Making good rules for how to make good rules.
Elden Ring is actually more forgiving in some ways than other action-rpgs. In other games, when you die, you reload your save and lose any and all progress including exp and level-ups you made since that save. In Elden Ring, when you die you keep all items and all progress and have a chance to regain your exp.
And when you are in a rush to get back to your exp and you enter the darkened room and fall down the elevator shaft because elevators don't reset themselves and every elevator has a yawning chasm beneath it and you lose a few tens of thousands of exp points, you might laugh and learn that this 'leniency' is another way for the game to troll you.
Hey Jeff, remember that self-destruct button you put behind a town wall in Exile 3 that would just straight up kill your party? That was a pretty glorious troll. There were so many warnings and yet, I'd wager most of us who found it couldn't contain our impulse to press it.
Player-trolling doesn't have to be unfair though. Better if it isn't.
First-person 16-bit space adventure Mercenary 3: The Dion Crisis started you off coming out of prison with no vehicle, just a trail of clues to finding its location that shuttled you off to all corners of its solar system.
In the end you found out that it was parked behind the prison.
Quickfire was indeed awesome. I still think about it, perhaps a quarter-century after completing Exile III. The thing to do, IIRC, was to cast four magical barrier spells around the party, and then unleash Quickfire to the diagonal square, and then wait.
Which game had quickfire?
I remember a design feature in Exile 2 where you could create a character that could not attack enemies! It was brilliant, shame that didn't make it to later games
I play your games because you DON'T troll your players! There's more than one kind of player out there. Yes, Elden Ring is getting a lot of attention right now, but there are plenty of us who don't and won't play that game because we hate being treated like crap.
Please, Jeff, don't learn from From Software that treating your players badly is a great thing to do! You already make games for the underserved minority; we're gamers, too, even if we don't want to try fifty times to fight an overpowered boss.
I think you forgot one thing about Malenia. It is your choice to engage, and by doing this they tricked the players even more.
"I tried Horizon Zero Dawn after Elden Ring, and I had to quit. It just felt like a Disney ride."
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, in one of his Extra Punctuation video essays called the sort of trends in game desing from games like Horizon, or Guardians of the Galaxy, or pretty much every Naughty Dog game since Uncharted, the "Ghost Train Ride" school of game design. Basically games that follow a structure of "queuing to get to the GTR" ---> "follow a railroaded path through the GTR" ---> "Exit through the gift shop", rinse and repeat, with no possibilities to deviate from that structure at all.
Another "Interesting" design detail I remember is from Exile 3, where you could create a character with the "Frail" profile for a 20% xp bonus. While the xp was nice, having a character get sick every 20 steps or so was challenging :D
How I miss Exile's character creation.... I think the lack of "class" customization in more modern Spiderweb games is what makes me look at Exile with rose tinted glasses
The JRPG game Metal Max 2 is so beloved that it has even been remastered and remade, even though the impossibly unreasonably strong bosses are a wall that refuses to clear the game. To defeat that boss, you need a special item, but it is very difficult to notice the existence of that item just by playing normally. Many people love Metal Max 2 despite having given up on defeating that boss. I think this is a characteristic element found in the expression the game.
I think your conclusion translates to the world of board games as well. There's a great classic game called Cosmic Encounter which was really influential when it was first published -- it was one of the inspirations for Magic: the Gathering, if I remember correctly. It breaks tons of "rules" of modern game design, since it predates most of them. It's wild and unpredictable and there are so many interactions that were *clearly* not anticipated by the designers, but it's also really fun. The IP has changed hands a few times on account of the publishers that owned it tending to go out of business, but the most reprint (2008) was basically an attempt to shave off the rough edges and turn it into something approximating a "good" board game. The result is... perfectly enjoyable, but it lacks the soul of the original. Most of the people who've only played the 2008 version don't really get the hype. IMO, if it had been published in that form in 1977, it never would have achieved the same kind of love or staying power. (Of course, if the 1977 version had been published today, it probably would have been torn apart by reviewers and immediately forgotten.)
All this to say, nice article and I agree!
> She is at the far end of a very difficult secret dungeon that is almost impossible to find without a walkthrough.
Well, that's the thing. Placing super-hard optional combats which break the rules far outside the main path is OK. RPGs often have "optional" bosses now, which could be arbitrarily hard - your own games offer enough fine examples, and so do our Pathfinder games (I wasn't able to beat Playful Darkness on Core even after consulting the man who designed this encounter, though I came close once through a pure luck, having successfully polymorphed that damned thing into a harmless dog, but her companions still done my party in).
On a slightly related note, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the two "souls-hard" turn-based RPGs I know of - Dungeon Rats and Knights of Chalice (1 or 2). They make a very unpopular choice of making every combat encounter extremely hard - these are the games where you, too, have to "git gud", but since they're turn-based, you need to "git gud" at different things than action-bases Souls - tactics and, most importantly, character building.
My own analysis is that this decision, while good enough for the target (narrow) niche of min-maxing build-porno-loving RPG addicts, creates too many "walking dead" scenarios. Since you can't respec in the middle of the playthrough, your early mistakes can bite you in the ass fatally many hours down the line, which leads to the bad kind of frustration. Getting iteratively better at reflexes-based tasks (like fighting a particular boss in Action RPG) is much less costly than getting better at long-term planning (build planning) required for hard turn-based games. I wonder if this can be offset somehow by additional tools. Allowing respeccing your party is one possibility, but it's a blunt tool, and one that takes a lot of time (and is very hard to get right in programming...). KoTC kind of alleviates some of problems via its crafting system, which allows to create encounter-specific weapons (e.g. Undead Bane sword when you're stuck fighting undead), but for me, they're not enough.
With that said, I still don't get why ER is so popular, probably because I have been a really bad action game player since the Nintendo era. I'm glad there are other games that satisfy my hunger for gaming.