Game Development Reference
This same pattern can appear in a hundred different variations across
nearly all genres. In a racing game, if you fall far behind the group, it be-
comes almost impossible to catch up. In a linear single-player game, if the
player can't defeat one challenge, the game grinds to a halt as he bashes his
head against the same brick wall over and over.
The most dangerous failure traps are the ones that emerge from design
in hard-to-predict situations. For example, in a single-player shooter, if the
player hits a restart checkpoint without any ammo, he can end up restart-
ing at that point over and over as he tries to complete a challenge made
impossible by ammo starvation.
There is no single way to solve failure traps. Each requires its own
custom solution depending on how and why it emerges.
Sometimes elastic failure conditions can solve the problem. For ex-
ample, an action game can include a weak infinite-ammo fallback weapon
or a minimum amount of health up to which the player character will
always recharge. These mechanics pull the player back up to a state where
challenges are difficult, but doable.
Sometimes we can escape failure traps by just ending the game. For
example, competitive strategy games can create surrender mechanisms
that allow players to surrender when they feel themselves in a failure trap.
Ending the game gets them onto the next one faster.
Single-player games solve failure traps by giving players hints when
they're stuck, secretly adjusting difficulty, or offering alternative challeng-
es. For example, in Super Meat Boy , each world has 20 levels, but the player
can progress after beating only 18 of them. If a player gets stuck on one
or two levels, he can move on and come back to them later as he wishes.
Unfortunately, not every failure trap can be solved cleanly. Some are
embedded so deeply in a design as to be unavoidable. For example, nobody
has ever quite solved the dead-man-walking failure traps in racing and
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