Failure is, as we all know, part of life. In every aspect of our lives we eventually screw up, hit the wrong button, misplace homework, fail to plan for a meeting at work, forget to pick your kid up from school and she calls you, angry as an abandoned 10-year old is prone to be, because dad was writing a news story. You know—life…
In most games, however, failure is not an option. If you don’t beat that boss, make that jump, or conquer that territory you see what is essentially the game over screen and you reload your saved game or are transported back to the last checkpoint. I was reminded of this as I was finishing the Dawn of War II: Retribution Imperial Guard campaign. In Retribution, the campaign has a linear main story path with optional side missions. So while you’re tracking down the big bad guy you might make a left turn at Albuquerque and take out some Eldar or raid an Ork base to grab some extra supplies. Fair enough.
But what if you lose a battle?
Strategy games use various tactics to deal with this, but in Retribution, your heroes succumb to “emergency extraction” and you are brought back to the main star map screen. While it’s nice that you keep any XP gained from the failed mission, nothing else really changes.
I hate that.
We learn from our mistakes, right? Well, usually. I think we’re supposed to, although it takes some longer than others. We take our defeats and screw-ups and apply them to our next situation, whatever that may be. More importantly, situations change. There are, usually, consequences for failure.
It’s perhaps a touch unfair to single our Retribution because after all this is an expansion to an already established game and you can’t expect a complete restructuring in such a release, but how cool would it be if your failed mission actually cost you something other than time?
There have been games to try this in some form or another. The classic PC strategy game Rise of Nations tried this via its “Risk” style of map, and today the Total War series does a fine job as well because it’s so open ended, but the one that sticks in my mind is Panzer General, the old DOS PC game from yesteryear. I loved that game to death despite its flippant treatment of realism; it was a great, great game.
In the campaign you played a German army officer in charge of planning the attacks on the Allies. There was a campaign mission structure sure, but if you lost a mission it wasn’t always game over. If you failed to take Paris in time, well, you lose your chance at trying Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of England). If you fail to take another objective the game would simply move on.
There were certainly missions where if you lost in was curtains – as you heard the click of the SS Officer’s gun as he showed you his displeasure by “relieving you” of your duties, but losing wasn’t always a death knell.
In fact, you can see exactly what I mean by checking out this campaign tree FAQ at IGN. How cool is that? Look at all of those various results from winning big, winning by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked. I miss that so much in today’s designs.
In some genres I suppose that’s ok. I’m not a huge platform gamer like Danielle, Brandon and even Mike but I know part of that hook is trying to beat a tough level even if it takes 100 tries to do it. That’s part of the attraction and honestly why I don’t play a lot of them. I’ve been known to break a controller back in my “younger” days. Stupid Donkey Kong.
This is in part why I love sports and sports games. You can fail. In fact you are going to fail and you don’t get to press the reset button or reload a saved game. Two on, two outs, bottom of the 9th and you have to get a hit to win the game – this is it. Full count. This ONE pitch is going to decide the game and it’s totally up to you, as you impersonate a real MLB hitter, to bring it home for the good guys.
The possibility to truly fail by swinging and missing like Mighty Casey is absolutely part of the design. Failure is most assuredly an option—and if you do fail, most importantly, the game goes on. Add a game to the loss column and try again. You can apply these pressure situations in any sports game – football, basketball, soccer, golf, whatever. It’s what makes watching sports interesting and what makes the games playable—that real chance to lose and for there to be consequences when you do it.
Going back to Retribution, how cool would it be if you were tasked to take out an Eldar Teleport Gate, and failed the mission, that the Eldar did …”something” as a result? You could even get dressed down by the Inquisitor for being such a screw-up. “As a result of your incompetence the Eldar Avatar is now awake and we’re in serious trouble.”
Ok I think in that case I might just reload the game.
Anyway there was something else I was supposed to do today.
Ah yes! Contest winner!
First off, I want to thank each and every user who signed up before the contest and for taking part in the discussions in the comment sections of our posts. Having a sense of community is important to us, as we don’t want this to just be a blog where we post stories and you guys talk to each other while we stand on the sideline, perched atop our thrones of omnipotence. I hope newly registered users will also jump in.
I also have to apologize for the piracy thread. Not that I posted it as I think it was interesting but I get the sense that I sort of ran into the movie theater, yelled fire, then bolted. Sorry about that. Thanks to everyone for keeping all of the discussions lively yet civil. I know as we grow, assuming we do, that we’re going to eventually attract forum/comment trolls but so far we have all been amazed at the discussions because they’ve been, well, discussions. Knowing our writing team as well as I do, I know that we’re going to eventually piss people off but so far so good.
Finally, the contest. Yes, this was a ploy to get more of you to register and it appears to have worked! Woo hoo dirty tricks! We will run more of these contests from time to time as I tend to get a lot of extra game copies and when I do we’ll fire up another contest and no – it will not always be PC stuff. I get plenty of console extras as well.
As for the winner, I can appreciate some of you buttering me up with your public allegiance to Ohio State – a deft tactic indeed. Sadly, it has no bearing on who wins. Brandon also had nothing to do with determining the winner. I just posted that so he’d panic a little. Mission accomplished. The method I used in determining the winner was to look at the posts, remove the double posts, the posts from people who said “I’m not entering” and the extra comments (Todd!!) and then get a final number total of contest entries and use the random number generator at Random.org to determine the post number of the winner.
And now, the winner of the brand new shrink-wrapped copy of Dawn of War II Retribution is…
I’ll be in touch today and will get your shiny new copy out the door ASAP. Congrats to Setzer and thanks to everyone who entered!