Game Design Sketchbook: Regret

Game Design Sketchbook: Regret

Under scrutiny from a visiting journalist, Jason Rohrer finds himself faced with the challenge of basing a game on the concept of regret.


Yarr. Dead gerbil. Should be fixed now.

I didn't quite feel the pangs of regret from this game... more just frustration of constantly running into ghosts. I suppose that's somewhat close, but it didn't quite strike that chord for me.

P.S. I thought Immortal was pretty good.

interesting indeed, though I don't know how well it hits regret, as my relationship with the animals was never more than that of a barrier =p

perhaps a better mechanic would be if the decisions you made resulted in a loss that prevented you from finishing the game? like if you had to make a choice that would limit completion in one way or another, but it was an informed choice, rather than having to randomly guess like in here.

still though, I have to applaud even trying to tackle a topic like this, cant wait for the next one :D

I don't know Jason, I agree with GirlFlash. I think regret is more tied to things we should have done differently and realize that we already knew that at the time - we just let other factors change our decision. In your game, I have no (or little) clue what each animal eats, my decision is purely random and I can't _feel_ regret at my mistake. An example could be: all animals eat the same thing, but sooner or later the player will feel the desire to 'experiment' and feed then with something else, which will kill them. It's less of a game that way, so I don't know...

The mechanics of how regret works once you have it are spot on, I leave some of them behind but others just keeps popping up. Thanks!

It would have hit me with more regret when the animals werent just "in my path" because then one cant feel with them, but sees them as a obstacle to overtake...

and who where those little guys stealing points along the way?

Like the totaly optional way to earn points by feeding a whole family something, but when you give them the wrong, maybe you feel sorry for even trying to get extra points...

Stay in touch. Continue being just, democratic, equitable and conscious. It often means giving up many income streams, but true freedom won't come from $$$, it'll come from hearts!

I'm with Jare on this one. I can't regret something that I don't blame myself for, and not knowing what each animal eats prevents me from knowing in advance. After accidentally killing an animal given my chances of being wrong, I felt no regret, just annoyance (especially because the occurrence of a ghost killed the feed from my directional key, so I had to release and re-press; annoyance++).

Imagine a game of calling a coin-flip, except guessing wrong resulted in a steady bleed of points as the game went on? That's essentially what this amounted to.

Something that might've heightened the sense of regret would've been the ABILITY to know what each animal was apparently allergic to, but also the ability to ignore it (potentially even an incentive to ignore it, like the 1/100 chance that a particular food item would clear all/many of that type from the board). You might also make further animals of one type refuse to encounter/eat from/move out of the way after you've willingly killed a certain number of their friends.

This isn't a game about leaving the past behind you, as the article would have you believe. This is a game about how the past says "Hey, where do you think YOU'RE going?" and slapping you in the face.

Ironically, the worst part about the ghost-images is as Geoffrey pointed out: the movement input being interrupted by their appearance. If you time it right on the arrow key and spacebar, actually, the ghosts only really take a couple frames of movement away from you. So the bigger 'regret' is failing to notice in a timely fashion when the red line pops up so you can hit the right key sequence with the right timing.

Not to mention I didn't notice a penalty for choosing an 'incorrect' option for a ghost image. The image comes back anyway, who cares if you feed it bread, wine, rat poison, or a Boeing 747 complete with emergency oxygen masks? If anything, the ghost images are fodder for 'safer' experimentation. Want to know what owls eat? Kill an owl, and then run around a little bit, and shove everything you can think of down his throat until he loves you. Kind of makes it a closer analogy to the singles dating scene. </jaded>

It seemed to me like the blue dots were carried away faster later in the game, too, which goes completely counter to the concept of regret. The idea behind regret is that you screwed up in the past, and you see it continuing to hamper you even as the rest of the world is unchanged; it is your secret, personal pain. But if the rest of the world changes WITH your mistake, then it changes from mistake and regret to something more akin to crime and punishment. You're not the one who carries your burden forward with you; the external world remembers it, and you have to suffer the consequences visited upon you by others.

I also can't say for sure, having not actually tried it, but I believe it would typically be faster and more pointwise profitable to go through the maze of the game in the best A-to-B straight course one can manage. You encounter fewer animals, have less delay, less chance of accruing ghosts, and the blue dots on missed paths will eventually get carried off anyway. In this, it's not so much about regret as conflict avoidance and safety. I guess this could be tangential to the concept of regret, thinking further on it: If you want to avoid regret, you have to avoid variety of experience. Though the point-profitability issue means the game may be advocating this avoidance, which may or may not be something that you want to communicate with the game.

Suggested changes:
- Put a list up, before the maze appears, of the animals and their preferred food items, matched. If you feed an animal the wrong food after that, then that's your own stupid fault, which is a more sensical thing to regret.
- Keep the orb-carriers' rate of speed constant.
- Allow the player to 'win back' some level of non-botherance from, say, owls, after feeding an owl (ghostly or otherwise) the correct food item. It shouldn't be much, maybe 15 seconds of reprieve, during which time of course other ghost animals still have free bothering reign. If you want to get really crinkly about it, you can add another 5 seconds to the reprieve time for every owl that consecutively gets answered correctly. This serves not only as a reward to the player for ceasing his/her screw-uppitude, but also creates a greater cognitive gap in between animals of the same type, leading (diabolically) to a greater chance that the player will forget what food belongs to what animal and thus get transported back to bothertown for his/her transgressions (which he/she will certainly regret).

Very interesting attempt at making a game mechanic about feeling regret.

A recent and somewhat poignant experience with a game causing regret for me was while playing Cave Story. I had just beat a boss and my AI companion was still with me. After beating the boss, the room filled up with water up to the ceiling. Interestingly enough, the cutscene did not happen right after the room filled with water, they let you struggle with it until you ran out of air. At that point, you blacked out and when you woke up, your AI companion had given her air supply tank to you so that you could breathe, but she died. At this point, you had to leave the boss chamber ( there was no other way out ), the door slammed shut behind you. You were even still able to go to the controls to try and lift the door, but they did not work. I remember all of this a few days after playing the game even. That's powerful.

Do we ever feel regret at something that we have multiple chances to do? Even harder, how about when we have a fresh start at it each time? In my experience, regret is largely relationship focused. I have flashbacks all the time of stupid things that I have said. It is still uncomfortable, even years after, like you said in your article. That is a *very* hard thing to capture in a simple game mechanic. In a game that is plot driven, maybe not so much.

I used to play Nethack and I always felt regret when my animal companion died or got lost. After a while I got so I didn't care, but at first it was uncomfortable, especially if I used him as a spearcatcher and got outta dodge.

Thanks for you thought provoking articles/games Jason. Long live the indie games.


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