Schnee (schnee) wrote,

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Game design: mulligans

I was playing Braid recently (thanks to yeyindeyautja for pointing this one out, BTW) and getting frustrated by some of the levels, and by my own inability to either figure out what I had to do to solve them, or implement the solution. (A common problem for me in video games.)

And I've been thinking — my own lack of skills nonwithstanding, this is something that everyone will run into sooner or later while playing games, and there is a deeper problem in there, too: namely, that many games, by virtue of their design, will allow you to waltz right through sections that you can handle successfully, while requiring you to retry sections that you can't until you do — if you do at all (in quite a few games I've played, particularly ones requiring fast reflexes, I eventually gave up entirely because I couldn't perform the feats asked of me).

In other words, in many games, by design, the time you spend in a certain part will be inversely proportional to the amount of fun you're having there. A fun section will be gone by in an instant; a frustrating section will have to be retried and retried and retried, and in the end, the vast majority of the time you spent playing the game will have been spent not having fun but rather being frustrated.

But games are supposed to be fun, so this is clearly not a desirable outcome.

One idea that I had now is that of a "mulligan" functionality — a mechanism that allows you to skip over a particularly frustrating part of the game and pretend that you made it so you won't have to spend too much time on the frustrating sections and can go back to having fun.

I don't think it's such an outlandish idea, either. Many games these days already have infinite lives rather than a finite amount or even just one, for instance, and many games also include cheat codes that will, in essence, do the same thing: give you the extra boost you need to make it through a difficult spot so you can see what lies behind it, perhaps even finish the game, rather than having to fail again and again.

A mulligan button would be a more elegant solution, though, and game designers worried about people using it to blaze through the games without even trying to do it the regular way could make it appear only after a while, too. Already died twenty times in this level? Already spent ten minutes on this screen without making progress? Here's the mulligan button if you want to skip this for now, with the option of returning to it later.

Braid itself actually isn't so bad in this regard, as you don't strictly HAVE to get all the puzzle pieces you have to collect in order to advance: in essence, you already can skip over individual puzzles and return to them later. But from what I gather, I won't be able to access the last world (much less see the game's end) until I figure all of them out, and realistically, I don't see that happening: not as long as I want to have fun with the game, rather than approaching it as a chore.

(I realize that "mulligan" is probably not the best term for this, BTW, but I can't think of a better one right now.)
Tags: games, thoughts
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