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Shigeru Miyamoto and Forced Time Travel

Posted by Random Terrain, in Game_Design_Opinions 23 January 2010 · 713 views

Game_Design_Opinions
Shigeru Miyamoto and Forced Time Travel


Take a look at this article:

deserthat.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/game-design-the-miyamoto-way-flow-and-difficulty/


Here are a few excerpts from that article with my comments below each one:

. . . Miyamoto argues that a game is better if you have to start the level again because it increases the level of intensity and makes the game more enjoyable. If you have a risk of dying before the final boss, it makes it all the more urgent that you don't fail. At the same time, Miyamoto states that this means the player gets to play through an easier part of the game to get to that hard part and this means the player gradually gets more skilled at the game as well as a sense of mastery over it.


Going back to the beginning of a level, or 5 levels back, or all the way back to the beginning is what ruined the fun in so many games. Knowing that I have a limited number of lives is intense enough. Playing through an easier part that I've already 'mastered' is tedious busy work. It doesn't improve my skills and increase my enjoyment of the game, it just makes me want to shove the game designer off the side of a mountain, let him climb back up, push him off again, let him climb back up, and keep repeating until he finally gets the message.



This design was built as a direct response to the design of arcade shooting games, which had developed the continue system as the games became more difficult: pop in another coin to continue playing through that really hard part. This means that "the player would always be playing at the very limit of their abilities… It's exciting, but it doesn't feel very good." It also doesn't give them a sense that they are good at the game and able to breeze through a part that was initially very difficult. (In a sense, this also feels like a tirade against save states and auto saving, which makes the player repeatedly attempt a difficult task until they get it right. Psychologically, this keeps the player at a high level of frustration, but if used more sparingly, it can also be used as a safety net for games that did not have continue points.)


The solution isn't to fling the player back in time. Just make the game adjust to the player. If the game notices that the player is having too much trouble, lower the difficulty a bit each time the player loses a life.



What Miyamoto is essentially talking about is a system of guiding a player into the Flow state. At first, the game is very easy, and so the player might feel a little bored. However, the difficulty will slowly ramp up, and the player will eventually reach a spot where the game's difficulty matches their skill. The player will then reach a part where the difficulty is simply too high, and they will fail. This might cause some frustration. However, by returning the player back to the beginning this places the player back in the easy/boredom stage, which helps them rebuild their confidence and get them back to the flow state. (Of course, if the player dies repeatedly enough, then they will become too frustrated to continue.)


That's a huge steaming pile of nonsense. Sending players back does not build confidence; it increases frustration and makes some players throw their controllers across the room. It also snaps players out of the flow state. Wikipedia says that "flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity." To keep the flow, don't send the player back; make the game adjust to the player. Keep the player immersed and moving forward.



Random Terrain
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I agree that too much forced backtracking can break the flow of a game. I've certainly experienced that frustration many times. However, I definitely want a challenge in my games, and I expect to die a few times before I figure out a working strategy for a particular level or boss or whatever. Most of the time, that's an enjoyable process. When it's not, it's usually because the game itself is flawed or unbalanced, or really not that fun to begin with.

I don't want to play a game that essentially clears the path for me by adjusting itself to my skill level. Like I said, I want a challenge, and I enjoy the process of improving at a game and eventually mastering it. However, I don't get a whole lot out of the "sense of accomplishment" some people cite as a motivation for playing games.

If you're having trouble beating a game, there's almost always the option to play it on the "easy" difficulty.

All of that being said, as I get older my time is more valuable to me, and, consequently, my threshold of tolerance for that type of gameplay is lessening. Spending the time required to master a game like Thunder Force III is simply out of the question anymore.
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Pitfall II is the master of frustration in this respect. You either have to accept the game's rules or you don't. Just think about how innovative it was when Atari started offering options in coinop to start at higher levels. It was innovative, but it also played into what has become an ever-more instant-gratification culture. Most of the classic games force you to play through all the easy levels first. One of my all time favorite games, Star Castle, is like that. It's kind of like anything in life. If you work long and hard at it, you value it more. Just to spend the time on the treadmill to get to the hard part where you die is an ordeal, but when you get there, it feels like "magic time". Like with continues. Rastan lets you continue until you get to the level beyond the hydra. Then you're purely on your own. It has a totally different feeling when you no longer have the net underneath you anymore.
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Pitfall II is the master of frustration in this respect. You either have to accept the game's rules or you don't. Just think about how innovative it was when Atari started offering options in coinop to start at higher levels. It was innovative, but it also played into what has become an ever-more instant-gratification culture. Most of the classic games force you to play through all the easy levels first. One of my all time favorite games, Star Castle, is like that. It's kind of like anything in life. If you work long and hard at it, you value it more. Just to spend the time on the treadmill to get to the hard part where you die is an ordeal, but when you get there, it feels like "magic time". . .

It only feels like 'magic time' to certain types of people who get all orgasmic over tedious challenges. Programmers are often that type of person, so that's why we keep getting the same crap.

  • In real life, if you climb a mountain and slip a few inches, no one makes you go back to the bottom and start over.
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  • In real life, if you invest 6 years of your life to get into a girl's pants, then make a tiny mistake, she's not going to make you wait another 6 years before you're grunting over her like wild boar.
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  • In real life, if you break your foot, the gods won't turn you into a fetus and force you to be born again in the hopes that you won't make a mistake this time.
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  • In real life, if you're almost ready to graduate from college and make a mistake, you are not forced to go back to kindergarten and work your way back up to college.

Games are supposed to be fun. For most people, life is challenging enough. They want a temporary escape from the tedium of everyday life.
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Seems to me, comparing a game to real life, then expressing a desire for it to be an escape is somewhat contradictory.

"fun" means a lot of things to a lot of people.

I too like the ramp up to "magic time", or as I call it the trance.

You are playing along, difficulty ramping up, you get tuned to the point where thought is action, and then...

*BAM* you are there!

This is a great thing, for those people who enjoy that kind of thing. I sure do.

Generally, I don't like returning to check points and such. Having a game state that endures, where you can just save where you want, is my personal favorite. A great example is the AvP on Jaguar.

Once, I had to take a step, save, take a step, save, inching along to a medpack in order to save a state I had been working on for weeks.

In a way, checkpoints kind of spoil that experience, requiring a specific amount of progress to advance, and then once advanced, the player is locked into the next state.

I find it much more enjoyable when the game world just is, and you can save the moment in time where you are and return to it, carrying on.

The nice thing about the AvP model is the consumables are just enough to finish the game in one run, if you are extremely good. If you are not, then you will need to save, in order that those are restored.

This is a self-correcting kind of thing where lots of different players can get their challenge at the level they want. IT can be abused, of course, but so what?

If one plays the game for gratification, and gets it, who cares really?

IMHO, a lot of bad game mechanics boil down to making sure that somebody who did achieve something, did it in such away as to be recognized by others no matter what. That's kind of goofy to me.

Much better to put the tools out there, and let the players simply play.

An analogy for the mountain then would be you struggle on the thing, slipping, tired, out of resources, so you save, only to return, rested, and not so worried about losing where you are, but doing so in a way that is gratifying.

Another one that provided those good experiences was WOLF3D. Once I got past a rather nasty level, ran down a hall to rest, only to find it was a long, dead end. I turned, holding only the knife, knowing the baddies were at the other end. Made it out of there, with just the knife and a health point or two. A little sneaking around saw the kit, and the state of the game carried on.

That knife battle was important because I didn't want to reload the game and refresh things, but I could have, denying myself the gratification.

In the end, structuring the game to manage these things is not healthy for anybody, and leads to more bland, managed, safe, structured experiences, and that's just not what I enjoy in gaming at all.
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Seems to me, comparing a game to real life, then expressing a desire for it to be an escape is somewhat contradictory.

I guess you missed the part where I was replying to "It's kind of like anything in life." The challenges in life are not like the ones in these frustration fests that some people have the nerve to call games.

Most video games are flawed from the start because they are made with tainted ingredients, but if we are going to play them, at least give us choices. People who don't want to play for 2 hours to get to the spot where they left off can resume there and lovers of tedium can choose to play the same levels over and over again like a 5 year old watching the same episode of Barney until everyone else in the house prays for death. That way everyone is happy.
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Seems to me, comparing a game to real life, then expressing a desire for it to be an escape is somewhat contradictory.

I guess you missed the part where I was replying to "It's kind of like anything in life." The challenges in life are not like the ones in these frustration fests that some people have the nerve to call games.

Most video games are flawed from the start because they are made with tainted ingredients, but if we are going to play them, at least give us choices. People who don't want to play for 2 hours to get to the spot where they left off can resume there and lovers of tedium can choose to play the same levels over and over again like a 5 year old watching the same episode of Barney until everyone else in the house prays for death. That way everyone is happy.


No, I saw that. Was just expressing this as something not resolvable, and that's where the art of it is. If it were resolvable to some known, absolute, there would be no art to gaming, that's all.

Funny thing about choices. Everybody wants lots of them, but when it comes down to it, fewer overall choices raises value perception. Less is often more. If, every game has every option, you get a mess, where the art kind of gets lost.

Looking at a game from a holistic standpoint, level design, story, UI, world physics, or lack of them, etc... there are times when options make good sense, and other times where they do not, and people vary considerably.

On one hand, we want games made for US! On the other, we want to be surprised, challenged, entertained, told a story, etc...

That's the unresolvable part, and the core of the art as far as I am concerned.

So, let's say we've a game with the return to start mechanic a lot of us don't like very much. On one hand, that's frustrating, or not well aligned with our desires. So that's a negative. On the other, let's say the graphics and story are very compelling, or the rewards are sweet.

Would that work as a step-by-step progression with no backtracking? Maybe, depends on the level design, story and other things.

There is the art right there!
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I just finished up The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which definitely has this "die & retry from farther back" design. Yes, you can save at any time and continue after you die, but you end up starting at the beginning of the "level". And if you continue after dying you don't come back with full health. Thus there is real incentive not to die.

For example, at the end of the game there are five stages. I died several times trying to get through the first stage until I realized a new mechanic had been added. I think I got through the second and third stages without dying. (Although the third stage took a while until I changed my technique.) But on the fourth stage I was killed and the continue put me back to the third stage. (Which was much easier, since I'd already completed it.) But then I died again on the fourth stage, partially because I hadn't recharged my health after continuing. So the on the next continue, I left the stage and returned to the main world to recharge, collect health potions, etc before retrying. And this time, when I worked through the third stage, I worked on preserving my health.

Did having to redo the third stage after dying on the fourth stage make the game more fun? Well, it wasn't that bad in this case, but I know there were times playing Super Mario Sunshine where it was definitely not fun having to redo tricky tasks just to get back to the point where I died. However, it does make you re-evaluate your strategy for completing those sections.

I should note this redo idea isn't exclusive to Miyamoto-san. Think of Guitar Hero/Rock Band where if you make too many mistakes you have to redo the song from the start.

But on the other hand, being able to save and reload at any time can take away some of the challenge of the game because you can easily avoid the consequences of an incorrect decision.
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I should note this redo idea isn't exclusive to Miyamoto-san.

Yep, the first time I really paid attention to the "you weren't perfect, so go back and do it all over again, bitch" was in Pitfall II: Lost Caverns:

http://www.randomter...s.html#pitfall2



But on the other hand, being able to save and reload at any time can take away some of the challenge of the game because you can easily avoid the consequences of an incorrect decision.

There are alternatives to forced time travel and constant reloading:

http://www.randomter...restarting.html


But as I have said before, most video games are made with tainted ingredients. A lot of game designers usually focus on the wrong things and have no concern about the health and well-being of the player. They don't usually make games, they make static action puzzles where you tediously play and die, play and die, play and die, trying to perform a specific sequence of 'dance steps' perfectly to solve the puzzle. "Oh, it's left, left, jump, duck, jump, jump, right, jump, right, not left, left, duck, duck, jump, jump, right, jump, right! How could I have been so stupid? I had to replay the last 5 levels 200 times to get it right and I got so frustrated that I punched my wife and killed my dog, but I still believe it was worth it. I feel like I accomplished something. Luckily, my wife didn't get the game console in the divorce."



Related Links:

www.randomterrain.com/atari-2600-memories-game-design-guidelines.html#resist_frustration

www.randomterrain.com/game-design-play-vs-competition.html

www.randomterrain.com/game-design-randomness-and-replayability.html

www.randomterrain.com/game-design-alternatives-to-restarting.html

www.atariage.com/forums/blog/120/entry-6770-shigeru-miyamoto-and-forced-time-travel

The Bill of Players' Rights

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Yep, the first time I really paid attention to the "you weren't perfect, so go back and do it all over again, bitch" was in Pitfall II: Lost Caverns:

But as I have said before, most video games are made with tainted ingredients. A lot of game designers usually focus on the wrong things and have no concern about the health and well-being of the player. They don't usually make games, they make static action puzzles where you tediously play and die, play and die, play and die, trying to perform a specific sequence of 'dance steps' perfectly to solve the puzzle. "Oh, it's left, left, jump, duck, jump, jump, right, jump, right, not left, left, duck, duck, jump, jump, right, jump, right! How could I have been so stupid? I had to replay the last 5 levels 200 times to get it right and I got so frustrated that I punched my wife and killed my dog, but I still believe it was worth it. I feel like I accomplished something. Luckily, my wife didn't get the game console in the divorce."


LOL. Awesome points and thanks for the chuckle. :thumbsup:

I dig the theory of flow and I agree that some games should "adapt" to a players skill to keep them in the flow phase. I think an example of a game that did this very well was Spyro 3 on the PS. There were a few skill level settings that were set "behind the scenes". If you demonstrated high or low skill, it would adjust the level accordingly. I don't know of any other games that did this (and only knew about it on Spyro because of a design bug. If you were playing on the lowest level (my 4 year old was at the time) some gems became unreachable). Anyway, Spyro 3 is a good example of a game that adapted to skill level without forcing people back to the beginning of the game when they died. (I don't remember if it forces you back to the beginning of the level or not).

Have you played Braid? It takes the Super Mario Bros style (with some liberties) and adds something I wish every SMB game had, the ability to rewind when you die. Don't make me go to the beginning of a level just let me go back and do the last 5 seconds over again until I get it right, thanks. Of course, Braid takes the idea of rewind and time flow and turns it into a twisty puzzle game disguised as a platformer, but I wish that rewind feature were something I could put in the first Super Mario Bros.
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Have you played Braid? It takes the Super Mario Bros style (with some liberties) and adds something I wish every SMB game had, the ability to rewind when you die. Don't make me go to the beginning of a level just let me go back and do the last 5 seconds over again until I get it right, thanks. Of course, Braid takes the idea of rewind and time flow and turns it into a twisty puzzle game disguised as a platformer, but I wish that rewind feature were something I could put in the first Super Mario Bros.

Nope, I haven't played that game yet. Rewinding a bit sure is better than replaying entire levels. It's not my idea of the ideal game, but it's an improvement.
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