I have been playing Mini-Ninjas for close to a month now and I'm beginning to plateau. The same thing happened with Final Fantasy Ring of Fates, a game I enjoyed much at one point. Why does that always happen with videogames? The only games I've ever won were Carmen Sandiego on my old Mac and Myst, (though I went through hint books and the helpline like crazy to get that one). Why can't they design video games that people can actually win? I suppose the video game designers think if they make it too easier the consumers will feel that they didn't get their money's worth, but usually I find games too hard. The worst is when you're stuck on a level and don't know how to get past a barrier. I suppose the designers think the answer is obvious, but not neccessarily to the gamer, even if that gamer is really emmersed in the logic of the game. Sometimes the only way to pass a level is through an intricate sequence of jumps and motions that require perfect coordination, or superhuman fast response time to accomplish. I think one's coordination can be improved up to a point, but there is a point where certain individuals can't move fast enough. At this point, playing the same bit of a level over and ovwer again, getting blocked by the same unclimable unjumpable wall again and again, a video game stops being entertaining, and becomes an exercise in complete frustration. When this happens you quit playing the game and mostly likely don't want to buy the sequel when it comes out. Think about how much money video game companies must lose simply because of frustrated (or bored) gamers. While I guess it isn't possible to make a game that is interesting for everyone, why can't they make videogames that people (and I mean ordinary people, not video game whizes can actually win?) Usually the only obstacle to passing a level is that one annoying poorly designed blockage. Once that is surpassed, playing usually progresses smoothly once more. I think there should be a system in games, wherein, if the user has tried a certain obstacle over a specified amount of times, the game should just automatically progress you. The user could set how many tries they would want to be alloted. I'm not sure why such a system does not exist. There are games that will give you "hints" but these hints do not address the issues of physical coordination or reflex speed involved in passing. When I was learning very simple programing code in high school, it was possible to set counters into things like websites or the simple games we made. Many websites have counters that count how many people have looked at a site. Programming wise I'm pretty sure putting suc a counter in a game is possible, after all games can keep track of how many objects you pick up in the game and go to cut scenes once you have a certain number of objects. The major programming problem with such a system migh be concluding what a "try" consists of. Perhaps it is better to equate likelihood of boredom with amount of time spent on a single level area. Games are fully capable of tracking that.
I think an equation could be done to see how much time your average person is capable of spending on one level before getting serverely bored and frustrated. Especially if the game has any sort of story, the gamer wants to see the story move on. After that number of tries, or amount of time on the level is exceeded games should offer the player the option of being passed on to the next stage. Of course, if there was such a system in place gamers would be offered the option of passing through games more quickly than they do now, but I think that would actually be a boon to the videogame industry rather than a drawback. The quicker a gamer can get through one game, the sooner they can buy another game made by the same company. I think such a change could go a long way to improving customer satisfaction and building loyalty to a brand of game that can give you the pleasure of winning for once in your life.
In general I think most video games are far too punitive. I hate when my character "dies." Sure it isn't real, but it still feels icky and in real life, the things that kill you in video games, (i.e. falling in water, getting snowed on without wearing a ninja cape) aren't things that would kill you in real life anyway. This is one of the silly things about video games. In your average game you can do incredible things like use magic and jump three stories high, but faced with certain obstacles your character faces an untimely demise. I wish I could program characters to at least have similar abilities to those I have in real life, like the ability to swim, (that is one good thing about Mini-Ninjas, you don't automatically die when you touch water) In real life people who die don't get to come back. Why not maken a game where once you lose all your "life points" the game could just say "Do you want to try again?" It's a pretty simple fix. There's no need for all this gruesome death stuff. One thing I personally really like about mini-Ninjas that other people on the web have commented on is how refreshing it is, that in the game the bad ninjas turn into animals, rather than "die" after you attack them. Basically the idean is that the Head Honcho evil ninja, turned the forest animals into his evil ninja minions, and you are freeing them from their false forms by using magic. It make just as much sense to me as any other typical video game tropes.
A lot of videogame traditionalists might consider this approach "cheating." But I think the traditional view of video games as "games," meaning competitions or tests of skill is only a small part of what games can be. People like games based on a number of traits. There are video games that do more than provide you with a feeling of superiority because you can rack up a certain number of pointsand surpass the "best score" of some stranger on the arcade machine like in "Pacman," or beat the computer, or K.O. your friend's "street fighter."
(Tangental thought: the so-called Street Fighter characters really do have some pretty strange outfits and wacked out powers for people supposedly fighting in the street, not that they ever actually do fight in the street, as the 2D backgrounds are usually weird Buddhist looking temples or lava caves. The next time I see two street brawlers "shruo-ken" each other with blue energy blasts, I'll make sure to take note).
Some users find satisfaction in beautiful graphic environments like those in "Myst." Others find the plot and characters to be the best element or unlocking puzzles, having adventures or figuring out a maze. There are other "games" that are really more like drawing pads or fashion template. I remember back in the day when I did programming, that my primary joy was the creation of a game that didn't have any animation or movement at all. Text based choose your own adventure games were once fairly popular. You can sort of see some of those ideas filtering into games like Fables, where you can choose the path of a hero or villian and your actions determind how other video game characters relate to you. Spiffy graphics aren great, but they're not everything. There are online games where people join up to form guilds and go on quests together, that have side scrolling antiquated graphics, but users are drawn in more for the chance to play pretend and interact with others than snazzy visuals. Playing pretend is one of the great games of childhood. I like playing a game where I can pretend that I'm a ninja and meet and defeat wacky tricky villian bosses with silly names like Mr. Windypants, Lumbering Fool, and Timid Swimmer. Now if only I could pass it.