Friday, June 09, 2006

Mutant Storm: The Positive Side of Negative Feedback

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Blogger Yu-Chung Chen said...

Hi Daniel,

Nice start for all of us :) I find your post title very interesting and I'm sure the idea is, too, but there's one thing I don't really understand:

Basically you are saying that negative feedback reflects the skill level of the player better than positive feedback, right?

My question is this: Why is the player more likely to retry with negativ feedback?

I'm not getting your last quarter and enemy 87 example, too. Maybe you can name a specific game with positive feedback where it is too hard to train in the last quarter, but would benefit from negativ feedback (to tell the player to train elsewhere?)

10 June, 2006 00:32  
Blogger Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel said...

answer to your question: if you've got an typical game with positive feedback, you will easily overcome all obstacles in the beginning and when it really gets hard in the end, you're not trained enough. and you won't train there, because it's far to hard.

if you've got to train in the beginning, you will most often feel less annoyed by it. think about your own experiences.

i've got no special example on my mind, but i've played quite a lot in the last days that work this way. probably a good example is the final fantasy series, but they've got a few more problmes with motivating me to really finish the game than only positive or negative feedback :)

ps: i've tryied to reword the enemy 87 example - in fact there is no numbering there anymore - should make it a bit easier =)

12 June, 2006 09:52  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

I just thought that it is possible to "train" later in the game. Normally, you can use a password or a savegame to jump forward to a place further in the game and repeadetly try the harder obstacles. However, this leads to the well-known "quicksave creep" where the player would save frequently and reload as soon as he feels he screwed up. The player tries again and again until he finally beats an obstacle - not because of improves skills but only by chance. Negative Feedback with less possibilities to save you progress (like in most aracde titles) forces you to overcome the same obstacle frequently and to aquire skills and stategies that can be relied on.

12 June, 2006 17:05  
Blogger Yu-Chung Chen said...

OK, I see. I would say the learning curve is more important, the feedback only helps to make sure the player acquires a certain skill level before moving on.

In a way, that can be compared to the items in Zelda games, where the puzzles make sure you get and learn to use it before you can solve a dungeon. Only skills are less tangible than items.

I'll have to try and come up with a title where I stucked because I wasn't trained properly by the game.

Btw, Ninja Gaiden has negative feedback all the time. If you're saying that preventing the player from proceeding by making it hard as hell will ensure his skill level for the coming obstacles, then NG absolutely proves your point.

13 June, 2006 00:20  
Blogger Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel said...

oh - don't get me wrong. i'm not saying that making a game as hard as hell is good - not at all!

but i see negative feedback as some sort of balancing curve inside a short amount of time, i.e. the typical "level". you just must overcome the middle hard obstacles in a level before you can see the really hard ones.

in the games where you will be stopped first time by late and hard events - it will be really hard to overcome them, because you can't really train basic tactics/strategies there, but must rely on luck.

13 June, 2006 09:53  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

A title where I stucked because I wasn't trained properly by the game: Meal Gear Solid. All the time, I get through the game only by "quick save creep". Although in this case, I don't think it's the fault of too little training. Here, it's more about inpredictable mechanics.

13 June, 2006 15:45  
Blogger Yu-Chung Chen said...

The more I think about negative feedback the more I have to agree that it's a much more effective indicator for one's performance.

In games when you can "somehow pass through" then it's not satisfying. Thanks Krystian for mentioning MGS, I forgot I did feel that way too. Games Quarter (I think it was them) put it like this: "you can go through the whole game without learning the proper way to do it". It struck me: without negative feedback, even success might feel like cheating.

Even in (real) life, you grow the most when you make a mistake. They are the ones to stick in your mind.

From there, I have to think of the typical difference between 'Western' and 'Eastern' (or Chinese, at least) ways of teaching children. Chinese parents tend to overprotect their children and tell them what not to do. In the end, apparently many fail to learn to think for themselves and have a hard time dealing with throwbacks.

Coming back to games: many long time gamers complain that games today are too easy. Maybe it's due to the lack of negative feedback in our current trend of 'mass-compatible' game design.

15 June, 2006 14:39  
Blogger Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel said...

yeah - i think what you say is definetly the point. to bring it one step ahead: i have the feeling that today positive/negative feedback got mixed up with easy-to-use.

remember pac-man? most simple controls (two axis, that's all) but a not very positive gameplay (if a ghost hits you, you're dead). it is the game most remembered when talking about "casual" success. if i got a game that is "damn'n'hard", has negative feedback and a complicated control scheme people tend to hate all three.

remember streetfighter: complicated controls that _are_ easy to use for even a casual beginner (just hit a button and your character will hit the enemy if it is near enough). it has a balanced way with no feedback (if i'm nearly dead i can still make all moves even the strong and complicated ones) and the enemies start simple ai also multiplayer's that are as casual as the player.

15 June, 2006 16:06  
Anonymous Rafael Van Daele-Hunt said...

A note on nomenclature: "positive feedback" and "negative feedback" get used in two different ways.

1. p.f. == reward. n.f. == punishment. This is how you use it here.

2. p.f. == "change in state that makes the event that caused the p.f. more likely to occur again", n.f. = "...less likely...". Note that it doesn't matter whether the change in state is pleasant or unpleasant! For example, if dying causes you to lose your supergun, which makes it more likely to die again, that's positive feedback under this definition (this is the sense meant in the expression "positive feedback loop"). N.f. would be if dying causes you to respawn with more life points.

The definitions overlap: if you are rewarded for success (destroying an enemy to get a powerup), that's p.f. in both senses. If you're punished for success (killing an enemy upgrades it), that's n.f. in both senses.

I bring this up partly to suggest that you use "reward" and "punishment" rather than p.f. and n.f. in sense 1 -- the former are shorter and clearer -- but also because separating these concepts could be helpful to your analysis: what differentiates Mutant Storm's approach from the classic 80s style is that M.S. is punishing success, which is n.f. in sense 2, whereas 80s games punish failure, which is p.f. in sense 2. It's really a completely different mechanism, but that isn't obvious using your terminology.

N.f. in sense 2 is often good, since it keeps things challenging for everyone -- it's the essence of dynamic difficulty adjustment. For this reason, game designers who try to be "casual friendly" by rewarding success are probably going wrong, since this is a p.f. loop that is game-mechanically equivalent to punishing failure: those who are good at the game will soon have it too easy, and/or those who are not will have it too hard (since they don't have the bonus items or whatever). I suspect, though, that most casual game designers don't do this; the rewards they give don't usually affect the player's future success -- they are often just cute animations, cool sounds, or bonus points. This is neither p.f. nor n.f. in sense 2. I'm going to define some new terms here to keep this distinction clear: "candy" is a gameplay-neutral reward like those just described; a "powerup" is a reward that makes the game easier We could also define a "smackdown" to be gameplay-neutral punishment and a "powerdown" a punishment that makes the game harder (even if that's only losing a powerup).

The best combination of psychological friendliness and good gameplay seems to me to be:
1. give candy for success.
2. give powerdowns for success or powerups for failure.
3. don't give smackdowns unless you're trying to appeal to machos.

(2) has to be packaged well to avoid the game feeling "unfair", though.

One more thing: according to your "training" argument, punishing success should be better than rewarding failure, since rewarding failure allows bad players to reach later stages, which will be too hard for them. I think this is more a question of whether difficulty increases smoothly or suddenly (assuming it needs to increase at all). After all, the powerups/powerdowns will also be available during the endgame!

30 August, 2006 11:43  

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