207: mEssen With Your Head

mEssen With Your Head

Ever feel like game designers might be coddling players a little too much? Then you probably haven't played a game by Mark Essen, aka "messhof." John Adkins speaks with the indie designer about his punishing, occasionally nauseating but always interesting game design philosophies.

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Great article, the industry needs more insane creative developers such as this guy.

I'm impressed at his distinction between difficult and unfair gameplay. Think of a game as being a set of rules, mechanics, and goals; the challenge is to find a way to use the mechanics within the rules to accomplish the goals.

A difficult game would have deep, complicated rules that required precise usage of the mechanics to accomplish the goals. What makes it difficult is merely the fact that the sequence of actions is both sensitive to precision and lengthy (imagine 2 hours of button mashing where one wrong button press results in failure -- that's difficult).

An unfair game might have unseen rules, unobservable conditions, sequences that require superhuman speed or reaction times, or a considerable random element. When there is no way to avoid death, no way to predict the outcome, and no reasonable ability to develop to the level needed to complete the challenge, it becomes unfair in the sense that the player can't be expected to ever win.

The challenge of the game is learning to solve the problems. If the problems are unsolvable, then there is no point in playing the game. This is where the game ceases to be difficult and become impossible or unfair.

I also like his idea of making disorientation one of the challenges of the game. Games will often throw challenges at you one at a time, letting you complete each largely at your own pace. Overwhelming a person with sensory overload certainly adds a challenge -- one that requires a skill that, unlike most involved in today's games, is worth learning: how to filter out noise and concentrate on what's important.

Imagine having ADD or autism and being overwhelmed and distracted constantly. People with these conditions often learn to live with them and control them to the point where they can lead a normal life. Now imagine gaining those same skills as a regular person -- you would have an amazing ability to concentrate. Since concentration is key to performance in many tasks, this would be quite an advantage.

I can't wait to try out some of these games. Just don't forget the sick pail.

I wasn't too impressed with the vid of the game tbh. Not really my cup of tea I guess

I played that game, Punishment, a while ago. He's not lying, it's seriously difficult and incredibly - well - punishing. It's true that there is a clear distinction between difficult and unfair as ReverseEngineered also said, but I don't know if that makes it less frustrating to play. If it was unfair, you would stop playing after a very short while, but when it is just extremely difficult you come back for the challenge. Well, some people does. I didn't have the patience to finish it.

Well, "unfair" doesn't necessarily mean "unwinnable". The Simpsons arcade game, for instance, can be won pretty easily, but it is impossible to avoid getting hit, and very close to impossible to avoid losing a life, because the point of the game was to eat coins. That's unfair, too. Or games where a random event hurts or kills you but doesn't harm another player, or doesn't happen at all in a second play through. Or some event that requires long repetition of an easy action over a period of time that isn't feasible, like the "lightning dodge" in one of the final fantasies someone mentioned in another thread, where you have to dodge the lightning - which is easy - 200 times - which is not. Or when a game is made artificially hard through the removal of save points. Or when an enemy can see you in a "dark" level or room, even though you wouldn't be able to see them in the same situation.

Fairness can be broken many different ways. But I agree his games, hard though they may be, do seek to keep things as fair as possible, within the scope of being games that don't want you to win, and will try their hardest to make that so - which is arguably unfair in itself, since as players we're forced to play by the game's rules to begin with, but not so unfair that you'd suspect the game of overtly cheating.

ReverseEngineered:
The challenge of the game is learning to solve the problems. If the problems are unsolvable, then there is no point in playing the game. This is where the game ceases to be difficult and become impossible or unfair.

This, and indeed your entire comment, is very insightful. Those of you reviewing games, take heed of this difference!Difficult games are GOOD, Unfair games are BAD! Your other comment was very insightful as well, well done! I recommend this for next week's letters to the editor!

Also, thanks to John Adkins, Randy Balma Municipal Abortionist is now my favorite game EVER. Until I manage to beat Punishment 2... and maybe if I get Punishment 1 to work... and if I can ever figure out what the hell the screens say in Bool! But Randy Balma is a pure trip, and the last screen with the baby octopus is more than enough pay-off for playing the rest of the game!

Punishing players severely for mistakes. Yeah, that's fun.

Civver kind of said what I was thinking, although I hope he was being sarcastic because I certainly am. I could tolerate some of that to a degree, but I just don't think I'd finish many of the games the guy makes. I've played a lot of games that disorientate you, and most of the time they're not very fun sections of the game. Anyone remember the "dream" sequences in Max Payne with the stretching/shrinking paths and ridiculous jumps you had to make on faith? Yeah, I'm still trying to forget them too.

I mean, yeah these may seem good on paper, but for a lot of people, I just don't think it's going to be all that appealing. It sounds more like he's trying to make his games a work of art rather than something to be truly enjoyed by the masses that is fun and entertaining. Of course, for me, "fun and entertaining" is a game that is beatable with a little bit of difficulty but not enough that you feel like the game is abusing/molesting you. I've seen that far too often in games these days. It's hard to relax when playing video games anymore, and I've seen plenty of people tell me "video games aren't meant to be relaxing" then why the hell do we call them entertainment? I'm supposed to unwind after a hectic day by getting my ass handed to me or wanting vomit into a bucket after getting hopelessly lost in some cooky maze? No thanks, I'll stick to the food poisoning I have now.

Hiroshi Mishima:
Of course, for me, "fun and entertaining" is a game that is beatable with a little bit of difficulty but not enough that you feel like the game is abusing/molesting you. I've seen that far too often in games these days.

Really? Than you would have a seizure with how games use to be two decades ago. Even the cute ones would demand so much compared to nowadays.

Not every single one, but the ratio of hard/easy games would tilt far more to the hard side. No hand holding, no tutorials, barely any save states and even the passwords were works of sadism.

I'll still have the guts to play Takeshi's Challenge.

Ericb:

Hiroshi Mishima:
Of course, for me, "fun and entertaining" is a game that is beatable with a little bit of difficulty but not enough that you feel like the game is abusing/molesting you. I've seen that far too often in games these days.

Really? Than you would have a seizure with how games use to be two decades ago. Even the cute ones would demand so much compared to nowadays.

Not every single one, but the ratio of hard/easy games would tilt far more to the hard side. No hand holding, no tutorials, barely any save states and even the passwords were works of sadism.

I'll still have the guts to play Takeshi's Challenge.

Here here, if you think today's games are 'abusive' then I gotta think you wouldn't have had the stomach for a lot of the games we grew up playing on NES, and even some on older systems like Atari and Colecovision.

And I can't believe no one is commenting this article, this has been like a fucking treasure trove of miraculous games for me! Has anyone else tried Flywrench for the first time recently? I've never been so pissed off at a game, but every time I beat a new level it's like I crossed the Sahara and showed up at an open-bar bachelor party, I love it!

Not my cup of tea either tbh.

Greetings, I've come from the year 2012.
Nothing very interesting has happened, other than that one thing, which was kinda cool, but that was about it.

 

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