“Win the Game” Button

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We need this. Badly.

If it explains how it won, then you’ve just made a self-updating tutorial and walkthru.

If you can choose which part of the game it works on, then you’ve just implemented a “skip this annoying/frustrating part” button.

If it spoils your intricately woven masterpiece of a story-line… you’re working in the wrong medium. If it ruins multi-player, then turn it off during competitions.

Kids do this all the time with Chess. “My queen has jetpacks and kills your King I win!” They want to know what happens at the end. “What am I playing to achieve?” “What does it feel like to win?” “Why am I doing this?” If your game has to hide the answers to these questions behind arduous completion, you’ve done something wrong. If the prize and motivation fall apart after one playthru, you haven’t made a game at all. You’ve merely constructed an intricate (or not, as the case may be) puzzle.

Of course, if your game is composed of multiple sections, perhaps the “Win the Game” button can have an adjustable scope. “Win just this battle” or “Complete this chapter” and then place the player at the next stage. Already played the tutorial a hundred times? Press the “win the tutorial” button and skip it. Not interested combat and want to get back to the court intrigue? Press the “win the war” button, and get back to what you enjoy.

If this is possible, and the game builds on itself, then it is very important that the player can go back and re-visit past game play. Perhaps a “reminisce” mechanic, where the player can review what they did to win. Maybe they find that the part of the game they skipped was more interesting than they had thought! The ability to review past game play is crucial in conjunction with the ability to skip game play. Memory and habit walk hand in hand.

And, if the AI is in place which can formulate the steps required to succeed, giving that same AI the ability to communicate the steps would be extremely helpful. This brings us back to the automatic walk-through. Suppose that you’ve reached a point where you want to win, and want to do it yourself, but don’t know how. Right next to the “win this section” button, could be an “explain this section” button which lays out the steps which the computer would have taken in order to win, but lets the player follow (or not) at their own pace. If the computer can figure out how to succeed, surely it can explain it to the player.

If it spoils the game and makes it no fun any more, why do you think people are playing your game to begin with? They don’t have to hit the button. You’re just giving them the option to. They will probably only push it if they would rather not play a certain part of the game, or are curious to see “how it ends”, or what the mechanics are like later on down the road. Games should be designed to be interesting more than once. If skipping to the ending just one time ruins the whole game, you did something wrong.

The two places where this falls apart are “story based” gameplay, and competitive multiplayer. Fortunately, there are good precedents for both cases.

If I sit down and write a book, and then sell it to you, you could (quite easily) pick it up, and flip to the last page. Of course, you don’t have to do this, but you could. If I’ve written a good story, you’ll enjoy reading through it anyway, even though you know how it ends. The same is true of movies. The mark of a good story is not that the mystery of “what happens next” will draw the audience through a thousand pages of boring prose. The mark of a good story is that the audience will read the thousand pages in-between, even if they have read it all before. A “win the game” button will only “ruin” bad story games, not good ones.

During an actual competition, all you have to do is turn off the “win the game” button. If I decide to learn how to play a game, say, Football (for this example it doesn’t matter which version I’m talking about) I’m going to want to know what happens when I win. Maybe watch a few games played out. If possible, I’ll have an expert walk me through the steps to performing all the actions. That’s where the ability to see how to “win the game” automatically comes in handy, even for competitive games. That said, the ability to “auto win” should be easy to turn off, and I agree that it has no part in formal competitions (or, at the top level of competitions anyway, one might still automate success for the tactical decisions). It would be pretty strange to ask for some time to practice, or for a declaration of unilateral victory, in the middle of an actual competitive Football game! If your game needs to be competitive, just turn the “Win the Game” button off for the tournament, but leave it there for players who want to learn and play with the mechanics.

And, of course, the player always has the option to stand up and walk away from the game. By not giving them them the option to push the “win” button, the game designer is daring them to stop playing entirely. Which is better, that the player enjoys a tenth of your game, or none of it?

We really need to start thinking about games in terms of teaching instead of challenging. If playing the game is fun, the players won’t want to skip it, and giving them the option will be comforting. If different players want to play different parts, they should be allowed to do so. Excluding this option is an admission of failure on multiple levels. We can do better than that. It won’t hurt you to let the player win.

EDIT: Faroguy has pointed out that Earthbound had an “auto-defeat enemies” feature which allows you to defeat foes much less powerful than yourself. While that is excellent, it was released in 1994… If that’s the best example of this kind of behavior, then we’re actively moving backward as a medium.

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About dudecon

I’m a Christian, one of the “crazy fundamentalist” ones perhaps, depending on what language you speak. As an engineer by trade, and an artist, computer wizard, and musician in the off hours, I keep pretty busy. Plus I’m married with kids. Life is good, even when it is hard.

People tell me that I think too much, but I can’t think of how that’s a bad thing. People also tell me I’m scary. Occasionally they tell me to stop singing so loudly.

If you really want to contact me, you can try e-mailing dudecon on my old fashioned Hotmail account. Or tweet dudecon on twitter. Or come to my house some time. I’m sure you can find me if you keep trying.

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