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 How Frustration Can Be Used as a Successful Game Mechanic



This past weekend I played Totally Reliable Delivery Service(TRDS), a game which bills players as a cartoony delivery personnel tasked with the goal of completing a variety of package transportations with in as little time possible. Players are given the freedom to explore colorful landscapes comprised of different geographical locations like beaches, cities, tropical islands, and even wrestling rings and space stations. Each location contains a plethora of different delivery tasks which can be completed on foot, or through the games variety of vehicular options like automobiles, aircrafts and hefty machinery.

On a surface level, the games goal is simple, but its main draw is the wonky physics engine that burdens the players ability to complete each delivery with ease. Even performing a simple task of transporting a package to a destination within less than 20 seconds can require a daunting amount of effort. The controllers left and right triggers are used for grappling with the object in need of delivery, and left and right bumpers represent the corresponding arm in how its lifted. The longer the player holds the bumpers, the stronger the force is applied in lifting, which can result in the object rising too high or low, forcing the player to start the process over again if the correct angle to place said object didn't suffice in the way it was originally intended. The players mobility when transitioning through each delivery fare no better, as the animations involving movement require a balance of completing the objective in a timely efficient manner but refrain from going overboard as the weight of each tangible material in the game can make halting the movement of the in-game character or vehicle troublesome.  The foreboding nature of the games controls can even make the simplest of tasks take an insurmountable amount of tries.

To any avid gamer, this would be a surefire beacon of uncomfortable game design, to which should be avoided at all costs. TRDS currently sits at an aggregated review score of 61 with the vast majority of its feedback pertained to the users frustration with the games lopsided control scheme.  On a surface level the games inadequacies make TRDS look like a cesspool of frustration. However, I believe the faults of TRDS' technicalities are where it truly shines. To me TRDS is a game not about the destination but the journey on how to get there.

When first playing TRDS I dabbled in exploring each delivery option to get a feel for the games wonky mechanics. What I was not prepared for was the spontaneous nature of how each delivery can go awry. The game features a multitude of hindrances that can put the player into a defensive position when trying to complete a delivery. Running over a manhole with a taxi can trigger an explosion sending the player and package skyhigh, with the package reduced to a shallow cardboard husk of its former self. The speed of maneuvering a vehicle can result in the package falling out, and making it irreparable beyond all measure. The deliveries which use the transportation of explosives can conclude with a blast from the slightest brush up, sometimes hurling the player character to the opposite side of the map. Situations like this encapsulate the 5 stages of grief within a matter of seconds, but in a game with colorful landscapes and lopsided character animations, the end result can be more entertaining than disappointing. It's like a scene from a movie to just when the audience thinks it can't get any worse, the entire situation comes crashing down even further with that one little bit of insult to injury. But, that's TRDS' biggest strength, the comical nature that cannot be replicated with smooth gameplay or the ease of transition. What compelled me to continue pursuing each of the 100 delivery options scattered around the map was not the standard game, but the chaos that could unfold at any given moment during experience. I have never before or since played a game that aims to frustrate the player with its wonky game design that can result in such hilarity. Sure, it can be rage inducing in having to restart the same delivery due to a slight misstep preventing the package to arrive in the desired timeframe, but seeing my in game avatar being thrown in midair all ragdoll like from a miscalculation of a ferris-wheels speed makes up for the minor annoyance.

They say redundancy is the death of comedy. The repeated joke with the same punchline is not going to impact the audience the same way if its told in the exact same manner from when they first heard it.  TRDS strays away from this pitfall by diversifying its requirements in how each delivery is completed. One delivery tasked me with choosing the proper velocity it would take to launch a fish into an air traffic controller. The same mechanic was reintroduced later in the game, but instead of a fish it was a pet carrier containing a rabid animal which needed to be propelled to safety into a billboard. Certain deliveries also require a diverse understanding of how basic physics work. Keeping a helicopter at an even balance to prevent the explosive barrel in the back from falling off, while simultaneously trying to maintain a level of speed to receive a greater reward for time completion can prove challenging. Each vehicle and package handles differently, requiring a varying degree of skill to complete each delivery. Each time I attempt a new delivery, I immediately think of how what impeding chaos can result upon failure. I can't help but grin from cheek to cheek as I see my avatar sent flying from a repercussion blast an air canister emitted from franticly swerving the delivery vehicle a bit too fast. This help keeps the formula fresh, as it's just one bit of slapstick humor after another, and the user will never know how it will end up.

The games online component further intensifies the mayhem by allowing up to 4 players to join in. Playing with others can only result in one of two different outcomes. For one, it can make for a team effort to where each individual is tasked with a certain responsibility like one controlling the vehicle, while another prevents the delivery item from falling out of the carrier. Or your fellow deliveryman can try to hinder your progress by trying to prevent you from completing the delivery in any way, shape or form. This is where I feel the games comedic flare truly shines, and borderlines between insanity and hilarity. Look up some of the biggest let's play videos of the game and you'll see what I mean.

Games like TRDS teach me that not every game has to be 100 percent tailored to the benefit of the player. The game may have gotten a critical mauling from game pundits for it's nightmarish design, but I feel the same level of appreciation from myself and all those who did enjoy it couldn't be achieved if the controls didn't inconvenience the player. This can leave room for much untapped potential in exploring new game design methods, and help pave the way for more unique experiences. Is there a negative aspect from a game that you have played that you feel worked out more in the players favor? Let me know in the comments below.

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About EnigmaticRangerone of us since 3:43 PM on 01.02.2016