Convenience in games

A short while back I was having a discussion (or actually, I had two discussions with different people on different occasions, but with a similar topic) on convenience in game design. This runs close to both accessibility and difficulty, but I think it’s a slightly different matter. The question more or less is: Is a convenient design somthing to be strived for, and is it always the better/best option? Or to put it more bluntly: Is inconvenience bad game design?
I honestly believe that in certain cases, inconvenience can help a game have more impact. I’ll illustrate with a few examples from personal favourite games of mine.

Persona 3’s battle system:
Unlike in Persona 4, the battle system in P3 let the players command their teammates only with general courses of action, and not with direct actions. This left a lot of the battles up to the interpretation of the AI, which was frustrating to many players. It must have been a deliberate design choice though, because in both P4 and P2 you were in controll of the entire party. Personally, I loved this choice. While I had to get used to it at first, playing the game just after P4, it made me think of my teammates as actual companions, in stead of more attack turns. I could choose the role they were going to play, and see how they would fill that role to their abilities. I wasn’t picking their responses in social links, so why should I be picking their exact course of action in battle? I was unsatisfied with the performance of the more support-oriented characters, so I ended up filling that role myself. I changed my playstyle to best benefit the entire team. And I loved that.
Now P4 also has that option of course, but ‘choosing’ an inconvenient way of playing is hardly an option. When the game designs inconvenience however, it leaves room for interesting development.

Resident Evil’s save system:
In the early installments of the Resident Evil games, you had to save using ink ribbons at typewriters. Having to lug an actual item around which on top of that is a finite recourse, in a game where both inventory space and items are scarce is heavily inconvenient. And again, at first, I did not like it at all. And as evidenced by the internet, many people didn’t. But as I stuck with the game, I quickly grew to love the decision. The game shouldn’t be convenient, it’s not fun. The game is a powerful experience, and all the inconvenience is highly designed to be so.

Of course, there are examples too where inconvenience doesn’t really add to the experience, like Earthbound’s inventory system which is mainly just archaic game design, where it’s more a lack of design than an actual purposefully designed inconvenience.
Maybe that’s just me though, I’m interested in what other people think about this. Or maybe anyone else has examples of where an inconvenience helped in the actual overall enjoyment of a game.

I’m not really a ‘battling’ game type player, but I know in Dragon Age, you could really micromanage your companions, or just let them fight on their own. I always chose the latter. I like them to be their own people, but I’m also way too lazy to tell them what to do. Besides, they’re likely better at fighting than I am.:rofl:

As for the save system, I really wish games would give people the option to opt out if they have a more hardcore save system. Some people just can’t sit down and play a game for a couple hours, they may only have 15 minutes they can play. Leaving a computer (or console) on and paused is a really awful alternative to just being able to save. I gave up on Alien Isolation because of it’s save system. Playing for two hours to find a save spot was the worst, and then if you died, you had to replay all those hours worth. And because of the nature of the game, it wasn’t as if you could speed run what you’d already been through. It made the game not fun, the only reason I worried about the Alien getting me was because I didn’t want to replay a huge chunk of the game, not because I found the Alien scary. It made me play the game entirely differently than I would have, and not in a good way.

As for inventory systems, I hate weight limits, but it’s also probably more realistic than being able to carry 8 tons of dragon bones in your pockets. Also I would likely never be able to find anything in my inventory if I could just carry everything. I am a hoarder.

I’m currently playing earthbound and I also think inventory management is archaic and could be better. But I do like the fact that you have to carry certain items with you that could also be removed if it got an update. But would not be for the better. For instance the map and the receiver phone. And the fact that you have to give an item to a person in order that he can use it.

I use savestate for convenience but I can see how it takes away a little from the experience of the game.

So, there’s definitely a balance.

I think savestates are an interesting part of the discussion.
Originally one of the debates I had on the topic was sparked by someone posting a tweet that said they had expected Pokémon Let’s Go to have an autosave function, and were unpleasantly surprised when booting up the game the next day. In all honesty, I think autosaves aren’t generally a good addition, though in many games it wouldn’t hurt the experience. I was surprised however, that for all the conveniencies added in Pokémon Let’s Go, autosave wasn’t one of them.

Savestates are more or less the same in that regard, especially as the games are usually not designed around that function. It can make a lot of older games much more playable, so that’s something where convenience helps in at least helping you complete the experience of the game. But as in the case of the older Resident Evil games, when saving becomes such an integral part of the game’s mechanics, it’s also a bit of a shame to lose that.

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I can empathize with your feelings on Alien Isolation. I had a mixed experience playing it and I don’t think everything works perfectly within the game. However, I don’t know if I would like to be able to save anywhere. I think I did have that feeling during some of the more frustrating points in the game (oh there’s this one particularly bad spot near the very end of the game…) but I also realize that the tension created by the same system employed made the survival aspect feel more imperative. The save points also made for a lot of redoubling of my steps which I also think is in the spirit of the first film. I think limiting save spots can lead to a lot of frustration but I do think they can work in a game’s favour. If I had been able to save anywhere in Alien Isolation I think I would have had less cause to find the Alien scary.

Unlimited saving can also lead to issues that hamper gameplay. I am generally for saving anywhere, but I sometimes abuse the ability when it is granted. You have no idea how much I abuse the quick save and load feature in Dishonored and Prey. I suppose that’s why it’s there, but I find myself less tolerant of mistakes and more willing to load and redo for every tiny misstep when I have the ability. I don’t know if that’s a boon or a crutch.

I hated the save system when I first played Resident Evil. I hated having to ration ribbons and save wisely. Half of the reason I was terrified during my initial run of that game was because I knew I had to be conservative with the saving, which meant dying had higher stakes. Now, I wouldn’t trade that system in for the ability to save anywhere. It was wise move on Capcom’s part and I think it enhances the game. As you grow more at ease playing the game you worry less about ribbons. The ribbons allowed me to feel an initial sense of fear, and then as my confidence grew in playing the game my fear reduced as did my worry about saving. I think I was eventually speed running the game and barely saving at all after a time. So I do agree I wouldn’t change that system.

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Monster Hunter World has a smart inventory system. There are limits, but only to those items which you can use in the field as part of a hunt. However, most items used for crafting and gathered from monsters are stored without limit. So you can grind for materials and never worry about filling your inventory, but there is a limit on items you can take into battle so that you are never quite overpowered. It’s a nice balance.

That said, I hate when I have to dump items to make room for other items. It’s incredibly frustrating and increases the amount of backtracking within the game. I recently played Red Dead Redemption 2 and the early game inventory system is appalling. Thankfully you eventually upgradee your pouch, but early on you can carry so few items that you can kill and skin one animal and receive a warning that you cannot collect all the items from the animal without emptying your inventory of those same items. And that’s from starting at a base of zero items of that type in your pouch before you skin the animal. The inventory system is so hampered during the early game that you literally have less space than the number of items you can gather from one hunt. It was frustrating. Of course, once you fully upgrade you can carry more items that you’ll ever possibly use which solves that problem, but it does seem that if the point of the game was realism, it made sense that my tiny pouch could only hold a handful of items and that killing a large animal would exceed that amount. Somehow crafting the final pouch lets me carry an abundance beyond any logical limit. It a spectrum that ranges from realism and ultra limited space to fantasy and near unlimited space (there are a couple stops or upgrade along the way in-between). It’s also a perfect example of the many contradictions inherent to RDR2.

Really depends on the mechanic. The Resident Evil limited save system is such a good example. I kind of love the scarcity of resources in general in those games. For example, I’m playing through the 2 remake right now. Sometimes, I knock down a zombie in one good hit. Sometimes, I totally panic and miss like 5 shots, and suddenly I’ve depleted a significant chunk of my ammo. I did one boss fight where I ended up using all of my grenade rounds, leaving me with nothing that could quickly take out lickers, forcing me to tiptoe around them instead of killing them when I found one. In RE, it’s great because the game constantly forces you to make little decisions that make every item feel important. Like, when you suddenly find a new box of handgun ammo? It’s such a rewarding sigh of relief. I think RE hits the right balance within its respective genre.

That said, I kind of can’t stand games that just slam you with long, inconvenient swaths of play without a save state. RE works because as scarce as items are, it does a great job at peppering in plenty of them along your way. Games that just throw you into an hour long boss rush where you just have to not mess up or start again drive me insane. That’s where I think that design gets bad: when you’re punished for simply lacking endurance. Give me the tools to overcome the situation.

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I don’t usually mind autosaves as long as the option to manually save is present as well. Save scumming should be an option and I like the peace of mind clicking an actual save button gives me.

cool post. I have only played P4 and SMT but I think I understand the idea as you describe in P3. It adds to the chaotic factor and gives it a sense of randomness by filtering direct control (which sounds great for Turn based games because often that is a genre that can be boring as paint dry) . This is similiar to choice and consequence in games in general that keep you on the edge of your seat by messing with your head and tend to feele more alive and less in a vacuum. A different design route but it ends up going towards a similiar feeling.

Saving is one convenisence that some find controversial. By screwing around with the playsers abilitiy to save you emulate that risk and reward factor that gets agame to feel more alive in a similiar way, however the price of doing so is generally heavy. For me, this is a synthetic decision and I dont like it. I also think simply upping difficulty is an alternatively sleazy way of doing this, and taking away a players ability to save can tread too close to that territorry! lol

Sure, it works better for some game and genres (resisdent evil survival horror, etc)

I think the WORST example of this is dark souls type 3 type shenaingans… where you can just get fucked in all manner of ways by building character wrong or getting stuck, etc etc. I havent played it but this sounds similiar to EVE Online in how you can make ‘costly’ permadeath like mistakes in games that aren’t exactly roguelikes XD

I think at the end of the day the best design is the kind that gets in your head and makes it feeel more like a weird and lively thing rather than something that is doing things to make the player either more careful or spend more time with the game. This is because it’s about the experience and that translates into what the player is thinking and feeling and how not necessarily a matter of how much time they are spending with the game either in rote practice, developed skill or painstaking research. The player is instead feels slighted or inconvenienced by a design that is simply toying with them on a cognitive or emotional level. In the original example of SMT 3… the player is (I am guessing) not in control and must withstand the chaos and gets a sensation of ‘that was close’ or ‘i got lucky’ rather than some kind of skill that is developed. Essentially its all in your head and nothing about the design is ‘harder’ for it. The player is simply holding there breath not knowing if it will work and hoping it will!

Typically management and strategy games tempt one to save scum to get best results but games like ken-shi allow mistakes and error to be part of the experience as you build and grow. It becomes ‘inconvenient’ to scum or explore everything or 100% it.

This is the kind of thing I like when a game dev realizes people will play games in ways that go beyond what was intended so it becomes a convenience to accept mistakes and emulate a choice and consequences type system. Compare this to the WORST games: those which are too easy or boring or have some other reason that make you arbitrarily go out of your way to play the game in ways not intended… Melee only DX HR/Hitman/Dishonored for example!!! lol or when you decide you are such a badass alpha diety in fallout 4 you just throw your weapons away and go fists/melee only after attaining lvl 99 godhood.

i think that if a game suddenly breaks down and dissipates into nothing when you slide the difficulty bar to zero then you have something going on with your game that is a delicate matter and balance that the game itself hinges upon. @Dionysoss mentioned old games being completable via save states. Sure it changes the experiences but it doesnt (at least in my opinion) totally wreck the game to the point where it’s not fun to play. It’s still fun to complete games that are otherwise not really possibly for 99% of the population. Some games rely on this heavily, but even games like Resident Evil, Dark Souls are STILL FUN when you take away things like ink ribbons and have infinite life.

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