Sunday, 11 April 2010

Why Trial and Error will Doom Games

A sort unspoken rule in game design is that players should be able to lose. Just about every game has some kind of fundamental mechanic that is possible to fail. Whenever this happens, the player needs to try again and repeat the process until successful. This is thought to add drama, tension and also make the player's actions count. It seems to be believed that without it games would not be games and instead some kind of boring linear entertainment. I think this position is wrong, extremely hurtful and if not fixed, will become the downfall of the medium. In this post I will explain why.

The Problem
In a book or movie it is common that the reader/viewer need to experience very upsetting events, that can be very hard to read about/watch. This is especially true to horror, where the goal is often to upset the reader/viewer and to evoke emotions such as anxiety, fear and disgust. It is also common to have more boring and slow sequences in order to build mood, explain character motivations, etc. These are not necessarily very fun/easy to experience but will make up for it later on and acts as an important ground to build the story from. Note that these "hard to repeat" moments are not merely handy plot devices or similar. They are fundamentally crucial for creating meaningful experiences and many (if not all!) of the great works among books and movies would not be possible without them. Yet, at many times the only reason one can put up with these kinds of sequences is because one know there is an end to it. Just keep on reading/watching and it will eventually be over and hopefully an important payoff will be given.

This is not true for games. Whenever in a situation where loss is possible, the player is forced to meet certain criteria or she will not be able to progress. It is not possible to just "stick with it" to complete these kinds of sequences. The player needs to keep playing the same passage over and over again until proper actions have be performed. Not until this is accomplished is the player allowed to continue. This either comes in the form of skill based actions (e.g. platform jumping), navigational problems (e.g. find the way out) or some sort of puzzle that needs to be solved.

For sequences that are meant to be emotional this can be devastating. Often the player is not compelled to relive the experience and/or any impact the sequence was meant to have is lost. Also, it sets up a barrier and effectively blocks certain players from continuing. How can games possibly hope to match the impact of books and movies, when the ability to have critical "hard-to-repeat" moments are nearly impossible because trial-and-error?

Case Study: Korsakovia
This problem is very evident in the game Korsakovia. The game puts you in the role a man with Korsakoff's syndrome and is played out in a sort of dream world, interwoven with dialogs between you and your doctor. It is a very interesting experience, but also a very disturbing one and the game is extremely brutal on the senses. Even so, I felt compelled to continue and it felt like worthwhile experience. This was until I the gameplay started. Korsakovia has all problems associated with trial-and-error (skill, navigation and puzzles) and this combined with the exhausting atmosphere made it impossible to for me to complete it. It was simply not possible for me to replay certain segments of the game and what was the first time around immersive turned into an annoyance and a (literal) headache. I am convinced that the game would have been a lot better, and possibly a truly great experience, if the trial and error mechanics where removed.

I do not mean to trash Korsakovia and I think it is a really interesting experiment. However, it is such a fine example of how trial-and-error can go wrong and I urge you all to try it out. Considering that it is a research project, I think that is mission accomplished for the creator!

Allowing The Player to Play
The problem with players not finishing games is something that recently have gotten more and more attention in the games industry. After analyzing stats collected, it has become quite evident that something needs to be done. For example, less than 50% of players ever completed Half-Life 2-Episode 1 which, considering the game's length, polish and difficulty, I am sure that is a very high figure compared to other games. This means that more games have started to try out methods at solving the problem. Some examples are:

  • In Secret Files: Tunguska one can choose to show all of the interactable areas in a scene (reducing pixel hunting).
  • Alone In The Dark allows the player to skip chapters in order to force progress in a game.
  • New Super Mario Brothers Wii has a mode where the game takes over control and completes sections for the player.
  • BioShock never really kills the player but instead just teleports them to a different part of the map and leaves the enemies and environment in the same states as when the player "died".
While this might sound like steps in the right direction all of these solution suffer from the same problem. They are all ad-hoc and breaks the immersion. The solutions are after thoughts, do not really belong in the game world and feels more like cheats than a part of the experience (BioShock possible excluded as it actually works it into the story). When the player chooses to display items and other interaction points in the game, it turns the game from a living world into an abstract interface. By skipping chapters in Alone in the Dark the player effectively skips part of the narrative and misses out on parts of the experience. The trick used in Super Mario removes any interaction from the game, which is definitively not good for immersion.

Finally, although BioShock is by far closest to having a working solution it still feels tacked on and can easily lessen immersion (for example when forced into respawn, charge with wrench, repeat situation). The player still also needs to overcome certain challenges and are forced to repeat sections over and over. However, there is never a moment where the player is unable to progress, given that they are willing to stay at it, no matter their skill level. It is far from an ideal solution, but a lot better than blocking players from progressing.

I think that the proper way to solve this is to incorporate it as a feature in the game from day one. Making sure that players are not unnecessarily blocked from continuing, is not something that should be slapped on as a side thing. It is also very important that players do not feel that the game is holding their hand every step of the way, something that can be very hard unless planned from the start. It is crucial that players feel that the performed actions and choices are their own and that they are not just following commands like a mindless drone.

Fixing this issue is really important. Games can not continue to deny content to players and demand that they meet certain criteria in order get the full experience. Not only does it discourage people from playing games, it also make it impossible to create more "holistic" experiences. By this I mean games that require the entirety of the work for the player to truly appreciate it (something I aim to talk about an upcoming post). It will be very hard indeed to insert deeper meanings into games unless this problem is dealt with.

Less Challenge, More Immersion
Allowing the player to get the full experience and not having win-to-progress situations is a good start, but just the first step in the right direction. As with Bioshock, the game can still have trial-and-error like moments, where the player is forced to play section over and over in order to continue. This brings us back the problem that I mentioned in the beginning: that repeating a certain experiences will either lessen their impact and/or discouraging the player from progressing. As these "hard to repeat" sequences are crucial in order to expand the horizon of the medium, it is essential that we find ways of adding them. And in order to do so, trial and error must go.

I think that first step towards this is to throw away the idea that a videogames needs to be a challenge. Instead of thinking of a game as a something to be beaten, it should be thought of as an experience. Something that the player "lives" through rather than "plays" through. Why designers are unable to do this probably because they are afraid that it will lessen the sense of accomplishment and tension of a game. Many seem to think that trial-and-error based obstacles are the only way of creating these emotions. I think this untrue.

Let's first consider accomplishment. While this is normally evoked by completing a devious puzzle or defeating an enemy, there are other ways to feel accomplishment. Simply performing a simple act that changes the game world somehow can give this feeling. For instance planting a tree or helping out an NPC. There is no need for these to be obstacles in order for one to feel accomplishment either and thus any sort of trial-and-error is removed. It can also come in other forms such as just reaching a destination. Also, if designed correctly one can trick the player into thinking they accomplished something, for example escaping a monster even though there was no never a way to fail.

Creating tension is not only possible without using trial-and-error; skipping it may even lead to increased tension! When the player fails and is forced to repeat, there is no element of surprise left and it often also leads to immersion being broken. For example when playing horror games like Fatal Frame and Silent Hill I can be play for quite some time without dying, feeling highly immersed. However, once death (which is part of the trial-and-error mechanic) occurs I am pulled out of the atmosphere and suddenly realize that I am playing a game. This means death lessens the immersion and breaks the flow of the game. But will it not make the game more scary?

Regarding death and fear-factor, consider the following:

1) If the player fears death because of a trial and error system, she fears an abstract mechanic and not something of the game world. By worrying about a game mechanics, the player is pulled out of the experience.

2) Once death has occurred, the player will know what to expect. If killed by a creature that jumped out from behind a corner, the next time the encounter will have far from the same effect.

Instead of punishing the player, I think it is better to add consequences. Even just making the player believe that there are consequences (which Heavy Rain successfully does) can be enough. Also, if one keeps the player immersed then it is also easier for the players to roleplay and convince themselves that they are truly in great danger even though they are not. In our game Amnesia, we are doing our best to reduce the amount of trial-and-error and still retain a really terrifying atmosphere. So far it is looking very good for this approach and we have only seen good things come out of it (I guess time will tell if we pull it of or not). If horror games, that are notorious for using trial-and-error mechanics to enhance their mood, can do fine without trial-and-error, I see no reason why other genres shouldn't.

To sum things up: When one relies on abstract game mechanics for creating emotions, one does so at the cost of immersion and the players ability to become part of the game world.

End Notes
Of course trial-and-error should not be banned from game design. Many games like VVVVVV and Super Mario thrive on the trial-and-error and has it as an integral part of the design. Likewise, many adventure games are supposed to have tricky puzzles, and could not do without them. Some games are meant to be "just games" and to be a challenge to the player. I am not in any way opposed to this kind of design.

However, in other games trial-and-error is just bad and really drag down the experience. In its worst form trial-and-error:
  • Discourages players by setting a standard of what sort of players are allowed to continue.
  • Greatly lessens the emotional impact of events by requiring repetition.
  • Breaks immersion and makes the player focus on abstract game mechanics.
  • Forces games to focus on moment-to-moment fun and discourages a holistic payoff.
It is extremely important to be aware of this and to ask oneself if a trial-and-error mechanics really serves the game right. It is only by breaking free of conventions like this that it will be possible to take games into new and existing directions!

I would like to end with some wise words from funny man Dara Ó Briain: (Check at around 3:18!)
(From a British program called Gameswipe, which is well worth watching in its entirty)


  1. I am not a big fan of trial and error games. I want to play a game for the experience. To be in this other reality and to do stuff that I would not do for real.
    I like the uncharted games because I don't find them too difficult, so I don't have to play the scenarios over and over. So most of the time can I just enjoy the story and characters:)

    I remember when Battlefield 1942 came out, how amazed I was by the open sandbox world. Just the experience of being a part of this huge battle where everything that happened was just sort of random and not put there just for you.
    Sometimes you can walk for ages and nothing happens; Other times it's all hell breaks loose around you!
    The most exilerating experience is to survive a whole battle. The more you die, the more you don't care about dying.
    Unfortunately, I think that this experience wich made the first 2 Battlefield games great, have been lost in pointless competitive pointsystems and Unlocks.

    I recently thought it could be fun to install, Need for speed Hot pursuit 2, again and take a race. But noooooo...I had to play through the whole boring campaign in order to unlock all the cool cars grrrrr!!! I hate unlocks.

    So I am really looking forward to your next game, and hope that you will succeed in creating an unforgetable experience:) Best of luck.

  2. I had typed up over 8000 characters, so sadly I can't post it here (4096 limit). I did post it at my own blog, though. If you feel like reading (again, 8000+ characters), go ahead and visit

    If the color theme makes it hard to read, let me know. I'll also try to fit in some pictures when I have some time.

    Either way, another great post. Keep up the good work.

  3. @Thomas

    1. The video was funny.

    2. I totally agree with you. Trial-and-error can work in some games, for example if they are not too difficult, so, the chance of dying is low anyway and, i think, you can overlook it in some situations, if you don't die too often or your death brings somehow consequences, whatever. One good example for really... and i mean... really, really... frustrating trial-and-error... is the first Far Cry. I mean, the last mission was so unbelievably hard, i thought like i could throw the game out of my window.

    In this case, i think aswell, that if you want to make a game, where the story and the atmosphere are the most important aspects of the game, then it's better to find a way to deliver it without trial-and-error. I've got a few ideas specifically about that point. Maybe we can discuss that private somehow. I'll send you an e-mail in the next few days (if i find a way to contact you somehow :P - btw., my contact-e-mail-adress is this:

    @ Kristian B.

    I'm sure your hopes will come true. They're doing a pretty good job.

  4. mlaar:
    In some situations, in order to make sure that the play has freedom and is in control I think that the possibility of a trial-and-error event might be very hard to avoid. If players strays from a path somehow, then it is impossible to cater for all the different things they can do, and a death-screen might be unavoidable. Of course, one should make sure to avoid these types of moments as much as possibly + give enough hints so it is very improbable that the player does the wrong thing.

    Btw, I recall the moment in God of War 2 that you mention quite vividly btw. I think I had to try it almost 100 times (no kid) before I got and it was really frustrating. They could have handled that a lot better. A shame to end a fine game like GoW2 in that way. It has gotta be one of my most annoying gaming momements ever, especially since it was so close to the end (like 2 seconds before the game ended right?)

  5. Interesting post!

    Game mechanics and the desire to tell a linear story just don't mix. At all. If you build a game with deep mechanics that requires actual skill you will find that telling a decently paced story is impossible. Likewise, if you're just focused on telling a linear story you'll find that providing deep gameplay is impossible.

    You analysis of several games that lie on various parts of this spectrum is insightful. It goes to show that no game has ever found a perfect way to integrate the linear with the non-linear. I'm curious to see how Amnesia eventually handles this, and I wish you luch.

    Now to provide some counterpoint: I approach games from a gameplay perspective instead of a story perspective, so there were things in your article that I felt a strong reaction to. You explain that game designers often introduce tough mechanics and difficulty to increase tension in the story. You then say that this leads to trial-and-error, which actually decreases tension and immersion.

    But is it not true that many game designers work deep mechanics into their game because they are actually interesting in their own right, regardless of the game's story? They are GAME-designers, after all. They design interesting systems that players can interact with and learn to manipulate, all for the essential goal of learning to expressing yourself within a system. I for one loathe many games that have put gameplay on the backseat because they felt the need to force a story down my throat. There are exceptions, but mostly I get meaning from deep mechanics, not stories. In some extreme cases I even yearn for the opposite of a skip-gameplay button: a skip-story button.

    I agree that decreasing challenge can be a solution for those that want their players to experience all their content, but I shudder at the thought of making the player think that their accomplishments were monumental if all they did was, essentially, nothing. Far more than trial and error, it is fake challenge that makes me scream in anger. It feels like a gross disrespect to me as a player to suspend me in a false sense of accomplishment.

    Anyway, there is no right or wrong here. I'm not saying your approach is a bad one, I just want to point out the opposite end of the spectrum. The dynamic and non-linear nature of a game does not match with the linear nature of a pre-written story. This means you will need to make concessions. As a designer you need to consciously choose which part of the spectrum you inhabit according to the experience that you want the player to have. You'll never be able to get your mix perfect, because again, the two just don't mix. But after weighting all aspects you can at least be confident that you have an optimal mix for your particular goals. :)

  6. Martijn Zandvliet:
    First of all, the goal does not need to tell a linear story or similar. It can simply be to immerse the player in a certain environment so there does not need to be any linear component at all. I know this becomes a bit confusing because I compare to books and movies quite a lot and perhaps I should refrain a bit more from doing so.

    The thing I want to point out is that I do not want videogames to become linear event1->event2->etc... kinds of structures in order to evoke emotions and provide meaningful content. And I do not think that a plot or similar is needed either.

    When it comes to gamedesigners designing game mechanics, I totally agree! However, I do not think that these mechanics need to contain trial-and-error mechanics and that it can be very harmful to do son. There are tons of other ways to provide meaningful interactions and consequences and this is what I think require more focus.

    I do not think that there are two points on a spectrum, where one end is "linear story" and the other "trial and error gameplay". I think the situations is a lot of complex and that there is so much more left to explore.

    Hope that makes my position a bit more clear :)

  7. Thomas

    That GoW2 moment easily ranked in the top 3 of most frustrating parts ever. Another moment I hated very dearly was that elevator-thing you had to keep operating otherwise the spiked ceiling would come down and crush you to death. Must have replayed that part almost as much as the battle with Zeus.

    That's why I personally rate Devil May Cry slightly higher. While it can be incredibly hard to win a bossfight at times, you can make progress and get better. It's not dependent on just one thing you do (smash buttons at the right time). On the other hand, God of War is much more epic and knows more memorable moments.

    Then again, those aren't exactly horror games... :P

  8. Thomas:

    Alright, points taken. Regarding the spectrum thing: Yeah, it's not so black and white as I made it out to be. If I would insist on viewing the situation as a spectrum I would at least say that the spectrum is N-dimensional... But I won't.

    So now I'm currently thinking more along your lines: If player-death is something that we'd rather avoid, then we should be looking for ways to have the game not be about death. In case of a horror experience that means body-horror and fear-of-death-by-monster are out of the question. Yet we still want to have a definitive fear of *something* in there. Okay, now I'm getting quite curious about how you guys are handling this! If fear is considered as a reaction to an imminent threat (leading to escape or avoidance), are you then instead going for anxiety (dealing with the uncontrollable, unavoidable)?

  9. Thomas:

    Here's an excerpt from Edge's review of Heavy Rain, which sums up what I think about it's execution pretty well:

    "The confusion stems from Heavy Rain’s adaptable storytelling, an ambitious system that sets itself the impossible task of bringing together Cage’s jumble of scenarios. Our heroes can’t regurgitate the plot because they don’t dare try. Heavy Rain pulls off its branching narrative by donning blinkers and sprinting down the chosen routes. Countless permutations of each scene are allowed, safe in the knowledge that they will never be addressed again. Scars, bandages and bloodied stumps accrue, but in a game full of moral choices, we are owed more than a character reskin. How do you invest in decisions if they are so casually frittered away?

    Death is a sticking point. Die in the story and the world moves on (see ‘Grave situation’). It’s an intriguingly tangible threat, and as such motivates your success in Quick Time Events – there are no game overs or restarts. Whether driving into oncoming traffic or fighting knife-wielding intruders, the chain of onscreen stick prods and controller tilts is feverishly adhered to. But it appears that the Grim Reaper is in a lenient mood. Deliberately tempt fate, refuse to follow the cues, and the QTEs often play out to non-fatal conclusions. The general skeleton of the story cannot truly be changed, cheapening every event in the process. Whether or not the Origami Killer is apprehended, his fiendishness is neutered from the outset – Cage is unwilling to force the consequences of failure on to the player."

    While it can definitely create tension, it also has a real conflict of goals: On the one hand they want to portray a ruthless serial killer, but on the other hand they don't want the player to die. This results in all kinds of awkwardness.

  10. Martijn Zandvliet:
    The way we are doing it in Amnesia, is to actually "kill" the player and whenever it happens, something changes in the world but all items picked up, etc remain in unaltered. That way the player is never sure what will be the result from a death. There is also a penalty n form of lost sanity when ever death occurs. What we try to focus on is to create a fear of the unknown rather than a fear of restart. I think this kind of fear can be stronger and more potent and at the same time also reducing trial-and-error (although we work to keep it as low as possible, we will not remove it completely).

    I can understand that it feels bad when your actions does not matter in a game like Heavy Rain, where it is the main selling point. It seems like some people think that their actions really did matter (at least to some degree) judging from reviews I read. Perhaps they got a bad playthrough or just over-analyzed? I have not played the game though, so I do not have any personal opinions.

    As for the "no game overs or restarts", I do not see how including them helps adding to the drama. If the player is faced with a game over screen and asked to replay, whatever it adds to tension, it is bound to remove in immersion as one is forced to play the section again. For example, I hated the failure screens in Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy).

    I do agree with you there there needs to be consequences and a game cannot give the exact same outcome whether you loose or win a fight. Also, I consider it fair to use a Game Over screen if the player does something really stupid, just to narrow down possible story-branches and/or to give a quick and dirty consequence of a bad action. This should be in minority though and preferably only when the player messes up on purpose or by doing a fatal tactical mistake (eg entering a room where murder butchers a corpse unarmed).

  11. You make some very interesting points, and I actually ended up agreeing with you more than I thought I would when I read your introduction. I've grown up playing video games, so I think nothing of a game over screen, but lately, as games have become more emotionally involved, I've started to see the truth in the things you've said.

    I remember playing Final Fantasy XII and being shocked that they went back to the old-school idea of sending you all the way back to the title screen when you die, and just trusting that you were smart enough to save at regular intervals. The story (as confusing as it was) had me very intrigued, but there were several times I died and realized I hadn't saved in over an hour and just didn't feel like replaying it. That, on top of the fact that there were actually BOOBY TRAPPED SAVE POINTS served to really lesson the impact of the plot and just made me terrified of wasting time and convinced that Square was out to screw me over.

    At first, on playing XIII, the old-school gamer in me originally scoffed at some of the things that made it easier, but the way they ended up helping the immersion was amazing. Primarily that, when you died, you started over two steps away from where the battle started and were allowed to try again. If you died against a boss, you went back to your menu and were allowed to change party members, equipment, etc. and try again. This did not make the battles any more difficult, they just saved 40 minutes of backtracking every time you died, and I was much more immersed.

    The most telling, though, was when my girlfriend decided she wanted to play Bioshock, since she had heard so much about how intelligent and mature it was. She had never played a shooter in her life (Her gameplay experience is primarily Kingdom Hearts and Phoenix Wright) so she got her butt promptly handed to her. She was loving it until the first "boss," which killed her several times over. Even with the vita-chambers restoring her, the boss had a heal station so it didn't help much because it still gave the sense that "You failed, try again". She eventually ended up saying "This is stupid" and turning it off. Eventually, she gave it another go and finally killed him, but the immersion is significantly less than what it was when she first entered the game, since now she harvests the little sisters just because she needs the upgrades, completely removing herself from the games presented moral situation.

    So, that was a very good article. I'm interested to see what progress you guys will make in keeping significance to player choice, but without time-wasting punishment.

  12. SkipSandwich:
    Thanks for sharing! Really interesting in hearing stuff like this!

    Would also be fun to hear if anyone had the opposite experience, if trial-and-error actually improved the immersion or similar!

  13. I'm working on a HL2:Orange box mod that is horror-based. Everytime you guys update your blog I learn something that applies to me and my team. Goddamn Amnesia is going to be awesome.

  14. Thomas:

    "Would also be fun to hear if anyone had the opposite experience, if trial-and-error actually improved the immersion or similar!"

    I'm a big fan of the Splinter Cell series. On easy mode you can mostly stumble through the levels like a drunk elephant, but on realistic mode you really have to be a disciplined ninja. My stealth-skills were quite rusty when I started playing Conviction yesterday, so I started on normal difficulty. While I was able to find my way through the various challenges quite easily, I found I wasn't really playing the part of super-stealth-cyber-ninja as well as I wanted. As a result the whole experience seemed kind of lacking to me. This newest addition to the Splinter Cell universe is even more forgiving in this respect because it allows you to fix a lot of your mistakes with gears of war-like gunplay.

    I switched to realistic mode and all was well. At this mode you need to be well aware of your surroundings because you are never really safe. You need to be discreet and decisive about your actions, and even a small error of judgment gets you killed.

    The learning curve is bigger this way; I died a whole lot! Eventually though there was a point where my skills and tactics started to work, and from then on I truly was that super-stealth-cyber-ninja. From then on I identified much more with the game, everything fit together.

    Then came the most ultimate punishment. A power-failure during a save operation corrupted my savegame and I had to start the game from scratch! Initially I was angry, but I started again anyway. It didn't take me long to find that with all the practiced skills I could express myself so much better in the early levels than on my first playthrough. The levels quickly open up to allow experimentation, and I found all sorts of new ways to progress, relying less and less on guns and lethal takedowns, not ever being noticed by the enemy... Yeah, this was Splinter Cell again.

    In short: The very process of trail-and-error shaped me up to be a proper cyber-ninja. This means I play the game in a style much closer to what the fiction suggests it is about, giving my experience a whole lot more meaning.

  15. Martijn:
    Interesting! In this case it seems like the emotional-attachment to behaviour (or what to call it), wast built up in the process of trial and error. What I mean is that by being punished hard and forced to repeat every time you made a bad move, you where trained into roleplaying correctly.

    Does that description fit?

    Because then it seems to be that trial and error could be a means towards immersions and emotions, by educating the player on how to play. The good thing with repetition, is that you can compare bad performances with good, since everything but your actions where the same on each go. If there where no repetition, the world would change too much and the player might have a harder time learning to act properly.

  16. Yes, that's pretty much it. :)

    On realistic mode the game expects you to shape yourself in its ideal image, instead of vice versa. I appreciate this sort of design because it forces you to change and learn. You come out of the experience different from how you went in. There's plenty of drawbacks, like you described in your original post, but for me this is where the fun is at.

    Conviction's implementation of trial and error is not very good though. Checkpoints are sometimes a little too far apart, and reloading a checkpoint just takes way too long. The checkpoint issue I can live with, since it forces you to be a little more conservative and patient in your approach. However, there is no excuse for having long reload times in a trail and error game.

  17. I have a question about the _map_ in Amnesia. Is there a map available, which we can take with us? Or are they again on walls, like they were in Penumbra?

  18. Mario:
    We are trying to not have maps at all and instead make the map easy to navigate.

  19. Oh my god!! :0 :0
    i just read the article about the syndrome on wikipedia and i was stun!!
    I got that!! :0
    that exactly the same thing i live (sometime)!!!
    .....i didn't know i was a mental sick......what else i could say?
    .... Maybe...


    p.s im not kidding

    p.s thomas: i very like when you take the half-life example, that always remind me about the freezer crowbar in the lake level, i'll never (i will try, after what i read:/) forget this moment XD!

  20. @Anon

    The asylum calls you!

    And well, who knows, maybe you'll be part of their next project.

  21. Hmmmm...
    I think it will be more disturbing if i go to the asylum, there is 85% of probability that they will cause more dammage in their next projext on human body!

  22. Making the player restart is something that harks back to arcade games, where the idea was to part the audience with as much cash as possible. I'm currently doing a game about **saving** lives rather than killing people, where no matter how well you do you still progress to the next level. The player never feels threatened but there is still tension, because they want to get to their patients before they bleed out.

    But in Amnesia it's the main character who'll be in danger, and you still haven't said how you're going to pull this all off. I guarantee you that a good number of your players **will** run straight into a monster at some point during the game (either on purpose or by accident). Then what happens? You wake up? You switch to a different character? The monster disappears in a puff of smoke?
    Or are you going to partition off your monsters so the player can't ever reach them? Because people aren't quite as gullible as you might think.

  23. wilbefast:
    As I explained above in answer to Martijn, we will have a kind of death, but the player will never repeat the same parts. When you "die", something changes and thus there are unknown consequences. Our intent is that this will be scarier than a normal save system, because normally you know what happens when you die. In Amnesia, you will never know what might happen.

  24. We've seen at the end of the trailer, that... the world in the game changed somehow, the walls became red and something like mushrooms haven grown. So, is this one of the possible "death consequences"?

    Anyway, i love that idea and i bet this game will kick ass!

  25. Mario:

    In order to maximize your fear of the unknown, we will keep it secret ;)

  26. I agreed with mario, the wall look like organic!
    Like if you're inside a kind of "belly"

    how mysterious!

  27. "I think that first step towards this is to throw away the idea that a videogames needs to be a challenge. Instead of thinking of a game as a something to be beaten, it should be thought of as an experience."

    I've gotten back into Interactive Fiction again (lots of reviews and collections are at ); I think that community actively thinks about your point above. Some IF games are pure puzzles ("win the game"), some are a balance of puzzle and story ("live a novel"), and others are really just pure interactive experience in text; the point isn't to WIN, but to engage in the narrative. (The last one I encountered like this was called PHOTOGRAPH; one of the canonical ones is THE SPACE UNDER THE WINDOW).

    Some are better at this than others: some narrative games are "on rails"--you can interact, but it will not affect the endings in any major way (I'm thinking here of the games SHRAPNEL and PHOTOPIA, though many others share that characteristic).

    Other games do a remarkable job of allowing you to change the story into something you want to do. For instance when I played IF game THE BARON, I changed a pretty depressing situation into a hopeful one. Its implementation wasn't so sophisticated, but it fits the criteria of: This isn't a game you win, it's a narrative you interact with and make meaning out of yourself.

  28. The problem you're describing persists only in certain types of games (of course they are in the majority right now but it doesn't matter). For example, turn-based strategy games do not have that - you can hang out pretty long looking at your gradually diminishing resources and bases etc and "losing" for an hour or more all the while learning how to play more effectively (if you're in the mood for it). Or of course you can reload in frustration - which is actually a wrong thing to do. Player should see and understand why he loses.

    In the case of a game like Amnesia you can just explain it that the protagonist loses his mind and runs away screaming - and he does not remember any of it (just like they always do in Lovecraft tales).

  29. How many of you (players) continue to play the game after your character dies, if the games allows it? I usually load from the last save, because I feel that this way the experience retains continuity, and because I fear that if I just continue something in the game will change or I'll receive some sort of penalty that will somehow alter the original world that I'd like to explore some more.

    What do you find more spell-breaking: reloading or resurrection/respawning?

  30. Just a side thought: Everyone talks about how linear = bad, but that's not necessarily the truth - some of the greatest games out there are rather linear. Movies are the very face of linearity, but we still enjoy them. Because we are immersed into their world and story. Games can do that; in fact, they can do even more: they can give us the illusion of freedom (in the sense of non-linearity). The problem is the design: the player needs to be forced into a linear superstructure, but the designers want him/her to feel as if he/she was free to roam around and do what he/she likes.

    It's hard to achieve, even seems mutually exclusive, but it's possible; it requires a deeper understanding of how the player thinks, though. I dare say it even requires the designers to be 'amateur psychologists' of a sort. But, when you think of it, this is not all that surprising, especially with horror fiction (games included), where the author(s) seek to touch the innermost instincts of the reader/viewer/player, and to ask some fundamental questions that emerge from these concepts (at least in more noteworthy examples).

  31. About "Less Challenge, More Immersion":
    It would be great if the game designers were skilled enough to make a game experience that appears to be a lot more challenging than it actually is, in the sense that the player believes there's a real game-over-danger, even when there's little or none.

    Consider, for example, a boss fight. The games makes the player believe that there's some hard time ahead, and the game is really brutal to the player. To defeat this boss, the player must put a lot of effort, but there's no classic game-over in the case of failure. Instead, the game is designed to dynamically alter a number of factors and create a movie-like DIRECTED experience. In game cutscenes, clever AI, camera manipulation, visual alterations, all in the service of making this boss fight seem like a drama, where the player has the IMPRESSION that his hero is having a really hard time fighting, and when he finally wins, it's evident that there was a lot of sweet & blood spilled.

    This requires significantly more work, but on the other hand, boss fights are special parts of games, and deserve special treatment. We have seen some examples of rudimentary gameplay direction of this kind before, but I'm talking direction on a whole other level here.

    If you remember the ship sequence in "Call of Cthulhu: DCOTE", somewhat before and during the Dagon attack - that's one of the better examples, or the "Attack of the Fishmen" sequence from the same game. Now imagine these sequences were designed far more elaborately. That would be damn great to play.

  32. How about making death not be the immediate threat? Instead, split the stats between health and pain. If you experience too much pain you lose consciousness, which is similar to what you talk about in regards to dying. By separating the 2, it will make it more realistic for the player and allow more realistic consequences instead of being resurrected from the dead.

  33. As i can see we are talking about the story event who will be in Amnesia.
    Can i abord a disscution about the fear of the player when he was look at the ennemy

    As i can see in the teaser, when the player look at the monster, a kind of blur was taking form around the player view (or in more technical words, camera view) to represent fear..... Will you're sanity will go down, to make you hear crazy things or viewing things. Maybe that why there was an organic transformation on the world......(in fact, at the end, the player freaked up, and loose he's sanity)

    I'm sure it will be a very interessting game in technical point, and immersive point (esspecialy immersive)

    p.s. can i ask a question to the one of the developper?
    How long it take to create all these program to create professional quality games?
    Be cause, i would like to make an amator developed game.

    P.p.s. Please Tell me if my dream is stupid (aff if i am too) is it take alot of time to make a game?

    Someone answer if want, but respond will be very appreciated.

    Freindly, Pengasius

  34. Pengasius:
    Regarding making games: there is a good selection of free tools available now days that is should act as a good starting point. GameMaker should be a good start:

  35. Daniel Pimley18 April 2010 15:07

    yman wrote "How about making death not be the immediate threat?" This made me think: What about the fear of rejection by your friends?

    Consider what happens to the protagonist of the movie District 9. What if the punishment for failure in a game was not death, but a mutation or infection? What if the danger was not to the player but to a friendly NPC (non-player character) instead? If you became infected, or allowed a friend to be injured, that would cause other NPCs to reject you. This would either block your progress until you find a way to cure yourself or fix your mistake, or it could even open up an entirely alternative story branch in which you are forced to play as an outcast.

  36. The failure to win could result in all kinds of creative gameplay alternations. Daniel Pimley certainly made an interesting suggestion. Options are limitless (but, since this is rather a new territory, so are the risks to the game developers). But I'd really like them to be brave and try out new things.

    This makes me think of another potential benefit of the developer-user interactions we have here on this blog: you guys (frictional games) have a dedicated fan base here more than happy to provide feedback. This enables you to create TECH DEMOs OF NEW IDEAS & APPROACHES between or even during your projects (as a part of the overall production), and get comments on this directly from the players. This way you minimize the risk of a hurried game-dev inovation that could ruin the game, while putting yourself in the position of pushing the limits of the field.

    Nowadays, by "pushing the limits" we usually mean "improving the visual realism", but the developers are limited in this area by the current technology and graphics APIs available; the ones who really take things to the next level in the graphics field are the hardware manufacturers.

    But not many games push OTHER limits. Why? Because it's risky, and because publishers avoid it. And blogs like this are precisely the solution to the problem.

    I'd love to see dramatic, film-like sequences, where some freedom is taken from the player for the sake of experience. People have limited freedom to act in dramatic situations in the real world anyway - so why not in a game, in a boss fight, or in another special-case situation?
    A boss corners you - the engine triggers a mini-game, you crawl to your escape, the boss is after you again; the camera angle shifts and the new goal becomes running. But, guess what, you're not fast enough, so the game SUBTLY hints you to go through a small hole in the wall. The boss claws at the hole as crazy, and you start to fear that he might get you after all. But hey - the room you're in is not much of a hiding place, so you climb the stairs. Up there, you find a crate you can conveniently push on the monsters head. The crate falls, but the damn things avoids it, and can now use it to clime up and get you, and so on...
    And all in one breath-taking sequence.

    That's the kind of gameplay I'd like to see.

  37. May I respond to daniel?

    You remind me something about the district 9 movie.
    Metroid Prime: Corruption.
    As i can se in this game, there is multiple consequences for failure.
    If you run out of life: classic fail: you die
    if you are using the phazon too much: you will transform to a second dark samus.
    (i just realize, dark link, dark samus....they never got enough?)

    This example is also seen on an original xbox title: Area 51
    but i think this "fail" is included on the storyline of this game.
    In the game, someday, you will be infected, but you continue you're walk trough the game.
    When i saw this i was thinking: "damn, i fail..." but in fact not, my goal in this game was to never be infected.

    There is also one game that all this remind me: Baroque
    in Baroque, there's praticly no storytell, until you die. That's also what all those post on Amnesia death event possibility
    to make short, Baroque is a game, that if you want to know the story, you need restart all over again, go inside that maze tower, and die, again, and again, to know what's going on.

    A very big thanks to Thomas for he's Very usefull link, on Gamemaker 8! :)
    i've never understand this program until now! I saw all the example of what we can make whit this program!

    But can i ask one more thing?
    What are you thinking about Blender3D and he's included game engine? In fact i all ready know how to modelize, animate and UVmap things. Is it possible to import my 3D model in game maker 8?
    (sorry if im begins annoying, but FG is an editor i've never herd of until 2007-2008, so i was thinking "maybe they start from nothing..." end when i played penumbra and finish it, i was stun! "physic is far better than HL2!!")
    Congratulation for all your Art, it rival HL2 for me! :)

  38. Oh and another thing: those very open disscusion whit any body, and the development team! (thomas grip from the credit if i am not stupid....)
    not alot of game company are doing like this! Keep that good behavior! :)
    amazing blog!

  39. @Thomas
    QUOTE: "We are trying to not have maps at all and instead make the map easy to navigate."

    Does this means that the maps are simple(!?) or that the different areas are distinctive?
    Either leads to easier orientation/navigation...

  40. Regarding tech demos:
    Gameplay demos are very hard to make public tests of since it often requires quite a bit (at least 1h) of gameplay to make sense and get into mood. Releasing large chunks like that is hard.

    On the other hand, we have (in old forum worklog) and will probably start soon again, to release graphical tech demos to sort of compatibility problems early on.

    Regarding maps:
    Simpler (as in not maze like) and more distinct. They will still allow for exploration and some kinda of navigation. But our aim is not to activly disorient. Unless, perhaps that is what we want at times ;)

  41. Regarding tech demos:
    How about small-scale demos intended to test certain specific gameplay concepts, that will be based on yours or someone else's existing engines, and released for your blog followers to comment on. Just as a way of communicating ideas, and get feedback on how well (or how bad) the concept was realized. I'm thinking really small-scale here: just to test if some concept intended to create the feeling of immersion in a wider context, features the right kind of gameplay MECHANICS. This wouldn't really be a game to play, but a the user would be asked to complete a specific task and then comment on how the game reacted - limited areas and limited effective play time (the task and reaction could take up but a few minutes).

    Then, if you get enough positive feedback, you can include the feature in a "real" tech-demo or game.
    If you're to busy now, you can do this between projects, as an experimental program or something.

  42. I just remembered a good example (in relation to what I said above). For example, remember how many people said that the melee weapon mechanics in Overture were rather awkward? Somehow, it just didn't feel right. Imagine now that, back in the day, you made available a download of a small test application demonstrating this mechanics. Just a small room, the player never dies (but is informed if it would die in a real game), one dog that runs around a bit. The download page informs people what's this all about; after that, comments arrive, and after a while you end up with a better, refined system. The app could even provide some sort of tweak box, where the users could alter the parameters and see how it affects the movement. And if the right implementation just can't be worked out, you can just abandon the concept.

    It all boils down to how it feels like to the player.
    Also, in light of this, check out this article:

    P.S. About trial & error: in a story-driven game, this (IMHO) generally mustn't break the immersion; however, some amount of trial & error can't be avoided. Only in certain situations trial & error is expected - and it's when this fits a particular place in the story, and has a particular context. At other times, the amount of potential trial & error should be minimized. In the ideal case, it should emerge only from what the player doesn't know about the environment and/or the events that unfold, and nothing more. The frustration comes from the situations where the game designers expected the players to read their minds, instead of providing them with subtle clues that don't "break the spell". And I insist: subtle clues; there's nothing I hate more than big flashy arrows, glowing doors or levitating items in a game where they seem out of place...

    On the other hand, I wasn't so bothered by it in Dino Crisis, or Resident Evil 4... The line is blurry indeed.

  43. Dude, I'd say you should produce a new trailer or at least new screenshots (ads), because the preorders are going too slow, if you ask me.

  44. How about giving people who pre-ordered access to the latest build with a small set of levels that won't appear in the final game? That should help encourage pre-orders, get you some useful feedback from actual customers, and help advertise the game in a word-of-mouth fashion.

  45. yman:
    We actually thought about something like this and have smaller puzzle levels that where not connected with the game and used no special assets. However, after some discussion we decided that people would not be that into puzzles levels (especially considering requiem reactions) + creating them would take time that could be used to create stuff for the final game instead.

  46. So why not release what's already there for us who pre-ordered? You do have playable binaries, right?

  47. I think what maybe should help alot for pre-orders, is a short demo...
    As i can see, there is no demo yet. From my part, i'm waiting but not rage wait like is the case with hl2ep3(for example),(i think evreyone are rage waiting for this game ;).)
    but a demo just to show what's waiting for them in the complete version ;)

    i wonder if there will be some commentary if pre-orders fail(only text comment).... I like dev comment, that's give me se idea :)

  48. Since it is a story/experience driven game we do not see any reason to do pre-releases of code. Seeing the game in its current state would only spoil the final release. It works for multiplayer games, but not for a game as ours.

    It is fun to hear you are eager to try it out and a demo will come eventually :) Just have to wait a few more months!

  49. But won't it help with promotion if users can get a feel for the game and post their own screencasts? Aside form that, I think it will be cool if we can create some of our own content, such as levels, and play them before the final release. You already have a graphical level editor, and it will save you the bother of having to create content for the demo.

    Sorry for nagging, I just really want to get some kind of a feel for this game already, and using my own mouse and keyboard.

  50. If there were some more people like you, we would have a great games.

  51. Too many games are just not FUN anymore. I play to enjoy my visit to the world of the game. Explore, wander, and just be absorbed in it. Unfortunately, the big game studios just want cash and sequel after sequel.

  52. To Neuro:


    see sbout the halo series, there's the first one, second, and third.

    and then they came out with ODST Halo Wars and Reach to take us more money! (Because everybody loooove halo! (not me personnaly) it was the most classic storyline ever. (alien invasion, another alien race is shown, and then OH HUMAN'S GOT ALLIES!) (and it work, that the most impresive thing!)

    for my self, im really bored of the alien invasion storyline, and good vs evil american storytell.
    if another game will come with this kind of storyline, it need to be a well maked story!

  53. There's one game that I can think of that does "trial and error" well that I can think of, and that's Spelunky. You can download it for free- just search for it. There are two reasons that Spelunky does trial and error well: 1. errors cost you greatly (you have to start all the way back at the beginning when you die) and 2. there's no real repetition (levels are dynamically generated with each new game). So you do die a good many times over the course of the game but you never get that feeling of boredom and frustration that comes from playing one level (or even one section of a level) over and over again.

  54. Hhmm, i think this post is awesome

    i think this is why people like to PVP so much with other players or with an advanced opponent (either human or computer)

    fighting games, MMORPGS, multiplayer FPS and even a simpler game like Chess are examples of this

    yes it's a bit of trial and error, but is always different, you never play the same game twice. You develop skill and intelligence

    some games that accomplish this without being too repetitive are the jedi knight series, (of course the less repetitive the better). Yes most of the same enemies will pop up, but they never fight the same. Every Fight is unique and challenging ! (even against the computer) :)

    lots of players are also looking to become better (in game and in real life), they want to gain "intelligence and skill". They want to be superheroes and become 1 of the best.

    i think that making random and realistic scenarios is the best way to go, plus everything you mentioned

    when i play horror games i want to face my fears, get skill and become smarter

    the monsters/scenarios need to be just as smart as you, adapt and get smarter as you do :)

  55. "1) If the player fears death because of a trial and error system, she fears an abstract mechanic and not something of the game world. By worrying about a game mechanics, the player is pulled out of the experience."

    I disagree with this. Fearing death is just as much a valid way to make a game scary as anything else in my opinon.. I mean, what's scarier: enemies that are dangerous or enemies that are complete pansies?

    I never found the "trial-and-error mechanics" as you call them to be very immersion-breaking. As long as I don't have to trial-and-error to the point of frustration, all is well. Also a problem with removing death from games is.. how are you still going to make it challenging? Could you imagine playing an FPS in which you can't die? BioShock was an example given but you also noted using that makes the game very easy.

  56. man, reading this made me REALLY excited for Amnesia. I must say that your paradigm towards gaming comes through in the Penumbra series. There are few trial and error scenes and most of the time keeping your head in the game is rewarded (although the spiders have gotten under my skin...)

    Any word on if the Steam version of Amnesia will be available on the Mac? I'm starting to fear the Penumbra series might not make it =,(

  57. Jhaysonn:
    Amnesia will be on steam-mac for sure.

    Penumbra steam-mac is being worked upon!

  58. So, if the game doesn't gave any significant challenge whatsoever... why do I need to even play it? I mean, I could just watch the whole thing on youtube and lose absolutely nothing (OK, at least for those game, which don't do scripts based on choices and consequences).
    If someone creates an interactive movie (or EKHS-PYUIHE-RHAEN-CE) - then I'll watch it as a movie. Without breaking an immersion or emotional tension of one-of-a-kind scripted sequences via myself pressing 'X' clumsily every five seconds.

    Why don't you understand, that there is ALWAYS a room in you mind for comprehending the game from several points of view simultaneously? First of all, you comprehend an actual game mechanics. You research it via trial and error (which doesn't necessarily mean using checkpoints or saveload), you develop an effective strategy of dealing with the situations that lie ahead. You learn from your mistakes and you understand the rules of the game a bit more with each next situation.
    But you ALSO comprehend the game as an emotional whole (be it either by sympathizing game's characters or by being mesmerized by the game's soundtrack, writing and visual design). And the crucial point that those different comprehensions of the game CO-EXIST. They do not exclude each other. Even when you are completely lost in the game's wonderful art, there is always a small independent closet in your mind in which the game's mechanics is being analyzed. And it doesn't prevent you from being (as I aforementioned) COMPLETELY mesmerized by that one-of-a-kind-experience which the game sets.
    Figuring out the game mechanics via aggressive trial-and-error (or even saveload) is a completely different level of abstraction to the emotional side of experience. Those levels do not inter-cross. And, I mean, AT ALL (if the developer "played" it right).

    What absolutely KILLS the immersion though is tediousness. Oh, and by the way, the need for player to watch unskippable scripted sequence with little to zero interaction more that one time IS a definite game-designing flaw, which breaks the immersion and nearly wastes all that impression the scene could have left the first time around.