Monday, 30 November 2015

Players should be bothered

Small rant, it still pisses me off that the gaming industry thinks more of the gamers like they are delicate flowers and they must not stuck in a game even for 1% of their time. So, we have "adventure" games where it runs more like a movie and they even force feed you the solution and then fill it with QTEs to make it look like you are in the action. And FPS/Action games where things are easier for the lazy player because you can just shoot mindlessly, yet god forbid if there is an alternative path in the extremely linear level and will make people get lost. You have "RPGs" where they simplify everything after every franchise because yeah, gamers are gonna cry.

And you have this eternal problem, for example you ask yourself why oldschool adventure games have died (well, one would say they are ..kinda revived, but pretty much a minority). And yes, there were the stories of pixel hunting and moon logic, things that nowadays adventure makes try to avoid, by simplifying riddles and having objects closer to your vicinity and designing puzzles that are generally more obvious and all that. I remember of some recent adventure games I played that in retrospective to the oldies they are much much easier in puzzles, yet I would still find myself stuck a bit sometimes. Because I realized that even with more simple adventure games, the player can still get stuck because his logic at a particular point of the game might be different than the developer's logic. As long as you have even the most basic puzzles, there is a possibility that at least some of your players will get confused. The only way to make a game where a player doesn't stuck is if it has basically 0% actual puzzles, basically to follow the Telltale games direction, where the illusion of acting on puzzles and fighting with QTEs is there and the handholding has reached a new low. Because there is no way like this that the player will get stuck even for few seconds and stop the flow of the story, which would be considered bad design.

And that's where I digress. Players should be bothered. Players should get stuck once in a while. If you want to avoid all distress and all you think is that good game design is a streamlined experience without troubles then you are giving a hollow experience to the gamer. It's the same with the FPS games. Let them click triggers and shoot extravaganza but without the exploration of classic FPS. They call Doom a labyrinth mess but Doom was well designed at some of the levels of Episode 1. John Romero once said he actually designed the first levels to have some distinctive characteristics that makes you remember the space. So, there are some stairs going up to the armor in the left, a window and four blue pilars in the center, a zig zag road later near the end, in such a way that they are very memorable and you know you have to go to this and that room with the specific architecture and details. There was thought put into it. And I am saying it because I have played some much worse Doom-clones at the time which were the real freaky labyrinths! But now you can't play an FPS that doesn't push you through the path or doesn't get so extremely linear, not allowing alternative design choices, because nooo... that's baaad design! And there is even a pointer telling you where to go and any door behind will close shut so that the player is not confused and go back, no backtrack allowed. Because backtrack==baaaad desiiign.

Fuck that shit! Well, maybe the gaming industry is going that way because there are millions now playing games and some of the people are more casual gamers in the sense that they want to come back from work and with little clicks on their controller they want to get all the cinematics and glorious graphics. I do believe that also the recent console generation brought all these trends. But what pisses me off is not that these new trends are more frequent, but that anything going to the other direction of actually challenging the player is considered some times bad game design.

At least there are developers who go their own way. Two recent games I adore for not going that way but also refining their gameplay in the middle ground (or maybe more tending towards challenging the player but with somehow more logical puzzles, so avoiding the sins of the old gaming era but still keeping it hard) are The Legend of Grimrock 2 and The Talos Principle.

LOG2 followed on the footsteps of the first one, but started you on an island and soon I realized that it basically gives you a non-linear open world where you can visit a lot of areas earlier and in different ways than the first playthrough and there are so many secrets to find and riddles that challenge you a bit but still keep being logical. It's like a proper balance between "We don't want to hold your hand" and "we neither want to have some very ridiculous illogical puzzles like in the past" and sometimes you have to leave a place and come back later and the solution might come or you might discover something else that helps you with that. I spent over sixty hours with that but it was a great experience at the end and I didn't mind the many times that I had to wonder around for few minutes being stuck on what to do next (I'd hack and slash random encounters in the meanwhile till I find some items or hints I missed before at different areas). I heard few people being frustrated of the puzzles because they wanted plain hack and slash, and still makes me wonder, should games be 100% streamlined experience without the player being bothered? Zero puzzles and linear paths means zero bothering, just mashing buttons and seeing cool spectacles. No,. I hope the few companies that don't follow, won't be influenced in the future by such.

And then you have The Talos Principle which is literally a first person puzzler in the likes of Portal but is something I enjoyed much much better than Portal for various reasons. Besides the very clever puzzles, which are although presented to you in a progressive way from very obvious riddles to gradually challenging new concepts and game mechanics, in a way that they are almost never unfair (there was the one that you had to stack a box over a sphere, seemingly illogical, but I prefer once in a while to be confused like that than 0% real puzzles) and gradually becoming more mindblowing, even though the game taught you well to start thinking in their logic. And the secret stars you have to think out of the box (literally) to get them. Besides that, there is a whole story filled with ideas about AI, virtual reality, ethics and other matters which created an experience that really blew my mind. There are some terminals between surreal scenery where you have to convince a computer that you are a human or discuss moral philosophy with another distant being which you don't know whether it's real or a bot. In one of the terminals, there is a letter of a dad to his daughter which basically say that she is free to explore the world and he doesn't have to hold her hand anymore, she has to explore and learn on her own from now on, like the game writers make secretly a mention to the handholding craze in the game industry.

Another funny mention to the handholding trend in gaming, can be seen in the new game I am playing now, Undertale. Which is quite an easy game, but the ideas in it are so unique that I get the recent hype.

literal handholding

p.s. Maybe I should just calm down and keep playing the few games where developers still get it. We are lucky there are still such developers. We don't need to simplify games any more, they are more than simplified already! There can be games that are both not easy but not unfairly difficult. Those two games for me have fair riddles but they are there and might make you stuck. I can never say they have bad design because one would stuck for 5 minutes, because they are well designed with modern standards, but never simplifying. But still that wouldn't satisfy many gamers. I hear of gamers who say "I am coming back from work and have only few hours to enjoy a game, I don't want to be stuck for two hours" or "I wish games were shorter". Well, do you want a game that let's you delve in it's world and learn the secrets of it, or just a movie experience?