Generation of Close call in games: “Just a hair from defeat” or “I almost won”

    The effect "on a hair from" is used in games to form a player's emotions, to stir up excitement. This is all necessary so that the player plunges into the game stream as much as possible, doesn’t get bored with the easy win and doesn’t throw the mouse / joystick away from the hopelessness of his loss. And also because the player remembers the game due to strong emotions and experiences. Then it will be about emotions that he will tell other players. A year later, he will even be able to remember what the game was, if it caused him to euphoria from victory barely or anger from frequent defeats "in his last lives." In a relaxed state, our brain rarely tries to remember something.

    Source: 1877 Harpers Weekly November 24-MA barely saves GOP [ 1 ]

    Many games create (or provoke) such situations to shake up their players. Of course, the use of such techniques in press releases is not mentioned. Especially talented developers skillfully hide these dirty hacks even from experienced players.
    Next, I will list examples of such hacks known to me, so that developers can take the best from them, and the players learn to recognize the worst and insidious.

    Case Studies:

    1. The contender on an elastic band

    This method is actively used by Road Rash 2 and Road Rash 3 [ 2 ] games on the Sega Mega Drive (many parts of this series have this mechanics).

    The “rival on the elastic band” method is that if the enemy bot starts to lag behind the player, then he gets a very big bonus to the speed (and trouble-freeness) of the movement, which allows him to catch up with the player and constantly press it. And in the case of an error to immediately punish, overtaking. Positive effect: the player certainly will not get bored, having greatly overtaken the opponents - any collision and chances of winning are greatly reduced. This is especially critical closer to the finish.

    Road Rash 3 [ 2 ]

    On the other hand, if a player lags behind, then he still has every chance to win, because leading opponents get a strong speed penalty. Positive effect: there is always a reason to fight for victory, and indeed to win.

    This method is quite widely used in racing, however, with varying degrees of visibility and success.

    2. Disproportionate streak of remaining lives

    For example, in the game Dissidia: Final Fantasy - Opera Omnia, the players successfully notice this trick, but perceive it mainly as an error: [ 3 ] and [ 4 ].

    Dissidia: Final Fantasy - Opera Omnia [ 5 ]

    This method is most often used in fighting games and JRPG.

    The trick is that at the beginning, when receiving damage, the strip decreases much more than at the end. That is, when a player ( or an enemy / boss NPC ) actually has 80% of lives, the bar can only be 50% full. And when 40% is left, the strip is only 20% full.

    And when a player wins with a rather large margin of 40%, he visually sees that he has won barely.

    And if a player loses to the enemy, causing him only half the damage, then visually he will feel that there is nothing left, and the next time he will definitely win.

    3. Automatic adjustment of difficulty

    This method consists in the fact that the complexity of opponents varies according to the strength and experience of the player. If a player easily defeats enemies, then the enemies become stronger. Conversely, a weak player will encounter weaker resistance. This is the ideal. And in fact, there is often a bias towards complication or minimal impact.

    TES IV - Oblivion and TES V - Skyrim - Autoleveling [ 6 ]

    TES IV - Oblivion used the laziest way to implement this mechanism - Autoleasing opponents. It lies in the fact that all opponents automatically increase their level as the main character pumps. The problems begin when the player is distracted from the combat component of the game and raised his levels by pumping non-combat skills. Another drawback is the destruction of the sensation of progress, when the main character cannot come to any location and show all the NPCs how he has become unattainably steep magician. In Skyrim, by the way, they also used this technique, but much more competently and carefully.

    In addition to auto-leveler, less obvious tricks can be used:
    - change the number of opponents;
    - give out weaker / stronger types of opponents;
    - To make the artificial intelligence of opponents smarter / smarter.

    To determine the strength of the enemy, you can use not just the level of the character, but the statistics of the real ease of victory: the lost percentage of lives / resources after defeating a typical opponent or the time of passing the past level.

    4. Textures barely dodged

    Most often the trick is used in platformers.

    The bottom line is that the character's hit-box (the area of ​​events / collisions triggering with the outside world) is made noticeably smaller than the character's visual part. As a result, the flying projectile touches the character's texture ... the player's heart beats from waiting for a loss ... but no hit and no injuries. That was lucky!

    Super Mario Bros. Speedrun in 4: 55.913 - Youtube [ 7 ]

    But there are other tricks: invisible parts of the platforms. This is when the game often has to jump on the platforms, and their real length is slightly more than their visual part. As a result of this, if a player barely gets visually a bit, then in fact he “by some miracle” barely clings to the edge of the platform and is saved.

    5. Slightly missed

    This effect can occur randomly, but it can also be simulated by transforming an ordinary slip into an epic one.

    Angry Birds - Almost Won [ 8 ]

    This effect is described by Chris Benet in the article Introducing Game Mechanics [ 9 ] using the example of Angry Birds:

    Original: Chris Bennett - Close call
    Close call – You launch the bird into the air and it’s a direct hit! One of the pigs roll conspicuously close to the ledge before rocking back to safety.

    Just a loss from loss - you launch a bird into the air ... a direct hit! One of the pigs rolls straight to the ledge, she swings on the very edge, a little bit more and falls, but then she rolls back to a safe place. And the player wants to recoup .

    Unfortunately, I did not manage to find the perfect example in a reasonable time, so perhaps it was in Angry Birds that nothing was artificially emulated, but I found the description of this method in other publications before. Maybe an interesting example will appear in the comments.
    Of course, it is dangerous to abuse it, as players will begin to suspect something amiss. However, as practice shows, in casual games, such manipulations are rarely noticed.

    6. Permanent death

    Permanent death, for example, in the genre of roguelike, in itself generates these situations of "near death avoidance." For example, in “Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup” [ 10 ], the GG (main character) basically fights against opponents weaker than themselves and therefore sometimes risks relaxing too much. As a result, one of the mistakes may be made: an attack on a stronger enemy without prior reinforcement; continued battles with incomplete hitpoints and mana; attack on a mob of enemies in an open area. And then the player realizes that after 2-3 moves he will lose, adrenaline rises, GG drinks life-saving potions / scrolls and tries to escape, and the player prays that these actions will be enough.

    Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup - a Difficult Situation [ 11 ]

    But to play such bagels requires a special state of the player willing to accept the final defeat and not try to restore the preservation. That is, the gaming audience is greatly reduced.

    But in such situations, players are tempted to share with the whole world how they barely escaped and won ( the same holy grail of word of mouth ):

    Faster than light - barely won [ 12 ]

    In my past stealth bagel Grue the monster [ 13 ], I used the mechanics of one life to maintain the emotion of fear of near death. That is, the game character (monster Grue [ 14 ]) dies after the first injury, which forces the player to carefully think through each step. Unfortunately, I did not realize that this emotion is quickly dulled and constant alertness is too tiring. Fortunately, I made the game quite short and you can go through one of the endings in just 1.5 hours. As a result, I concluded that the mechanics of one life are ideal only for games with a very short gaming session, for example, Meat Boy. In other genres, not the most convenient compromises begin.

    Grue The Monster: Roguelike - bagel with the mechanics of one life [ 13 ]

    The disadvantage of the method of permanent death is that the players know in advance about this method, and many people are afraid of knowing that the game will be completely lost.
    In some bagels, defeat is the logical conclusion of a game run, as in Dwarf Fortress. The effect is more dramatic, the longer the game session.

    7. Tense atmosphere

    In the fascinating article "Creating a tense atmosphere in board games" [ 15 ] Bastiaan ( freelancer, game designer board games ) describes the tense atmosphere (drama) as a combination of three main factors:

    • uncertainty in the outcome;
    • desired result;
    • influence.

    Stressful atmosphere - Lost [ 16 ]

    To create uncertainty, it is proposed to create a situation that the player will perceive as possible, but less likely . In this case, it is not necessary that the real numerical probability be such, the main thing is its perception. Bastiaan considers 25-33% to be the most appropriate chance of success - a chance is tangible, but losing is still more likely. Moreover, too much success is gradually moving from uncertainty to anticipation of success, and in case of failure, to disappointment. For example, a person perceives the probability of hitting 80% in games as almost guaranteed and two misses in a row are perceived by him as something impossible, remember Disciples 2 (in general, by default people are very poor at estimating chances and risks based on bare numbers than masters of gambling and casinos use ). Similarly, too small a probability, for example, at 2%, deprives the player of hope and uncertainty will become a premature annoyance. The probability of 25-33% gives rise to timid hope. The player understands that he probably shouldn’t seriously count on success, but it’s not easy to give up hope with chances of 1/4 or 1/3.

    The desired result is also very important. It directly depends on what is at stake. The maximum it can be a victory in the whole game, but not necessarily. It can also be a fight for a valuable resource or a chance to catch up with the leading opponent. Nothing cools the heat in the game like too much ( unreachable) separation of the leader from other rivals. To preserve the relevance of the desired result, you can constantly raise the stakes: the risk of losing an advantage, a chance to get a saving artifact, save the world in the final ( many fantasy in the final save the world ).

    The last point is the possibility of influencing the result. If the outcome depends on a coin flip, the effect will be minimal. If the coin will be thrown by the player himself, but the effect will be slightly higher. But if the outcome will depend on the decision taken by the player from a number of alternatives, then the impact will be greatest. And it does not matter that the probability of outcome in all cases will be decided by an absolutely identical random number generator with the same probability for any decisions - the main thing is not to tell the player about it.

    A similar view on the creation of drama can be found in the article “Four great factors of tension in board games” [ 17 ], here four main factors of drama are highlighted:

    • Countdown to outcome, for example, in games with a limited number of moves. A very deep psychological trick, which is actively used in promotions stores ( The promotion will last only 2 days! Have time for everyone to buy it! This is the last copy! )
    • The ability to make meaningful decisions from several alternatives. Games from TellTale fell in love with the ability to make decisions and disliked when they found that these decisions do not affect anything [ 18 ].
    • Hiding information . If the player to the very end does not know who is in the lead, and can only roughly assume, then to the very end he will not be able to completely relax or surrender.
    • Difficult / cunning planning of actions / strategies. The more difficult the trick the player plans to perform (clever combination, cunning bluff), the more he engages in the process, the greater the tension.


    Thus, the following methods of generating cases of "increased danger" are highlighted:

    1. Rival on the elastic band.
    2. Disproportionate streak of remaining lives.
    3. Automatic adjustment of complexity.
    4. Textures barely dodged.
    5. Slightly overshot.
    6. Permanent death.
    7. Tense atmosphere.

    Of course, not all games can effectively use these tricks. And not all successful games that could use them used them, winning the competition at the expense of other factors. But the human brain craves emotions, and therefore the game will continue to use these techniques and invent new ones.

    I would be glad to read about other methods in the comments, if you know such.

    Sources of literature

    1. 1877 Harpers Weekly November 24-MA barely saves GOP .
    2. Road Rash 3 on Sega Mega Drive - Wikipedia .
    3. Reddit (Dissidia): The HP bars in this game are very misleading and unreliable .
    4. GameFAQs (Dissidia): I hate the new health bars too .
    5. Dissidia: Final Fantasy - Opera Omnia - forum .
    6. TES IV - Oblivion and TES V - Skyrim - Autoleasing .
    7. Super Mario Bros. Speedrun in 4: 55.913 - Youtube .
    8. Angry Birds - Almost Won .
    9. Introducing Game Mechanics - Chris Bennett .
    ten.Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup - game site .
    11. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup - a difficult situation .
    12. Faster than light - barely won .
    13. Grue The Monster - a mobile bagel with the mechanics of one life .
    14. Wikipedia: Monster Grue .
    15. Creating a tense atmosphere in Bastiaan board games .
    16. Tense atmosphere - Lost .
    17. Four sources for tension in board games - article .
    18. I’m not really interested in Telltale games .

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