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The Long and Short of RPGs

Susan Arendt | 11 Sep 2008 21:00
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So you can see why I tend to progress through your typical RPG only slightly faster than a narcoleptic snail. I certainly enjoy the journey, but usually run out of steam after about 20 or 30 hours of gameplay. Mass Effect and Fable joined the exalted ranks of Games I've Beaten not because they're so much better than other RPGs - though they are both excellent - but simply because they fit within my 20-30 hour attention window.

The obvious answer is to just not do that, of course. And I've tried. With fierce resolve, I have steadfastly refused to explore entire sections of maps, left doors unopened, ladders unscaled, bureaus unsearched, pots unbroken. And I've had a miserable time. Eventually, I simply had to admit that if I don't search a game's every last nook and cranny, I end up fretting about what I might've missed and don't really enjoy myself. Yes, I have issues, I know. I'll consult a therapist later. In the mean time, I have a solution that will allow gamers like me to enjoy even the most epic of RPGs: a length setting.

Difficulty settings make games like Halo or BioShock accessible to players of all skill and patience levels, and a length setting would do the same for RPGs. At the game's outset, you would choose either Long, which provides the full-blown experience, or Short, which hits the highlights of the full game, but cuts out a lot of the sidequests or extraneous story. Essentially, it's the Cliff's Notes version of the game, providing the broad brush strokes of the experience, but not all the detail.

Obviously, the Long version of the game would be the "true" experience, but the Short version would allow players who typically burn out halfway through a game - or those who simply don't have the time to finish a 100-plus hour game - to make it all the way to the final stage. An RPG's Short version might excise entire towns, or, if that would muck about with the story too much, simply remove all but those NPCs and quests that are vital to the progression of the story. The allocation of experience points could be rejiggered to allow players to level up faster, or simply scale the leveling down so that the Big Bad at the end is a level 20 monster instead of a level 75. A Short version could even have summaries of extended cutscenes, so that the player could get up to speed on the goings-on without having to wait through twenty minutes of bad voiceovers.

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