Wayne Sang
Design and Product


[Gamelog] Hotline Miami and failing fast


I love this game.

There's something to be said about a fast-paced, unforgiving game that makes you fail over and over, yet gives you almost zero downtime between attempts.

Have you ever examined how differently games handle player failure? The idea with longer failure sequences is in how it creates more impact, and reinforces value for each play cycle. Once you see it, you try harder to avoid it. It also gives the player time to reflect and re-think their strategy which also adds weight to each session. For example in Dark Souls (which I love returning to) you'll see a fullscreen failure message, a loading screen to your last checkpoint, and then once in the game world you'll likely be physically quite far away where you died. The death can set you back anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour.

In contrast Hotline Miami has a nearly non-existent failure cycle, despite both it and Dark Souls being both very difficult and punishing games. It doesn't cover your screen with a big "You Died" message, rather it just appears below the play field like a subtitle. No fanfare, no mocking, just a fact. "You died, press R to restart". You begin to reflexively mash the "R" button as soon as you know you've failed. I even mash it in anticipation of a death I know is coming, because I just want to get onto the next attempt.

This gives almost zero time to consider stopping the game. You live in a constant mindset of "Just one more attempt. Just one more level." The next cycle could be the one where everything clicks, where your reflexes are on, or where luck is just on your side.

Perhaps this is just logical pairing with the gameplay pacing of each game. Dark Souls requires slow, considered movement throughout, while Hotline Miami features score multipliers for quick, frantic play. The failure cycle should match the gameplay.

Hotline Miami lets you iterate on each life with subtle variations in very little time. Will you just run into a room with a melee weapon to kill the 2 occupants silently, or just kill the first one, grab his gun, and shoot the 2nd? You'll try both in less than a minute.

Survival Horror games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are much more methodical, and the time to next life reflects that. It makes me wonder if any games break from this convention.

In any case this is an amazing game, and if you have any love at all for arcade games, you'll have a great time with Hotline Miami.

Wayne Sanggamelog