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MarkyJoe1990 Discusses: Lives Systems And Challenge
#1
I personally don't think having a lives system is a bad thing in a game. Apparently some people such as Ben Yahtzee think it's an obsolete game mechanic that is meant to extort money from arcade players, and has no point in newer games, but I disagree. For people looking for a casual, non-frustrating experience, I suppose it has no reason to be there, but hey, difficulty doesn't really have a place in casual gaming experiences anyway. For games built more around the older concept of conquering challenges however, I feel a lives system can greatly enhance a game's experience.

Lemme start with my first time playing Castlevania for X86000. That game is hard as nuts, and it's also cheap at times. For example, in stage 4, there's a point where you walk up a flight of stairs that leads you to a top floor that's extremely close to the HUB. The HUB actually blocks some of the obstacles from being seen. I usually get hit by a bat here, and that's really annoying because at this point, enemies start dealing 1/4 of your health. But I'm getting off topic. Basically, it's a really REALLY hard game that requires a lot of precision, quick reflexes, and a solid strategy.

Now, this game has a lives system, and if you lose all your lives, you have to start over from the beginning of the level. I think this is a fair punishment for failing to beat a level within a set amount of lives, and although it's frustrating to redo parts of the level, now you'll have a better strategy in how to tackle it, and you'll gain satisfaction knowing that you made back to where you last were while taking less damage, losing less lives, and getting to that point much faster than before. Now that you're have more health and lives, you're better prepared for the next segment of the stage. You can afford to make more mistakes and learn from them, and each time you fail, you get better and better. It's that feeling of improvement that creates joy in a player who enjoys these kind of games. That improvement keeps going until finally the player conquers the stage and realizes that their hard work has finally paid off with success. With enough dedication and thought, Castlevania X86000 can be beaten, and when you beat it, it will feel great.

At least, that's how I feel, and for all I know, I could be biased in that regard, but I really do enjoy hard games that make me strategize like Castlevania. For some reason I don't enjoy faster paced games like Megaman X, but perhaps it's because that game feels less balanced in it's experience; it's more reflex reliant and you don't have to think as much as do, and I like to think and contemplate how to succeed.

Now let's compare this to my experience with Rayman Origins... That game is considered one of the best platformers in a long time, but I don't feel particularly invested when I play it. Every time I die, the only penalty is redoing the screen I was already on. Hardly any progress lost, and eventually the difficulty becomes more about memorization and perfecting what you're supposed to do than anything else. The difficulty is too unfrustrating. Sure I make it through levels faster, but my efforts feel less meaningful. There's no tension in the action. If I lose a ton of lives, I'm not sent to the beginning of the stage, being forced to improve my abilities enough to have a good chance at where I lost. Instead, I just need to keep redoing the same spot over and over again until I get past it. Then I never need to deal with it again unless I didn't collect enough lumas or whatever the heck those yellow things are called.

One day I dedicated my time to beating the game, but then the game threw me a curveball: I couldn't progress further until I saved more of the pink critter things... Which means I have to go back and redo old levels whose relevance had long escaped my mind, and now I can't progress to do more interesting, challenging levels until I explore the old ones. I hated this. I'm mentally prepared for more difficult challenges, so why make me have to play easy stages that by now are boring? It's just artificial padding. Why would I want to go back to those levels and explore? It's a platforming game about challenges, and exploration just feels tacked on, unlike in games like Yoshi's Island, which is far better tailored and more rewarding when you explore.

There are exceptions to this rule however. Prinny: Can I really be a Hero? was very fun to me, but it was much more strategic, and each time I failed, I tried different strategies. In Rayman Origins, there is only one strategy: do it the way the game wants you to. So perhaps my beef isn't with the game's live system, but rather that the game is just boring. =\

Before I conclude however, I want to say there IS a kind of lives system I don't particularly care for. It's the kind that forces you to start THE ENTIRE GAME over when you lose your lives, with no continues. This isn't a problem when playing games like the Touhou Shoot 'Em Ups, since those are extremely short, even compared to games like Castlevania, but for longer games, I can't stand this. There's a difference between frustrating the player, and flat out making them feel so crummy that they don't wanna play anymore because all of their progress was for nothing. Games like Adventure Island are perfect examples of this. And I know that game has a secret continue system, but it's obscure and difficult to find without a guide. The game was clearly intended to be played without a game over, and that's just dumb. It breaks pacing when you force the player to redo old, easy stages when they are mentally prepared for mid-game or late-game stages. It ruins the momentum.

So yeah. I guess ultimately what I'm saying is that there needs to be a sufficient punishment that motivates the player to improve rather than just redoing the same spot of a level over and over again, or else the experience feels meaningless. Too much demotivates them, and too little makes them lazy and not care. At least, in my opinion.
#2
Personally, I think lives systems are an archaic system because most developers read it as, "Oh, you lost all your lives? Back to the last save, ya chump!" or, in the case of Mario (games that somehow manage to make you lose all of your lives in the first place), "Oh, you lost all of your lives? Back to the beginning of the world, ya idiot!"

For games like Dark Souls or veteran campaign Call of Duty or stuff like that, where some sections get infuriatingly cheap, annoying, and hard, having a limited set of lives to go with makes it feel like padding, with you having to redo sections of the level you've already proven you cleared.

Of course, these games are way different in the way they're designed compared to Castlevania, so perhaps the problem here is that lives systems simply aren't compatible with certain games. While it's acceptable in Castlevania, given how it's more of a slow and methodical game focused on you learning how to beat each level while saving up your precious life so you can get it beaten the crap out of by the boss instead, games like CoD where you can die because that one Spetsnaz agent was hiding behind the corner with a shotgun and tapped you out after an intense firefight and force you to redo the entire thing would drive people to the point of insanity if they only had a couple of "lives" before having to do the entire game again. I probably wouldn't have done World at War on Veteran if I had to go through Berlin seven-thousand fucking times just because it's impossible to get up the stairs without having ten million fucking grenades hit your head.
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#3
Adventure Island's increasing more unforgiving difficulty and making you start all over again if you don't use the continue cheat is what didn't make me interested in playing it again. Adventure Island 2 and 3 and Super Adventure Island allowed you to continue if you lost all your lives, even if you had limited continues. Super Adventure Island isn't even that long either (only 15 levels + 5 boss levels).

A game I've been playing recently since a couple of weeks ago, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, let you die many times without worrying about a game over, but you need stars to unlock the final level of each world, which are gained by collecting crystals and dying as little as possible. Three stars for collecting crystals (don't need exactly all of them for the three stars) and two for dying 5 times or less per level. Dying more than 5 times in a level removes one of the two death related stars. Don't know how many deaths gets rid of both stars in a level.

There's one case I find interesting in both of the System Shock games. If you died before activating the respawn point manually, it was a game over. In the case of System Shock 2, if you respawned at the station (or respawned at predetermined points in Multiplayer), you would only have a portion of your health restored, and would pretty much have to rely on healing items or an activated surgical unit to get that health back, and it costed 10 nanites to be brought back. There are also some areas where there wasn't a reconstruction station to activate at in any case, so you'd have to avoid dying in said areas. Pretty much the amount of times you can die depends on the amount of nanites you have. Course this game has a save system so people would rather just load a savegame up than get sent back to the activated reconstruction station.
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#4
Honestly, I never really liked the live system in Legend of Zelda 2. You start with three lives and if you lose all those lives you go back to Hyrule Temple. Some of the temples/dungeons have many annoying enemy placements, where you'll die if you get hit by an enemy when you're close to a bottomless pit. As for the lives you gathered, uggggghhhh. If you get all the lives in the game, you cannot go back and farm for lives again (exactly one life in each area that contains lives). It wouldn't be a problem if THE GAME DOESN'T RESET YOUR LIVES BACK TO THREE after you shut the game down. And yeah, I rage quit at the pathway to the final temple/dungeon.
#5
(04-23-2013, 01:30 PM)marks3684 Wrote: Honestly, I never really liked the live system in Legend of Zelda 2. You start with three lives and if you lose all those lives you go back to Hyrule Temple. Some of the temples/dungeons have many annoying enemy placements, where you'll die if you get hit by an enemy when you're close to a bottomless pit. As for the lives you gathered, uggggghhhh. If you get all the lives in the game, you cannot go back and farm for lives again (exactly one life in each area that contains lives). It wouldn't be a problem if THE GAME DOESN'T RESET YOUR LIVES BACK TO THREE after you shut the game down. And yeah, I rage quit at the pathway to the final temple/dungeon.
To be fair, Zelda II isn't exactly a very well designed game in the first place (lots of pointless features that do nothing to improve the game experience, and bland level design). The punishment it places on you is completely pointless because getting back to where you were isn't challenging; You can avoid most enemy encounters, and the ones you can't are usually trivial. It'd be meaningful in the final palace, since getting there is in and of itself VERY challenging, but you always start at the palace if you game over, and I think sending the player back to the beginning of the game would be... insane.
#6
I think lives are a neat concept that's not for every game. I think anything that has a steep challenge should include some way for replenishing lives when needed or have the player only go back to the beginning of the stage failed upon rather than having replay stages like in Super Mario World.

Take Mega Man for instance. Never would you have to play a stage over in a single run due to failure unless it was involving a hidden item. With two checkpoints given per stage, difficulty can increase while still staying fair.

Going back to SMW, I play them hacks a lot and the lives system can be hit or miss. Most of them have a thing provided in the first few stages that if you have an eye for, you can easily replenish and never have to replay much. Considering the difficulty, this is necessary. Others have nothing of the sort or even taught you with sections that appear to work out but don't provide the necessary tools. That's just cruel.

SMBX engine does it much better, akin to Yoshi's Island in that it auto saves and you never have to replay anything but the first section. It only allows for one midpoint, unfortunately. This system shouldn't be an excuse for designers to put level ending stars at or near the end of the level like rom hacks though >_< but that's a rant for another day. I will mention that fact that like New Super Mario Bros., midpoints too get erased too easy. I guess it's better than getting stuck losing progress in the first two (possibly three) VIP Marios haha.
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