Sunday, July 24, 2005

Finish Line

Last night The Boyfriend and I finished Katamari Damacy (as daffy a good time as there ever was. Pick it up or rent it if you haven't yet), the latest in a fairly short list of games we've seen through to the end. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ico, LOTR: The Two Towers, and Half-Life 2 are some recent titles. Going back further: Grim Fandango, The Neverhood, the Myst games, Silent Hill.

What do the games we've finished have in common, apart from being, well, good? They're forgiving of gaps between play sessions, featuring quick cognitive reconnection (the "uh, what was I doing?" factor) and easily (re-) learnable UI. They take place in inventive worlds that invite revisiting, even if those worlds are creepy or dystopic. Some are story driven, but with the possible exception of Grim Fandango ("Turning the battleship! Don't pet the cat that way." Brilliance.) the narrative wasn't the engine behind completion.

Started KOTOR, didn't finish. Ditto Morrowind, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Planescape: Torment, Champions of Norrath.

It exhausts me to even contemplate starting some of these 40, 60, 100+ hour monsters. Maybe it's a product of being a busy adult in a busy age instead of a stay-up-'til-3am college student with more time than money and more money than sense, but I don't consider sheer quantity of gameplay a value proposition. I'd rather play four 10-hour games than one 40-hour one. Make those shorter games commensurately cheaper and I'm yours.

The rise of casual and mobile games points to changes in how people integrate games into their lives. The question remains whether the mainstream PC and console gaming industry, trapped in a vicious cycle of escalating production costs driven by technology advances, can or will take the risk to create games that leverage these changes.


Dr. Gori said...

I actually seek out games that have shorter playtimes. If I see a review in which the biggest complaint is that the game takes "only" 10 or 12 hours to finish (as happened with Katamari Damacy, Disaster Report, Silent Hill, and others), then I'm there. I like games I can finish.

A ticket for a two-hour movie costs $9. If it's a good movie, it was worth it. If a ten-hour videogame costs $45, I'm getting the same $4.50/hour that I got from the movie. And that's assuming I don't replay the game. God knows how much Katamari I've played since winning.

This brings me to a bigger problem when it comes to game design. In fact, it's my biggest problem with game design. I want to know why, when I buy a game, do I not own the right to do whatever I want in the game?

If I just like to blast through Final Fantasy games for the story (or show the story to someone who doesn't like games), I should have the right to power up my characters to maximum strength and avoid random battles. If I want to see all the bonus movies in a Lord of the Rings game, I should be able to from the get-go. I'm terrible at racing games, and I don't have 40 hours to learn how to brake into and accelerate out of turns, but I sure would like to see all the cars and tracks in Gran Turismo.

I'm not saying I wouldn't play any games as they were intended. But I paid for the content. I paid a lot. So I think I deserve to see it--and without a cheating device. Don't worry, I won't go on the IGN boards and brag to all the hardcore gamers that I beat the game with initial equipment and no power-ups in half the time it took anyone else.

Goddamn videogame design. I'm going to go now and read a bunch of Trivial Pursuit answers--just because I can.

Kira said...

I like your point about playing the game your way, Greg. Grim Fandango featured such a great story that a number of the puzzles brought things to a screeching halt when all I wanted to do was see what happened to Manny next.

I'm currently playing Missing: Since January, which has a few walkthrough-proof twitch minigames that have me tearing my hair out.

Sandbox design in games like Grand Theft Auto does expand the possibilities, but if you're playing GTA's core game you still have missions to complete that gate where you go next.

I have GTA: San Andreas at home, and although I'd love to see the game's versions of Vegas and San Francisco, I know I'll probably never leave the 'hood because of those dang missions.