‘Game Over’ Needs To Go Away

“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

Game OverI 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The Game Over screen is outdated tradition.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.

Prince of Persia

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.

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7 Comments

Filed under Rambling Man

7 responses to “‘Game Over’ Needs To Go Away

  1. So, so true. Great editorial.

  2. I agree, Patrick. The “Game Over” screen is a result of the emergence of console games from the arcade environment, where robbing players of quarters was the easiest way to make a successful machine. Now that the majority of games have abandoned arcades, there’s no reason to rely on the “Game Over” mechanic to artificially inflate the amount of time it takes to beat a game. Hopefully evolutionary design concepts such as Prince of Persia’s use of Elika will elegantly remove this static barrier.

  3. This video was an interesting look at why someone thought Prince of Persia was the most innovative game of 2008 for some of the same reasons that you list.

  4. Oops, I should link the video too, huh?

  5. Completely agree. The combat is the weakest part of PoP, but not being sent to the Game Over screen definitely wouldn’t -help- the game. No, you can’t -die- in PoP, but you can certainly screw up. I felt like I blew it whenever Elika was having to keep saving me because I kept losing at combat or not quite making a jump.

  6. pk

    Jinny, that video’s fantastic. Everyone else should watch it, too. He nails everything I was talking about above in a much broader context. I’ve seen such issues in action while watching my girlfriend struggle to play Left 4 Dead. The controller scares and intimidates her. Unless it’s LEGO-based or Left 4 Dead, she won’t play a games on Xbox 360.

  7. Oddly enough, the quote you cite from GWJ sparked similar rage in me. I recently had to stare at a game over screen in a game (I can’t remember which, but memory is telling me it was a JRPG — possibly Infinite Undiscovery), but it was made worse in that you couldn’t save for like the first hour. So you die in this total bullshit encounter, and you’ve gotta go back to square one because the game favors an ‘F You screen over checkpoints.

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