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Feature: 'Defeat and Failure in Gaming'

For today's latest Gamasutra feature, veteran designer Ben Schneider, who has contributed to such titles as Empire Earth and Titan Quest, explores the setbacks and t
For today's latest Gamasutra feature, veteran designer Ben Schneider, who has contributed to such titles as Empire Earth and Titan Quest, explores the setbacks and the threat of failure in games, and how these events can help to push not only the story along, but the player as well. In this excerpt, Schneider discusses this view of game design specifically with regards to Valve's Half-Life 2, which from the onset presents the player with feeling that success may not be immediately accessible: “Curiously, the most vivid and memorable scene in the opening of Half-Life 2 is the one that cripples the player, dashes their goals, and generally messes with the player’s ability to properly play the game. I am speaking, of course, of the apartment building scene, where the police raid the building, and chaos erupts, sending you and the building’s tenants scrambling for safety and escape. You run and you run, but eventually they surround you. There is no way out. The scary masked guards begin to beat you, you fall, the screen blacks out… and then you hear what might just be some form of rescue. When the screen fades in again, the guards are lying senseless around you, apparently the work of Alyx, a young woman who introduces herself and then leads you away to safety. Whew! This entire sequence is a real tour de force, and it seems to break most of the rules laid out above, not to mention many more that are standard to our trade. What’s going on? The simple answer, of course, is that somehow they’ve convinced me (and, I wonder, everyone else as well?) that I wasn’t screwing up, that this is how things were supposed to go. Come to think of it, the entire game up until that point is rather odd. You don’t really have objectives. It’s as if there were something entirely different going on instead of traditional, objective-based gameplay. As you play through it, these subtle cues tip you off, and it makes this impressive dramatic reversal something that you, the gamer, are willing to swallow.” You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, with more in-depth discussion from Schneider on enticing your players through the power of defeat (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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