Author Topic: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?  (Read 2970 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 to 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: August 19, 2019, 02:57:57 PM by Strato Incendus »
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour (New & Old Formats), my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Lemmings Open Air, my newest release and follow-up to World Tour, 120 levels
Paralems (Old Formats), a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems (Old Formats), a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for (very old) 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.
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour (New & Old Formats), my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Lemmings Open Air, my newest release and follow-up to World Tour, 120 levels
Paralems (Old Formats), a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems (Old Formats), a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for (very old) 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 »

Offline 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.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)
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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 »
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour (New & Old Formats), my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Lemmings Open Air, my newest release and follow-up to World Tour, 120 levels
Paralems (Old Formats), a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems (Old Formats), a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for (very old) NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline WillLem

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2021, 04:04:28 AM »
TL;DR

1. Players will almost always try to backroute levels, even if unintentionally.
2. This is not always due to a player's ability, it can (also/instead) be their preferred playing style that dictates their approach.
3. Indicate your level's difficulty as accurately as possible to maximise the chances of the player approaching it in the way you'd prefer, and - ultimately - enjoying it more!




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.

This is an interesting question. It almost goes beyond asking "should we prevent backroutes" to ask "should we make it so that players don't even consider backroutes?" (Note that this particular interpretation is in the context of the remainder of the OP, which discusses backroutes in relation to entropy | also note that I'm aware that you've differentiated pixel-precise solutions from backroutes, however we can probably agree that they both stem from the same approach.)

The fact is (and I think it's a fact that content creators would do well to accept), players will nearly always try to backroute a level, even if they don't mean to. It is nearly impossible to guess how every player will approach your level, and the more complex it is, the more likely it is that players will try to backroute it (again, even if unintentionally).

I don't mind a good backroute. It's often a very satisfying way of hacking through a poorly-designed/overly-complex puzzle ;P and, by the same sword, if someone backroutes my level then more power to them, congratulations.

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:

Maybe you're joking ;P However, to address the point; backroutes often come about from innocently trying out a solution that you genuinely think will work, as opposed to "actively trying" to backroute a level, so this approach doesn't solve the problem if you're attempting to reduce player frustration.

As I see it, there are 3 main ways to respond to your level being backrouted:

1) Back to the drawing board to fix it; I only ever do this if I particularly like the level concept, and the backroute has come about purely as an oversight.
2) Leave it as-is, and/or move it to a lower rank; this is usually if the level is decent enough, and the backroute is an equally satisfying solution. Or, you simply don't mind that the level can be backrouted!
3) Scrap it; if it's so easy to backroute, it probably isn't a very good level anyway. This particularly applies to ridiculously over-complicated levels. Yuck! Take the backroutes as a sign that the level is too uninviting to be solved properly.

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.

Rather than thinking in terms of preventing the player from considering a backroute or a pixel-perfect path (which is what has lead to your consideration of reducing the level's entropy), what's needed is simply to place the level in a higher rank (as Icho suggested): indeed, if as you say "it's not very obvious which skill has to go where, or which path you can take", then it's probably a more difficult level than you think it is. Keep the entropy where it is, and indicate the difficulty accordingly. Players are generally far less likely to stick with hackish, backroutey solutions on levels in higher ranks (that is, if they're determined to find the correct solution - more on this in a moment.)

It seems that what you're trying to do here is expect too much of average (or even above-average) players. Most will (often inadvertently) try to backroute a level that appears to be too difficult from the offset: this is natural, even if not intended by the player themselves. If they're anything like me, they'll take the path of least resistance wherever possible. Case in point:

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
---
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

Interesting stuff :lemcat:

I see what you mean about these being "rookie mistakes", since it's important to take in as much detail about the level as you can before attempting to solve it. However, casual players such as myself tend not to do this; I prefer to simply get into the level and start trying things immediately. The more custom content I play, the better I'm getting at visualising solutions before I go ahead and try anything, but my preferred method is nearly always "hands-on, attack the level".

Now - I am by no means a rookie: I have solved both of the original games and a decent handful of custom packs, and I'm almost finished with Lemmings Plus III, which is one of namida's hardest packs. Granted, I've had a bit of help here and there (and, incidentally, since I'm trying to solve rank 4 of LPIII without help, progress is slow to say the least!), but I'd say I've solved at least 80% of the packs I've played with my own little brain. However, I still have my preferred playing style, which is to solve the level however I can rather than try to work out what the intended solution is. This is just a matter of preference, and no amount of experience or increase in my own ability is likely to change this. If anything, it'll just make me even better at finding backroutes ;P

The point here, and indeed the flipside of all this, is that I tend not to mind if a solution I'm trying doesn't work out. Chances are, I didn't spend too long on it in the first place and I'm all too happy to quickly get onto trying something else. And, if a certain amount of time passes and I don't feel any closer to finding a workable solution, I'll skip the level altogether and come back to it later.

I very rarely spend more than about 20 minutes on one level, and even then it's only if it's a compelling enough level that I feel very close to actually solving; as you've said, lack of fiddliness can be a good indicator that the solution you're trying is intended, so if I'm onto a non-fiddly solution that's only a few assignments away from being solved, I'll persevere. Otherwise, if I can only find hackish stuff that isn't working, I'll happily move on.

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.

Yes, definitely. This is a good rule of thumb that responds well to the OP. Combine this with Icho's (and my own) suggestion of moving the difficulty scale and it's a recipe for a better player experience :thumbsup:

Just remember that players have different styles as well as different abilities, and it's almost impossible to guess how any player will approach your level. The more inclusive you can be of this, the better your levels will be.



See this thread on difficulty ratings for related discussion :lemcat:
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 04:44:57 AM by WillLem »

Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2021, 01:42:15 PM »
I think you missed the point a little: This is not about preventing backroutes. Backroutes are solutions that are easier than the intended one. I'm talking about the attempt to prevent solutions that are harder than the intended one (due to pixel precision, timing between lemmings etc.), thereby leading the player to believe the level were unfair when it's actually not.

Unless you want to call those backroutes because they are not intended - I tend to refer to these as alternative solutions, because they are definitely not the path of least resistance, quite the opposite.

My own example as a player is still "Jump in the ring" from NepsterLems, for which I accused Nepster of having made an overly-precise solution, when in fact, that pixel-precise solution I had found was not the intended one (but also not a backroute, judging by Nepster's feedback back then).
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour (New & Old Formats), my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Lemmings Open Air, my newest release and follow-up to World Tour, 120 levels
Paralems (Old Formats), a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems (Old Formats), a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for (very old) NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline WillLem

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2021, 06:08:41 PM »
Unless you want to call those backroutes because they are not intended - I tend to refer to these as alternative solutions, because they are definitely not the path of least resistance, quite the opposite.

I tend to use the term "backroute" to mean any solution which is not intended, or not even close to being intended. So, my above post probably stands better in that context; apologies if I've generalised the topic somewhat.

Then again, if a fiddly pixel-precise solution works and breaks the level, then it is a backroute, and is the "path of least resistance" from the player's point of view, since they haven't had to spend hours working out the intended solution ;P

My point is really that there are different playing styles and approaches. Some people place more importance on finding the intended solution and so feel annoyed or frustrated if they can only solve the level using a backroute (especially so if their backroute isn't quite working), others place more importance on beating the level however they can, even if that means backrouting the level. I'm probably much more in the latter camp, since I like to reach solutions and solve levels quickly; I'm not one to spend hours on a single level unless I reeeally want to, and even then I'm usually happy to take the odd hint where needed! Others hate the idea of solving with hints, because they want to conquer the challenge completely by themselves.

Bottom line, then: we're all different. What one person finds frustrating, another person will relish as a challenge, and vice versa. Having said that, I see that what you want to do is remove the possibility of a player trying something that isn't intended, getting frustrated, and then blaming you the designer for making the level unfair. It's a noble goal, and one I hope you feel you are working towards if not fully achieving with your levels (and, incidentally, given that your level-making style tends towards the complicated, it's a suitable thing to want to take on! ;P) Personally though, I wouldn't feel thwarted if I was trying to hack a level and my solution failed, I'd just move on and try something else (because I'm unlikely to have spent very long trying the solution in the first place) - so, I'm just offering an alternative POV to the discussion.

Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2021, 11:29:51 AM »
Quote
Then again, if a fiddly pixel-precise solution works and breaks the level, then it is a backroute, and is the "path of least resistance" from the player's point of view, since they haven't had to spend hours working out the intended solution

While they might not have to spend hours working out the intended solution on a conceptual level then, "fiddly pixel-precise" often means they have to work just as long trying to implement the alternative approach. ;)

This is what commonly leads to statements such as "I saw the solution right away, it's just way too precise to implement".
And then, all I can reply is "No, you actually haven't seen the solution at all, you're making a conceptual mistake, so all your pixel precision is self-inflicted."

I still think the level designer is generally not to blame as long as the intended solution doesn't rely on pixel precision. Because when it comes to alternative approaches, there are countless options for the player to bring pixel precision upon themselves - and if it's just refusing to contain the crowd and attempting some timing-based / flow-control shenanigangs by fiddling with the release rate etc. instead.

But in their own self-interest of avoiding such criticism of pixel precision in unintended alternative solutions, even if they don't break the level because they aren't easier than the intended one, it can still be useful to block not only shortcuts (=backroutes), but also other paths that would be valid alternative approaches in and of themselves, but are not intended, and could therefore accidentally give the level a bad rep.



An example of me having done this was when I added an unnecessary fire trap on my Lemmings: Hall of Fame level "The Lem-catcher's song":

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

However, after considering the tester feedback, the current stance for this particular level is that the fire trap will be removed again. Since the rest of the level is comparatively straightforward, this section can become the integral part of the puzzle.
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour (New & Old Formats), my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Lemmings Open Air, my newest release and follow-up to World Tour, 120 levels
Paralems (Old Formats), a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems (Old Formats), a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for (very old) NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline WillLem

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Re: Reduce entropy to prevent frustration?
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2021, 01:03:42 PM »
While they might not have to spend hours working out the intended solution on a conceptual level then, "fiddly pixel-precise" often means they have to work just as long trying to implement the alternative approach. ;)

That's exactly my point, though - I don't spend very long on fiddly stuff; if it's working I can usually get it done fairly quickly ;P And, of course, if it isn't working I stop and try something else, no harm done 8-)

Again, everybody is different. Players that are keen to find the intended solution are (perhaps) pre-disposed to spending longer trying something that may actually not be intended and therefore may be unnecessarily fiddly, whereas the "find any solution" or just generally more casual approach affords a more attacking style of play which will either work quickly or not work at all. Whether or not something is fiddly barely even registers - if it's working, keep going. If it isn't, try something else.

This is what commonly leads to statements such as "I saw the solution right away, it's just way too precise to implement".
And then, all I can reply is "No, you actually haven't seen the solution at all, you're making a conceptual mistake, so all your pixel precision is self-inflicted."

I see what you mean; it seems you want to please those players who prefer to spend longer on finding a solution, and are therefore very aware of the possibility of them spending too long on the wrong solution. Again, it's a noble goal :thumbsup:

even if they don't break the level because they aren't easier than the intended one, it can still be useful to block not only shortcuts (=backroutes), but also other paths that would be valid alternative approaches in and of themselves, but are not intended, and could therefore accidentally give the level a bad rep

Yes, I see where you're coming from - the example helps to clarify your POV as well. Managing all possible routes (including ones you don't know about!) seems like an impossible task, though...

Also, backroutes are not necessarily shortcuts. A backroute can sometimes be the longest way around a level, and whilst it may be "easier" than solving the puzzle, they can still often be a challenge to perform (depending on the skillset).