The "AHHHH!!!" Factor in Game Design

There always seems to be that ONE moment in every game in which you spend an hour playing the game, discovering new objects and areas and solving puzzles, only to have have it come crashing down in an instant. That hour has immediately gone to waste.

I don’t know what you would call it – I guess it’s the “AHHHH!!!” factor. If you have a better name for it I’d like to hear it.

Like in Metroid Prime, where you begin exploring the Phazon Mines. You save your game right at the beginning of the map, play for 40 minutes, and right when you start hearing the beep from having low energy all you can think is “there’s got to be a save station around here somewhere…”

But no. You go into an air duct filling with gas, escape, and get taken out like a chump by a space pirate.

This almost happens in every single game ever made. In RE4 it was the part right before where you have to have Ashley turn all these cranks to raise a bridges, and snipe the cultists so they don’t run away with her. In FFVII it’s the marching in the parade. In SMB it’s the very last castle because it’s got that goddamn puzzle at the end where you have to figure out which way to go in order to progress. In Battletoads…it’s pretty much the whole game.

And once you get it right you think you’re an idiot for not getting it right the first time.

The greatest games have always had this difficulty in mind. There’s a fine line between making something just difficult enough to be hard, but still attainable, and making something just a downright pain in the ass that you never want to experience again. If it’s just difficult enough you get pissed for a little bit, then come back to it to try to prove to the game that, yes, you can beat it. The latter, you convince yourself that it’s just too damn hard and you set it aside for when you want to torture yourself.

So, I’m going to let myself cool down a bit before touching Prime again. Otherwise I may destroy my Gamecube.

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