Apr 15, 2009

Reward and Punishment

I've always questioned how much I should be punishing and rewarding in the games I make. Often times I like to punish the players when they screw up because it puts them on the edge. However, over-punishment can cause people to not invest as much time in a game due to constant negative feedback.

One thing I've never felt comfortable with was the power to save whenever the hell you wanted. While playing Half-Life 2 I was tapping the F6 quick save key after every little advancement, like getting health packs or single kills.

How did it feel? It felt dirty, that's how it felt. It felt like I was abusing the privilege that the game lent to me. But did I stop? No. It was so handy to just tap F6. About once or twice I saved in a bad position, but by retrying a few times I could get myself out of sticky situations.

I'm not sure this would be a problem if the game forced me to only save by pausing, clicking save, choosing a window, then saving, then exiting. If this was the case I definitely would not have abused the power of the omnipresent save ability.
But Valve is not like that. Valve trusts you not to be a dick.

What I'm talking about here is how much should we punish the player for dying? I'm sure you wished that the ending boss line in cave story had save points in-between each fight, but I bet you would have felt a lot less awesome after beating the core had there been a save point right before it.

Where are the effing save points now, Lara!?
I believe that punishment is important to add tension to your game, but the amount of what you take away from the player should be relative to the immediate challenges ahead. Frequent save points can make a player careless, but infrequent ones can make them impatient with your game.

I was hoping to come to a more absolute conclusion with this... But I guess it really just depends on the demographic you are aiming for.

Man. What a shitty conclusion. What do you (3) chaps think?


  1. I think you're right about being conservative. While saving after/before significant challenges spares frustration, the opposite extreme is all too common and leaves gameplay feeling totally lackluster. Games like Halo that quicksave THEMSELVES around every 30 seconds seem hollow. If there's good flow and satisfying friction to gameplay, I _want_ to get better and do it right next time. That's much more fun than just being breezily swept along.

    I agree with you on Cave Story. Gunstar Super Heroes also comes to mind; I think it hits the perfect balance.

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  3. honestly I think it depends on the game.
    I have tolerance of hardness for shooters but that's only because shooters have been though the years systematically ingrained that its normal.
    For some reason platformers are a diffrent tale; they are quite fun and intuitive but I often find myself not enjoying having to to redo challenging puzzles after long time doing them.

    I guess what I'm trying to get at is that so many games though good can be ruined due to the challenge factor while worse games (technically specking as in game code) can be funner though the challenge they give.

  4. Blech, platformer or otherwise, games with Puzzles (as in, the kind discretely divorced from the core aspects of gameplay, the the kind with a capital 'P') should probably not exist. And when they do, they better have a bloody save afterwards.

    Though in games like Lost Vikings where that challenge is the point, and the design is good, the puzzles can be delicious.

    I totally disagree with you about difficulty, though. If a game is objectively good, it's level of challenge doesn't suck, you suck at the game. If a game is bad, challenge won't make it fun, it just heightens the appeal to the player's obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which is downright unhealthy.

    Also, the quality of code is thoroughly divorced from quality of game, but that's another can of worms.