Today on his blog, Gareth has posted an update to the save/restore business we looked at in Save Me Again. And so we find out what he wants to accomplish.

Drama. Tension. That moment of pulse-pounding, nerve-racking uncertainty. He gives an example from Prince Of Persia, and yes, I can see where that particular circumstance might raise some perspiration.

Of course, as he notes, had he lost that fight, it would have been time to reload, and that restore was some time back. Still, from his description, it was certainly a fight to remember.

However, combat in RPGs is mostly a routine activity, simply because there’s so much of it. High-tension moments usually occur in a “boss” fight, especially (or sometimes, supposedly) at the end when you face down Foozle.

But I think we know that real drama, real tension, comes mainly from the interactions of people with each other. Let’s face it, not getting that lock open is hardly a matter for drama, unless saving the world depends upon it. And you just know you’ll reload if the first try doesn’t work.

What I have a problem with here is that it seems to me that Gareth really wants players to fail. I think that’s the wrong approach, because it takes control away from us, for one thing. It also puts the designer in an adversarial position vs. the player.

A better way of looking at it would be: “If - at this critical moment - the player can’t do thus-and-so, what other option can I put there?”. The corollary to that is: “And how can I give the player a hint that this alternate action is available?”.

That last is an important point: knowing there’s another route. Unfortunately, in too many games, there really is just one way to succeed at some task. We’re so used to that, we’re ready for the reload button the moment something goes wrong.

But if we’re aware that a setback can be overcome, then the need to restore becomes that much less. Especially if that opens up an interesting twist in the story. We can’t forget the story. Or the people. Because, as I said above, that’s where the real drama resides.

Bad Karma on Gareth’s blog