How Was I Supposed To Know That?!: Feedback In Video Games

So I was watching my brother play Metroid Prime yesterday, and he comes across a cloaked mini-boss of sorts. He tries every weapon he has and there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable effect, so he runs around the room, looking for perhaps an environmental form of attack or an exit, maybe even a object to scan to inform of its weakness. With all that to no avail and health dwindling, he keeps shooting at the enemy in hopes it is actually doing something. In the end the last slithers of his health fades, game over and returned to a save point around 15-20 minutes of play away.A quick google search tells us that you have to use a particular weapon to defeat it, to which we both sigh and prepare for the trek back to the room to take the thing down.

There is a wonderful little title known as Okami for the PS2 that was later ported to the Wii. I was enjoying my play of it in the beginning, but then I found myself at a road block. The game informs me that I must revive all the trees in the starting area to progress, so I find one and try to resurrect it with a technique the game has taught me. After 3 or 4 tries, it seemed to not work, so I moved on and tried to find if there was a part of the sequence I’d missed or if there was a different method. An hour of time wasted running around, talking to people and feeling lost, I get exhausted and google it. Apparently I was messing up the technique they taught me by the tiniest degree and the game understood it as do it perfect or get absolutely nothing. I sigh, succeed in progressing with the game and get into the meat of the experience.

Both of these situations let out the same words from the people involved, an agitated “how was I supposed to know that?!”. In Metroid Primes instance, there was no sign that the correct weapon was actually doing anything. When there is only one answer among 6 choices, the game should have made it clear that there was actual damage incurring. In Okamis case, there wasn’t a means to nudge me in the right direction if I messed up just a little bit, failing the correct technique didn’t create a failed version or anything to tell me I was just a bit off, all or nothing was the way of it.

Too often is it not clear what someone is meant to do in a game, especially if the requirements are that you perform perfectly or it fails. Feedback is how we understand the difference between success and failure and while nothing comes to mind right now, I have experienced plenty of moments where the correct method of a possible group of choices was not clear to be so, I just roll past it and move on. I’m not going to sit there and try something that doesn’t seem to be working, I’m not a stubborn fool and I think it is a pretty safe assumption that no gamer is.

These situations of lacking feedback are ruining my game experiences. I swell with disdain at the game developers for not seeing that there was no way to understand the correct method when it was indistinguishable from the wrong one. I get a little vein pop on my head when the answer was something I had tried before but I had messed up by what seems to be the most minuscule amount and I had not been pushed in the right direction rather than steered down one of dozens of wrong roads.

So how about you all? When have you gotten stuck at something only to realise the answer was not clear and you get frustrated? When you had only messed up by the slightest amount and been wasting time feeling stupid and bored? Maybe you got an idea or two about how to easily tell players what is right and wrong in those experiences?

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