Re: Metroid Dread - Is Game Design about protecting the player from frustration?

There’s a lot of discussions about tutorials, usability, and genre literacy going around regarding Metroid Dread. Here is David Jaffe playing an early room in Metroid Dread, and speaking to its design. Admittedly, he is kind of a clown, but having directed God of War/Twisted Metal, certainly isn’t a layperson. Especially contrasted with a bunch of other peoples’ attempts, I have a tough time reconciling the oft-given “more playtesters” advice, or if it is even worthwhile to try and prevent. Should we normalize players sometimes losing or getting stuck, or is it someone’s “fault” when this happens?

Metroid: Dread may also be an example of shifting player expectations, where many games in the “Metroidvania” subgenre are relatively easy chill romps, while Dread returns to the series’ roots of feeling outmatched and helpless at many turns.

Contains minor spoilers for breakable block in early room in Metroid Dread, also bad language:

You’re asking that in a discussion group that started with Colossal Cave and Zork. :)

We didn’t denormalize players losing or getting stuck until somewhere around 1998!


My understanding is that one should avoid accidental stuckness or losing, in the same way that etiquette is about avoiding giving accidental offence. Deliberate stuckness or losing is part of the fun, provided of course that it makes sense for the type of game being made.

IF, perhaps more than any other medium of games, runs the full gamut between “players should never get stuck and must always win in some sense” to “losing is fun and stuckness is something players will seek”. As creators, part of the design and implementation job is putting the right amount of stuckness/loss in the right places, for reasons that make sense in context*. Part of the secret of marketing is making sure you attract the sort of players who want what your IF offers.

    • If you’re doing a classic parser puzzler, said context can be “the player is playing a classic parser puzzle and was implicitly forwarned before reaching this point.”

To me, this is a genre and context issue. I mean, not one I lose any sleep over with IF.

I think the reason we talk about more playtesters so often is because almost everyone doing IF is an amateur, and their first game often has zero playtesters, and then they also often release it to the world in a context (IFComp) where it’s treated by strangers almost as tough as a mainstream game. The aim isn’t to eliminate every bit of possible stuckness, but both to beat the game into shape in the first place and, as @Alianora_La_Canta said, beat most accidental stuckness out of it.

These mainstream big budget games have, relatively, zillions of playtesters, even ones that undertest.

On an unrelated note, I was a bit weirded out when I saw the new Metroid was called ‘Dread’. I just don’t associate Metroid with any kind of overt horror, which is what that title says to me. That doesn’t mean the game can’t go there now but, ehh, I just feel like they went slightly off piste. It’s still not as bad as all those music-related Castlevania titles that began to stretch so much they were breaking with stupidity. ‘Rondo of Blood’, ‘Waltz of SadSimon’, ‘Passacaglia of Doom’. (Okay, I made up the last two.)



Really? Metroid and Metroid 2 were really focused around rooms that were deathtraps, unfamiliar enemies, and the danger of not knowing what lurked around the bend. The first time in Tourian after many hours of gameplay where Metroids just start to appear I was horrified as a kid. Super Metroid is probably the most chill, as Zero Mission included a stealth and escape sequence at the end where you no longer have armor or weapons at all, and Fusion went to a claustrophobic space station with a clone Samus that they essentially used as a slasher villain you had to run from.

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When the only interaction with the environment is shooting at it, it’s kind of funny to watch these gamers register surprise at the consequences of a stray round.

Maybe they should have called it Metroid: Control Your Fire.

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Well that might explain things! I haven’t played the earliest Metroids, just the mid period ones. My favourite was Metroid Prime.


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Maybe it’s a niche genre, but there are lots of games which absolutely frustrate the player at every opportunity, such as QWOP and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.


It’s hard for me to nail down a concept of “game” that doesn’t involve a measured degree of frustration. You want to achieve something and it’s a challenge. You might fail. Or, even if failure isn’t on the table, you might not succeed right away.


Without challenge and risk, a “game” is little more than reading a book.


I think it’s terribly sad IF doesn’t usually permit the presence of a virtual hovering yellow or white diamond constantly reminding you which direction to walk in. NOT!