Hey there, Gamers and Game Makers!
This week I'm going to be talking about designing win and fail states for games and why it's no easy task.
So, first off, what is a win and fail state? Well, in games unlike movies and tv shows, we can't 100% script a scene to play out exactly how we want unless we take full control away from the player a and force it to become a cutscene. Now, I personally don't like forcing cutscenes on the player or removing control from them if I can at all help it. Doing so breaks the immersion of the game, taking the player right out of the experience they were so invested in and making them feel like an audience member rather than an active part of the experience.
In a movie we can have a very tense scene building up to a climax and it always plays out exactly as it should because the actors know what they have to do and always do it. I mean that's what they get paid for. However, in a game we can script certain elements to always play out a particular way. The one thing we can't ever fully control no matter how well a game is designed is what the player will do. While we can guess through design and testing what the majority of players will do at a particular point in a level, we can't always tell what some players will do.
So, we have to account for this unknown with win and fail states. Now, a games design should always be clear enough that the player should always know what to do or where to focus their attention.
A simple example of a win and fail state is in my game Hide The Body. In HTB, you have to hide all the elements of the crime before the cop busts in. The cop busting in is a constant. This will happen no matter what. So how do we distinguish between an obvious win or fail in such a way that the player knows as quickly as possible if they won or lost that level. In HTB, audio and animation play a key role in this. If you have successfully hidden everything, when the cop busts in the player character animation is a positive air punch with a positive dramatic audio cue. While if the player fails, the player character drops to his knees crying as a more menacing audio cue plays. Now the player is very aware that they lost.
An important factor to keep in mind for a fail state is, how quickly can the player get back in the game? Assume the player is going to fail a lot. If they end up having to wait a minute or more to get back into playing that level then they're going to get frustrated with the game and stop playing. Make it as fast as possible for the player to jump back into the game after losing. In HTB if the player loses a level the retry menu appears very quickly and jumps back into gameplay all in less than twenty seconds.
Designing fail states for narrative games can be tricky as we need to maintain immersion while still conveying to the player that they aren't doing the correct thing. This comes down to good level design, writing and audio working hand in hand to convey a fail state to the player while still appearing as an expected event within that games universe. Another simple example from adventure games would be if you have a key and you keep using it on the wrong door. The games audio cue should be something like a door lock or door handle rattle without opening along with a dialogue cue to the effect of "That doesn't work" or "It doesn't fit this lock".
When it comes to designing your games win or fail states, you need to imagine what someone who has no idea what is going to do. We as designers have the advantage of knowing everything about our game which in turn proves to be a big disadvantage when designing these states sometimes. Get others to play the game and don't guide them. Simply observe what they do and don't tell them where they went wrong. Make the necessary changes and observe if they do what you wanted them to this time or are they at least getting offtrack less.
That's about it for this week's blog. I may do another blog on win/fail states with a focus on more narrative games or open world games as they prove quite a challenge for these states. As always, I hope you found this to be of interest and if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.
Until next time!