I hope this is the right place to ask since it’s not really game-specific, but it belongs to the subject of game reviews and categorization I think:
What would be the best forgiveness rating for a game where you CAN die, where you can NOT get stuck (or getting stuck would be totally obviously announced as for the “Polite” rating, literally spelled out for the player “You can no longer continue at this point without the item you just threw away”) but which has a considerable length and the possibility to bar yourself from a good ending with an action rather early on, that action being announced as having possible severe consequences but with no indication on what those are going to be later? (the ‘bad’ ending not shortening the game similar to an early death or not being a mindless random death ending, so it would still be a conclusion to the story and a proper ending)
So it’s not get stuck, but rather no happy ending for you. Still pretty odd for the player I suppose (unless they’re not aware there was a better ending available) and not exactly what I would expect from a “Polite” game… so what would you dear forumites suggest how such a game be rated?
My hunch is that sort of depends on what exactly the unhappy ending is; there’s a difference between reaching a Proper Ending of a game, even if it’s a pretty unhappy one, and getting a premature ending. Different players are going to disagree forcefully on what exactly that difference is.
I think it mostly depends on how signposted the danger is, and how much of the player’s time will be wasted if they mess up and get the bad ending. If two different legitimate plotlines hinge on that unknown choice you make at the beginning, that’s fine and not a stupid “gotcha”.
For example, in a game about the Titanic:
“Cruel”: forgetting to pick up the discarded nail file before you board the Titanic that you’ll need to unlock a gate 175 moves later that you can’t survive without getting through. Even if there is a long sequence and ending in this branch…the player will need to replay the entire game from the beginning for the happy ending since they had no indication nor context that they needed the nail file.
“Nasty”: As you’re escaping the Titanic, untying a rope on a tarpaulin without first pushing a mattress against the rail causes a lifeboat you need to flip off the deck and disappear forever. The game didn’t indicate at all this would happen, and didn’t even give you an inkling to save.
“Tough” You untie the rope. The boat skids off the deck and disappears, but there’s a second one so you are clued in not to perform the same action twice without making sure it doesn’t happen the same way again.
“Polite”: You see that you can untie the rope on the tarpaulin, and as you begin to do so, the game describes the boat leaning at a dangerous angle, and how the deck is slanted straight into the water and gives you a turn to re-think before completing the action.
“Merciful”: When you go to untie the rope, the game will not let you due to the dangerous angle of the deck until you do manage to block the railing with a mattress.
I don’t think the “happiness” of the endings is even relevant, really. I mean, I know we speak of “unwinnable states,” but I don’t think “winnable,” in that context, implies some kind of entitlement to a ticker-tape parade or a pageant where Princess Leia gives you a necklace. I sure as fuck didn’t win The Baron, but I got to a fair and complete ending
I can kind of imagine the full range of forgiveness ratings for a diplomatic game (except for “Merciful”):
Imagine a game with many diplomatic options where it would be totally obvious some (but not all!) have a large impact, but the player doesn’t know which ones and the impact shows only much later in the game. (then possibly revealing connections to the originating actions, but only then)
Would this qualify as “Tough” for you if the player got one single warning before the first diplomatic choice that all further diplomatic actions can possibly change the outcome of the game, but then never again any further warnings (assuming the game has a large diplomatic discussion section and otherwise the game would be filled with infinite warnings)? Or rather “Nasty” or even “Cruel” because it’s not obvious after each diplomatic action if this particular one actually altered the final outcome or not?
I suppose it all depends on how much it was obvious to the player that a particular single diplomatic action would have a deep result, does it not? Then again much of the joy of such a game could particularly stem from the fact that the player would NOT know the scale of the impact, hence leaving him constantly guessing about the possible consequences. (with that possibly being fun and not so much cruel I suppose)
Or would you rather go with “polite” if it is only revealed in the final ending with up to then a proper showdown for each “path”, even if some of the possible endings are so far off that the whole galaxy is lost or whatever with the final maybe-not-so-obvious cause possibly far into the beginning of the game (opposed to a possible world rescued ending and many others in between)?
TL;DR: would you mainly focus if all the endings feel like a fully committed ending (even if world lost vs world rescued, similar to dying on Titanic and escaping Titanic in a way), or if the player did know for each single particular action (vs a larger section of actions) whether it altered the outcome strongly? Also, if the player doesn’t know there is a good ending and if it’s even considered some sort of secret ending, would that still count as cruel in the particular Titanic example?
Other: I suppose the choice of whether letting an NPC die or not with the obvious hint beforehand that this decision might have a larger impact on the later game but without any more detailed hint on the alteration of the outcome would qualify as “Tough”?
Is there an alternative? It’s still in use on IFDB and I’m always glad to have a rough indicator on how hard a game is going to be on me. Of course the best insight is provided through the reviews, but a shorter indicator still seems useful. (I am just wondering how it is agreed on in various special cases, hence the many quesitons)
It does seem to be an indicator for possible requirements of backtracking, external notes etc., not so much on puzzle difficulty itself though. At least that was my impression of it. I’m open for corrections A game with a hard forgiveness rating is one I’d approach with more time and more external resources on my hands right from the start.
Edit: also, I’d definitely expect a cruel game to have higher puzzle difficulty than a merciful one. This assumption may be wrong, but I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable! (I get that’s not what the rating is meant to say)
Right. But the forgiveness scale constantly gets treated as that, mostly because there’s a need for something like that, but no system of rating it that is anything like objective. (Which is a thing that people also really want out of the hypothetical ideal difficulty scale, somehow.)
I dunno. Whenever this topic comes up I dream about a second IFDB star rating just for difficulty.
I think that’s the closest thing we’d get to useful on “difficulty.” While we’re at it, something for the game’s duration would also be nice (especially if we could, as with the current star-ratings, see not only the average, but the spread). Beyond that, I have another fond wish for a star-rating addition, but that one really belongs on another thread …
For my own part, the Forgiveness Rating is all about counting my save files. I only want to play games where one save-file is enough, and while that’s not literally, directly what the scale is about, it’s a bit closer to that than “difficulty.”
This is (partly) why I appreciate cruelty ratings. I’d rather not play through a game with one save file, thinking it’s Merciful or Polite, only to discover at the very end it’s actually Cruel and have to replay the whole thing.
For me, the forgiveness rating is usually a good indicator of the complexity of the game, or if you’d rather, how much attention do I really have to pay, and how thoroughly I have to scour a room before leaving, not knowing whether I can return, or if I’ve got everything I needed from it (coughcursescough).
The game can be complex in this way (not everyone’s definition of “complex”, I know) without actually being difficult.
I suppose with the focus on save games the diplomatic game example would rather be a bare “Polite” since it is kinda expected the outcome varies a lot (if it’s announced) and not a player mistake or anything one would want to circumvent with save games, since it’s the point of the game.
An additional difficulty rating which everyone can rate on IFDB would indeed be nice. Maybe it should be multiple ratings like Game Complexity (=how linear and undetailed or unlinear and detail rich is it), Puzzle Difficulty, the current Forgiveness Rating etc should be given - but open for vote for everyone. However, I emailed the IFDB people with a lengthy, detailed suggestion with illustrated screenshots on how to improve the tags search usability, and never got a response - so I’m not sure how open they are for suggestions.
What you have in mind sounds overly complex to me. When people petition Goodreads to increase the range of ratings from five to ten, they always respond with statistics from other sites which have made the change, showing large drops in the number of people who rate things at all. No doubt some core users would still use all the ratings, but difficulty is something you really want rated by a representative sample of players.
For what it’s worth, I’m more interested in knowing game cruelty than perceived difficulty. I won’t play a cruel game without a walkthrough (or a tough or nasty one, if there’s no robust UNDO), whereas game difficulty doesn’t much affect my decisions of what to play, or how to play it. Exception: games like Varicella and Making Good, which have some of the compensating graces of roguelikes.