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  • Making A Hard Game Is Not Easy

    - Nick Defossez

  • Rule #4: There should be no punishment for failure

    At this point, you should have the player hooked: They know what they did wrong, and they're excited to try again. Let them! Don't mess things up by punishing the player's mistake. All that will do is break the lovely feedback loop that you've so carefully built.

    There's a really simple reason not to punish players for their failure: You're building a hard game, and you know players are going to fail at it quite often, just by nature of what your game is. If failure is tied to punishment, you're building a game which punishes players for engaging with it! That's obviously not a good idea!

    Be careful: You don't have to actively build a punitive system for players to feel punished by death. In Squatbot, we were careful to make each death as painless as possible - Checkpoints were abundant, and players never lost resources when they died, but early playtesters told us that the game punished death too heavily. Upon investigation, we discovered that players with slower devices were dealing with a few seconds of loading between deaths, which felt like punishment when they wanted to try again. We fixed the performance issue, but it was a good reminder that nothing should stand between an eager player, and another attempt. Keep your death animations short, keep your loading times shorter, and let them jump right back in.

    Rule #5: Keep each challenge short - There should be no busywork!

    Games are not made harder by length, just more tedious. A long level means that death forces the player to slog through a section that they've already mastered. In some respects, this rule is really just an extension of the rule above - Forcing a player to repeat something that doesn't challenge them feels like punishment.

    Because busywork is not engaging, but necessary for a player to get to where they want to be (The next challenge), it puts them into a state of what I've dubbed "boring stress". It's the feeling you get when you're doing something crucially important, but trivially easy - Think filling out an important form. It's easy to do, but the whole time you're doing it, you're slightly on edge. I first coined this term as a way of disparaging the minigame Shy Guy Says in Mario Party, but you see the phenomenon crop up anywhere that the stakes are higher than the player's engagement level.

    "All the thrills of typing an email address correctly!"

    That's all, folks!

    Thanks for reading. Hopefully this you'll tune your own games into well oiled teaching machines. If you liked this article, consider following our studio @ildgames on Twitter, we're happy to talk design all day long!


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