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Sometimes frustrating design can be fun
Sometimes frustrating design can be fun
August 24, 2012 | By Staff

August 24, 2012 | By Staff

Developers shouldn't be so quick to cull parts of their game that players find frustrating -- sometimes that frustration can be good in the long run if used correctly.

After implementing co-op gameplay in his action-puzzler A Virus Named Tom, developer Tim Keenan discovered that playtesters had become frustrated by their characters colliding into each other while trying to solve puzzles and avoid enemies.

They almost unanimously suggested allowing players to pass through one another, but Keenan likened that idea to turning off friendly fire in a first-person shooter, and called it a step in the wrong direction.

"It takes the game one step closer to everyone playing the game as an individual, because it means players don't have to consider one another in their movement, which is arguably half of the gameplay in A Virus Named Tom," he explains.

That added difficulty forces players to communicate and work together in order to become more efficient, and it actually enabled another appealing part of the game: griefing, or players having fun screwing each other over.

Instead, Keenan decided he just needed to make player collisions more fun. "In the early version of A Virus Named Tom, we hadn't put the feedback and emotion into the collision that we have now," he says.

"We now have a sound, the TOMs bounce off each other, and the TOM that was hit looks really annoyed and curses (in garbled virus-speak) at the other TOM. This addition alone made collisions more enjoyable, and encouraged that sort of griefing."

After those changes, playtesters were less bothered when bumping into each other, and actually laughed as they annoyed each other. The developer emphasized griefing even more by adding a reward for bouncing teammates into harm's way.

Keenan shares more about the different challenges he faced while designing A Virus Named Tom's co-op gameplay and how he overcame them in Gamasutra's newest feature.

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Maria Jayne
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"and it actually enabled another appealing part of the game: griefing, or players having fun screwing each other over."

appealing for who?

Axel Cholewa
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Gamasutra seems to have drawn the wrong conclusion from what Keenan did.

Making those player collisions more fun makes them less frustrating. Keenan didn't remove the frustration, but he cured it so that it's no longer frustrating but enjoyable.

The lesson therefore is not that designers should sometimes stick to frustrating parts of their games. They should never do that! The lesson is way more positive: if you find frustrating parts in your games, try not to remove them, but to make them fun. It might make your game better in ways you didn't imagine before.