Spanking Elika

“Sparks flew.” Have you ever heard that expression? It's used to describe a great fight, or a fun date. Farrah, from the Xbox game Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, was a little of both. She was fairly useless, constantly feuding with me and taunting my lack of progress. Though the puzzles were tough, they were fair. I eventually won and Farrah came around. I felt just the right amount of friction between the thrill of success and the threat of failure, flint and steel. The game was truly something special - sparks flew.

There were no sparks between me and the new Prince of Persia. The game just lacked that certain something. The new love interest, Elika was pretty, helpful and always there for the Prince. Whenever you're about to die she's always there with a helping hand. She was way more useful than Farrah ever thought about being. Yet I can't help but bristle at her antics. The game never really came together for me in any meaningful way. The game missed that special friction. There were no sparks – instead, Elika just grated.

It makes me nostalgic for times gone by, when games would let you die at the drop of a hat. It was difficult and punishing, the only friction was your face sliding down a brick wall when you lost. Games got more and more difficult as the game went on until the players eventually were ground to a pulp by the huge stone grinders of the perfect machine. In the end, the game always won.

Back in the day this was the way games were made, and people loved it. Endless challenge set off something primal in the gamer brain. The friction of bottomless, ever-increasing difficulty wasn't considered off-putting, it was the whole point. There's still a school of game design that follows the ancient ways. The modern internet equivalent is ROMHacking. It's the art of adding ridiculous difficulty to SNES platform games such as Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island. While the original games may have been only moderately difficult, the hacked versions of these games are absolutely batsh*t insane. You can't complete a level without needing pixel perfect accuracy, split-second timing or even occasionally exploiting a game engine bug. A screenshot just leaves me devastated by the soul-crushingly impossible feats required to survive the level.

Why would someone make such a ridiculously difficult level? It simply boggles my mind that someone not only made these levels, but people out there are actually brave enough to play them. Yet there's an entire community built around these kinds of hacks. The superhuman skills that seem necessary to beat these levels not only exist, multiple people compete with them. These SNES supermen battle it out in childhood playgrounds, twisting the monkey bars into a pipe and chain equivalent of Mt. Everest. Then they proceed to climb it. While it seems insane, when they reach the top there's a moment where man pitted himself against the huge grinding wheels of difficulty and came out on top. He didn't become pulpy gamer bits, he became steel. It's humbling, awe-inspiring and completely bizarre.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a little more my speed, but it still gave me the same satisfied sense of accomplishment. Landing on a platform just right in Sands of Time was as satisfying as any old-school challenge-fest. The jumping puzzles, usually trial-and-error bores, became delightful challenges instead. Sands of Time added time-manipulation to jumping puzzles. You could pause and rewind time at any point to study your jumps and retry your timing without any penalty. Instead of trial and error, it became simply trial and trial again.

It was still challenging to get all those jumps and all that timing down. But the developers wanted to remove the frustration from the game and turn it into an opportunity to learn. The game gave the player the tools and then told them to “figure it out”. The difficulty didn't have to grind the player to a pulp anymore, eventually you would triumph.

Sadly the developers learned all the wrong lessons from Sands of Time. The new Prince of Persia goes to great lengths to remove frustration, but it never really let's you fail. Before you can fail, Elika picks you up, pats you on the head, and sends you off to school with your mittens pinned to your jacket. The game seems to be saying “let me handle this for you because you can't.” She's not helpful, she's passive-aggressive. Which ends up being more frustrating than if they had just let you die.

Farrah wasn't afraid to laugh at the player, to taunt their failure. She expected you to solve your own problems, then eventually learned to respect you for it. Sands of Time wasn't afraid to spank you a little to teach you a lesson.

Elika may look pretty and talk a good game, but when the chips are down she never lets you fall.

Why can't more games be a little more like Farrah?

Comments

Obviously the difficulty (or ease) of the latest PoP has been contentious. I rented the game and promptly sent it back after about 5 hours. Why? I found it too hard.

Huh? Did he really say that? Well, sort of. I didn't really find the game too hard, I found the control of the Prince too simplified, which then, I found, led me to become frustrated sooner than in previous iterations. Like, immediately. It wasn't my skill that made me miss that ring, it was my lack of engagement in the Prince's actions by forgetting I had to actually press a button to do something. This was further compounded in battles. Was it X or Triangle attack I was supposed to use to break this enemy's guard? Hell if I remember because I could care less.

Let's hope that the pendulum swings back to a more sensible difficulty in the future. One in which I actually feel the need to try. Or, as you put it, I could use a little more Farrah.

God... this again. I'm ->.<- this far from copying and pasting the whole of the PoP thread.... sorry for my frustration.

The time-rewind mechanic was the same as Elika...... Elika was the time rewind mechanic and Farah (one r) rolled into one. Personally i liked the conversation mechanic in the new game (nPoP) but that's just opinion and doesn't really matter.... what matters is that people need to recognise that there's little difference between the save mechanic and rewind mechanic.

I suppose you wrote a similar article on Sands of Time when it came out for being too hand-holding because it let you retry limited segments again immediately without any penalty (because the game wasn't too hard and you replenished your sand points very quickly during the fights if you played with any sort of skill).

I should also point out that Farah was mostly good because she wasn't with the player for the majority of the time. She had no direct responsibility tied to her and thus didn't tend to affect the player negatively. Now think of all the games were people complain about their AI companions and escort missions etc. There was no other way they could have put Elika into the game except if they had her running around avoiding the prince like Farah did. So it would be more accurate to say that games could need LESS Farah because there's less character interaction and less minding of a second character....

The time-rewind mechanic was the same as Elika...... Elika was the time rewind mechanic and Farah (one r) rolled into one. Personally i liked the conversation mechanic in the new game (nPoP) but that's just opinion and doesn't really matter.... what matters is that people need to recognise that there's little difference between the save mechanic and rewind mechanic.

I don't really know what's going on in that PoP thread as I haven't been spending the past 3 months reading about/defending the game.

That said, they are fundamentally different. Elika never lets you rewind and examine your failures, you simply *pop* and she fixes everything. Sands of Time, by letting you rewind time, let you examine exactly how you failed and redo it in real time. That *pop* where Elika takes you from dead to safe ground does make it harder to figure out what went wrong, and it makes it explicit that you are not in control of the situation. Both are less fun and engaging than Sands of Time's time-rewinding mechanic.

And no, I did not write an article about Sands of Time being too hand-holding. I thought it was awesome.

So it would be more accurate to say that games could need LESS Farah because there's less character interaction and less minding of a second character....

Farah was the one who was around less, you're saying they need to be less like Farah by being there less .... ?

Really, if you enjoyed Prince of Persia, it's okay. I just didn't enjoy it and I'm just trying to explain why.

I think a lot of the super-challenge based gaming has moved to multiplayer. Single player games may have become easier, but the level of skill required to compete in multiplayer gaming is insanely high.

When I was a beginner CoD4 player my kill/death ratio was often 1:20 or worse, but because I knew I was competing with other humans I was prepared to put in the practice to improve. I'm much less likely to do that with a single player game where I'm just competing against the computer.

PyromanFO wrote:
So it would be more accurate to say that games could need LESS Farah because there's less character interaction and less minding of a second character....

Farah was the one who was around less, you're saying they need to be less like Farah by being there less .... ?

Sorry, yeah i confused focus of my point - i.e. Farah was hardly there in the game, the protagonist was mostly alone. By saying you want more Farah, you're asking for less (and more designer controlled) character interaction.

IMO, that's a step backwards... equivalent to having the Doom story written on a page before and at the end of a game rather than being inserted into gameplay.

That said, they are fundamentally different. Elika never lets you rewind and examine your failures, you simply *pop* and she fixes everything. Sands of Time, by letting you rewind time, let you examine exactly how you failed and redo it in real time. That *pop* where Elika takes you from dead to safe ground does make it harder to figure out what went wrong, and it makes it explicit that you are not in control of the situation. Both are less fun and engaging than Sands of Time's time-rewinding mechanic.

To be honest in nPoP there's less ambiguity over where you go wrong because the controls are so simple and streamlined. Either way, I don't think you need to be able to rewind and see where you went wrong because typically in most games (TSoT included) where you went wrong was the last thing you did and saw.... it's not like you accidentally killed a major figure in a detective investigation 4 chapters back in some text adventure or something. I disagree that you somehow don't know what you did wrong just because you couldn't rewind and think, "Oh that's where i failed to jump at the right moment."

Pyro, this article was far less sexy than the headline led me to believe.

I think Farrah was some kind of a casino/resort operator?

Quite liked this. I know I like my games to run a fine line between challenging and frustrating, and I'm not really sure where a 'can't ever die' platformer/fighter would fit into that equation. Probably somewhere around indifference, I suspect. No risk, no reward.

I looked at that screenshot for about two minutes, trying to figure out how mario could possibly survive. Bounce-jump off the wall to the left and up to the top moving platform? I don't really understand the speedrunners or powergamers of this world. I mean, I get the appeal of mastering such a mountainous challenge, but the time you need to invest to get that good at one game... wouldn't it be more fun to be mediocre at a bunch of different games instead?

Clemenstation wrote:

I don't really understand the speedrunners or powergamers of this world. I mean, I get the appeal of mastering such a mountainous challenge, but the time you need to invest to get that good at one game... wouldn't it be more fun to be mediocre at a bunch of different games instead?

I really like the speed-running thing... some of the videos are pretty cool and watching them (http://speeddemosarchive.com/) like the one for TSoT gives you a greater understanding of the mechanics of games and their 'exploitability'. You could ask that question about online gaming? Why would you put in loads of hours to be good at CoD4 (or whatever) rather than being okay at that, Halo 3 and something else....

Honestly, in real life i'm a jack of all trades, master of none and i sometimes wish i had the skill that some of these people show in one or a couple of things. Knowing (or feeling) that you can't compete in something because you'll never be able to commit (or perhaps just unable to have the skill required) to it is pretty disheartening sometimes.

To be honest in nPoP there's less ambiguity over where you go wrong because the controls are so simple and streamlined. Either way, I don't think you need to be able to rewind and see where you went wrong because typically in most games (TSoT included) where you went wrong was the last thing you did and saw

Except at the time you didn't know it was going to fail, only in hindsight does it become easier to understand.

Look we can go back and forth on this all day because it's entirely subjective. The fact is, I never had to figure out the jumping "puzzles" in the new PoP because I was never allowed to fail. This just wasn't satisfying for me. In SoT, I could screw up, rewind, and retrace my steps over and over until I got it right. The new PoP just has an unsatisfying "oops, try again". It was very hard for me to figure out what I did wrong, because the game never asked me to fix it. I just had to hit X at the right time, everything else was out of my hands.

I also disagree that somehow other than the auto-save/auto-load mechanic that the gameplay of the two were the same. Your options in the jumping puzzles in the new PoP were way more limited, by design. They didn't want you to have to make any difficult choices. The first game wasn't afraid to actually make you figure out the puzzles.

Switchbreak wrote:

Pyro, this article was far less sexy than the headline led me to believe.

What do you mean? ROMHacks of Super Mario World doesn't get you going? HOT

PyromanFO wrote:

It was very hard for me to figure out what I did wrong, because the game never asked me to fix it.

I just had to hit X at the right time, everything else was out of my hands.

And like when everyone else who complained the game was too easy but complained about the save mechanic or the lack of choice in the game controls i find these two statements to be logically inconsistent.

Duoae wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

It was very hard for me to figure out what I did wrong, because the game never asked me to fix it.

I just had to hit X at the right time, everything else was out of my hands.

And like when everyone else who complained the game was too easy but complained about the save mechanic or the lack of choice in the game controls i find these two statements to be logically inconsistent.

You're right I meant "It was very hard for me to care about what I did wrong." The choice was taken out of my hands, there was nothing engaging about it. It was boring.

The thing that bothers me about the nPoP discussion you see all over the web is that people unite all their issues with the new game under one "b- but you can't die" banner.

There has not been a PC game since rogue and its derivates in which you actually die.

The save function takes away any threat of death, replacing it with the threat of wasting your time by having to go through a save/load dialog. Sands of Time removed this waste by giving you the rewind mechanic (and played it safe by only giving you limited use of that) while the new game removes it by unlimited rewinding via a rescue by Elika.

Anything that saves me time is something I heartily applaud, and I fully support the game designer's method of fixing this. It is incredibly polite of them and it greatly enjoyed my enjoyment of the game.

In other words, whether or not you die in the game is completely irrelevant to the issues I read you as having with the game, namely that you feel unaffected and disconnected from what's actually going on. Why is this so? I believe it is because that the controls suck. How do they suck? Simple: They turn the user-driven 3D platforming of SoT into a one-dimensional chain of quick-time events. You can literally let go of the mouse and keyboard for extended periods while the Prince is doing his crazy wall-running thing, and just push a single button ever five seconds or so, and you'll end up doing just fine.

That in my opinion is the thing that drives the disconnection so many people feel with the new game. You're only very tangentially influencing what happens on the screen.

Complete 100% agreement with Pyroman.

I loved The Sands of Time, and couldn't be bothered to play more than a couple of hours of the new PoP.

The difference between limited time-rewind and unlimited let-me-grab-your-hand is a big deal. It's the difference between having danger/tension and having absolutely, positively none.

Let's also keep in mind - combat. Rewind was brilliant with regards to combat in that you could rewind the action to a certain part and change an attack sequence, dodge something you didn't see coming, etc. - but again, in limited fashion.

In new PoP, you just get endlessly revived. B-O-R-I-N-G.

But even that's not the worst. The worst is the loss of some brilliant environmental puzzles that weren't immediately obvious from the get-go. You saw where you are, you saw the place you needed to get to, and you had to figure out how. In new PoP, "streamlined" means "it's pretty damn obvious where to go". There's none of those brilliantly designed palace rooms, at least, not in the time I spent with it.

As if those weren't bad enough, the inconsistency in Elika's character is maddening. Why is she clinging to the Prince's back when he's scaling a wall? Like he needs the extra body weight of magical flying girl. He should stand at the foot of the wall and say, "fly me up to the top, b*tch!"

Ben Mattes, the producer of the game, actually made some comments about the game difficulty at GDC the other day.

“I guess I made the mistake of projecting my own attitudes… I believed that, as a consumer base, the gaming industry had evolved to the point where they were punishing themselves for their failures… The idea with the Elika mechanic was [that] if you were a really good player, a single fall — when she had to pull you up — would be devastating thing because it ruined your perfect run.”

But people complained. So his lesson learned is: “We can’t continue to punish players for not being super leet haxxors but we have to do enough of that so that the guys on NeoGAF [hardcore message board gamers] won’t sell the game back.”

The save function takes away any threat of death, replacing it with the threat of wasting your time by having to go through a save/load dialog. Sands of Time removed this waste by giving you the rewind mechanic (and played it safe by only giving you limited use of that) while the new game removes it by unlimited rewinding via a rescue by Elika.
But people complained. So his lesson learned is: “We can’t continue to punish players for not being super leet haxxors but we have to do enough of that so that the guys on NeoGAF [hardcore message board gamers] won’t sell the game back.”

See both of these are entirely missing the point in my opinon. A automatic loading feature is not a rewind feature. Rewinding took failure and made it fun because you learned. Elika does not teach you anything. Seeing your mistakes in backwards slow motion was genius because it let you easily pinpoint exactly what you did wrong. Elika leaves you guessing as to where your jump went wrong.*

It's not about punishment, it's about making punishment useful and fun.

*Which led me to not care about what little failure there was because I didn't feel it was under my control.

PyromanFO wrote:

See both of these are entirely missing the point in my opinon. A automatic loading feature is not a rewind feature. Rewinding took failure and made it fun because you learned. Elika does not teach you anything. Seeing your mistakes in backwards slow motion was genius because it let you easily pinpoint exactly what you did wrong. Elika leaves you guessing as to where your jump went wrong.*

Ack, trying to not post.... I disagree with this because it sounds like you're saying you never learnt when playing games like Super Mario bros because you were 'saved' back to the start of the level?

IMO, an arbitrary starting point (whether that's the last checkpoint, level or ledge) makes no difference. Elika saving you (because of the easy mechanics) leaves no guessing where the jump went wrong because, as so many people point out, it's just one button press. If it were any other game i'd buy that argument.

Ack, trying to not post.... I disagree with this because it sounds like you're saying you never learnt when playing games like Super Mario bros because you were 'saved' back to the start of the level?

No, I'm saying it's easier. It's not binary.

Easier learning from your mistakes allowed the Sands of Time developers to throw in tons of complicated jumping puzzles and they rarely have to worry about too much frustration. It was alot more fun than jumping puzzles usually are.

I really don't know how many more times I can repeat it. It was more fun that way. They are not the same thing.

If you want it to truly be difficult, every time you fall... punch yourself in the junk 5 times as hard as you can.

Switchbreak wrote:

Pyro, this article was far less sexy than the headline led me to believe.

False advertising, for sure.

PyromanFO wrote:

See both of these are entirely missing the point in my opinon. A automatic loading feature is not a rewind feature.

The only difference is you have to spend time seeing yourself screw up in reverse. I guess that hammers what you did wrong home even more, but it's hardly a big distinction if you ask me. Whenever I play one of these games, I notice that I've screwed up when the mistake happens, not when I'm watching it in reverse.

PyromanFO wrote:

Elika leaves you guessing as to where your jump went wrong.* *Which led me to not care about what little failure there was because I didn't feel it was under my control.

At no point in nPoP is it ever unclear what you've done wrong, because the only class of mistakes you are able to make is to fail to press a button.

I'll agree the combat is a big step backwards in this latest iteration as well, although it sucked in SoT as well, so eh, toss-up.

LightBender wrote:

If you want it to truly be difficult, every time you fall... punch yourself in the junk 5 times as hard as you can.

Yes, a little Pavlovian self-conditioning will make up for any game's shortcomings.

The only difference is you have to spend time seeing yourself screw up in reverse. I guess that hammers what you did wrong home even more, but it's hardly a big distinction if you ask me. Whenever I play one of these games, I notice that I've screwed up when the mistake happens, not when I'm watching it in reverse.

Glad you see my problem with the game then. I enjoyed seeing my mistakes in reverse, it helped me learn. I don't think I was alone in that.

For me, this whole discussion goes off in entirely the wrong direction. The "Never Die" mechanic is hardly the reason the new PoP is easy--I don't find it terribly hard to hit the "Reload" option on a menu. It's easy because, well, the design of the platforming isn't terribly challenging. It's unfair to tell someone who didn't enjoy themselves to download the Epilogue and compare, so, just take my word for it--it's more challenging because the sequences are harder, not because Elika suddenly won't save the Prince.

It just pains me that I think the wrong lesson got taken away from this. I love the Never Die, and thought Elika was great--I'd fall off something, she'd initiate the quickload, say something snide, and my enjoyment of the game never got broken. I never had the "f*ck This" moment I often get in other games when I come across a difficult sequence, because the game never gave me the chance to say it, even though Elika had to save me many, many times. They tried something daring and new, and I say it worked.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

For me, this whole discussion goes off in entirely the wrong direction. The "Never Die" mechanic is hardly the reason the new PoP is easy--I don't find it terribly hard to hit the "Reload" option on a menu. It's easy because, well, the design of the platforming isn't terribly challenging. It's unfair to tell someone who didn't enjoy themselves to download the Epilogue and compare, so, just take my word for it--it's more challenging because the sequences are harder, not because Elika suddenly won't save the Prince.

It just pains me that I think the wrong lesson got taken away from this. I love the Never Die, and thought Elika was great--I'd fall off something, she'd initiate the quickload, say something snide, and my enjoyment of the game never got broken. I never had the "f*ck This" moment I often get in other games when I come across a difficult sequence, because the game never gave me the chance to say it, even though Elika had to save me many, many times. They tried something daring and new, and I say it worked.

This sums up my feelings on the matter exactly.

I wish I could try out the Epilogue but apparently PC users are second-rate citizens these days.

It's easy because, well, the design of the platforming isn't terribly challenging. It's unfair to tell someone who didn't enjoy themselves to download the Epilogue and compare, so, just take my word for it--it's more challenging because the sequences are harder, not because Elika suddenly won't save the Prince.

I would argue the sequences are easier because you cannot explore the solutions as well as you could in Sands of Time, because they removed the time-manipulation. Like Legion said above, the puzzles in the new PoP have to be obvious because there's absolutely no way for the player to work them out that doesn't require Elika basically dragging you through them.

You're right though, it's not that you can't "die". It's really about not letting you fail, which isn't the same thing. If you screwed up in SoT, fell into a pit, and hit rewind, I'd say you failed but didn't really die.

Pyroman[FO wrote:

]If you screwed up in SoT, fell into a pit, and hit rewind, I'd say you failed but didn't really die.

How is Elika pulling your from the pit any less a failure?

SpacePPoliceman wrote:
Pyroman[FO wrote:

]If you screwed up in SoT, fell into a pit, and hit rewind, I'd say you failed but didn't really die.

How is Elika pulling your from the pit any less a failure?

Because you're not allowed to see the consequences. *poof*, back on the platform. It's like it never happened. No consequences means that it feels like you never really failed in the first place. Having consequences then being allowed to reverse them easily is different from not having any at all.

PyromanFO wrote:

Because you're not allowed to see the consequences. *poof*, back on the platform. It's like it never happened. No consequences means that it feels like you never really failed in the first place. Having consequences then being allowed to reverse them easily is different from not having any at all.

This. I have no problem with the fact they removed the death mechanic. I actually liked that idea. My dissapointment with the game stemmed from the fact that it was the platforming equivalent of a light gun shooter. Unlike Sands of Time, Mirror's Edge or the good Tomb Raider games, you never get the sense of discovery that comes from "solving" the environment. You either press a button at the right time or you don't. It essentially devolves into a series of QTE sequences during the platforming sections.