Played Recently

Nothing I have been playing is conducive to stories.

I am still playing Slay the Spire and Disney Magic Kingdoms. I could discuss the mechanics and design decisions of DMK, but it is a social media-style game where you send characters on activities and collect the rewards. Its main appeal is the theming, rather than the mechanics.

Rather than analyze the mechanics of Slay the Spire, I should just point you towards JoINrbs.

There are idle games. After getting back into Realm Grinder for a little while, I am currently poking at NGU Idle, which is a variation on Idling to Rule the Gods. It has many subsystems to play with, although I seem to be getting bored faster than I am breaking into new subsystems. The appeal really is just throwing in as many pages and subsystems as possible and seeing what happens, including the recent “IDK Let’s Just Add More Crap” update (actual name). It reminds me a bit of Anti-Idle in that way: many many subpages.

I was playing Town of Salem again, but I just uninstalled. It is frustrating to play and not know who really is that bad and who is just playing dumb while in an evil role. The Coven expansion has some advantages over the original Mafia play, but the “classic” mode that is designed for balance seems vastly less popular than the “chaos” mode that is, as the name implies, chaotic and balanced only in the sense that randomness balances out over time. It is also frustrating that the game has so little lag tolerance, and my wifi is not being the best.

I have some other game prospects, but I’m also thinking that cleaning out closets is sounding surprisingly good against gaming, which is perhaps a bad sign for either me or the games. It’s probably me. There are millions happily gaming.

: Zubon

Ephemera

The goblin you killed will respawn in 30 seconds. The dragon you killed for those boots takes two days to respawn, and you killed it 32 times to get the boots; if you go back, it is still there, still giving out boots (rarely).

You beat the game and immediately start it over. It is a song that never ends, and you sang a verse once.

You log out of the game and never log back in. Maybe you said goodbye. Maybe some players remember you for a while. Maybe someone notices in the guild log that you have not logged in for 574 days and wonders whether to /gkick you. Maybe you will be back. The guild roster is gradually becoming a graveyard. Have we forgotten the players who left, or is it the ones left behind who are forgotten?

There are memories in your head and entries in a database somewhere. You were a great hero (+500 XP). You destroyed the enemy nexus (+2 ELO). You saved the kingdom (quest available again in 19:59:59… 19:59:58…).

Your parents tell you to be careful what you post online, because the internet is forever. Maybe some of your data is archived forever, but much of it is as lasting as a fallen leaf. It grew. It changed colors. It feel beautifully and perhaps unseen. In the spring it was dust, new mulch for new growth.

: Zubon

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization

A surprise find during the current Steam sale was Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (not to be confused with Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, otherwise known as “the original version”). Through the Ages is rated #3 on Board Game Geek, and having never played, this looked attractive.

In short, Through the Ages is a streamlined version of Civilization as a card game. It is a better Civilization than most editions of Civilization. I could just stop there: if you like Civilization and are willing to trade the territorial control element for having a satisfying game in a quarter (or less) of the time, buy this.

I have not timed my solo games closely, but this does not seem far from the tabletop game’s estimate of about 1 hour per player. This seems to play more quickly than the physical car game because the computer takes care of all the bookkeeping. This is exactly what you want from a computerized version of a board game, and it goes further to have a revised ruleset intended for online play. That’s nice.

Through the Ages plays out in cards and tokens. You get so many actions per round; you can improve that with technology or changing governments. You can use those actions to increase your population; to build or upgrade your farms and mines (production); to build urban buildings that provide science, happiness, and culture; to build a military; to build wonders (like in Civ); to change leaders; and to draw cards that help you do all those things. You build a tableau through the ages, as your cards give you different types of buildings from different ages. Later age versions are better but more expensive.

That card acquisition is a drafting mechanic that is the means of indirect competition. You can spend actions to get cards. Cards become cheaper over time, just a few turns. You can spend more actions to get it now and make sure you get it before someone else does, but then you have spent your actions to do so. Maybe you are a republic that gets many actions, so that’s fine, or maybe you are toughing it out with a monarchy this game. Maybe you invested in military actions, which is another card set used for direct competition.

Through the Ages has the core Civ gameplay elements. There is a technology tree, and here you can skip around it rather than being tied into a predefined chain. There is a military race. There is bidding for colonies. The economy always feels very tight, because you always want to do more but you can only do so much given your population, actions, resources, cards, etc. You can invest to get more, but then your actions for that turn were mostly investing, while other people are cashing in on their lesser investments.

Through the Ages has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, and you can play a solo game in a reasonable amount of time. I am led to believe that multiplayer takes much longer, as humans deliberate about decisions, but it should be quicker than either the physical version or actual Civ. And as I said, it is a better Civ than most versions of Civ.

: Zubon

Me-tooism Two

More than a decade ago, I posted about how online discourse structures favored argumentation over agreement. Replying with “me too” was frowned upon, and bare re-blogging of others’ posts would have been seen as pointless, tedious, or crass. News aggregators existed, but that was not what blogs and forums generally did.

That was web 1.0. Web 2.0 has been the past decade.

Technology has strongly supported a swing in the other direction. Sharing others’ content, maybe with an added sentence, is the norm in social media. It’s what you do on Tumblr, Twitter, or Pinterest. “Me too” and “+1” have been replaced with “like and share.” (The social media werewolf: lycanshare.) We still have virulent disagreement. I don’t know if the volume there has gotten louder to break through the happy bubble.

That is the other aspect of enabling healthy me-tooism. I don’t really have thoughts on social media bubbles here. I can’t imagine they are any worse than offline bubbles. People have always selected their environments and information sources. I don’t know how much research would support that it got worse, versus people online are more or more broadly informed. Even the most insular bubble will have people hate-blogging differing ideas.

Harnessing me-tooism has been great for the internet. Upvoting is a great improvement over most previous moderation systems! Upvoting also has its problems with brigading and sockpuppetry, but I again cannot say those are any worse than what came before. All tools can be abused, but not all tools can be used productively. The floor is perhaps as low as it was before, but the ceiling is higher. That’s progress, and you can always walk away from cesspools.

The rise of social media has in part come at the detriment of blogs. Some people just adapted their blogs over to social media or intermix the two productively. Obviously, I am fond of longer form writing than Twitter allows. I see people post 28-part screeds on Twitter, and I immediately assume they cannot be people of good judgment if they thought Twitter was the right place to post a 1000-word essay.

So yeah, technology and society have made significant inroads on this problem since I wrote that back in 2007. Good job, technology and society! +1 and <3

: Zubon

Genre Conventions

Asmiroth asks:

Thoughts on pre-existing scaffolding? In that a particular genre should replicate a previous model’s scaffolding, and when it doesn’t there’s a false sense of difficulty?

My thoughts here could (sadly) probably be reduced to “don’t do it badly.” That is, there are several good reasons to mess with existing conventions and several bad ones, and the badness of the bad ones often overwhelms the good. Creating a good variation on a genre is very good, adds new life, and can spawn new imitators and sub-genres. Done badly, yeah, it is more “awkward” than “difficult.”

I am immediately reminded of driving a car from the motor pool at work. Which vehicle you get is random, and each company has its own take on where the buttons and levers go for cruise control, windshield wipers, etc., and then there are variations that happen over time in the same make and model.

Good reasons include “this convention is stupid,” “there is a better way to do this convention,” and something idiosyncratic to the game that requires adaptation of a mechanic. Bad reasons include trying to pretend your game is not a clone of X by renaming the abilities, randomizing the interface, and changing the hotkeys. They are still health and mana bars, maybe hit points and energy, no matter what you have chosen to call them this game. Bonus points for games that use the standard terms for something else, say LotRO calling guilds “kinships” and then having “crafting guilds.” Consolations to games that thought they had a better way to do things but really just made it worse, or to those that made marginal improvements but got hate because it wasn’t exactly like Blizzard.

But jumping into a game that assumes you know the conventions is kind of horrible if you don’t know the conventions! Also for games that don’t mention that they are varying the conventions! Civ VI, what are you even trying to do there?

For those that have played a P&P game, swapping DMs is a heck of a learning curve.

The advice I have kept from a long-past Dragon Magazine article is to ask what sort of movie/book/etc. your DM & players are envisioning when they play. In a D&D game inspired by Conan, running through the wall of fire will singe the barbarian, who then hacks through the necromancer; pushing in either direction towards high magic or brutal realism makes a wall of fire an obvious death trap. In a modern game inspired by James Bond, walking into the enemy’s lair with a small caliber hand gun and a sense of panache is a winning plan; under a different vision, guards will shoot him dead in less than a minute.

What is “obvious” differs between people.

If I have learned to to X in a given situation, and it takes a fair amount of time for me to un-learn X and apply the correct (if re-taught) Y action instead. It’s not necessarily harder, it’s just different.

And this summarizes the previous two. In some games, the best offense is a good defense. Once you learn to stack block reliably, you can whittle down the enemies safely. In other games, the best defense is a good offense. Dead enemies deal no damage. A rare few games evenly support a variety of playstyles, but most favor a small set of options, most of which probably seemed obvious to the designer. Is this a game where you need to explore under every rock to become strong enough for the final fight, or will exploration sap your resources so you need to explore as little as possible (but enough to get X)?

Variation is good! Often what we want is exactly the same game that we just liked, but a new and different version that doesn’t change anything important, but it should still feel both new and the same. “More of the same” sequels can also be good! Change for change’s sake is usually bad.

There are more ways to do things wrong than to do them right. Any random change is probably a change for the worse. A change with good reason can be an improvement. Alas, so many of us think we have good reasons!

: Zubon

“A good library has something to offend everyone.”

Alternate title: “Boobs and shotguns for everyone!”

In a reversal from recent moves that were since walked back, Steam has announced that they plan to let just about anything sell on Steam. Valve long since gave up on curating, instead welcoming increasing masses of shovelware. This seems like the next logical step: no curation at all.

Our friend Wilhelm is not pleased. Myself, I figure we already walked off that ledge. This is acknowledging it, not changing it. One absolutely could go with Steam’s origin vision of highly curated content. I do not know if there is a market for it right now, but you could do that. Steam tries for the best of both worlds by both offering everything and having explicit curators. Pick your own experience.

I will probably be unhappy if I open Steam and it looks like the red light district, or the bad actually drives out the good, not just makes an attempt at drowning it. But I am more offended by low quality games than by purportedly offensive content, so the shovelware already hit me where Murder Simulator 5000 or Naked Anime Boobies S will not. And we are online right now, so you have access to all the murder and boobies you want.

I will count myself as having underestimated the problem if we start getting frequent pop-up advertisements for Midweek Madness featuring porn or Holocause Simulator. I will count the problem as vastly overblown if Valve goes on to release better filtering and moderation tools, like the ability to suppress large swaths of crap content.

: Zubon

Pinging

We have not had any game-inspired relationship advice in a long time. Although in this case, the relevant sense of “ping” is “pinging the server” not “pinging the minimap,” so it is more on the “online” side than strictly the “game” side. So here we go, using modern technology to improve your love life.

If you are the stereotypical gamer, you are an introverted male. You may not be verbally expressive of affection, or perhaps not understand why she needs to be reassured that she is pretty or you still love her, when you told her last week. If you are not the stereotype, adjust accordingly, but the principle applies if you are less verbally demonstrative than your partner seems to want.

This is where pinging the server comes in. It is perfectly normal for systems to ping each other occasionally (or frequently) to make sure a connection is still live or available. It says, “I am still here. We are still connected. I am still paying attention to you.” I usually belabor metaphors, but we will let that one stand as it is.

Modern technology even has easy ways for you to do this. You just need to establish an appropriate “ping.” A “<3” text can do it. Facebook Messenger lets you replace its default thumbs-up with a different one-click emoji. You can replace it with a heart. You may feel silly saying, “I love you,” twelve times a day, but you can easily click/tap an emoji button when you think of your partner.

Your relationship may differ, but I can click that button twice an hour without getting a “stop bothering me” response. “I was thinking of you and I still love you” is usually a well-received message, and you can express it with a click. If your relationship differs and your partner does not want digital hearts or flowers or whatever, they will probably say something.

: Zubon

Gitting Gud During Eternal September

Sometimes the problem in a discussion is that one or more of the speakers do not know what they are talking about and apparently do not know what they do not know. There are polite ways to inform someone of this, but the message is rarely well received by the passionately ignorant. With a constant influx of new participants, this becomes a constant that varies only in volume, and communities respond somewhere along a continuum of friendly assimilation to gatekeeping.

Ignorance is normal. We all start in a state of ignorance. Willful ignorance is culpable, but it is normal to enter a subject matter area knowing little about it. That is kind of what “enter” means in this context. When you first join a community of inquiry or practice, you know neither the finer points of the content under discussion nor the discourse norms of the community.

Some people know this when entering and approach it with a mix of active learning, epistemic humility, and either open inquiry or reservation. For example, some people will read everything before commenting on anything, whether that means the founding text of a religion or the actual manual for a video game. Those are often your introverts, while more extroverted newbies will learn by talking to others. These people will come up again later, but they are really not today’s topic. Friendly, well adjusted people do not call for much more conversation than “why can’t more people be like them?”

Many communities implicitly assume that most people will be like that, or at least can be nudged in that direction, or at least it’s not our fault if someone should be like that and refuses to read the FAQ. Some veteran community members respond to even friendly and humble extroverts with some form of “RTFM,” because they but together a long FAQ after getting tired of answering the same questions every week. Others are more polite about explaining that or will even do a bit of spoon-feeding by quoting the FAQ in response to questions. Some people manage to do both, being explicitly helpful with strong overtones of “you should have looked this up yourself,” which can come across as parental and/or top tier passive-aggressiveness.

The enduring feature of Eternal September is that it is eternal. The influx of new people never stops. It takes some mental energy to deal with new people and keep answering the same questions. And those same questions keep trying to intrude on the main discussion, even if there are attempts to create a new players’ forum or something. And the newcomers in question are not the sort to click back two screens of posts to see that someone started exactly the same discussion last week, and the week before that, and…

It is about this point in typing that I am getting insight into people who say they hate children. Children are born every few seconds, every one completely ignorant, and it will take years before they have the brain development to understand that the entire universe does not center on them. If you are a stodgy adult trying to have an in-depth conversation, you may grow annoyed at insistent voices asking and saying things that would take hours to explain, for which neither you nor they have the patience. Witness also jaded professors, talking with yet another class where someone will confidently make the exact statements someone does every semester.

It is not necessarily the case that freshmen are ignorant and overconfident, sure that they already understand the world better than their jaded elders. It is almost certainly the case that someone in the freshman class is exactly the stereotype, and there is a very good chance they will be one of the loudest voices. One of the reason that friendly, humble voices do not need much discussion is that they tend to be quiet voices until they have justified confidence. People who are proudly wrong are often loudly wrong.

Long-established communities have means for dealing with an influx of new members. Indeed, they would not survive to be long-established without those means. Universities have orientation, religious groups have welcoming committees and initiation rituals, major MMOs have newbie areas and forums and helpers, etc.

Game communities are often ephemeral. They come into existence with a game and fade as the game fades in popularity. They were never meant to be “long-established.” They are rarely “meant,” not so much a community as a procedurally created message board that becomes a temporary community. They have no means to deal with newbie influx apart from what is built on the fly or adapted from previous experiences of the same. There are often few to no long-standing members to adopt those sorts of duties.

And this is the internet, where new people just appear. There is not a front door they walk in. There is not much of a registration desk, and indeed one of the functions of online registration is to discourage people from talking unless they are willing to invest minimal effort. Even in physical communities, some people walk past signs to ask people questions written on the signs; online, the sidebar lists the FAQ and basic community guidelines, and some people type out questions that would have an instant answer if they just typed it into a search bar rather than a forum post.

I rarely see “RTFM” these days. The current incarnation is “git gud.” “Git gud” covers several different messages, often leaving off any context that could help you distinguish between them.

“Git gud” sometimes means, “I am a jerk. I am going to be dismissive of you and insulting in the process. I can do that safely on the internet. I am from a species of social primates, and I like to fling poo at primates who look like outsiders or people lower in the social hierarchy, or really anyone when I can get away with it.”

“Git gud” sometimes means, “There is a degree of skill and experience involved here. You lack those, so your opinion is misguided and of little value. Once you better yourself, you will find that the problem you are complaining about is no longer a problem. The real problem is that you are inexperienced.”

“Git gud” sometimes means, “RTFM.”

“Git gud” is sometimes used ironically. In the normal course of memetic mutation, that will gradually flow from ironic use with scare quotes, to dropping the scare quotes, to ironic use under a slightly altered meaning, to unironic use that mixes the original meaning with the altered meaning. I know, right?

A different phrasing of the same concept is “classic rookie mistake.” That seems a politer phrase, as longer phrases often are, because it includes implications that the mistake is born of ignorance and is common, rather than someone particularly wrong with the target, while still allowing the speaker to feel superior. An even politer phrasing would be, “Yes, that is a common difficulty for new players.”

One part of the insulting nature of “git gud” is its brevity. It is not just insulting of your ability, it is dismissive and blatantly so in that you are worth neither proper spelling nor capitalization. No explanation, just six letters. For extra insult, there are places that require a minimum number of characters to post, so you see something like:

git gud
1234567890

The response is not just dismissive; it went to extra effort to point out how little effort they thought you were worth in replying to.

And here is the dark secret: sometimes, that’s fair.

The person entering a serious conversation without 101 knowledge should be dismissed, and you should not stop the serious discussion for a remedial lesson because there will be another newbie on the next bus. You just point to the 101 course, and if they are loudly indignant about being dismissed, that says more about someone who will not take the time to educate himself but expects you to take the time to educate him. And remember, they think they’re right, so they’re not angry that you won’t educate them, but rather angry both that you think they need to be educated but smugly refuse to explain why. To most people, the personal slight is greater than the factual dispute.

The person asking a question that was just answered, either on a forum or in a meeting where they were distracted by their phone, should be pointed back to the previous discussion. It wastes everyone else’s time to go over it again when there are notes readily available.

The white belt expecting to immediately be treated on par with the black belts should be punched in the face.

Kill Ten Rats was founded as an MMO blog before gradually drifting into online gaming then “online” and “gaming” more generally. In an MMO, it makes perfect sense to say, “You’re not high enough level to do that yet.” Skill-based games may not have that explicit level, but it can still very much be the case that you’re not high enough level to do that yet. The hard fight is hard, and you are not ready for it yet.

And then some people are just jerks.

Just like we mentioned and then set aside people who are polite and considerate, because they tend to take care of themselves without causing noise or trouble, there are also people who respond politely and considerately. They do not cause much noise either. There are people who take reasonable advice and go apply it. There are people with whom you can have reasonable discussions across wide gaps in knowledge and across very differing lived experiences.

It takes some serious community tools and norms to make those people more prominent. Most often, the angriest voices are the loudest ones. Agreement happens quickly and quietly. Arguments are loud and lasting. People who are there to learn learn. People who are there to complain keep complaining. People who are there to help newcomers point them in the right direction. People who are there to mock newcomers want to keep them as ignorant and prominent targets.

For some people, being aggrieved and giving others grief is the goal, not a problem. We have a term for that in gaming. And I just spent 1714 words discussing that conflict, while it takes 4 words to say, “nice people are nice.”

: Zubon

Narrow and Broad

Narrow arguments are more likely to have substance. Broad arguments are more likely to be messes of emotions and status games with murky support.

Again stemming from last week’s discussion, the broader the claim being made, the more likely that it is just howling into the void. People seek varying reactions to those but often do not want to be treated as if they were making a verifiable, factual claim. Narrower claims are more likely to be factual claims about which one can have meaningful discussion.

People often do want discussion on the broader claims, but unless they have plugged in just right, it is probably going to descend into emotive howling very quickly. There will be people making broad claims that are in opposition and orthogonal. Now that I think about it, this sort of angry, team-based hating is probably the main reason many people go to forums. As a Kill Ten Rats reader, you know that I mostly engage in bloodless logical analysis, so of course I consider that useless; if it’s your thing, hey, go to.

Narrower claims are usually more substantive. You can do a lot more with “damage ramps up too quickly in fight X” than “this game is too hard.” Even if the latter is intending to make a factual claim rather than shout, “argh!” the writer may not know how to specify what claim they really want to make.

This is normal, and not necessarily bad! Players or system users are often very good and pointing out that there is a problem, but they lack the training or specialized knowledge to recognize what the problem is or how to fix it. Pain points are legitimately pain points. This is also unfortunate, in that players or system users often do not realize that they lack that knowledge. People often ask for something and then get angry that it is not what they wanted, whether that is ordering the wrong dish at a restaurant or mis-specifying a bug.

I think of patch notes for League of Legends. Grabbing the latest example, you can imagine a scale of complaints from “balance is horrible” to “Anivia is gimped” to “we are changing the cooldown on Anivia’s Q from 12/11/10/9/8 seconds to 10/9.5/9/8.5/8 seconds.” You can scroll through the archive to see lots of 5% or smaller tweaks to lots of abilities. I think many people would struggle to engage thinking at that level of precision.

Shouting and emotional appeals are more popular than bloodless analysis. That makes sense in a species of social primates. They are also more difficult to engage productively. Again back to the first post stemming from this discussion, the sought response is neither an explanation or a solution. “Argh!” seeks more “argh!” and sometimes gets “not argh!” Which is more or less the level of political debate, it seems, with the immediate jump from “this is bad” to “and you are bad for not thinking this is bad” (with the obvious contradictions to both).

Note that this bloodless analysis ends with snarky complaints rather than a productive solution. See, I’m learning. Growth mindset!

: Zubon

Scaffolding

In this month’s application of educational theory to gaming, let’s talk about scaffolding. Scaffolding is providing successive levels of support and difficulty to develop capacity and mastery. This should be a familiar concept for gaming, where we have literal levels that usually move from a simple tutorial to greater complexity. Games are increasingly being used as models for education because of this common and successful way of introducing new complexity and skills while remaining engaging. Indeed, our standard A Theory of Fun model of gaming fun is basically learning. But games also provide many counterexamples, where scaffolding is intentionally or unintentionally missing.

Last time, I compared games to assessments, where the game is basically a challenge to be overcome. Games can be better or worse at this, just like you have sat both reasonable and B.S. exams. Scaffolding is part of the connection between the material and the assessment. It is the difference between teaching and lecturing plus tests.

Portal is a great game for demonstrating scaffolding. Portal has gotten some crap for this over the years, but it demonstrates exactly how teaching is supposed to work. Start simple. Introduce new things one at a time. Explain new things. Provide assistance in the face of frustration. Gradually combine simple things to build complexity. Try to find the edge of the player/learner’s competency and ride there, increasing difficulty along with growing competency.

No game is going to do this perfectly for everyone. People have different learning curves, and different curves for different sorts of learning, while a fixed game has only so much wiggle room for that. Different difficulty levels in games are usually changes to the total difficulty, not the rate at which difficulty increases.

Psychonauts is a game like Portal that is known for being mostly tutorials the whole way, followed by a huge difficulty spike at the end. That is a gap in the scaffolding. The game is a bit less tutorial-like than it may seem, but difficulty does tend to remain rather low. Where Portal gradually accumulates complexity, Psychonauts is closer to treating each simple piece individually, then throwing them all together at once with three new things, good luck! Very good scaffolding at the bottom, but it needs to build up. Long after release, there was an update that reduced that late difficulty spike, but it did so by reducing the height of the spike, not providing more scaffolding on the way up there. It is still a spike, just a smaller one. It is a matter of degree, not kind.

Super Mario Brothers is a classic game that does this pretty well. The first level is very simple, but an engaging challenge for a first-time player. It contains most of the building blocks of the full game, but in small pieces and low stakes. It has simple enemies and a chance to learn the basics of the game. It has just a dash of the hidden complexities of the game, with things like invisible blocks and underground paths. Later levels will gradually introduce more elements and then ramp them up. Witness the castle fights, with Bowser gradually getting hammers and fire. Witness levels that are essentially the same thing with a new element, like adding a spinning line of fire to a castle and then a really long line of fire. In terms of scaffolding, many recent games still have much to learn from the oldest Nintendo games.

Many complaints about games are not about the game content but rather the way the content is introduced. Often, the content is not introduced, just thrown at the player. That can be intentional, because some people like being thrown into games and made to figure out what is going on, but a large (and loud) number of players do not enjoy that. Advertising “this game has no hand-holding” can reduce the complaints, but the lack of scaffolding is still there. If fumbling around is the goal, there you go, that’s easy to create. If part of the goal is developing player mastery of the game, it might help to look at what helps develop player mastery rather than treating the existence of the challenge as significant.

For example, Monster Slayers does a better job than Slay the Spire of gradually introducing small units of complexity and explaining them as it goes. It has less total complexity, and it does not explain all of it, but you are more likely to get introductions and explanations. Slay the Spire has explanations, but you are expected to pick them up along the way and notice them on your own. Things are clearly labeled, but you need to look for the labels, and you may be dealing with a few new things very quickly.

The penalty for failure factors in here. Permadeath is a frustrating mechanic significantly because of the need to go back through earlier levels. The annoyance is time lost repeating exactly the same thing that you already know, trying to sprint through that scaffolding. This presents the strange paradox that a lack of scaffolding combined with permadeath is in one sense awful, in that you are starting over frequently as you repeatedly run into weakly introduced new things with a high chance of failure, but at least there is a not a lot of scaffolding to run through the second time. Monster Slayers introduces things better, but the first half of the game is faceroll easy once you have learned it and done the initial unlock grind; Slay the Spire ramps up difficulty more quickly and consistently, making the early game a meaningful challenge on every playthrough.

I think many complaints about games, their difficulty, their difficulty curves, etc. come down to poor scaffolding. If we wanted to be thrown into chaotic and difficult situations with few useful explanations in advance, we have our daily lives. Games are crafted experiences, and we expect better. Dropping someone in the deep end and expecting them to swim is lazy design.

You can overcorrect. Some tutorials are awful because of their length and the slowness with which new elements are introduced. You don’t want to treat people like they’re stupid. But you also have very different tutorials needed between genre veterans and someone who might never have played a game like this. The best introductions often explicitly ask give you entry points like, “I have never played tower defense before,” “I am a veteran and just need to know what you’re doing differently here,” and “let me get to it immediately, and give me hardcore mode.”

I think of novels by analogy. Classic sci fi is famous for exposition dumps, laying out at great length the physics, settings, etc. More recent sci fi often goes in the opposite direction, trying to provide a sense of “this is normal here” worldbuilding and either never explicitly explaining or intentionally pushing the exposition later so it is in smaller pieces or less obvious.

Either approach can be done well or badly, and different people will have different thresholds for what they consider “enough” and “too much” explanation. “Not enough” is easy to do in games, and many games treat it as a feature rather than a bug.

: Zubon

The link I wanted for “If all stories were written like science fiction stories” by Mark Rosenfelder (at Shrove Tuesday Observed) seems to have been bought by a spam site, or at least that is the case as I write this, and the Wayback Machine says, “Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt.” (I suspect that changed since a previous archiving, given the exact link there.) I did find this fun discussion of the story and what it is parodying while looking for links.