Your opinion on a game mechanic

Hi everyone!
I thought I’d feel out for some reaction here. I’m wholly on board with the mindset of never leaving a player in an unwinnable state without letting them know. However, I’m also trying to avoid two other things, namely, limiting the player’s freedom and being too immediately obvious about what actions/objects are essential to the game.
How would you as a player feel about this scenario: you’re free to wreck almost anything you want, but if you lose something essential, the game will notify you with a generic message some 15-30 turns later that you have done/not done something that has rendered the game unwinnable?
I suppose a player might not know how far back in their saved points they should go, but on the other hand, I feel that it will usually end up being obvious to them which of their recent actions might have had these consequences. They’ll probably remember cavalierly smashing a priceless heirloom or chucking it off a cliff. Which leads to another factor, that this mechanism could end up being a giveaway for what objects are critical to the game… but perhaps, if you’re going to go the other route and disallow the player destroying the object in the first place, they’re getting the same clue in that case too.

The mechanism is pretty simple, and this is TADS 3 code, but the concept is:

modify Thing
		/* a property defining a condition which, if true when this object is permanently 
		destroyed, renders the game unwinnable. For instance, a key object might define:
			zapCond = (door.isLocked && !roomBehindLockedDoor.seen) */
	zapCond = nil
		/* Game code calls this method instead of moveInto(nil) to destroy a gameworld 
		object. zap() will move the object into nil, but also call the stuck() function, 
		and "zap" all of this object's portable contents */
	zap() { foreach(local cur in contents) if(cur.isPortable) cur.zap(); 
        stuck(zapCond); }

function stuck(cond) {  if(cond) 
	/* make a new Fuse that prints unwinnable message 
	at a random # (within a given range) of turns later* / ;  } 

Is wrecking anything at all required or incentivised?
If not, why not give a kind of a warning at each wrecked thing? Something like: “You don’t know whether it was useful or not; now it’s broken”.


Most situations, breaking, losing, or otherwise damaging objects isn’t important, the point is just to let the player feel a little more like they can do what they want. If you stick with the “you don’t know if it was useful, now it’s broken/gone”, the player could still never know whether their situation was unwinnable. If you don’t let the player break, burn or throw anything anywhere, that takes away some of the feel of autonomy, if you only disallow them from doing those actions to essential objects, then you have an immediate hint or giveaway of sorts. Not that it’s likely to be a huge deal, but it’s what I’m trying to take another approach to…


I don’t know if this is a good idea since nobody has tested it yet, but in a WIP I have a “wisdom” score that goes up when you solve a puzzle and goes down if you break something that you’re going to need later… but it can also go down if you do something especially silly that wasn’t actually game-breaking, and there’s one puzzle where you have to do something initially dumb to then successfully solve – so it’s a net gain in points in the end, but you do lose some first. So it’s sort of a hint but you can’t entirely rely on it.

Interesting… is your game unwinnable if they beak the something they’ll need later? Or is there a way to get it again?

Currently it’s unwinnable (it’s based on an older game where that was also the case).

But I’m thinking about adding some difficulty settings and that’d probably be one of the options.

There are some objects that can be “used up” but then later recovered, but those don’t result in wisdom loss.

Breaking everything is fine, the thing I would be wary of is the “message that shows sometime later that the game is unwinnable”. How does it differ from the standard “you lose” message apart from the fact that you can still play this game some more, but this time with understanding that you won’t amount to anything because you already lost?

Unless you just want to make a “wreckage” simulator with some puzzle on top of it, then I think it’s fine :slight_smile:

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Yeah, players hate to lose progress, and even if they didn’t make any “real” progress they may still feel like they did, and it can hurt to load an earlier save – especially if they’re the type that doesn’t save frequently, or constantly overwrites their saves.

It’s worse if they’re able to break a puzzle and then go on to successfully complete another puzzle before they get notified that they’re stuck. Which is easy enough if you have multiple puzzles in parallel (which is normally good design), so you can’t readily control what order they’re doing things in.

Most stories will usually let the player know that they goofed almost immediately, to allow a speedy UNDO, which doesn’t really count as a loss of progress.

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I think I’d prefer an alternative path to victory rather than being told that I’d lost (but that’s better than not being told at all). If player destroys the necessary object then make a substitute accessible elsewhere, or implement alternative way to solve the puzzle?

I’d you can detect an anticipated unwinnable scenario with a delay (something I toted with previously), then why not ask the player if they want to remedy the situation in-place (restore the broken object for example)? No restart required.

Alternatively, make it 5 turns before reporting unwinnable, and make sure you trigger an auto save prior to the unwinnable trigger action.

i’m one of those people that overwrites the same savegame every time, so i would personally find this game mechanic slightly frustrating, more so for a long game
for something with a few rooms and puzzles it’s not so bad to try again

I think I’d prefer an alternative path to victory rather than being told that I’d lost (but that’s better than not being told at all). If player destroys the necessary object then make a substitute accessible elsewhere, or implement alternative way to solve the puzzle?

yes, this, i think it’s okay to make it a ‘less nice’ ending too, e.g. if your game is not about violence at all but the player insists on breaking everything
“your action will have consequences” and all that


I agree with this completely.

The real question is, how does this increase player satisfaction? In what scenario do you imagine someone playing, get the ‘oops, you did something 30 turns ago that made the game unwinnable’, and the player gets excited?

I think that’s possible to have happen, but it would take careful planning. If it was a medium-length multi-replay game (like The Lurking Horror 2: The Lurkening) and if it gave at least some kind of hint as to what went wrong, then I could see players liking it a lot (like if you’re preparing for a big ritual and you have to get every step right, and when you finally attempt the ritual anything you did wrong gives a custom message).

But if it’s a large, 4+ hour puzzlefest, putting the player in an unwinnable state and not telling them until 30 turns later would make me either go to a walkthrough forever or quit the game.


Right, based on the Cruelty Scale, a game that notifies the player later (when they may not be able to UNDO) that they made the game unwinnable is a notch crueler than one that notifies them immediately.


If an IF work would allow me to reach an unwinnable state without me being able to know it, I would consider that a bug.

Apart from bugs there will always be situations where the player can bring himself in an unwinnable situation. If they have a sword, they may cut the inflatable boat (Hello Zork 1, thanks for the glue). If there is a canyon they may throw the key in there.

So I consider two options: willingly and accidentally reaching an unwinnable state.


They are trying to break the game and see what happens. Probably they played it before. I would give one warning and then end the game. Something like:

> throw the key in the abyss
Maybe that’s not a good idea. You haven’t used that key yet and it probably will unlock something.

>throw the key in the abyss
You throw the key away and it’s gone forever…

And so are your chances of solving this game now.
Without the key, you wander around for some time but it’s all meaningless now.

*** the game has ended ***


The player performs an action that seems perfectly legit and uses a resource but later they find out that they shouldn’t have done that. I think the game should allow to restore the resource or have a workaround. Something like this. It may seem a bit farfetched but it shows what I mean :

* sentences are comments

There’s a small cage here. In the cage is a mouse.

> open cage
As you open the cage, the mouse jumps out. It runs straight to a hole and disappears.

> look in the hole
You see the mouse but it seems to have no intentions to get out.

* whatever they try, the mouse stays where it is.
* later in the game at another location.

(entering the room)

In the wall just above the floor is a very small passageway about 3 inches in diameter.
You look in the passageway and see a small flip switch sticking out.
The passageway is too small for your hand to reach the switch If you just could something run through there.

There is a bag of mouse food here.

* we only show the bag if the player has lost the mouse.
* of course the player takes the bag and goes back to where the mouse is

As soon as you enter the room, you see the mouse peeking out of the hole and sniffing its nose.

>put food in cage
You put the food in the cage. From the hole the mouse is watching your actions with great interest.

>put cage on floor
Ok, the cage is now on the floor.

The mouse leaves the hole, enters the cage and starts eating the food. You quickly close the little door

You got your mouse back!!

Summarizing, when they are trying to deliberately reach an unwinnable state punish with instant death. When accidentally, allow them to find a workaround. And also important, the game should inform that unwinnable states will be reported. If no unwinnable state message, then there’s always a way out.

– Off topic, this is one of the reasons I hate the undo command. Whenever the player finds a move was not that smart they will hit undo and try again, rather than continue and appreciate the effort the author took to allow them to recover.

Just my thoughts

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A few thoughts in reply:

There is an issue – admittedly not critical, but one that I wanted to explore options to – that this whole experimental idea was based upon. That idea is, simply, maximizing player interactivity while minimizing the ability to forcibly find out which objects are game essential.
I do make use of several classes of objects which can be obtained again if they are lost. But every story is bound to have the certain objects that are too unique to be found elsewhere.
I do frequently use warning messages, subsequently allowing the player to do something stupid if they’ve been warned.
I also like the idea of alternate solutions, and I’ve tried to incorporate them when I could. But sometimes when you create a puzzle you’re really partial to, you want the player to have to solve it, and a less clever or imaginative alternative, just for the sake of having an alternative, is diluting the quality of the game in a way.
While I don’t advocate an overabundance of nonessential items, I feel that something would be missing if you didn’t have to use your head a little to figure out if an object is going to be important or not. If you know with certainty that if a game allows you to pick an object up then it’s also definitely going to be used somewhere, it’s a little bit like using training wheels for your solving skills. For this reason, I try to avoid leaving ways to too easily determine which objects are crucial.
It seems to me that what it comes down to is either: 1. You can’t tell the player they’ve become unwinnable, which is the worst option; 2. You cannot conceal which objects in the game are essential if your game has anything like a conceptual chasm to throw them in, because essential objects must post a losing message while others don’t (and you can’t simply post a “that might have been a bad idea” message for everything the same, because then a player doesn’t truly know if they’re stuck); 3. Every essential object in your game must be of a generic nature, so that if lost or destroyed it can be procured again or substituted for; 4. Every single puzzle that requires a portable object must have an alternate solution, which could lead to a whole lot of bypassing of the better puzzle ideas; or 5. You simply have to rigidly disallow a lot of actions that a player might wish they had the freedom to try. This is the part that is admittedly not crucial, but is what I was trying to find another approach to. It simply seems more fun to me, if a player could be allowed more actions, without turning into any of the previous 4 scenarios. Not every action that could lose or ruin an object has to necessarily stem from juvenile vandalism, but even so, I dislike the idea that no game can ever permit a player to throw things in fire, water, or hard to reach places, without also identifying with one of those four scenarios. Note: for any case where a really plausible attempt to solve a puzzle could end in ruining an object, I would give special attention for that to be somehow undoable, redoable, or able to be worked around.
So I’m hearing what you all are saying, and I’m not saying that I’m sold on my own idea, it’s just that it struck me as providing some kind of compromise (if players were instructed from the start to save often, and at incremental points)… but it may be that my mentality is just old-fashioned in this way, and what I’m trying to solve doesn’t matter to most people who would play.
Thanks for your opinions!

Brian, what do you think of my five scenarios? Is there one of them that suits you completely, or can you visualize another alternative? The mechanism idea (and it doesn’t have to be 30 turns…) isn’t based upon being exciting in itself, it’s just trying to allow player autonomy while not leaving the player clueless that they can never win, and also not immediately giving away what is essential vs. nonessential.

How would the auto-save work? Would the player have to be using a restored game file that was silently saved without them knowing, or wouldn’t they be prompted with a save dialog? It seems if they know it’s saving, there’s no reason to not just print the unwinnable message instead, but if it could silently save, I wouldn’t know how to implement that, but that seems a good option…

Scenario 2 is the one I think might possibly have a variant that works. If it’s literally a chasm or some other obvious destruction scenario, I think that’s okay, as players will realize that destroying objects is probably really bad.

An example I can think of is the ‘water’ world in Spellbreaker, where entering it ruins all of your non-waterproof items and anything you drop sinks into the ocean. It’s pretty clear that that’s irreversible, but the solution does end up requiring you to lose one object forever. I think that worked pretty well for that game.

@johnnywz00 I think you’re coming at this from the point of view of “how can I stop people from cheating,” but in the process you’re forgetting about making the game an enjoyable experience for people trying to play it legitimately. Is preventing people from artificially finding out which objects are essential by attempting to break everything really worth putting off players by giving a generic message an arbitrary number of turns after they make the game unwinnable?

If someone makes the game unwinnable for themself and you don’t want to warn them right away, then Marnix’s mouse example, where you don’t find out that you needed it until you need it and you can’t get it back, seems perfectly adequate. It’s high on the cruelty scale, but it’s not deliberately sadistic writing.


I hear you. That’s why I pitched this idea for feedback. I don’t like the idea that a player could figure out which items are essential, but I think I’m finding that it’s the most palatable solution for the general public. Thanks for weighing in…