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Default Rampant Games - Positive and Negative Feedback Loops

August 17th, 2009, 05:24
Jay's current blog entry consists of a fascinating explanation of the use of Positive and Negative feedback loops being incorporated into basic game design and the pitfalls that might be encountered. It's something I'd never considered, but now that I'm aware of it, I'll be more observant in future. Here's a short sample:
Positive feedback reinforces the player's current performance, whether good or bad. It acts as a positive multiplier. Whereas negative feedback tends to push the player towards the middle ground, becoming more challenging for better players and giving a boost to the players who are struggling. It is, in effect, a negative multiplier on the player's efforts and success.

When you have a loop, the positive or negative feedback multiplies itself even further. Poorly performing players might find themselves in a "death spiral" in a positive feedback loop situation, and successful players may find the same game "too easy." On the flip side, negative feedback loops can cause a sense of frustration that their exceptional efforts OR their failures have no effect on the game.

Both can be powerful tools in game design. And powerful weapons to ruin a game if used incorrectly.

So with a positive feedback loop, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The dude who is losing in the RTS has an increasingly more difficult time making a comeback. The guy with the mad skills in a scrolling shooter gets all the power-ups necessary to make the rest of the level even easier for him, while the player who is struggling faces a tougher time of it without the advantages of getting the right power-ups.

Is this desired behavior? Maybe.
Head on over and have a read.
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August 17th, 2009, 05:24
Got loop?

I mean really, if your stuck in a negative loop and die say 3x then it wouldn't be hard to have it break the loop. Bad programmers!
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August 17th, 2009, 06:47
@northreign, I don't think you got the point of the article. Negative feedback isn't always bad and Positive feedback isn't always good. Though I could be miss reading your point.

As pointed out in the article in the case of Wing Commander players expect positive feedback if they keep failing missions and you give them a helpful negative feedback "failed" path to break the bad positive feedback loop they wont accept it as the expect it to negatively impact their game even if it doesn't. Generally, everybody wants the good ending and expect failures to lead to the bad endings so they keep trying until they succeed even when they are not well suited to do so.
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August 17th, 2009, 11:17
Originally Posted by northreign View Post
Got loop?

I mean really, if your stuck in a negative loop and die say 3x then it wouldn't be hard to have it break the loop. Bad programmers!
Max Payne did this. It dynamically adjusted the difficultly level — up if you were cruising through with nary a scratch; down if you got yourself croaked a few times in quick succession. It worked very well.
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August 17th, 2009, 13:09
it worked like a baby sitter wiping your nose when you fail to do so.
and you enjoyed keeping on within your truman show, without suspecting anything.

some people might say "it didn't work" to describe it. it's very personal.
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August 17th, 2009, 13:42
Originally Posted by tazpn View Post
Though I could be miss reading your point.
Yeah, I'm just talking about those games where it takes a while to switch. It doesn't always work right :-)
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August 17th, 2009, 14:15
Great article, imho, which might also explain some incidents of "streamlining" games. Or even more general streamlining of games in general, under the assumption that game developers believe in alternative "negative feedbacxk" routed being wasted efford, too.

However, I had quite a hard time understanding the article, because I mostly learn by examples, and there were few examples in it I could understand. The Wing Commander example was the almost only example I really understood and where I could apply the concept to (the other one was the level scaling of Oblivion - personally, I'd add the imho endless amount of fighting encounters of Wizardry 8 to that, too).

If someone has more examples, I'm willing to read them.

Because I still don't quite understand the negative aspect of a positive feedback loop.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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August 17th, 2009, 14:44
The game scales to your ability. If your really getting your butt beat by the game, it will give some bonuses to help you out.

I think your getting stuck on the wording. Where positive normally means some good, in this case it means you're rewarded for doing well and punished if you are not keeping up. So the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The game won't scale to your ability.

Now the negative loop is actually the helpful one. The game will try to compensate for your failings. I don't really have any games off the top of my head that do this, but think of it like this. Wizardry 8 scaled the level of monsters and I even think the quantity to how high your level was. For example you wouldn't get a Queen Ant at level one. You would just get the normal ants, but as your level got higher the monsters got tougher. The ants now came with a queen.

Now take that example and apply it not to your level but to how well you are doing in a game. If the game sees you dying too much it could either give you little bonuses to your battles to help you get back on track or it could scale down the difficulty of the monsters to your fighting ability.

The opposite of this is true as well. If the game sees your kicking butt and taking names, then it might bump up the level of the monsters to give you more of a challenge. Like Rampant Coyote said "It tries to force you to the middle". So basically making the game not too frustrating or too easy.

I guess scaling is the easiest way to describe it, but replace scaling to your level to scaling to your ability.

Edit:
Forgot to add the negative aspect to the positive feedback loop. There is no negative aspect other than the fact that if you can't keep up then you get left behind. No mercy for you my friend

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Last edited by skavenhorde; August 17th, 2009 at 15:10.
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August 17th, 2009, 17:18
Simple positive feedback example - a side-scrolling shooter. You get levels which are insanely hard UNLESS you are good enough to get the power-ups… in which case, it's actually easy. Your power-ups have you shooting a zillion bullets per second, wiping out whole waves of enemies in moments - they hardly even have time to shoot.

So if you are fairly skilled, the game gets easier.

But woe betide the player who isn't good enough to get the pick-ups. The level is going to be much, much harder for the unskilled player. So the difficulty is always about the same regardless of your progress in the game.


Negative feedback example: Oblivion's scaling monsters. No matter how weak (or tough) you are, nearly every monster is right around your difficulty level.
Last edited by RampantCoyote; August 17th, 2009 at 17:41.
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August 17th, 2009, 18:44
@skavenhorde & RampantCoyote: Thank you. I think I understand it better now.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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August 17th, 2009, 20:38
Originally Posted by RampantCoyote View Post
Simple positive feedback example - a side-scrolling shooter. You get levels which are insanely hard UNLESS you are good enough to get the power-ups… in which case, it's actually easy. Your power-ups have you shooting a zillion bullets per second, wiping out whole waves of enemies in moments - they hardly even have time to shoot.

So if you are fairly skilled, the game gets easier.

But woe betide the player who isn't good enough to get the pick-ups. The level is going to be much, much harder for the unskilled player. So the difficulty is always about the same regardless of your progress in the game.
That example, which I have found in playing console / arcade games on the PSP, is exceedingly frustrating - either the game is way too easy or way too hard depending upon which end of the skill spectrum you are on. Making it inherently the worst sort of balancing job.

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August 18th, 2009, 08:07
In my opinion it's best to combine both kinds of feedback - help out a player that is falling behind AND reward a player that is performing well, including a rewards by option to attempt a greater challenges.
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August 18th, 2009, 12:07
I vaguely remember a game, although I've completely forgotten its name, where experience points were given even after defeat.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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August 19th, 2009, 01:36
Some Dice & Paper RPGs do that now, too. Considering how you often learn more from a narrow loss than a victory, it makes sense…
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August 19th, 2009, 19:32
Yes, I agree. There is learning even from a defeat …

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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