Sunday, June 20, 2010

Punishing Poor Players

Before I get to my point, let me first go over what lead to my current post. I have lost a lot of weight but still have at least another 20 to 30kg to lose. While letting my weight get so out of hand is my fault, had I started dieting the way I am now 20 years ago instead of listening to dieticians and other "experts" I would already be in shape. The experts that I seen were all under the delusion that you can loose weight through diet alone. While from a mathematical perspective, this is possible the small amount of food you are allowed and the fact that your favorite foods are probably not allowed in your diet means that eventually you will fall off the wagon and when you do you will end up gaining more weight than you lost. This is especially true if your metabolism is low like mine is. If I eat the number of calories I am suppose to be able to in order to sustain my current weight, I gain weight. I really didn't start loosing weight and keeping it off until I started to increase my activity level. This was possible thanks to eBooks (see and and mp3 players which made going for hour long walks tolerable making it possible for me to shift from watching television to exercising. The weather doesn't always cooperate, so exercise alternatives are nice to have and the Wii has proven to be a good exercise machine. The Kinect sounds even better, but that is not out until November of this year.

While Wii Fit is an obvious choice for exercise, I have found that Sports Active and Sports Active More Workouts are much better. These, however, are ultimately just glorified exercise videos. Wanting something different, I decided to try Dance Dance Revolution House Party 2 (DDR). My thoughts were that in addition to exercise, I might also improve my mediocre dancing skills. Sadly, DDR has about as much to do with Dancing as Guitar Hero has to do with playing the guitar. Still, it is good exercise and there is enough of a game involved to keep you involved. For overly wet or hot days, it is a good substitute for going outside. There is one thing I noticed about the game which leads me (finally) to the topic of this post.

Too many games seem to want to punish players for being poor at playing the game. This to me seems blatantly stupid. While I can understand the idea of making a game more challenging, when such a challenge doesn't make the game more difficult for a person who is good at the game, then you are not making the game more challenging but are instead just punishing the players who are poor at the game. This might motivate some players to keep playing the game to get better, but with so many good games being released, it is more likely they will just abandon the game. While numerous games do punish poor players, and I am sure I complained about this before,  DDR did this in a number of ways that just brought this pet peeve of mine to the for-front. During the campaign, there were levels that you were not allowed to complete on the easiest difficulty level. Then there were challenges that required that you have huge numbers of consecutive great or perfect steps. This means that if 30 steps into the 50 step sequence required you only got a "good" the sequence was over and the count starts again at 0. As the songs are fairly short it also likely means that you have no chance of meeting the requirement have been shot and that no matter how good you do on the rest of the song you are going to have to repeat it.

The most blatant examples of punishing poor players that DDR had, however, were a couple of gimmicks that were particularly targeted at making the game harder for players who were poor at playing the game. The first were arrows that appeared higher than normal on the screen. If you missed theses arrows (which poor players are likely to do while good players are not) then future arrows of these types would appear even higher on the screen making absolutely sure that the poor player would be severely punished because he or she wasn't good at the game. The second one was the minimiser. This would shrink your display making it harder to see and therefore harder to play.

Of course, many arcade games tend to have features that punish poor players. Jumps in which failure sends you to near the beginning of the level so that you have to repeat a large section of the game again are still common. Having too few checkpoints in a level when you can't save your progress anywhere. Time limited sequences are pretty bad if they are designed so that good players barely can complete it in time. The worst time limit in my mind are the breath-holding ones where the superhero I am playing can't hold his/her breath as long as the out-of-shape person playing the game can, but that punishes all players not just the poor ones.

The sad thing is that too many designers are designing games for hard-core players of the genre that they are creating so don't even realise that they are punishing poor players and probably don't care until the number of "good" players for a particular genre gets so small that it becomes unprofitable to make games in that genre any more. At that point the experts think that people just got bored of the genre in question. The reality is that new players wanting to play the games just didn't have the skills and because they didn't have the skills, they got punished even more because of the game trappings designed to only be challenging to people who couldn't play the game well. As a result, the much needed new players never showed up and sales dry up.

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