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  • Making A Hard Game Is Not Easy

    - Nick Defossez
  • Our game Squatbot is, by design, very difficult. We created a fast-paced platformer built for touch screens, and we wanted to spotlight our responsive controls. To do that, we needed to push the player to use the controls to their fullest. That said, we also wanted players to enjoy themselves, and ultimately beat the game. We needed our challenges to teach the player, and inspire them towards mastery, so that they could see the depth and finesse of controls.

    It's incredibly easy to make a game that no one will beat - It's much harder to make a game that players will push themselves to beat. A difficult game needs to teach players how to gain mastery over it, and the following five rules aid in that teaching process:

    1. The player needs a clear goal

    2. The player needs clear steps to take towards their goal

    3. The player needs to learn from every failure

    4. There should be no punishment for failure

    5. Keep each challenge short - There should be no busywork!

    Let's take a look at these points in detail.

    Rule #1: The player needs a clear goal

    Before the player can tackle a challenge you put in front of them, they need to know what they're trying to do at a macro level. If the player has no idea what their goal is, they have no reason to push forward when an obstacle gets in their way. At their first failure, they'll walk away, a little more confused and a little more frustrated than they were before starting your game.

    Different games motivate the player in different ways - Some have a story that the player wants to see played out, and others encourage the player to go for a high score. In every case, however, the player knows what they're trying to accomplish.

    Rule #2: The player needs clear steps to take towards to their goal

    It might seem odd to make an obvious path for your player when you're trying to test them, but players need to understand what they're supposed to be doing, in order to understand what they're doing wrong. Without knowing the step that they were trying to take, a player cannot accept a game's feedback (usually in the form of death), telling them that they did it wrong.

    In Squatbot, we accomplished this by giving the player a breadcrumb trail of coins, always encouraging them towards their next step. They know what they're supposed to be doing, even if they aren't quite able to do it yet.

    The challenge should be the execution, not figuring out where to go. If a player collects the coins, they'll make it through this tricky series of jumps.

    Rule #3: The player needs to learn from every failure

    Now that the player knows what they're supposed to do, we can start telling them what they're doing wrong. Whenever the player fails at a challenge, we want it to be a learning moment, and for them. This helps a player feel as though success is achievable, and prevents them from opaquely writing off a challenge as "too hard" to beat.

    When a player knows exactly how they messed up, they can see how close they were to success, and that knowledge makes them want to try again. It's the difference between "That was bogus! This game is impossible!" and "I was so close! Okay, just one more try..."


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