Author Topic: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?  (Read 1149 times)

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Offline Strato Incendus

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Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« on: October 19, 2018, 06:00:31 pm »
So, turns out that both Colorful Arty and Flopsy experienced considerable frustration on a couple of single levels (albeit fortunately on different ones for each person ;) ) from my pack Lemmings World Tour, arising from pixel precision caused by minor but decisive conceptual mistakes. Meaning, this pixel precision was not at all part of the intended solution, but the level didn't outright prevent you from attempting the pixel-precise approach either.

Hence, I'm beginning to wonder whether I should purposefully reduce the complexity of levels on a conceptual level to prevent people from inflicting such unintended pixel precision on themselves.

We all agree that we usually don't want to put pixel precision into levels intentionally; however, we do want our levels do be challenging on a conceptual level, and as IchoTolot pointed out, one main factor that creates difficult level concepts is entropy, i.e. "it's not very obvious which skill has to go where, or which path you can take".

If I want to decrease player frustration by preventing them from getting on tracks that lead to self-inflicted pixel precision, I necessarily also have to reduce the entropy of the level, so that the player doesn't even consider going along a path that might lead to frustration.

Let me show you an older example, not from Lemmings World Tour, but from Lemmicks, where the consequences were less drastic ;) (meaning Flopsy didn't get too angry about this, but it still took him about half an hour to solve the level):


Here comes the flood

In his LP, Flopsy tried for a brief period of time to climb up the right hand side of the level. I'm not refering to the solid level sides in version 1.43 here, but about building towards the steel wall next to the exit so that a climber can reach it and go up. Eventually, he found out this isn't possible, and I didn't even consider anyone attempting this, because the intended solution is the path on the left.

Now, I could close that gap on the right with even more steel, so that it would be clear right away that you can't climb up there. That means players won't even attempt to fiddle around at that spot. At the same time, this reduces the entropy of the level, because everything points you towards going along the left right away. So, would you seal the gap on the right, or wouldn't you? ;)

This question can be extended to one-way arrows: While they are good to patch out backroutes, they also have the tendency of quite literally pointing the player towards a certain path they are supposed to take. So while they prevent certain unwanted alternative solutions, they also simultaneously give away a little more about the intended solution. Which is why I generally only want to use as many one-way arrows as necessary, even if it comes at the cost of a backroute in the first release of a pack.

I have come to recognise that I tend to be the "libertarian" voice on the forums, so just like I generally want as many design elements as possible to remain available to people and see culls as a form of "censorship" ;) , I'd also prefer to leave more responsibility to the player, rather than patronising them by showing them too clearly what they can and cannot do. I'm not talking about actually hiding things from them, like hidden traps or exits, but about the forum-consensus ideal of "hiding things in plain sight".

So with that mindset, every player remains the architect of their own (mis-)fortune. I've brought it on myself with two of Nepster's and two of Nessy's levels, where I went for a more precise solution rather than the intended one. Since then, if something seems overly fiddly to pull off, I tend to seek the fault with myself for not having found the actual intended solution yet. But maybe that mindset just comes to me easily, given that I could barely complete any custom packs so far, but usually get stuck somewhere in the low middle :D . So in general, it's more likely that I as a player mess up than that the creator messed up.

But there are probably going to be different stances on this ;) . The problem with self-inflicted pixel precision is that you don't see it coming, because those are unintended solutions, like backroutes.

We all agree that backroutes need to be patched out: Backroutes make the level easier than it's supposed to be.
Cases of self-caused pixel precision are the opposite of backroutes: They make the level harder than they're supposed to be.

So would you patch out "garden paths", too, even if it comes at the cost of giving away major aspects of the intended solution? ;)
« Last Edit: October 19, 2018, 06:47:36 pm by Strato Incendus »
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My packs so far:
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Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline IchoTolot

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2018, 06:25:11 pm »
Generally, I think there is no 100% right answer and it depends from case to case. Even inside a case you often could make arguments for both sides.

The most general thing I might state is that I usually want to increse entropy (sometimes in the form of tempting, but wrong ways) in levels of higher difficulty, while levels that are supposed to go into easier ranks shall focus more on the actual solution with it being the main challenge.

So I would say for your specific case: Do you want your level to be more difficult or easier?

I also think frustraition can be specific from person to person. I am less talking about precision or fiddly things which are generally more frustraiting. It's about getting into an idea for quite some time, refusing to let it go, only to realise in the end that it doesn't work. Sometimes this situation can lead to anger instead of simply accepting that you have to go another way. This is amplified if the wrong way you tried was very close to beating the level. This anger is different from person to person and can be near to non existent to quite vulgar.

I still would raise the question here: Is the level intended to be difficult, or rather easy? For a difficult level these wrong ways can be very helpful to increase the challenge and some people crave these challenges (others not). But that's where I think sorting levels into difficulty ranks come into play.

Also in most cases you can't cover all dead ends and users will always find new ways to make their lives more difficult. In the long run it is unavoidable.

So I would say be careful with entropy in easier levels and be more willingly to let it be in harder stuff.

Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2018, 06:42:43 pm »
Thanks for the quick reply, IchoTolot!

Specifically to "Here comes the flood", it's a little odd, because Lemmicks's ranks aren't sorted by difficulty, but by gimmick, and within each rank, the most difficult levels with a certain gimmick appear towards the end. "Here comes the flood" is in the second half of its rank, so it is supposed to be one of the more difficult levels. And I do think the path on the right should only look inviting to someone actively trying to backroute the level. So I'm kind of glad to "punish" that attempt by making them feel eventually that this shortcut is futile :devil: .

For the Lemmings World Tour levels however, some of this pixel precision came from what I would almost call rookie mistakes. Like overlooking the save requirement, or the fact that you can have a lemming finish a skill and turn him around with a walker, rather than wasting the walker on canceling the skill without turning the lemming around. It can happen to the best of us, but if these minor errors lead someone to throw away their almost already perfect solution and go back to the drawing board, that's especially unfortunate. Because the psychological phenomenon known as "inhibition of return" will prevent them from returning to an already discarded solution for quite a while.

Most of the time, however, the opposite is the case, as you mentioned:

Quote
It's about getting into an idea for quite some time, refusing to let it go, only to realise in the end that it doesn't work.

This is something known in psychology as functional fixedness; in German I also know the term "Einstellungseffekt". I think I've spoken before about the experiments where chess players were presented with a board situation and asked to find the fastest route to checkmate the opponent. Once a given player had found what he believed to be the fastest solution, he wouldn't notice anymore if there was an even faster option available, simply because he had already locked in on the one he had found. "Perseveration" is also a word used for this, continuing to stick to an unsuccessful or at least not very efficient strategy. In colloquial terms, people would call it "insanity": Attempting the same thing over and over again and expecting different results ;) .

Yet, perseverations in the form of "not being able to let go of what we think must be the correct solution" are one of the greatest pitfalls you can run into in Lemmings in general, because they're the best way to move yourself into a situation which you have no chance of getting out of again.
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline Simon

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2018, 11:09:25 pm »
Quote
preventing them from getting on tracks that lead to self-inflicted pixel precision, I necessarily also have to reduce the entropy of the level

Be careful. Yes, you want to remove red herrings that look like 99 % working. The danger here is that they encourage pixel precision. You understand this problem, good. You can't find all these red herrings yourself, you need testing (even for 5-skill-onescreeners), and testers should know that the author left some unwanted 99 % red herrings.

Keep red herrings that work 70 % or 80 % and have to be executed first to see why they fail. These dead ends are still honeypots, but fail much more clearly than the 99 % red herrings. That's good entropy, it feels like getting stumped fairly.

And you certainly keep levels that look impossible until you have the aha-moment. :lix-grin:

Sometimes, you can turn a 99 % red herring into 70 % with only slight changes, that's very good and keeps the difficulty.

-- Simon
« Last Edit: October 19, 2018, 11:16:32 pm by Simon »

Online Colorful Arty

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2018, 11:25:01 pm »
Not sure if I made it clear enough on video, but my main dislike with the level in World Tour wasn't me misreading the save requirement, or even the climber-hatch, but rather the execution of the main trick itself.

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Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2018, 06:56:14 am »
Hey Arty, thanks for chiming in! ;) Indeed, from the video I rather gathered instead that the climber hatch was the part of the criticism that stands, as you said.

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« Last Edit: October 20, 2018, 11:14:03 pm by Strato Incendus »
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels