Industry Negligence

Industry Negligence
To Do: Finish Any Game

Tom Endo | 18 Nov 2008 12:30
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The JRPG is a great example of this. As cliché as its narratives now are, initially they represented the vanguard in videogame storytelling techniques on consoles. However, the constant grinding and menu-based combat, often criticized as a being a kind of mindless and slow button mashing fest, clearly became a stumbling block for players whose main interest was in exploring the world and the characters who inhabited it. In the past 10 years alone we've seen a sea change in the way JRPGs handle combat such that older titles, like the Phantasy Star series, would now be considered unplayable. Innovations like the hands-off approach of Final Fantasy XII, the more action-oriented Tales series, and the bifurcated gameplay styles of Persona 3 have proliferated in response to this dissatisfaction.

It's a difficult thing to provide incremental changes to gameplay and vary the ways in which game mechanics are used, especially within the confines of a narrative. As if to avoid this difficulty, many of the most popular games forgo a story or any semblance of closure, relying instead on variety that's generated either by other players or a skill-based simulation. The best of these games are usually a combination of both of these aspects. Street Fighter II illustrates this idea well. The game is as much about learning the nuances of each character's fighting style as it is about competing with other players. These games aren't finite experiences confused about whether their goal is to challenge a player or to tell a story. Another popular genre, the sandbox game, uses A.I. to imitate a multiplayer world, providing the illusion of chaos and random chance. The sandbox game has similarly made story a secondary component to the actual experience of playing the game. In the Grand Theft Auto series the story sits to the side, always there for the player but never imposing itself on the larger experience the game offers.

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It's this relatively low cost of entry that allows me to eventually rack up 80-plus hours of game time with a version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and only six to eight hours with a game like BioShock. When people sit down to play a linear game, it requires a psychological investment. Players want a two-hour narrative experience, even if games today only demand 15-minute intervals of time. Nobody wants to watch one cut scene and play for 10 minutes before dinner. Still, properly enjoying this type of game requires commitment, and when that adds up to even 8 hours over the course of a week, that turns into a large singular commitment to one thing. Stay away from a game for too long and you forget the controls, your next objective and so on. After enough time, reinvestment in the linear experience becomes too big a hurdle to jump.

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