The Expert Level Problem in Computer Games

by Krishna on September 30, 2008

As an avid player of computer games, I find many of them share some built-in flaws when it comes to playing higher levels in the game.

  1. Waste of time at lower levels: To get to a level where the player is challenged, you have to repeatedly go through very simple beginner levels. In many cases, you could literally sleep-walk through the initial levels without failing them. This wastes a significant amount of time, and in addition, prevents you from playing more the game’s more challenging levels. Some games have cheat codes that allow you to jump to a particular level. At the very least, all games should automatically allow you to directly start from a level that you have accomplished at least 3 times and which is not greater than 3 levels lower than the level you failed.
  2. Disproportional scores at higher levels: Higher levels offer you more opportunities to score points. This is okay, since the reward is accompanied with greater risk. But sometimes, the rewards are entirely disproportionate. For example, the 31st level may allow you to score twice the score that you attained in the 30th level, which makes a mockery of the score. It is better to end the game before it descends into such illogic.
  3. Physically impossible: The best example I can think of is Tetris. Towards the end, the game is a farce as the blocks keep falling faster than you can press the keyboard. Arcade shooting games also fall into this trap. You suddenly have hundreds of enemy objects to shoot at and you are just winging it. This goes back to the previous point where you gain disproportionate points not based on your skills, but just pure physical reactions.
  4. Luck playing a greater role: Some games, such as card games, are inherently games of chance. But there are others, like Minesweeper, that award you points based on your reasoning ability. And then towards the end, they present you with choices that have nothing to do with reasoning, but everything to do with luck. You guess wrong, you just threw away the entire game.

These difficulties have no relation with the “fun” part of the game. You can still enjoy games with these problems. I guess, though, if you are trying to create an online game to attract more users, here is why you should be careful:

  1. Users are likely to play the game more often if they know that the time requirements are low. That means allowing them to jump to a challenging level directly, instead of draining their time by making them play basic levels.
  2. If users look at the best scores and they see large figures (inflated because of disproportional scores) when compared to their high scores, they will make fewer attempts to surpass those scores by playing the game frequently.
  3. Users need to feel that they can win. Making the pace humanly impossible makes them less sanguine about improving their scores. Instead of using speed to increase difficulty, use other elements that the user can learn and improve upon, allowing them to clear that level.
  4. Guesswork in reasoning games drives away those who think they can master the system. You cannot overcome something that is pure luck.

Each level should provide more challenges and more tricks to overcome those challenges. The way to get the user to keep coming back is to make them realize that if they master the trick and devise a new strategy, they can pass that level the next time.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: