The Nuts
Gold, Platinum and Diamond Games

Miyamoto Endorses Fail-Continue Play

NewSuperMarioBrosWiiBoxart The latest 2D platform game offering from Nintendo, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, includes several features which lean heavily towards what International Hobo terms "fail-continue structure", something we have been advocating in titles targeting more casual audiences for a long time. (A summary of the general position can be found in an old post entitled Freedom to Fail from two years ago).

The relevant new features are as follows:

  • In multiplayer, it is not necessary for all the players to complete all of the challenges. As long as one player completes a particular challenge in order to progress, other players can simply press A and turn into "bubbles" which then catch up the lead player and rejoin the game.
  • Super Guide is an entirely original feature, invented by Shigeru Miyamoto (the world's most successful game designer) which triggers if players fail the same level eight times in a row. This adds a green block at the start of a level which the player can hit to have Luigi complete the level for them. This not only shows the player what is expected of them, they can jump in at any time to take over, or they can skip the level entirely. The level does not show up as completed, but whatever would be unlocked by completing it is unlocked.

The presence of these features in a high profile Nintendo title - and one enjoying considerable commercial success (9.84 million units and gaining more than than three quarters of a million each week) - is a massive validation of International Hobo's design philosophy in respect of fail-continue structures. The arguments against these structures are, almost universally, ill formed.

The most general complaint against fail-continue is that it collapses the challenge, and many players and videogame employees erroneously consider challenge the sine qua non of videogames. But allowing players to progress in a game without clearing a specific challenge does not short-circuit the challenge. The challenge is still there to be completed by anyone who desires to take it on! Fail-continue simply allows players who cannot clear a specific challenge to continue to play on in the game, rather than having their play experience end in abject frustration.

When I hear that Edge's review of New Super Mario Bros. Wii complains about "the lack of ingenuity on display" I can't help but laugh! Edge is supposed to be a forward-looking magazine, but even they don't recognise the innovation these fail-continue features represent. Why? Probably because, like most videogame addicts, Edge has it's own solipsistic values for assessing games - whatever it may claim, the magazine is principally reporting on what particularly pushed their buttons in the games they look at. Whatever Edge's own view regarding their reports on videogames, it's not at all clear they are offering anything more than the simple consumer reviews provided by other specialist press publications. (This is not, however, to suggest that the reviews elsewhere aren't qualitatively worse, of course).

All this said, I still suspect that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is too tricky a game for the mass market to come to grips with, but then looking at the sales figures I have to wonder... Is this really only selling to the gamer hobbyists?


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Our latest game has dropped the 'unlocking the next level' approach completely.

It provides a clear level-by-level guide on the menu, but if you want to go straight to the ending then good luck to you and off you go!

Andy: thanks for dropping by to mention this! Out of interest, what is the game? Is it targeting a casual audience?

Thing is, if all the players had to complete the challenges, then the multiplayer wouldn't work at all. A lot of co-op games such as Gears of War work this way, where a better player can more or less "carry" a worse player through the game.

Interestingly, Gears is also a great example of how the co-op doesn't work without this mechanic. There are some parts where the players have to split up for a bit, and while you're split up, if you get shot down, the other player can't revive you, which means you both automatically lose. I remember playing with a friend and being in one of these parts for hours because he'd keep dying countless times and there was nothing I could do about it.

Later he said he felt bad about delaying us for so long. I didn't really mind at all but I can definitely see how distressing it would be and I would feel really bad in that situation too. It's one thing to die countless times when you're playing alone. It's another thing entirely to drag someone else down with you.

Sirc: thanks for your account of Gears of War here - the game didn't look very interesting to me (so grey!) so I didn't play it. Interested in people's accounts of co-op, both when its successful and when it falls down.

"Thing is, if all the players had to complete the challenges, then the multiplayer wouldn't work at all."

I agree - which means this game does innovate in its multiplayer mode by finding an elegant solution to this problem, and Edge are again wrong to criticise for a lack of innovation. :)


Chris: Hi! Yeah, it's a movie licence for young kids.

I argued strongly for it, based on my experiences with Jungle Book Dance Groove, which in a feat of utter cretinosity locked out Bare Necessities and King of the Swingers until you completed the single player game.

I'd argue the principle for a more hardcore game too though.

Edit: Jungle Book Groove Party, even.

Andy: thanks for coming back to fill in the blanks. It's great to know there are other industry professionals thinking along these lines! Do let me know the name of your game once it is out from NDA.

I understand, though, that whilst Nintendo gives you a license to continue via the 'super guide' in certain situations, you can still run out of lives and fail, with no option to continue.

So it doesn't seem to really adhere to your idea of 'fail-continue play'.

I still haven't played the game so forgive me if I'm wrong.

One of the nice things about Gears of War 2 co-op was that added over the first game was that both players could be playing on different difficulty settings too. It still has the same kinds of "both must succeed" sections that Sirc references, but using the difficulty sliders may sometimes help ease the problem.

However being a challenge-orientated type, those split up sections were some of the most fun bits of the game. The best thing about them though, is the vast majority of them you can still see and shoot at your partner's targets - so if they are struggling, you can still help them, but of course, you have your own targets to worry about too. Fantastic stuff.

In general love co-operative multiplayer games and both the Gears of War and Left 4 Dead series are the best ones I've played for this in recent years. Sounds like SMB Wii is very interesting in this regard too.

Remy: thanks for your comment - haven't heard from you in a while! :)

I appreciate hearing about this independent difficulty design feature in Gears 2; this is such a sensible idea. I can't quite remember whether any of the Halos did something similar...

Gears 2's independently assigned difficulty modes is mockingly nicknamed "girlfriend mode" by some. Personally, like you, I think it's a great idea, and have actually played it with others who are on easier difficulties than I was, and yes, quite a few of them were girls! ;) (actually, I've noticed that some co-op partners also got very frustrated when =I= died - causing them to have to redo their progress too. Being the more experienced gamer and choosing to play it on a harder difficulty meant that I was putting far more expectations on my performance!).

"A challenge shared is a challenge halved..."? Well, actually in Halo, it does far more than that.

Whilst there can only be a single difficulty setting (set by the host) all the campaign/story modes of Halo games (including ODST) can be played co-op (up to 4 players in the later ones), however, it removes most of the challenge from the experience.
(That may or may not be something you want, naturally.)
The reason is that instead of dying and going back to the previous checkpoint, in co-op play, you re-spawn instantly as long as your partner isn't in combat. And you respawn with full ammo. And you can go back and collect the weapons from your previous existence's corpse if you can get to it! This opens up most of the game for grind-like inevitable progress, even on the hardest difficulty settings - one player stands back out of harms way to create a safe 'respawn zone' and the rest press forward.
Even though I'm not very good at FPS games, I 'finished' ODST on 'Hard' on my first time though by playing it with 3 other people I barely fired a shot at times. I didn't enjoy it much at all or even feel like I'd "played" it; so naturally I went through it again solo later on. In fact being the type of player I am, I found myself setting alternate challenges to try and get some fun out co-op play in ODST. In particular some of the achievements, for example getting X amount of headshots in a single level, were incredibly tricky to try to get with 3 other people all shooting at the same enemies - so I had more fun trying to do those than progressing through the game (without telling the other players to change how they were playing of course!). Halo's way kind of makes a mockery of the actual difficulty settings sadly.

I've not played it yet but I'm hoping Halo Wars (an RTS title) does something more interesting with it's co-op play. I've luckily already got a friend lined up to try it. I believe Warhammer Dawn of War II has some interesting co-op RTS gaming too. Another one on my "to play" list!

This reminds me Chris, don't forget to get in touch if you ever get on XBL as I still don't have a partner for Joust! ;)

Remy: thanks for your account here - I'm always interested in learning about the specific play experiences that people are getting from their games, and the ways in which the games may support or block that.

From what little I saw of Halo Wars, it is more of a ground-claiming game than the typical FPS structure of the "shooting corridor".

I doubt, alas, that I will ever be on XBL - but it makes me smile to think of playing two-player Joust online. ;)

Best wishes!

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