Drawing the Line on Trial and Error

Is it considered bad game design if it involves some trial and error. For example, on the Koei wiki page on Nioh, “The game is specifically designed for trial and error. Developers expect players to retry segments multiple times.” Is trial and error acceptable if minimal?

I think we need to draw a line here on Trial and Error.

There’s like, I Wanna Be The Guy trial and error, then there’s regular hard game Trial and Error.

Here’s someone who has never played the game before playing IWBTG. This is a trial and error game. It sets you up in situations where it will kill you in a way that you almost never can see coming. (Bonus: The game over music is from guilty gear.)

IWBTG is bullshit. It’s alright in a game where you accept that premise and are willing to invest tons of time into dying over and over again. Nioh and the Souls games are not like IWBTG. They have occasional traps. They have occasional death traps. But they give hints about these traps in advance, and never decide to hit you with anything that cannot be beaten by human reaction time unless you place yourself in that situation. That and a lot of traps in those games will not kill you instantly. They allow you to fail without instant death.

Nioh and the Souls games have an element of trial and error in that it is not always clear how enemies work, or what is the best way to clear a stage. In the process of beating a stage, you are expected to try many times, because it is hard, and try many different ways. They expect you to try things out, like approaches, like attacks, and die or get hurt trying, because it’s hard, and then try different things. You are given clues, you are shown an adequate amount of information. If you’re good, you can beat whole stages without dying that you’ve never seen before, but that is unlikely. In IWBTG, that is impossible.

And on a broader level, all games consist of trial and error. It’s connected to the nature of games. You mess up, you try again. It’s just not always blind guesswork.

And the other thing to ask is, is the game still fun when all the surprises are revealed? If someone knows about every trick? In the case of IWBTG, it’s still fairly challenging. I don’t think I’d totally call it fun, for much the same reason as super meat boy, but it’s still a functioning game with a decent challenge.

On the subject of trial and error, do you think it’s reasonable for there to always be a sweet spot for, say, a Souls boss, where they’re totally beatable on a first try but still difficult on a tenth? That seems like a tighter balancing act than it’s worth.

Apparently the way Dark Souls bosses are balanced, the best playtester has to beat them without taking damage, then they’re considered fair. I think this is a bit overboard personally. I don’t think you need to go so far to ensure bosses are beatable on the first try honestly. You just need to avoid instantly killing the player for anything that isn’t totally obviously an instant kill (Bed of Chaos obviously breaks this rule).

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