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Subject: VGG QOTD 2019 March 30: Should a game shine in all given moments? rss

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Simon Lundström
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Lord_Kristof wrote:
Since at least the early to mid 00s, fast travel has become a staple of open world design, and it is overtly there to let you "skip the boring parts", which begs the question why are those in the game in the first place. Well, they're there because they can really give you something cool to experience as you learn about the world's layout, and are often great for maintaining an atmosphere and helping you immerse yourself in the setting.


If you'd had a button that said "zoom to level 60 now" in World of Warcraft, you'd had had two effect:

* A lot of people pushing that button.
* Way fewer people playing the game.

That levelling up to 60 wasn't just a tutorial on how to play the game. Whey WERE the game. I was bored out of my jaw on level 60.

Sure, there were people who thought the game started on 60, and had all their fun there. I'm not saying they were wrong, but they played a completely different game from me.

And… my rather patronizing conviction is that a lot of people THOUGHT all they wanted just to 60, but in fact, what they really enjoyed was the trip there.
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Chris McDermott
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Zimeon wrote:
Lord_Kristof wrote:
Since at least the early to mid 00s, fast travel has become a staple of open world design, and it is overtly there to let you "skip the boring parts", which begs the question why are those in the game in the first place. Well, they're there because they can really give you something cool to experience as you learn about the world's layout, and are often great for maintaining an atmosphere and helping you immerse yourself in the setting.


If you'd had a button that said "zoom to level 60 now" in World of Warcraft, you'd had had two effect:

* A lot of people pushing that button.
* Way fewer people playing the game.

That levelling up to 60 wasn't just a tutorial on how to play the game. Whey WERE the game. I was bored out of my jaw on level 60.

Sure, there were people who thought the game started on 60, and had all their fun there. I'm not saying they were wrong, but they played a completely different game from me.

And… my rather patronizing conviction is that a lot of people THOUGHT all they wanted just to 60, but in fact, what they really enjoyed was the trip there.

Totally agree. I found the lower levels the most fun and often created new characters. But some people lived for the raids. shake
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p55carroll
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Lord_Kristof wrote:
Since at least the early to mid 00s, fast travel has become a staple of open world design, and it is overtly there to let you "skip the boring parts", which begs the question why are those in the game in the first place. Well, they're there because they can really give you something cool to experience as you learn about the world's layout, and are often great for maintaining an atmosphere and helping you immerse yourself in the setting. Plus, you often move around those vast spaces with a vehicle or mount, so there's an additional element of gameplay there, and sometimes even a set of interesting optional challenges.

That reminds me of the time-compression feature in combat sims. It's at least as old as Red Baron (1990), and I've most recently experienced it in Silent Hunter III. It's especially necessary in sub(marine) sims, as otherwise you'd be sailing empty oceans for months on end. Even when you make contact and are setting up for a torpedo shot, many real-life hours can be involved, and no gamer is that patient. So the ability to speed up time is essential if the game is to be playable and enjoyable.

Quote:
Hard to say without talking to the people who made the game - and besides, modern critique of media doesn't care about authorial intent, it's only interested in judging whatever they can dig out of the experience (something I'm irked by, but can't offer a better approach to).

LOL. I'm smiling because way back when I was an English major at the University of Minnesota, I studied that phenomenon in connection with literary criticism. What you describe smacks of what was called New Criticism in the 1950s (catalyzed by a famous essay by Wimsatt & Beardsley).

In the 1960s and following decades, that school of thought was refuted in several different ways. So if game-design criticism is following the same pattern, maybe you'll stop being irked after a while.
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Lord_Kristof wrote:
Since at least the early to mid 00s, fast travel has become a staple of open world design, and it is overtly there to let you "skip the boring parts", which begs the question why are those in the game in the first place.


I think I agree with you overall, but I don't think fast travel begs this question, and this would be a rare case where I would question the seriousness of someone who did.

Fast travel is not meant to skip all travel, nor does it imply that there's nothing present in the spaces it skips. Fast travel is a mid-to-late game concession that recognizes that, the bigger and more complex a game is overall, the more varied player approaches to it will be. If the goal is for players to be free to choose their next task, then standard open-world games are inherently self-defeating. Even if they are not strictly linear, they become traveling salesman puzzles. A player may want to do something on the other side of the map, but they've already explored the intervening spaces. Without fast travel, the game is mocking their choice, and mocking its own pretensions of openness.

In other words, fast travel has nothing to do with skipping exploration or skipping dead space. It has everything to do with keeping a promise of open-ended player priorities.

Not all games should have fast travel. Dying Light and Red Dead Redemption II don't have fast travel, and they shouldn't. But they also have clearly defined goals for why/how players move through space.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:

Quote:
Hard to say without talking to the people who made the game - and besides, modern critique of media doesn't care about authorial intent, it's only interested in judging whatever they can dig out of the experience (something I'm irked by, but can't offer a better approach to).

LOL. I'm smiling because way back when I was an English major at the University of Minnesota, I studied that phenomenon in connection with literary criticism. What you describe smacks of what was called New Criticism in the 1950s (catalyzed by a famous essay by Wimsatt & Beardsley).

In the 1960s and following decades, that school of thought was refuted in several different ways. So if game-design criticism is following the same pattern, maybe you'll stop being irked after a while.


This is a pretty weird thing to say, Patrick. Authorial intent never recovered in literary criticism. Post-modernism overturned a lot of things, but that isn't one of them.
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Fast travel is a mid-to-late game concession


I agree, that's one of the points I made in my post. The fact that you have to introduce a mechanical concession that's clearly a "gamey" "cheat" so that players don't get frustrated stands in stark opposition to the open-world promise, though. Those games often put a lot of detail into their worlds so that your immersion can improve, so on the one hand they offer you a "realistic" world with distances between cities / points of interest that make it seem lived-in, but then they also shrug their arms and say "Well, you'll get bored eventually with all this stuff, so here's a get out of jail free card, feel free to abuse it as you like." And to me that's kind of a creative shortcoming, a tried-and-true solution that people got used to, but hopefully not the final and best option for solving this problem (yes, I know, my idealism and belief in media improving with time is showing again ).

It makes sense when you look through the lense you provided in your post - that it's about player choice and giving players tools to do what they want in as little time as possible - but it's something that always felt incongruous about the genre as a whole for me, and I don't think I've ever played an open-world game that managed to balance out the fantasy it supposedly offers with gameplay concessions that don't break that fantasy on a regular basis.

JohnRayJr wrote:

Not all games should have fast travel. Dying Light and Red Dead Redemption II don't have fast travel, and they shouldn't. But they also have clearly defined goals for why/how players move through space.


Strongly disagree on Dying Light, as its constantly replenishing enemies made the game feel like a chore to me after a few hours. Its decision to have no fast travel made the fun mechanic of jumping around feel like a grind when each mistake was punished by having to fight enemies who bore no actual rewards. And I'd much rather prefer just skipping to the quest givers or hubs OR that the game didn't have constantly respawning enemies. Since it was a zombie survival game, having the latter would kind of defeat the purpose, and the lack of the former came with a lot of frustration - especially in the second half of the game - for me.
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Patrick Carroll wrote:

Quote:
Hard to say without talking to the people who made the game - and besides, modern critique of media doesn't care about authorial intent, it's only interested in judging whatever they can dig out of the experience (something I'm irked by, but can't offer a better approach to).

LOL. I'm smiling because way back when I was an English major at the University of Minnesota, I studied that phenomenon in connection with literary criticism. What you describe smacks of what was called New Criticism in the 1950s (catalyzed by a famous essay by Wimsatt & Beardsley).

In the 1960s and following decades, that school of thought was refuted in several different ways. So if game-design criticism is following the same pattern, maybe you'll stop being irked after a while.

This is a pretty weird thing to say, Patrick. Authorial intent never recovered in literary criticism. Post-modernism overturned a lot of things, but that isn't one of them.

Maybe I was too terse (or just wrong). What I meant is that New Criticism advocated looking only at what's on the printed page, examining it closely to determine what it means--i.e., leaving both the writer and reader out of it. Subsequent schools of thought (Reader Response Theory, etc.) have basically said, "Nah, that's no good. What's there on the page never means anything by itself. If we can't bring the author into it, then maybe we need to bring the reader's consciousness into it in order to gain an understanding. We need to bring something else in."

My own view is that there are lots of factors, including the author's intent. If you get a letter from someone, you naturally wonder what the writer meant; it'd be silly not to inquire into that. But as a reader, you're bringing all your own background and bias into the reading as well. And there's the question of what the author unconsciously included. Also, ever-changing social conditions affect choices and understanding. Language changes over time too. And I'm sure there's more.

If no school of criticism has yet tried to actively bring back author intent as part of the picture, I think every school has tried to at least find a good substitute for it. I'm not sure any have succeeded. But I wouldn't know, as semiotics and deconstructionism and all are mostly over my head anyway.
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Lord_Kristof wrote:
The fact that you have to introduce a mechanical concession that's clearly a "gamey" "cheat" so that players don't get frustrated stands in stark opposition to the open-world promise, though. Those games often put a lot of detail into their worlds so that your immersion can improve, so on the one hand they offer you a "realistic" world with distances between cities / points of interest that make it seem lived-in, but then they also shrug their arms and say "Well, you'll get bored eventually with all this stuff, so here's a get out of jail free card, feel free to abuse it as you like." And to me that's kind of a creative shortcoming[…]


I cannot but agree here. It feels like a mid-game cheat – if the game is open world, and distance should matter, then distance should matter. Also, the existence of fast travel makes it hard to ignore.
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I was on vacation and just caught up with the responses here. A lot of great posts!

First off, I just want to be clear that I didn't intend "mundane" to be the antithesis of "exciting", but rather the antonym of "interesting". I was, perhaps, ambiguous. As many others eloquently said, games need downtime, and low-intensity moments aren't inherently uninteresting. I'm a big RPG fan, and it's well understood in RPGs that we need that town between the dungeons with NPCs to talk to with interesting dialogue to keep us distracted until the next high-intensity moment, even outside of the obvious import of the narrative itself.

Since others have thoroughly said what I might have said already, I'll go by way of examples of how to avoid mundanity, with some examples of some notorious modern games which fall victim.

RPGs, as a whole, have some of the most potential for unimportant moments. After all, they can be grindy, plot heavy (not inherently bad, but...), and older games features such relics as random battles and menu based combat. So how do they get around that? EarthBound used comedy and inspired enemy design. The door to a house may prompt the dialogue, ”OK, pop quiz!’A Beatles song, XXXterday. Can you fill in the blanks? •Yes •No". In a fight, you might fight an abstract painting. Final Fantasy VI generally just kept a good pace and an engaging story to keep things moving, and opened up the second half of the game entirely to keep it non-linear. Final Fantasy X was the last in the series with menu- and turn-based combat, but it allowed you to quickly switch characters in and out of battle according to weaknesses to keep it engaging.

On the other side, some of the best received games of this generation faltered for me, because of their inability to consistently keep things interesting. Mario Odyssey had wonderfully inventful gameplay, but the game was packed to the ceiling with moons to discover, so much so that some of them were uninspiring and a bit of a grind. It tarnished the experience for me considerably, as it just lacked cohesion. Breath of the Wild fared considerably better, as exploring was a joy, and yet, like Mario Odyssey, the game was so packed with content that sometimes I felt like I was doing the same thing again and again and it tarnished an otherwise perfect experiences.

To me, the perfect game wouldn't necessarily be short or lack exploration, but it would make sure that every puzzle, every dungeon, every enemy deliver a worthwhile experience. If you have to repeat a puzzle without adding something to make it novel, then don't add it. Don't add enemies just to slow down my exploration, unless fighting those enemies is engaging in and of itself. Don't have me talk to NPC characters that have nothing to say. The intensity of a game should ebb and flow, but it should never be uninteresting!
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Patrick Carroll wrote:


So, that's my experience. What I'm curious about is whether anybody else has ever played a game that shines all the way through, each and every moment. No boredom, no frustration--just pure absorption and enjoyment. Sounds like heavenly bliss to me, but I've never seen it on earth.



Can't say I've seen it. I'm not sure I'd want to. Often times it's the flaws that make the whole beautiful because they make it interesting and memorable. Frustration and boredom played right will eventually lead to exhilaration when faced with the proper challenge.
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Since different people want different things from games, I think this would be impossible to do, even if you design a game for yourself. I actually enjoy moments of frustration when working on devious puzzles - as long as the puzzles are meaningful and the solution isn't a pixel hunt where you have to click a precise location on the screen.

I don't think games have to shine all the time in all areas, but there should be something about them that you like at all times which makes dealing with difficult areas rewarding. Beautiful art, compelling story, pleasant music, great iconography, smooth gameplay. There has to be something there that is amazing to help get through something that is hastily designed, poorly executed, boring, tedious, frustrating (in a bad way) that makes you want to keep playing.
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