Questing by Random Death, and the Players Who Love It

This is an interesting comedy of errors. The original poster did not realize that a maze quest instance comes with a list of riddles (inventory item). Solve the riddle at each fork and make it through safely. If you answer wrong, that path leads to an insta-kill trap, with an invisible wall beyond it in case you avoided the trap. To the player not noticing the riddle list, this looked like Trial and Error Gameplay: random, unavoidable death as an intentional design element.

A few pages into the thread, someone mentions the riddle list, but here is what interests me: until then (and after, for those who did not read the thread), at least half the posts were about how much a whiner the original poster was, how this is a good thing because the game has too much easy mode, etc. If you do not suffer, you suck: the litany of the hardcore. But these are people who really think, and will publicly avow, that trial-by-error gameplay is a good thing, especially when “error” is punished by insta-death. (One can only imagine that it would be better with perma-death.) This is odd to me. By what concept is “guess, die, guess, die, pass by process of elimination” fun gameplay?

Note: I am not criticizing the quest in question, which seems to do it right: give the player the needed information to get through without experimental suicide. I am wondering at the population that thinks clearing a minefield by random walks is a good time. On the other hand, recognizing that population, I wonder a lot less about how games end up like that so often (see the link above). There is apparently demand for it. We deserve the games we get, it seems.

: Zubon

Remind me someday to track down the various flash adventure and puzzle games that effectively say, “Welcome to the next-to-last level! Here is a new tool or mechanic: learn to master it in the next ten seconds with no instructions. If you fail, don’t worry! We will put a save or continue mechanic in our next version.”

8 thoughts on “Questing by Random Death, and the Players Who Love It”

  1. Ummm. The “trial by death” has a very long, glorious history in gaming. In fact, I would argue that most action/combat/adventure games, besides MMO, fit this model. The “give everything away in the quest description” is an entirely MMO novelty.

  2. Actually trollbold, it’s quite rare for games to ask you to make a leap of faith where you either live or die, and have no way of knowing which is which until you do it. Thanks for playing.

    The funny thing about this is all the people that trolled the thread who clearly had never done the quest before either. It makes me wonder whether forum trolls actually play the game they spend all day picking fights over.

    Also, I am not surprised that there are people advocating this style of gameplay on an MMO forum. These are the same drones who grind for phat lewtz all day long without jobs, so of course they’ll support whatever mindless poo poo a developer spits out at them.

  3. Well, obviously the more times you die (and do corpse runs and maybe repair your gear), the more time you’re spending in the game, and in a time>skill game (subscription based loot/level treadmill), the more fun you’re having. It’s a pretty easy chain of logic, once you accept the underlying assumptions.

    Of course, I don’t, but why let rationality interrupt a perfectly good train of thought?

  4. Solving things by random lottery chances is great! Because you don’t have to think or use your brain! All you need is lemming-like persistence! Maybe write a bot to test out all possibilities if you’re smarter than average!

    I think I overdosed on exclamation marks now.

  5. There are some games where dying isn’t fun, but random death is still acceptable. Minesweeper would be the first to come to mind, where games often start and end with a game of Russian Roulette and memorization doesn’t help. Masocore games like I Wanna Be The Guy are effectively trial and error gameplay until you realize the game’s schtick (killing players as carefully as possible).

    What players want is the appearance of difficulty. Like randomness, players can not recognize difficulty. The Magic Number Seven (plus or minus two) means that players can not remember near the length of time necessary to recognize random actions, and the nature of programming means that anything you can write and beat can eventually be beaten through trial and error. The only thing players can recognize regarding difficulty is whether they felt it was their choices that caused success (‘skill’) rather than the time they put into the game (‘grind’ or ‘luck’, depending on how the revelation comes in).

    Take an obviously non-MMORPG game; F.E.A.R. It’s a pretty classical FPS with a bit of bullet time and melee attack mixed in (apparently by statute required these days). You still have to Kill X Ninjas to get to your giant laser and the next quest; the only difference is that the number of ninjas isn’t visible where the rats are. It’s a ‘skill’-based game, but if you save scrum you can headshot enemies as soon as they get close. The difference is you can — and should — get through the first time with decent planning and reaction times.

    In a game where you can’t get through the first time, having the appearance of something that reverses this is starts to seem ‘skill’-based.

  6. You’re correct that the players want an appearance of difficulty: that they barely, just barely get through. Of course, the problem is that the right difficulty for one player is wall-bangingly hard for another and laughably easy for someone else. And while single-player games can alleviate that problem with selectable skill levels or even auto-adjusting enemies, MMORPGs currently have to stay consistent. Foozle X has to be as hard to kill as Foozle Y, no matter which player is doing the killing.

  7. And while single-player games can alleviate that problem with selectable skill levels or even auto-adjusting enemies, MMORPGs currently have to stay consistent. Foozle X has to be as hard to kill as Foozle Y, no matter which player is doing the killing.

    City of Heroes would beg to differ, as would most MMOs with levels. You can make the distinction even more basic than COH did, although eventually things start to seem schizophrenic.

    The more essential issue is that players see Foozle Y doing twice Foozle X’s damage as not being ‘real’ difficulty, because players like Zubon will often (accurately) claim that this is a cheap cop-out. It doesn’t involve learning or reacting better, just carrying a few potions or waiting between fights usually. There are some exceptions, but then you run into things like Malta Sappers that only the people who want a challenge enjoy encountering.

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