Game Design

Trial and error gameplay

If I don't know the rules of a game, then it's not a legitimate challenge. If I don't know how much damage the fireball spell does before I invest in it, I can't make a meaningful decision. I'm just guessing what the designer would've done. That's not challenging gameplay. It's trial and error.

Of course, that's a lot less bad if the game allows you to re-spec or sell an item for the same price, but even then, just why? There's no reason I should have to buy it and go die with it to find out it's not worth buying. Just give me the information up-front so I can make a meaningful decision.

A frequent cause of trial and error in action games is requiring you to read an enemy's physical sprite movements to know what attack is coming in time to dodge it. This sounds like a fine idea, but the problem is that video game worlds aren't bound by real-life physics, so it's often not possible for even the most attentive and smartest player to infer how they should dodge an attack they haven't seen before.

Sekiro suffers from this a lot. For example, take the boss Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa, who is a giant riding a giant horse with a giant spear. He runs at you and swings his spear and you choose between trying to dodge or block. The reasonable guess is to dodge because this opponent looks like he should have enough force to send you flying. However, blocking is the correct option.

Sekiro review

However Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and Jedi: Fallen Order demonstrate that it's possible to do sprite-based telegraphs in such a way that the player can reasonably intuit them.

Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

Jedi: Fallen Order

A common reason players don't object to trial and error in games is because they don't realize it's trial and error. They haven't really put their finger on the concept, and so they often assume their death is their fault without even asking whether they had a legitimate way to see it coming. I even did this to myself when I played Dark Souls 1. There were a lot of times I was killed during combat by an attack I couldn't have known how to dodge, but I thought to myself, "Well, there was a telegraph and it was possible to avoid it, so it must have been fair". I denied my feelings because I didn't see how it was possible for that to still be trial and error.

Dark Souls review


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