“I, unfortunately, didn’t play it long enough. When you can stand there and just get beat by the boss like over and over and over again and have that women save you every time, sort of takes the fun out of the game. It’s like ‘wow, I can’t die, okay!'”
— Gamers With Jobs Podcast, Episode 118, about nine minutes in
I feel the need to defend Prince of Persia. Folks have chastised Prince of Persia for being too easy, and while I think that often works to the game’s benefit, that’s not what bugged me about the above exchange. No, it’s the notion Prince of Persia’s lack of a game over screen represents poor game design.
The Game Over screen is outdated tradition.
I began to seriously rethink the game over screen over Rock Band. I often played with non-gamers who needed a few drinks before feeling comfortable strapping on a plastic guitar. Almost always, the combination of inebriation and Rock Band’s strict three-strikes gameplay policy meant we made it halfway through a song before failing out. It’s not fun when it happens five times in a row.
Rock Band 2 introduced a “no fail” mode, but it’s hidden away in an option menu. The people who want that option would never find it. It’s as through Harmonix only begrudgingly accepted users aren’t always interested in making their fingers bleed — or they might be drunk — and made the ability to hide Rock Band’s game over screen its own, frustrating mini-game.
But its presence in Rock Band 2 is significant. It’s proof of a social trend directly affecting game development, something Prince of Persia admits, as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Prince of Persia’s combat is deeply flawed, padded with unnecessary repetition and unbalanced combos. But the Gamers With Jobs exert dismisses the combat because Prince of Persia does not kick you to black screen — cue sound effect of Prince screaming loudly in agonizing virtual defeat! — and you’re asked to start the combat sequence all over again.
Remember the last time you died during a boss fight because of a single missed button press? Prince of Persia smartly avoids this common frustration by asking the player to tap a command button to receive another opportunity to execute the correct combo or, if they miss the command window, receive punishment not in the form of a game over screen, but an enemy with slightly more health.
Variety in the ways games handle reward and punishment should be praised. Prince of Persia highlights a trend we’ll be seeing much more of, as developers look to appease the hardcore and draw outsiders in. It will be a painful growing process, but what Prince of Persia gets right is important, and ignoring its bold choices won’t do anything to change what’s inevitably coming.