Guilty as FAQ

Guilty

"Ooooh!" I exclaim excitedly, tapping my stylus to the 3DS screen. The old lady had slipped up; I am certain. All I need to do is figure out where to present the proper evidence.

This namby pamby granny has been trying to make the case that her back was causing her so much trouble she could barely walk. Alright, I can buy it. A stout little Mrs. Potts of a woman having some back problems is perfectly plausible.

But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if she was under such incredible pain, then how could she cross the worn-out, rickety bridge?

Note that I have no reason to suspect this woman is guilty of anything, but I am certain it will all come to light once I present that crucial piece of evidence and hear Phoenix Wright, attorney at law, cry "Objection!"

That is, once I figure out what evidence, and where. Do I present the map with the diagram of the bridge? Are any of these statements weak enough where it would seem relevant? Do I just need to press her harder after engaging in a specific conversation?

Bah, enough of this! I lodge the stylus between my teeth and tug my phone from my pocket, opening the web browser within. I'm the right track — I have to be — I just need a bit of a nudge from a good ol' GameFAQ to set everything in motion. Once that piece of evidence was revealed, the ball will start rolling and cause an avalanche of excitement.

Only it turned out that ball I was trying to get rolling was more of a square peg, and in my efforts to shove it down the hill I found myself tumbling over my firmly planted notion and downward. My train of thought was completely inaccurate, and the real flaw in her testimony had nothing to do with her back.

I obeyed the FAQ, presenting the real evidence, but any exhilarating thrill of victory was gone. I had essentially cheated, and somehow felt robbed of the "pleasure" of pounding my head against a problem that didn't exist.

This feeling of failure is actually rather uncommon for me. If I consult a FAQ for, say, Assassin's Creed, it's only because I don't feel like wasting my time searching every nook and cranny in Italy to snag a secret with little gameplay value.

So why bother, you ask? Achievements, duh.

Of course, the Phoenix Wright games aren't like other games, are they? Not like mainstream ones. They have more in common with the Telltale Adventure games, or the Zero Escape series that I previously discussed. You're not testing your skills and reflexes against a variety of quick-moving foes, or even against puzzle pieces dropping from the sky. It's all about finding clues, piecing them together, and maintaining a careful attention to detail.

And the occasion where you have to pick up and untangle the spaghetti trail that is the designer's train of thought.

Instead of the triumph of defeating foes, you celebrate in the jubilation of outsmarting the opposing prosecutor. When Phoenix Wright smiles, straightens his posture and begins to prattle off all the logical fallacies of the witness' testimony, you beam with a similar pride. "That's right," you think to yourself, "I'm smarter than the computer!"

Despite how different it is from other games, however, Phoenix Wright titles continue to have a sense of rising challenge. This isn't accomplished with stronger foes, but with less clear and obvious evidence. There are even details designed to mislead the player, just as an old lady's malfunctioning back misled me. More than a character quirk, it was made into such a big deal that it seemed contradictory to the chain of events. Yet it was simply there to misdirect and challenge me, to make me ask, "Is this really the correct path to choose?"

So why was resorting to the FAQ such a problem? Because it was cheating. It was like plugging in a code that grants ninety-nine extra lives, infinite ammunition, or invincibility. In some cases that might make a game more fun, but in many games, it not only robs the player of the thrill of victory, but can diminish the player's respect for the game.

A big chunk of what makes a game enjoyable is how it engages the player, and part of that is the challenge and the way the player learns to overcome the challenge. A designer must perform a balancing act between telling the player how to confront a situation and allowing them to figure it out on their own, and thus feel some prideful sense of accomplishment. That thrill of learning is at the core of Raph Koster's Theory Of Fun (by the way, do read the book, which is heavily recommended by many GWJ writers — Ed.).

Imagine playing the original Super Mario Bros. and, upon reaching King Koopa in the first castle, attempting to stomp his head. It has worked with every other foe in the first three stages, yet this time the player is hurt or dies. So what is a player expected to do? Try something else, perhaps noticing the glowing object at the end of the bridge. Clearly that must be important, right?

Or perhaps, as soon as their first attempt fails, the player pauses the game and wanders over to consult a FAQ, guide or walkthrough. The lesson that some enemies can't be jumped on becomes a gimmick for the mind to swerve around as it rolls ever forward.

Or take the Hunter from the original Halo. No one tells the player to shoot them in the back, but the game calls attention to it. Other marines will aim for the Hunter's back, which is the only unarmored section and is displayed in a contrasting color. The player's attention is called to it, and once they shoot a bright burst of blood spills out. Yes, the game tells the player, that's the correct choice. Alien goo splurts out of the Hunter's back and endorphins splash into the player's brain.

Yet there's still another secret. If you use the pistol to shoot the Hunter in the back, you can kill it with a single bullet. When I was in college, two years after the game's release, my roommate watched me shoot a Hunter in the back and his jaw dropped. It had never occurred to him to try fighting a Hunter with the pistol.

The discovery of such information and strategies is part of the game's experience. It's what makes it so entertaining not only the first time, but on the second, third, and thirtieth time through. Like good literature, it offers something both to the beginner and to the returning veteran.

Now imagine instead first encountering these new foes for the first time in Halo, having never encountered them before, and pausing the game to check a FAQ. Any sense of discovery, of challenge, is gone. The memories developed from that first encounter, the panic you may have experienced as you watched your fellow soldiers drop one by one to this powerful new force. It would all have been gone. Pick up a pistol, get behind a Hunter, and pop it in the back. Rinse and repeat.

The game goes from climbing a mountain — a challenging yet memorable experience — to walking on a conveyor belt, your progress sped up through the assistance of a machine. What pride is to be had upon reaching your destination?

Of course, just as with mountain-climbing, there are times the path laid before you is hidden or impossible to parse. In these situations it is better to have a professional mountain guide, helping you on the journey rather than carrying you on their shoulders. When I was in middle school I had this experience with Breath Of Fire III. In fact, it is thanks to that game that I discovered FAQs and walkthroughs online altogether. Near the end of the game I found my heroes lost in the desert, forced to follow the constellations to find their way through. Only I could never find the path.

Despite writing down the information found in FAQs and even glanced at within the strategy guide at my local Software Etc., I still could not progress through. I don't know what I had been doing wrong, but do this day I have never finished Breath Of Fire III because of that desert.

Sometimes the guides are a necessity, a way to keep us from getting frustrated due to the designer's lack of proper testing or relying on too specific a thought process in the player's mind. It is at these moments when we need the guide to inform us there's a switch camouflaged in that dark, shadowy corner, or an old man ten villages back that mentioned something about frog oil that you can coat yourself with to slip past the marsh beast. It is at these times when the guides prevent us from throwing the controller in frustration, wasting hours of our time banging our head against the wall, or abandoning the game altogether.

So despite my growing guilt at having put little effort into this badgering of the witness, feeling no jubilation as the Ace Attorney smiled his cheshire grin and revealed the fatal flaw in the prosecution's testimony, I have to remember that this guilt is shared. After all, I had been convinced that I was following the correct path by one simple, nagging statement that repeated over and over again. A misdirection, perhaps, but the only one that stood out clearly.

In that regard, the designer is also quite guilty.

Comments

Excellent ending.

Perhaps what you're describing is why I've never latched onto that series.

You've probably never latched onto the series because you are a soulless being that bathes in tears.

Sounds like an adventure game. At least, that part of the game does.

Good hint guides for adventure games do not just give the final answer. Instead, they give you just a little bit of a nudge to get on the right path. If you are still stuck, you unlock the next clue, and so forth. It's addictive to keep getting more clues; I used to play with a rule of one clue an hour. Now it is more like one clue per five minutes. I value my gaming time too highly to spend it staring at a screen and hoping for a leap of intuition!

As for guide or no guide? I can't imagine playing an adventure game without one. There are too many great things to spend time on, and being stuck while pondering a computer game is not a good one.

ohken wrote:

Sounds like an adventure game. At least, that part of the game does.

Good hint guides for adventure games do not just give the final answer. Instead, they give you just a little bit of a nudge to get on the right path. If you are still stuck, you unlock the next clue, and so forth. It's addictive to keep getting more clues; I used to play with a rule of one clue an hour. Now it is more like one clue per five minutes. I value my gaming time too highly to spend it staring at a screen and hoping for a leap of intuition!

I think that's a great solution to the sort of issue a player can find themselves in, as Chris describes. The problem is, that sort of guide demands more from the writer than GameFAQs.com does. I absolutely appreciate what GameFAQs is and has been (for almost 2 decades, no less), but it doesn't do exactly the same thing that an old hint guide would.

That said, I think Jayisgames.com walkthroughs do actually even use spoiler tags to hide progressively more definite hints.

ccesarano wrote:

You've probably never latched onto the series because you are a soulless being that bathes in tears.

I literally vocalized my laughter.

Humorously enough, I just hit up a walkthrough for Starship Damprey, and like most cases the one special ingredient I was missing was something small and obscure that I paid very little attention to, despite passing by it maybe five to twenty times in my search for a solution.

Such is the way with puzzle-based games.

This might be an issue with the adventure game genre in general (and whatever Phoenix Wright is, if it isn't an adventure game).

If you're playing Super Mario Bros. and you hit up the FAQ to discover you need to jump *over* Bowser instead of jumping onto his head, there's still skill/difficulty involved in pulling that off -- and therefore satisfaction when you manage to do it.

By contrast, there's no challenge in getting Phoenix to navigate his way through a trial successfully once you know what the solution is.

It sounds like the old-style progressive hint guides that ohken mentions is the proper solution to this problem -- unless the problem could be solved through better design in the game itself, maybe in the form of Phoenix's sidekick for a given trial dropping a hint or two after it's become clear that the player needs a little help.

Yeah, it's hard to figure this stuff out from a design standpoint in adventure games. The joy in adventure games comes from solving the problem, and usually, the harder the problem, the more joy you'll get. That seems to be why Dark Souls is massively popular.

Usually in PW, the sidekick does give a hint when you go through the witness's talk. Some of them make it obvious, but since the case in question here is the last one for the first trilogy, they become really obtuse. The 5th one will give out hints if you become really stuck, which is kinda like Super Mario 3d land giving out the gold leaf, you can see the help there, but you don't want to admit defeat. In the end, looking at a faq for an adventure game is admitting defeat.

By the end of the first PW (5th case), after seeing guilty for the 5th or 6th time, I just wanted to see how the story panned out, so I just whipped out the FAQ and answered all the questions. Didn't get any joy out of the problem solving, but the ending was nice.

So it's tough with adventure games, it seems like you want to make the puzzles hard (but logical) but if people want to resort to a faq, you need to make sure you story/jokes make up for the loss of joy of just following steps in a book.

ohken wrote:

Sounds like an adventure game. At least, that part of the game does.

WolverineJon wrote:

This might be an issue with the adventure game genre in general (and whatever Phoenix Wright is, if it isn't an adventure game).

Yes, these games are adventure games. They're not your typical adventure game, but they're more of an adventure game than Professor Layton (which is a puzzle game).

A company could also try focus testing their game, in the same way Valve focus tests theirs, but you still run into problems with that. No matter what you cannot account for every individual's method of problem-solving, and what will be challenging for one might be easy for another. So you could set yourself a goal, a sort of "A player cannot be stumped for more than one minute" or so to try and build your game around and then test it amongst different demographics, but it becomes more and more difficult to generate a form of rising action, of increased difficulty, in this manner.

Though at that point, you also have to wonder if adventure games should have a rising difficulty. For other skill based games, well, the skill is all there is, and once you start to get better at a game you need that boosted challenge in order to keep the player on their toes.

But adventure games don't operate in that manner. Problem solving isn't always a skill, and if it is then it isn't the same as most action-based games. I'd argue that there are other ways to challenge the player than simply making the solutions more vague or obtuse, or having to make sure you chain several pieces of evidence together. Yet on the whole, if the player had fun during the earlier cases, then you'll only be disrupting the flow by making things harder on them.

ccesarano wrote:

Though at that point, you also have to wonder if adventure games should have a rising difficulty. For other skill based games, well, the skill is all there is, and once you start to get better at a game you need that boosted challenge in order to keep the player on their toes.

But adventure games don't operate in that manner. Problem solving isn't always a skill, and if it is then it isn't the same as most action-based games. I'd argue that there are other ways to challenge the player than simply making the solutions more vague or obtuse, or having to make sure you chain several pieces of evidence together. Yet on the whole, if the player had fun during the earlier cases, then you'll only be disrupting the flow by making things harder on them.

I think that's an important question. The whole cycle of unlocking new power and being tested on that new power doesn't really hold as well in adventure titles, since there aren't new mechanics being rolled out as the game progresses, and since things like inventory items don't tend to get used multiple times.

Maybe that's a way forward, to add more complicated dynamics to the system as the player progresses, so instead of objecting and presenting a piece of evidence, the player has to combine a couple pieces of evidence and reference previous testimony—or something. So it's not just that the solution becomes harder to see, but that the player has to make the sorts of connections that sometimes play out as cutscene once you've correctly guessed the right moment and evidence to move things forward. (Side note: Probably my most frustrating moment in playing the original was something like that, where there were two pieces of evidence related to the erroneous testimony, and I was "wrong" for not picking the one that seemed to me to more obviously and directly contradict the testimony.)

wordsmythe wrote:

Side note: Probably my most frustrating moment in playing the original was something like that, where there were two pieces of evidence related to the erroneous testimony, and I was "wrong" for not picking the one that seemed to me to more obviously and directly contradict the testimony.

I've run into this as well, and my reaction is always: Why didn't the developers anticipate that happening, and then code the game to accept either of those pieces of evidence?

I realize that at some point you have to stop designing/coding and just ship the game, but sometimes I'm surprised at things like this which, seemingly at least, would involve minimal additional design/coding time, but would have a large potential impact towards reducing player frustration / increasing player fun.

WolverineJon wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Side note: Probably my most frustrating moment in playing the original was something like that, where there were two pieces of evidence related to the erroneous testimony, and I was "wrong" for not picking the one that seemed to me to more obviously and directly contradict the testimony.

I've run into this as well, and my reaction is always: Why didn't the developers anticipate that happening, and then code the game to accept either of those pieces of evidence?

I realize that at some point you have to stop designing/coding and just ship the game, but sometimes I'm surprised at things like this which, seemingly at least, would involve minimal additional design/coding time, but would have a large potential impact towards reducing player frustration / increasing player fun.

The ability to solve something in multiple ways was a big enough deal once to be a bullet point on some of the King's Quest games.

BTW, kudos to Chris or whomever came up with the title / headline for this post -- I chuckled.

WolverineJon wrote:

BTW, kudos to Chris or whomever came up with the title / headline for this post -- I chuckled. :-)

Whoo! Where's my back-patting machine?

wordsmythe wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Though at that point, you also have to wonder if adventure games should have a rising difficulty. For other skill based games, well, the skill is all there is, and once you start to get better at a game you need that boosted challenge in order to keep the player on their toes.

But adventure games don't operate in that manner. Problem solving isn't always a skill, and if it is then it isn't the same as most action-based games. I'd argue that there are other ways to challenge the player than simply making the solutions more vague or obtuse, or having to make sure you chain several pieces of evidence together. Yet on the whole, if the player had fun during the earlier cases, then you'll only be disrupting the flow by making things harder on them.

I think that's an important question. The whole cycle of unlocking new power and being tested on that new power doesn't really hold as well in adventure titles, since there aren't new mechanics being rolled out as the game progresses, and since things like inventory items don't tend to get used multiple times.

Maybe that's a way forward, to add more complicated dynamics to the system as the player progresses, so instead of objecting and presenting a piece of evidence, the player has to combine a couple pieces of evidence and reference previous testimony—or something. So it's not just that the solution becomes harder to see, but that the player has to make the sorts of connections that sometimes play out as cutscene once you've correctly guessed the right moment and evidence to move things forward. (Side note: Probably my most frustrating moment in playing the original was something like that, where there were two pieces of evidence related to the erroneous testimony, and I was "wrong" for not picking the one that seemed to me to more obviously and directly contradict the testimony.)

It's tough to think about ways to add complexity to the whole "find lie, present evidence" loop that PW has, you can see that they tried, by introducing laws you has present as evidence in the 5th case on the first game (probably an interesting way to take it, but it's tough to understand made up laws in a made up world), the magnatama stuff in the 2nd and 3rd game, and the facial expressions and physic evaluation stuff that Apollo and Athena could do. Ideas I'm thinking of doing in my PW clone are

-Evidence that is going to implicate your defendant more (not really sure if this is a good idea)
-Objecting to statements yourself, with some statements that you shouldn't object to.
-A jury system, where you try to get the jury to see your defendant as guilty, maybe complete with closing statement, and randomized jury members, so you can't really use a faq to clinch it. (That's going to be really tough to do, but probably going to be the most interesting part to play.)

I think the 5th game's "Revisualization/Logic" section was a good way to have complicated things happen in a case, but make them easy enough to grok and get through for players that were either students, or senior citizens, which was PW:DD's target audience -http://metro.co.uk/2013/07/03/phoenix-wright-ace-attorney-dual-destinies-hands-on-preview-and-interview-digital-justice-3867516/

Ouch, wall of text, sorry.

Another thing I distinctly remember from PW was just how different the court system was from what I'm used to. I mean, the very notion of "objecting" to a potentially erroneous statement from a witness is ... not what an objection is in the US. I'm still not sure if that is a Japanese thing or a fictional thing.

Back in my day . . .

Game FAQs was the playground. Between ducking the kickball aimed square at my head I would discuss where to find the hidden items in Legend of Zelda or compare notes on how to beat Mega Man bosses. My brother had a special connection because his best friend was a Japanese kid who owned a Famicon and played all the games months before the rest of us.

I don't know that a shared experience like that can really be recreated. I feel like any discussion of an adventure game must be shrouded in Spoiler tags or risk being

Spoiler:

ostracized

for crimes against discovery. We are happy to share this stuff when it brings us together but sharing on the internet only goes so far before someone gets upset.

That said, I've been playing Dangan Ronpa and must confess that a certain clue drove me to GameFAQs. I blame the developer. Case 02:

Spoiler:

I was supposed to explain a character's multiple personality disorder. Previous to that point all references to mental illness were polite and proper using the term disassociative identity disorder. In the trial though, I was supposed to call the suspect a schizo. It never occurred to me that we were going to throw away decorum for that clue.

The difference in the playground is that someone had to discover that, and that was part of the wonder. Everyone also shared discoveries with each other. Of course, there was also Nintendo Power and Strategy Guides, so we weren't all innocent.

Even so, because GameFAQs is so readily available, it's a lot easier to just give up sooner. And that's where it becomes a trial of resistance to temptation.

wordsmythe wrote:

Another thing I distinctly remember from PW was just how different the court system was from what I'm used to. I mean, the very notion of "objecting" to a potentially erroneous statement from a witness is ... not what an objection is in the US. I'm still not sure if that is a Japanese thing or a fictional thing.

Yeah, I don't think it's a Japanese thing, I think that Shu Takumi just wanted a game when you point out contradictions in what people are saying. He basically was making a detective game, wanted the detective to point out contradictions, figured out that a lawyer would be the sort of person that did that, and that's how we ended up with PW.

Actually, if you are interested in how Shu set up the puzzles, this is an interesting read. http://www.officialnintendomagazine.co.uk/55629/features/interview-shu-takumi-on-the-making-of-phoenix-wright-ghost-trick-and-more/

Octacon100 wrote:

Actually, if you are interested in how Shu set up the puzzles, this is an interesting read. http://www.officialnintendomagazine.co.uk/55629/features/interview-shu-takumi-on-the-making-of-phoenix-wright-ghost-trick-and-more/

Oooh, thank you for this. I love reading this sort of material.

While I haven't played the PW games, I did make my way through L.A. Noire, and can see a strong relation between presenting evidence in PW and "asking the right questions" in Noire.

When I would go back and look up a FAQ after getting something wrong, I'd just get super angry. It wasn't until later when I realized that the "doubt" command had initially started out as "confront", which makes so much sense when you actually wind up using it. Cole tends to get outright hostile whenever that is used as an option, because the dialog trees were originally written as this being the "confront" option, not a soft-sold "doubt" dialog option.

To be honest, I also felt the same way with many of the dialog options in Mass Effect. Early on, you can easily tell that upper-right is the Paragon response, and lower-right is the Renegade response - but so often there's a disconnect between the brief sentence they give you as a choice, and then the resulting dialog.

You initially choose a Paragon option, but then the dialog it trigges is smarmy, hot headed, and/or antagonistic - but still on the "good" side. I make a point to not go back and re-play games like this - I make a decision once, and that's how my path through the story goes - but it always makes me wonder if I had taken the other option, would Shepard have just pulled a pistol and outright killed the person?

It wasn't until later when I realized that the "doubt" command had initially started out as "confront", which makes so much sense when you actually wind up using it.

Imagine me looking at my computer monitor at work, my face contorted into a form of rage, biting my bottom lip, with my hands gesturing at my monitor, to the side, and back at the monitor. All the while, I am holding in the urge to scream "what the f*ck", as this use of vocabulary would have prevented so much f*cking trouble in that damn game.

Who in the living Hell approved of that change?!

In regards to the comparison with Phoenix Wright, I actually do wish the designers of L.A. Noire had played it before making their game. One ability I really wanted in L.A. Noire was to be able to go back to previous statements and press the witness/suspect, trying to obtain more information from them. In L.A. Noire, it's a "you get one chance" thing and you have to hope you're reading their emotions correctly (and sometimes, just like Phoenix Wright, you place information together incorrectly (I think it was the first case where you find the guy's broken glasses, and the wife said something about his glasses and I was all "Ah ha! You lie!", only I was wrong)). In Phoenix Wright, the witness/suspect provides testimony, and you're able to press individual statements in order to gain more information.

I really, really wanted that in L.A. Noire.

I don't know if Rockstar is going to do anything with the IP now, but if they do, I just want them to have designers that played Phoenix Wright to handle it (and also get rid of a lot of the gratuitous "these are the shooting missions" bits so it's a bit more, well, noir, and less action).

Very interesting topic, Mr. Cesarano. (can I call you Chris?)

I have been tortured by the knowledge that I've used FAQs. I still don't know what I think about using them. I hesitate to say that I've even beaten games that I've used guides for.

The place that I feel it is most justified is definitely in the case of what seem to be design flaws. I think both Fallout 1 and 2 are great games, and I really enjoyed both of them. But, I'm pretty sure I ended up using guides for both of them at some point.

Those were old-school Pc RPGs, and the bugs are one of the things that make them so endearing. Sometimes I couldn't tell if I had missed something, or if some event had just failed to trigger.

But, other times I just break, and don't want to spend any more time at that brick wall... that happened in Treasure Adventure Game (great game, available free of charge), and it felt kind of nasty to do it.

McIrishJihad wrote:

but it always makes me wonder if I had taken the other option, would Shepard have just pulled a pistol and outright killed the person?

Don't worry, it makes no goddamn difference in ME, just no goddamn difference at all. Thanks for the insight into LA Noire as well, haven't gotten around to that one yet.

RolandofGilead wrote:
McIrishJihad wrote:

but it always makes me wonder if I had taken the other option, would Shepard have just pulled a pistol and outright killed the person?

Don't worry, it makes no goddamn difference in ME, just no goddamn difference at all. Thanks for the insight into LA Noire as well, haven't gotten around to that one yet.

I still view the Mass Effect series as a trilogy that's ultimately about nihilism.

wordsmythe wrote:
RolandofGilead wrote:
McIrishJihad wrote:

but it always makes me wonder if I had taken the other option, would Shepard have just pulled a pistol and outright killed the person?

Don't worry, it makes no goddamn difference in ME, just no goddamn difference at all. Thanks for the insight into LA Noire as well, haven't gotten around to that one yet.

I still view the Mass Effect series as a trilogy that's ultimately about nihilism.

I remember reading an article that made a great case for it as a bit of a horror epic. The reapers are big cthulhu, but there are other threats, existential and physical, looming in the form of other species, such as the ones to which your allies belong. Humans are at best, average.

and I know I posted it somewhere, but anyway, my ME comment was also based on a mission in ME2, I killed the guy repairing the mercs gunship, guess what? still had to fight the damn thing.