Just wanted to quickly jump in and share an amazing article by William Hughes over at The AV Club‘s Gamological Society called “In Games, You Can’t–And Shouldn’t–Win Them All.”
My most recent game revolves around the premise that sometimes you Just Can’t Win (at least not in the way you initially imagined) and the best that you can do in those situations is to move on with your life gracefully. In play testing, I often encountered a lot of resistance to this idea. It goes against everything we’ve ever learned to believe about video games. Isn’t there SOME secret code or intricate strategy that can get us through? Can’t we just save scrum until Lady Luck finally gives us the virtual die roll that we need?
Sometimes, we can’t. And sometimes, that experience, jarring as it is, makes for a better game.
From the article:
A few months ago, I reviewed the excellent XCOM 2, a difficult game that was actually made harder after its developers found play-testers were able to skip past certain parts of its design because the game never made them feel pressured enough to engage with things like troop recruitment. When I played it, I was incredibly conservative, saving before most turns and reloading when luck didn’t go my way. I could claim that this stemmed from my work as a reviewer, that I couldn’t afford to have a play-through end in failure when there was more to see and understand. But it’s really just my nature; I play games to win, even if winning doesn’t feel very fun.
A good story isn’t a steady line of victories; it’s a sine wave, bouncing back and forth from euphoric highs to cruel rock bottoms. Instead, my… campaign had become almost asymptotic, with each carefully engineered victory providing the resources I’d use for the next.
Go read the whole thing. It is fantastic, both from a nostalgic gamer’s POV and from a game designer’s.
Come back and let me know in the comments: what was your most memorable gaming “failure,” scripted or unintentional? Did it make the game better or worse?
I will report back in my next post.