It's GDC this week and I'm reminded of one of the best pieces of wisdom I've received from a GDC talk. In a talk about balancing Halo 3's multiplayer, designer Jaime Griesemer list 3 types of feedback your game can receive.
The whole talk is worth a watch, full of nuggets of knowledge, but there's something about this feedback breakdown that has really stuck with me. My work this week has involved implementing a new feature based on a common thread of feedback I've received from multiple sources. I'm not going to talk about what that feature is, instead I want to talk about a particular level that has been a real wedge in player experience.
Stonehenge's third level looks like a copy of Stonehenge's first level. Nothing but a simple ramp to push the stone up and the two posts on which it can rest. However, there is a difference. In level 3, as you are about to slide the stone off the ramp and onto the posts, something happens. The stone stops. Pushing is no longer effective.
WTF! BROKEN GAME!
The ramp is too short. But this doesn't mean you can't succeed.
I'll admit it, the fact "the ramp is too short", isn't perfectly communicated to the player. People have told me that this level is broken, a bug I must have missed. Other players push the stone as far as it will go, and when it stops they assume that was all the game wanted them to do. They are promptly corrected when they receive a low score.
So why leave this level in the game? Why not replace it with a clearer challenge?
I use this level to buy myself forgiveness in later levels. I want to trick and deceive the player, show them that this game isn't a perfectly polished straight-shootin' sequence of obvious challenges. Instead, here, they are shown that there is need for some finesse with the physics engine to achieve a perfect score. I show them that this game might be a bit janky at times. Most importantly, I do it with a joke. When the stone stops at the top of the ramp, your assumptions have been subverted, punchline delivered!
That's the idea anyways. Let me know what you think.