Checkpoints and Challenges in Videogames

Gaynor had said:

Perhaps in a video game my desire is to progress forward through a linear sequence of challenges. In the 80’s, I might have died at the end of a level containing multiple challenges, requiring me to return to the beginning of the level and repeat all of the challenges up to the one on which I died. This is frustrating and monotonous. If I die enough times, I lose all my lives and must start the entire game over. This will drive away most users.

In the 90’s, I might have died at the end of the level, returning me to a mid-level checkpoint, requiring me to retry only the last couple of challenges in the sequence. I can die as many times as I want and simply return to the checkpoint in time. However, if I have to repeat this enough times, I still get frustrated with having to redo challenges I’ve proven I can pass, and many users will still be driven away.

In the 00’s, I might have died at the end of a level and been returned in space, not time, to a respawn point, allowing me to keep all of my progress and collected items and requiring me to retry only the challenge that killed me. Many fewer users will now be driven away. If the challenge itself is too difficult, users unable to surmount it will check out, but this is due to the difficulty of the challenge itself, not to the difficulty of retrying the challenge, as in prior revisions.

 

What is the point of making players play through a sequence of challenges?  And have you proven that you can pass certain challenges?

Goldeneye is an excellent example. Think of how many challenges you have to pass to beat Aztec. The opening, when enemies have you outnumbered and you barely have cover, and they attack with grenades. The long distance sniping. Jaws. The race against time at the end as unlimited enemies pour into the base.

And when you think of that stage, you realize his comment that “after you pass something, you’ve proven you can pass it” is wrong. The point isn’t to just be able to barely squeak past that opening, quick save. Just barely squeak past the sniping, quick save. Just barely squeak past Jaws, quick save.

The point is to be able to be SO GOOD and SO CONSISTENT at those challenges that you can pass them, and still be able to handle more. And once you are consistently good at those parts, it is less frustrating to have to do them again — because now you’re good at them! Even in a long, multi-challenge stage, you will get through the challenges you are good at quickly, and only get caught on the challenges you still have trouble with.

Otherwise, if you’re still having trouble there, then you have NOT proven you can really get past those parts.

This is really the only way to train players to be that good at challenges.

Vagrant Story is also a great example for a game that does not pull punches in challenging sequences. And in an RPG — a genre some people still claim cannot have challenging games!

Like the Snowfly Forest, where, maybe after wandering around in circles, lost for an hour, you might finally stumble upon the Dragon boss — only for him to hit you with his breath attack and kill you instantly (the wussy way to have done this would have to have the maze and the boss be two separate challenges, with a save point between them).

I had been recently replaying the game when I was reminded of a similar point. You have to get through a maze in a limited amount of time — and near the end you discover it’s not just a maze. You also have to beat a boss in the time limit! And you succeed, you beat it, you’re happy — but the timer’s still counting down! You still have farther to go! And even after you’re out of the maze, you’re not home free. You can’t save yet. If you die, you’ll still have to redo the maze, and the boss. But the save point is not a gimmie. There are flying enemies before the save, in a room with a sheer cliff face, so they might be able to take potshots at you while you have trouble retaliating.

But what people like that author miss is, that those challenges are difficult or stressful to get through is what makes them rewarding once you get through them. Take away the challenge, take away the satisfaction.

Why do they miss that? Maybe these people never beat games that were very good, so they don’t know what they’re missing.

 

(Original context)