection, normally you cant stop him and the only one who gets annoyed is the client, what changed your mind when you started GG and decided to add the copy protection method (serials)?

    -ori

    • jgostylo

      I like what the article has to say and I am sure that there is not enough storage on Jeff's server to store the words required to split hairs on what games benefit from artificial barriers and what games are hurt by them. I think Jeff's intentions and what he has in his head is spot on.

      @ori – The game wizard comment hearkens me back to the days of the Game Genie that finally allowed me to see the end of a lot of the Nintendo games I had. I felt dirty using it until I still could not beat Battle Toads with it. And I could get to level 15 on my own with that game which I have come to find out was impressive.

      My biggest gripe was that most games back then operated under the CoinOp mentality of X lives and then you start from the beginning. That was the worst. I remember getting Contra as a little kid and then crying because I thought the first level was impossible and I had wasted my money. Then it saved itself when I learned about the Konami cheat code for 30 lives. I ended up playing the game so much that I ended up able to beat the whole game on one life. It might have been nicer if there was just a menu option to start with 3 or 30 lives. But, Contra along with Ikari Warriors were the first to open my eyes to the idea that games did not have to be ALL punishment.

      As to the copy protection comment, that is really interesting. I think the biggest determinant of how you truly feel about copy protection is if you step back and say, “would I just steal this game if there was no copy protection on it?” For me the answer is usually yes. Even if the game is $10, that is $10 I would rather have in my pocket. Usually the copy protection reminds me that indeed the developer wants to get paid for their work. Now I am interested to hear if Jeff has an anecdote on how well the no DRM worked for him at Dynamix when digital distribution was no easy feat.

      My friend just released a game on the iPhone. Not having an iPhone I romanticized the relationship between developer and end user. The end user is locked onto the platform playing by Apple's rules so they can use the device as a phone, and the developer releases their app at an incredibly reasonable price. In his case $2. Who would not pay $2 for a game if it looked interesting? What I have come to learn is that you can jailbreak the iPhone, still use the phone service, and get these really cheap apps for free. And a sizable percentage of the people that own one do just that. What happens to the copy protection argument when people won't pay a stupidly low price for a game?

      I guess you can argue that Apple forces you into their scheme so once you have found a way out of their scheme it becomes really difficult to do the right thing.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      For GarageGames we were going to be publishing a lot of games that other companies made. I knew that copy protection would be of great interest to those companies. We used Marble Blast as a test case. I am still not a fan of copy protection. I think there are better ways of getting people to buy your game. The new wave of free to play games with micropayments is just one solution.

  • jgostylo

    I like what the article has to say and I am sure that there is not enough storage on Jeff's server to store the words required to split hairs on what games benefit from artificial barriers and what games are hurt by them. I think Jeff's intentions and what he has in his head is spot on.

    @ori – The game wizard comment hearkens me back to the days of the Game Genie that finally allowed me to see the end of a lot of the Nintendo games I had. I felt dirty using it until I still could not beat Battle Toads with it. And I could get to level 15 on my own with that game which I have come to find out was impressive.

    My biggest gripe was that most games back then operated under the CoinOp mentality of X lives and then you start from the beginning. That was the worst. I remember getting Contra as a little kid and then crying because I thought the first level was impossible and I had wasted my money. Then it saved itself when I learned about the Konami cheat code for 30 lives. I ended up playing the game so much that I ended up able to beat the whole game on one life. It might have been nicer if there was just a menu option to start with 3 or 30 lives. But, Contra along with Ikari Warriors were the first to open my eyes to the idea that games did not have to be ALL punishment.

    As to the copy protection comment, that is really interesting. I think the biggest determinant of how you truly feel about copy protection is if you step back and say, “would I just steal this game if there was no copy protection on it?” For me the answer is usually yes. Even if the game is $10, that is $10 I would rather have in my pocket. Usually the copy protection reminds me that indeed the developer wants to get paid for their work. Now I am interested to hear if Jeff has an anecdote on how well the no DRM worked for him at Dynamix when digital distribution was no easy feat.

    My friend just released a game on the iPhone. Not having an iPhone I romanticized the relationship between developer and end user. The end user is locked onto the platform playing by Apple's rules so they can use the device as a phone, and the developer releases their app at an incredibly reasonable price. In his case $2. Who would not pay $2 for a game if it looked interesting? What I have come to learn is that you can jailbreak the iPhone, still use the phone service, and get these really cheap apps for free. And a sizable percentage of the people that own one do just that. What happens to the copy protection argument when people won't pay a stupidly low price for a game?

    I guess you can argue that Apple forces you into their scheme so once you have found a way out of their scheme it becomes really difficult to do the right thing.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    For GarageGames we were going to be publishing a lot of games that other companies made. I knew that copy protection would be of great interest to those companies. We used Marble Blast as a test case. I am still not a fan of copy protection. I think there are better ways of getting people to buy your game. The new wave of free to play games with micropayments is just one solution.

  • http://zovirl.com Mark Ivey

    I loved that the lucas arts games didn't let you die. I still remember thinking WTF? when I died in MI3 (and then laughing when I realized the joke).

    On the other hand, doesn't taking serious consequences off the table restrict the types of stories you can tell in a game, and the kinds of tension you can generate? I really liked the opening of Indigo Prophecy, because the situation was so tense. (it *did* get old after the 3rd or 4th time I got arrested, so this isn't a silver bullet or anything).

    A question I've been pondering for a while: can you do tragedy in a game without being annoying? Can a game have a braveheart ending? I think most gamers would reload a saved game and try to avert it, over and over.

  • http://zovirl.com Mark Ivey

    I loved that the lucas arts games didn't let you die. I still remember thinking WTF? when I died in MI3 (and then laughing when I realized the joke).

    On the other hand, doesn't taking serious consequences off the table restrict the types of stories you can tell in a game, and the kinds of tension you can generate? I really liked the opening of Indigo Prophecy, because the situation was so tense. (it *did* get old after the 3rd or 4th time I got arrested, so this isn't a silver bullet or anything).

    A question I've been pondering for a while: can you do tragedy in a game without being annoying? Can a game have a braveheart ending? I think most gamers would reload a saved game and try to avert it, over and over.

    • ori

      mark, it was monkey island one and that was the rubber tree ™on monkey island itself :)

      jeft, thanks for answering. yes there are better ways and honestly i hope everyone starts moving toward it.

      i read this interesting article about an adventure game that made up a copy protection scheme that screwed up with the game dialogues, you couldnt finish the game if it was cracked, but it still let you play it :). that took 2 months or more to crack according to the developers and they also mentioned that the crackers had to play the game to the end to actually know about that :) heh.

      i loved playing with saved games, messing around with an hex editor in dnd games, getting more stats and just playing the story, but thats just me. my little brother doesnt like trainers and cheats for some reason…

  • ori

    mark, it was monkey island one and that was the rubber tree ™on monkey island itself :)

    jeft, thanks for answering. yes there are better ways and honestly i hope everyone starts moving toward it.

    i read this interesting article about an adventure game that made up a copy protection scheme that screwed up with the game dialogues, you couldnt finish the game if it was cracked, but it still let you play it :). that took 2 months or more to crack according to the developers and they also mentioned that the crackers had to play the game to the end to actually know about that :) heh.

    i loved playing with saved games, messing around with an hex editor in dnd games, getting more stats and just playing the story, but thats just me. my little brother doesnt like trainers and cheats for some reason…

  • Andy H

    I totally agree with you. I once owned a game Cold Fear for the XBox for about 10 minutes. The game dynamic of 'survival horror' revolved around the ridiculously unachievable save points, a rocking boat (to throw your aim off) and an incredibly difficult firing system (supposedly you are the best of the best of the best). I threw the game away in disgust, got my money back and ranted about it on GameSpot to warn others.

    http://au.gamespot.com/xbox/action/coldfear/pla

    Game design (and tension) seem to rest heavily on save points (or lack there of) because quite simply, the mechanic/dynamic under the hood is sub-par and should have been redone before releasing the game.

  • Andy H

    I totally agree with you. I once owned a game Cold Fear for the XBox for about 10 minutes. The game dynamic of 'survival horror' revolved around the ridiculously unachievable save points, a rocking boat (to throw your aim off) and an incredibly difficult firing system (supposedly you are the best of the best of the best). I threw the game away in disgust, got my money back and ranted about it on GameSpot to warn others.

    http://au.gamespot.com/xbox/action/coldfear/pla

    Game design (and tension) seem to rest heavily on save points (or lack there of) because quite simply, the mechanic/dynamic under the hood is sub-par and should have been redone before releasing the game.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    I think it all comes down to playground mentality still. When I was a kid it used to be the thing to meet on the playground every morning and talk about how far you got in the latest video game. Getting to the next level, or if you are lucky finding that elusive save location, meant that you were some sort of god to your peers. Sadly it seems that that mentality has stuck around even though games have supposibly 'evolved'.

    I will agree now that with Single Player games, there does need to be some sort of challenge involved to progress in the game, however beating that challenge should not equate to “get to the end of the level”. As much as a lot of gamers hated the checkpoint system in Halo, I will personally admit that I liked it. Why? Well the simple reason is that I haven't been a kid in a long time and as such I do not have 8 hours a day I could burn trying to beat a level. I maybe have 8 hours a week to play games now (down from 16 before my child arrived) and as such I don't have the patience or the effort to put in to going through the lame ass 80's “play-die-restart” game logic. The Halo checkpoint save system prevents issues with a player saving at a bad spot (ie. the infamous, load and die save issue), it also allows someone like me to game and complete it. Making me feel as though my $50 was well worth it, as opposed to sitting with the other unfinished games I have on my DVD shelf.

    With that said, for Multi-Player games, everything should be unlocked. I think its the most rediculous thing in the world that you need to play through the entire game on SP to unlock something for use in MP. If anything it turns me off from wanting to play the game and most certainly makes me not want to buy it.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    I think it all comes down to playground mentality still. When I was a kid it used to be the thing to meet on the playground every morning and talk about how far you got in the latest video game. Getting to the next level, or if you are lucky finding that elusive save location, meant that you were some sort of god to your peers. Sadly it seems that that mentality has stuck around even though games have supposibly 'evolved'.

    I will agree now that with Single Player games, there does need to be some sort of challenge involved to progress in the game, however beating that challenge should not equate to “get to the end of the level”. As much as a lot of gamers hated the checkpoint system in Halo, I will personally admit that I liked it. Why? Well the simple reason is that I haven't been a kid in a long time and as such I do not have 8 hours a day I could burn trying to beat a level. I maybe have 8 hours a week to play games now (down from 16 before my child arrived) and as such I don't have the patience or the effort to put in to going through the lame ass 80's “play-die-restart” game logic. The Halo checkpoint save system prevents issues with a player saving at a bad spot (ie. the infamous, load and die save issue), it also allows someone like me to game and complete it. Making me feel as though my $50 was well worth it, as opposed to sitting with the other unfinished games I have on my DVD shelf.

    With that said, for Multi-Player games, everything should be unlocked. I think its the most rediculous thing in the world that you need to play through the entire game on SP to unlock something for use in MP. If anything it turns me off from wanting to play the game and most certainly makes me not want to buy it.

  • http://www.vsbgames.com Alexander Samarin

    That's interesting, Jeff. Could you please share your thoughts on rogue-like games and their common feature (more like a dogma) – Permanent Death.

  • http://www.vsbgames.com Alexander Samarin

    That's interesting, Jeff. Could you please share your thoughts on rogue-like games and their common feature (more like a dogma) – Permanent Death.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      While I don't have an strong opinion on Rogue-like games, I am pretty much against design dogma for any genre. Be it resource gathering in RTS to BFG's in FPS, I think those are the areas that are ripe for change and disruption. We (being the game industry) are the ones that created those genres and what they stand for and, by god, we can change them!

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    While I don't have an strong opinion on Rogue-like games, I am pretty much against design dogma for any genre. Be it resource gathering in RTS to BFG's in FPS, I think those are the areas that are ripe for change and disruption. We (being the game industry) are the ones that created those genres and what they stand for and, by god, we can change them!

  • Nancy Brockington

    best article ive read today

  • Nick

    The purpose of saving at different parts of a level instead of at any one point the player desires, is because the level in its entirity is its own puzzle. It requires a strategy. If you get past two baddies in an fps, and there's a hundered… there is a way to beat it without dying, or they wouldn't have made it that way. Defeating a 100 Locusts rather than killing 2, and then coming back and killing two more and coming back and killing two more is not only boring, but you don't get the satisfaction of saying, “Wow, I kicked those B***s in the patootie!” Instead you come out as, “OMG! They made that level so long and easy. It was sooo boring.” That's kinda why I was dissappointed with Bioshock. Die, come back to life, take out a little bit of the big daddy's health, die, come back kill em a little more… over and over and over again just isn't fun. I agree Final Fantasy is a little ridiculous… from the camera view to the save system, the modern games just kinda blow. The battle system is good, I digress. The save system should not be the same for every type of game. Mario Brothers would blow if you could save halfway through the level. It's not the same as beating a level… It's not the same satisfaction. Unlocking songs adds to the value of the single player game. If a single person buys the game to play it, what fun would they have sitting there just playing through the songs they knew, instead of having a goal of unlocking all of the songs and all of the characters. That's what happened to me on World Tour… For the first 3 Guitar Hero games, I actually 4-5 starred my way through the Expert Mode, and if I hadn't i wouldn't have played or learned about alot of great songs that I now consider some of my favorites. The reason Rock Band uses a password is so that the people who want to play single player can without already having all the songs to play, and the multiplayers can have their way and just get straight to One Step Closer. The password in Rock Band 2 is the easy path to non-hardcore gamers. The Insane difficulty on Gears of War, is for the experts, who aren't done blowing heads off. In general, I think the Gaming Industry is on the ball with saving features. Many games out there would do fine with a save anywhere system… Pokemon is the shit… but not all games require, and many games would be hurt by a save-anywhere feature.