Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Dead: Amnesia or How I Need to Learn to Stop Enjoying Games

Amnesia - The Annoying Design

So it seems like starting to enjoy a game is a herald of my upcoming death. What did I say just before my death in Conan?

"Just as I'm starting to remember what I like about Conan, and thinking that it might be fun to get stuck into it again for a while, it's all over"

I'm not going to lie I'm pretty annoyed at Amnesia right now. Just as I start to fall for it, and think that maybe there's a game underneath all the suspense, it reveals itself to be a big old liar.

It went as follows:

After negotiating the water monster I appear in another flooded area. No crates = no monster though so I just walk through and it's all fine.
Suddenly there's a huge crash and I hear the sound of splashes coming towards me. How annoying. It's hard to tell if it's a real threat or if it's just more suspense so I continue calmly walking and jump up on to a barrel. The water monster then smashes the barrel and beats me to death.

So, let's just go through what's happened here.

A set of mechanics has been established. They've been established by killing you and then showing a screen which says 'Keep out of the water'.

This is a bad way to establish a game's mechanics. Any hint at all previous to this that if I was to end up in water getting out of it would be a good idea would have been fine. Allowing you to die and then saying 'we killed you like this and you avoid it like this' is not fine. NOT FINE. The only reason I didn't die at this point is because Ben did and I learned from his mistakes

After getting used to these mechanics and then getting past them and feeling clever, another set of mechanics is established which undermine everything you've just learned. They've been established by killing you and then showing you a screen which says:

I mean seriously is this how this game is going to progress? Killing me and then explaining why on my death screen?
So now I know this bit is a race and I need to stay ahead of the monster and throw barrels at him, But it's too late for that unfortunately - I'm dead.

Game design is difficult. Different people use different cues for things, and you can't guarantee that everyone will play something the same way. Maybe if I'd have looked around at a certain time I would have seen the footsteps go near a barrel and destroy it. Perhaps that would have been enough to let me know what was coming. It's possible that I just missed the cues, but for me and Ben both to die in a confused state with no idea why until the black explanation screen shows up is suspicious, and I'm inclined to think that it's a design decision more than our noobishness.

Perhaps the idea is that these enforced death points are really scary and you jump and are frightened and then you recover and do it again. Maybe it's like a rollercoaster and you're supposed to be frightened but ultimately know that you're safe. 'Wow that bit were I got killed was amazing and terrifying but I can just try it again so it's no big deal'.

Well it is a big deal because now I have to play Audiosurf.

Telegraphing gaming events has to be treated like video editing - it should be invisible to the user, but they should instinctively know what's happening and why. That isn't what's happening here.

There has to be a way to scare you, establish your mechanics and NOT kill you hasn't there?


  1. You're right -- this is one of those techniques that is very frustrating in so many games. In Amnesia though, the only point that seems to happen is right there, and I didn't mind or notice at the time. I suppose it induced that sequence that you mentioned, fright->recovery->repeat, instead of frustration.

    Of course, this doesn't help you at all. :) No replay for you....

  2. I've watched a lot of Amnesia let's plays on YT and I must say none of them made those mistakes when they played. For instance, your first encounter with the water monster isn't rigged to kill you - all of the let's players I've seen got out of the water post-haste (I mean, why wouldn't you?). A couple of them had trouble with the barrel thing, but they had time to recover and get on a box instead. The monster doesn't kill you in one hit.

    Honestly, it just seems like you weren't very good at this game and blamed the developers on your own shortcomings.

    Most of the posts on this blog are quite enjoyable so far, however, so I'll let this butthurt one slide.