Beginner’s Traps

What do you think of beginner’s traps? Can they be interesting? Or are they just doomed to be frustrating for players?

I’d prefer that games don’t have beginner traps. I generally don’t think they’re particularly interesting.

One exception would be Undertale, where it’s used for comedic effect, where they mislead you in the ruins into thinking that it’s possible to spare enemies by weakening them, like pokemon. Then Toriel has an HP range where you’ll instantly kill her as you’re weakening her. So you’re set up with a false expectation, then it’s taken advantage of, ruining you if you’re going for mercy. Flowey will even taunt you if you reset and try again. This is pretty cute, and no big harm if people fall for it.

The bigger trouble with beginner traps is things like Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls, where you can potentially go to New Londo or the Catacombs from the start, which is completely the wrong way, and filled with enemies that vastly outclass you. The trouble with beginner traps generally is that you can end up wasting a ton of time on them.

In fighting games, there’s a similar trend, some moves are really good at crushing other moves in neutral, like self-projectile moves or dash punches, but are unsafe on block. Similar for jumping. This makes them very attractive to beginners, and it’s easy to get stuck using them as the foundation of your offense if you don’t learn about their downsides quickly, and aren’t punished for using them. This can also be called a local maxima.

In general I’d say it’s best to playtest a game thoroughly, and avoid any beginner traps that can lead to an unpleasant experience. There may be cases where a beginner trap is something positive, because it sets up for an interesting experience and doesn’t trap them for very long, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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