Extra Punctuation: The Rise of Rail Roading

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The Rise of Rail Roading

Is less choice and less complexity really the future of gaming?

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I feel like I've been shielded from this to a very large degree because I don't have the money to buy all that many current gen games. It's like a couple of years ago when the big thing everyone was complaining about was quicktime events. I'd never even come across one in a game and couldn't relate (I've since played Assassin's Creed 2 an HOLY SHIT do I relate).

This is the reason I loved Mario 64. You started off with a few worlds and you were allowed to go where ever you pleased as long as you had the required amount of stars. You had to figure out how to do everything on your own. I really hope games will break off this path and do more stuff that is open world. I really love sandboxes and don't mind seeing more.

I think there's no need for alarm in that matter. There are plenty of popular recent games/ upcoming games that give you lots of choice. The Witcher 2, all of Bethseda's sandbox titles, Deus Ex 3, for example. And if they are or probably will be a lot more successful than streamlined, linear stuff like Call of Juarez

Games now have the illusion of freedom, but their is non. Look at all FPS, no freedom, just corriders. Yes they may open up into a bigger fight area, but that is just a big room in which the only exit is another corridor to the next room. I guess with the cost of game making going up it just makes game makers make a more confined game with lots of fun fights. Like when you compare the original Ghost Recon to the Ghost Recon Warfighter games. Both are fun, but the original games just stuck you in a huge map and you had to work your way to the mission. I liked that, you had to use the map and the landscape to get around and tackle the enemies.

I always wanted a cross between Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six. Where you have the awesome making your way to the target through forest or whatever that Ghost Recon had, and then the actual mission in the building or compound that the Rainbow Six games were good at. I would call it Rainbow Recon, Ghost Rainbow? Nah.....not very good names. What about Ghost 6. Awesome.

This is why I love Half Life 2. Yes it's a linear game, but it's built in a way so that it feels like you found some clever way through the level by just being smart.

The opening is especially great. Lets you figure everything out for yourself, and doesn't force-feed you info about everything or give you an annoying-ass companion talking to you, or anything really. Hell, it's about an hour before you even get a weapon of some kind. That hour is spent just... exploring the world and figuring things out. It's amazingly well done.

Half Life 2 trusts you to be smart, trusts you to be smart enough to figure things out for yourself, and I love it for that.

[What happened to] the thrill a developer used to feel when players came up with a solution they didn't think of?

HAH! Nowadays, even for single-player games, if we lowly players have the audacity to do that, we can expect a 'fix' in the next patch (I'm looking at you, Gearbox!).

enzilewulf:
This is the reason I loved Mario 64. You started off with a few worlds and you were allowed to go where ever you pleased as long as you had the required amount of stars. You had to figure out how to do everything on your own. I really hope games will break off this path and do more stuff that is open world. I really love sandboxes and don't mind seeing more.

This isn't about open worlds. This is about moment-to-moment gameplay. Half Life is an old game that is utterly linear with no open world, but still a less directed experience than, say, Call of Duty 4, in which practically every single thing you do involves a scripted sequence.

I agree sort of. I don't think "The Cartel" means that every game is going to start doing this, I mean that was just one bad game we get tons of those each year.

I'm surprised you didn't mention FF XIII.

I've been playing lots of RPG's and sandbox games now, because i really don't like linear games (there are exceptions of course) but i like the idea of exploring the world you are in and making secondary quests, not just the main quest, take for example Oblivion, it's one of the best open world i've seen, you have so much quests to do. (Dark brotherhood is one of the best side missions <-)

There are two issues behind this, both of which come down to simple greed.

The first is simply that wanting to make more money from a wider demographic, game designers feel the need to dumb the games down to the level of the lowest denominator. How low the lowest human denominator is, is exactly why you are seeing any need for intelligence stripped away. Even basic strategy and tactics eludes some people, and the game industry feels that it should be impossible for those people to "lose" the game by not being good enough. Hence the toddler-type guidance and the removal of a lot of the interaction, and need to figure things out for yourself. I rant about it all the time.

The second is that the games industry had no real vested interest in putting out a long-lasting product. It doesn't really want games that are going to entertain players for months on end. After all if people are content with the game they just bought for a long period of time, they aren't going to go running out to buy the new game they are releasing. When you consider that shooters are relatively cheap and easy to develop, and one of the big markets, it's pretty obvious why they are increasingly shallow and lack much in the way of replayable single player experiences. The game developers don't want the players to stick with a game that is nearly perfect and replayable for the next 10 years, they want people to be burned out with it, but wanting more of the same, when they puke out their next shooter in a few months. Given that big publishers might have multiple developers, all making differant games of the same sort... well, you can see where their interests lie.

I'm sure the industry would deny those points, especially the second one. After all despite everything drug companies still try and deny that they work around actually trying to cure diseases and conditions in many cases since there is more money to be made in treating the symptoms.

enzilewulf:
This is the reason I loved Mario 64. You started off with a few worlds and you were allowed to go where ever you pleased as long as you had the required amount of stars. You had to figure out how to do everything on your own. I really hope games will break off this path and do more stuff that is open world. I really love sandboxes and don't mind seeing more.

They barely even told you what you were doing as well.

Heres a 6-word hint, But we're not goin to tell you HOW to get there. Or really what youre going to do once you're there.

Mario Sunshine devolved to it by giving you a visual clue as to WHERE this event was going to take place, and then Mario Galaxy became Linear. =(

Buying a 3D TV was exactly the right thing to do. Because in my fantasy world salvation will come the day movie studio executives decide that everyone has a big screen 3D TV at home so that gimmick is no longer a draw for the movie theater, so they better make a good story rather than rely on 3D to lure an audience.

As far as games go, we're down to months (not years) from establishing a mindset that AAA publishers mean crap games and if you want gameplay and innovation look to the indies. Of course at that point the current indy publishers will become the new AAA and start endlessly copying whatever "innovation" put them on top. Then the cycle repeats.

It's because ever since the start of this generation, linear single-player games for some reason need to be as bombastic and epicly cinematic as possible, allowing much less wiggle room for the player lest they don't happen to catch that building collapsing in the background.

We're being forced through games instead the game allowing use to set our own pace. It's like being at the zoo on a school trip.

Yeah, games getting shorter and shallower is definitely something I lament. Compare Thief 1 and 2 to Thief 3. God those level designs were disappointing. Also, Half-Life 2 wasn't nearly as big as Half-life 1, which disappointed me. Unless you count the episodes as part of the same game, which might make them of an acceptable length. Supposing Gabe Newel ever releases episode 3 and finishes the damn game.
I liked the long, winding narratives of games like Deus Ex, Baldur's Gate and Thief. I want more.

carnege4:
I'm surprised you didn't mention FF XIII.

I've been playing lots of RPG's and sandbox games now, because i really don't like linear games (there are exceptions of course) but i like the idea of exploring the world you are in and making secondary quests, not just the main quest, take for example Oblivion, it's one of the best open world i've seen, you have so much quests to do. (Dark brotherhood is one of the best side missions <-)

I don't know if you looked at older titles already, but I would recommend playing Chrono Trigger, you may like it.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Snip

I think the issue has come down to two problems, the money a studio spends, and the money they are going to make.

Investors can "veto" any project they deem isn't going to make them money by not handing any money over. A mid-ranged studio will only be given so much money to work with, and adding more freedom and choices is a lot of money spent the developers don't have. Most of the money a developer has goes to making everything look pretty and work. Making a tiny linear path and make sure nobody can fall down that pit can mean they can hide the face they never rendered the back of those buildings or the bottom of those pits. Rockstar can get away with lots of freedom because they can get 100 million dollars to work with, not forced to economically use only 20-40 million.

Also, making games led by the nose, and cutting down on the way a player dies is avery bad attempt to make it more appealing to brain dead players who only want to be entertained by the magic shiny picture box with buttons. I do think this won't last. As graphic technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, and developers looks to games like Minecraft, which has graphics that would of been laughed at during the Quack era making millions and millions of dollars, more freedom to render the bottom of that pit or to give the player a wider path to use will come again.

I don't think Yahtzee is trying to say sandbox games are better because of "Moar freedums!!" Rather, he's saying that even in a linear game the game feels as if you're too dumb to find and take the only path that will let you progress and in that process it denies you opportunities to explore or connect with the game world. Rather than being compelled to continue playing, you are told to continue playing (e.g. Wanting to destroy the reapers and save humanity rather than Hackett saying "Shepard! We've received reports that reapers are coming. Go to [place]. Once there we can use the super mega death ray to fry their reaper brains (Don't get me wrong, using hackett as a way to introduce optional quests was fun, it was just an example of the difference in thinking)). Oblivion is free only in the fact that you can choose which heavily hint filled quest you want to do.

Essentially, the article is asking developers to be more like Valve. Because of Valves OCD with playtesting they're able to perfect how to guide someone along a linear path in such a way that the player feels as if they'd make the choice anyway rather than Valve putting a radio in Gordon's ear and your objectives are screamed at you every 10 seconds. Ok, my analogies aren't at all perfect.

Examples of good railroading: KotOR, Jade Empire, Thief Series, Any Valve Game, Sands of Time, Silent Hill 2 (I'm assuming based on what I know about it). The fact that these games treat you like you're not a bowl of pudding might be one of the reasons Yahtzee likes these games.

Examples of bad railroading: Mass Effect 2 (Dangit, I did NOT want to work for Cerberus), <looking through my games library and realizing I don't have any "standard" shooters since I'm poor and can't afford bad games so if you have more games to add to this please tell me because I can't put down games without playing them in good conscious>

Because devs maybe do not put enough time into maybe varying the difficulty between "baby" and "hardcore" mean whats so wrong or hard about having a hardcore mode where you have no markers, no camera ques, for people that want it, and have all that stuff on for people that want it on or need it on.

I think more devs could look at something like that, like what obsidian did with new vegas, and take that to other games.

Gamers and peoples attention spans are shorter, things are moving faster and faster, people have less time in their lives, many things have changed since the old school days of gaming when you had dial up modem internet and it took days to download anything when your dial up was not kicking you off, now we dl gigs in minutes, some people want to be herded or mind it alot less than some of the older gamers that remember when games made you work for just about everything, and places like gamefaqs and such did not exist.

Basically, this is another facet of that important conversation that a graphics-driven gaming industry necessitates less immersive (and thus to some, less fun) experiences. Or at least, railroading is less immersive to me... your mileage may vary.

It's one of the reasons I quit MMOs. Obviously, the continuing corridor description isn't as applicable to WoW, but as soon as a skill was used in a way Blizzard didn't like, it was railroaded in the next patch. I realize that I'm addressing something more difficult here - skills in WoW are often railroaded essentially to balance PVP - but the constant narrowing of what one could do eventually was a major contributor to a stale experience for me. And the raid bosses would be terrible from this aspect - if groups were killing bosses in a way Blizzard didn't expect, you could expect a patch, post-haste.

A game closer to the article's intent, however, was Arkham Asylum. And that game got all sorts of positive attention. It came with my PS3 for free, back when I bought it (just after it dropped to $300), but neither my husband nor I had any interest in playing past the first level. Talk about a string of context-sensitive button pushing! I mean, I guess the degree of it was why the game succeeded in making you "feel like the Batman," as it allowed for all of his skills to be in play, but the Metroid Prime games succeeded in making me feel like I was Samus without ANY of that railroading. I could use the suit in tons of ways, and the environment demanded all of them if you were to get the most out of it.

I wish wish WISH that exploration was key again. I don't think that will happen until there is more acceptance of non-bleeding-edge graphics.

I can't wait for Deus Ex - HR to come out later this month. That will finally be a game where you have actual FREEDOM.

It's not too often you see someone use an ad hominem logical fallacy against themselves.

I can't help that alot of the herding originates from the older games where the only way to succeed in some games was to die over and over again trying to find the right path or combination of instruction's or timing to pass the current section of the game.

Granted these things are alot harder to apply to your general shooter. But i think as you point out the fault lies with the actual gameplay. I know plenty of people who if they get stuck at a point for more than a couple of minutes, and the game is essentially forcing them to do something where they will die, they just give up. And i think that's the real reason the player gets escorted through the game. It's less of a game and more of a movie and no one wants to get half way through the movie and then sit there and watch the last 5 minutes over and over again before they get to move on.

Things used to prevent a challenge. looking at a more recent game in World at War, large amount's of people insisted that the endless army spawn points ruined the game, partly because for once they couldn't just sit in one place and have everything come to them till they all died. Instead you had to dash quickly between cover while avoiding nades which generally managed to land in the same place, like a maze until you found the right combination to either reach a point where the endless spawns were now prevented or made it to a checkpoint.

Sure this isn't really adding content, or longevity to the game but it provides a challenge. And when it comes down to it that's one of the reason's i play games. I want to be challenged and if possible enjoy a good narrative arc. The challenge shouldn't be removed so the game can escort me through the narrative because then it feels like i haven't achieved anything. There's not a big a reward when you finally make it to the otherside of the compound and blow up the impending "Rocket of Doom" if the game ensure's your safety the whole time

I remember some time ago a bunch of developers were saying that they had realized that large amounts of their games weren't being played all the way through to the end by the majority of players so they looked at ensuring that a larger amount of players did, which in some cases i think has led to serious shortening in gameplay length

koriantor:
I don't think Yahtzee is trying to say sandbox games are better because of "Moar freedums!!" Rather, he's saying that even in a linear game the game feels as if you're too dumb to find and take the only path that will let you progress and in that process it denies you opportunities to explore or connect with the game world. Rather than being compelled to continue playing, you are told to continue playing (e.g. Wanting to destroy the reapers and save humanity rather than Hackett saying "Shepard! We've received reports that reapers are coming. Go to [place]. Once there we can use the super mega death ray to fry their reaper brains (Don't get me wrong, using hackett as a way to introduce optional quests was fun, it was just an example of the difference in thinking)). Oblivion is free only in the fact that you can choose which heavily hint filled quest you want to do.

Essentially, the article is asking developers to be more like Valve. Because of Valves OCD with playtesting they're able to perfect how to guide someone along a linear path in such a way that the player feels as if they'd make the choice anyway rather than Valve putting a radio in Gordon's ear and your objectives are screamed at you every 10 seconds. Ok, my analogies aren't at all perfect.

Examples of good railroading: KotOR, Jade Empire, Thief Series, Any Valve Game, Sands of Time, Silent Hill 2 (I'm assuming based on what I know about it). The fact that these games treat you like you're not a bowl of pudding might be one of the reasons Yahtzee likes these games.

Examples of bad railroading: Mass Effect 2 (Dangit, I did NOT want to work for Cerberus), <looking through my games library and realizing I don't have any "standard" shooters since I'm poor and can't afford bad games so if you have more games to add to this please tell me because I can't put down games without playing them in good conscious>

Excellent point here I must say.

I'd like to add to that by bringing up one thing. Programmers have to do this all the time.

Make things dummy proof. A basic example would be where you've written a program that says "enter a number" and some jerk throws in a letter or something just because he can. The fail-safe to this is obviously some extra code that says "That's not a number, dumbass" or something, but that's the lazy man's way of doing it. A not-so-lazy way would be to throw in a conversion from Anscii to a number and do the computation (or whatever) that way.

In context of games today, a blatant hand-holding linear path is like the "that's not a number" solution. it forces the player to go back (or stop or whatever) and do exactly what the game is saying. example: fighting your way through the streets instead of running through or stealthing your way through.

Since I don't work in the industry I'm sure there are some budget/marketing related reasons for this, but frankly linear diven games used to be fine, there were never any problems like this back when we were all playing MMX for the snes or doom. It feels like the only way to break away from this horrific committee design is to make sandboxes all around, but that'd be stupid too.

This is why I support XBLA indie developers. They actually try...

iOS developers can suck it too... I don't even think they play games....

RJ Dalton:
Yeah, games getting shorter and shallower is definitely something I lament. Compare Thief 1 and 2 to Thief 3. God those level designs were disappointing. Also, Half-Life 2 wasn't nearly as big as Half-life 1, which disappointed me. Unless you count the episodes as part of the same game, which might make them of an acceptable length. Supposing Gabe Newel ever releases episode 3 and finishes the damn game.
I liked the long, winding narratives of games like Deus Ex, Baldur's Gate and Thief. I want more.

do i need to point out that HL2 was split into 3 parts, with he 3rd being the supposed biggest.
so that might be why 1 is bigger then 2.
you even state this.

here is a better example: fable 1 and fable 3.

Good article, expressing my own fears that have recently become moreso pronounced.

I happen to be a big fan of Bioware precisely because I enjoy its theme-park approach to games moreso than the straight sandbox style of some of its competitors (I've dabbled extensively in Oblivion by now but apart from arsing around for shits and giggles, I find any kind of investment towards its world wholly pointless. Why would I want to explore its setting if it, along with its characters and story idea, looks like a cardboard cutout to me with next to no depth?)

But what I worry about greatly is that they'll become TOO fond of their approach and not seek to mix it up in the future. I happened to actually like Dragon Age 2 on the whole, but it had a big share of problems and the fact that you stayed in and around Kirkwall was certainly not something I found too endearing.

Moreso worrying is that for SWTOR they've so far revealed it to be a very theme-park MMO and though this is fine for a starting point, to teach and immerse the players into the game and setting...what I worry greatly is that as time goes on they'll refuse to add a few sandboxy elements to offer players the possibility to make their own fun...because if they refuse to add that and go down the line of thinking that the only additions post-launch that are worth having are theme-park based ones, then eventually there is no way they'll manage to supply enough content to keep the public's demand for it through expansions going and SWTOR will probably wither and feel like too much handholding in the end. Players will expect their hands to be held...and every expansion they'll have to hold their hands until one day the audience will get bored of it and begin their exodus.

So good article. And definitely one worthy of consideration for all theme-park games designers.

Two words: God games. It's practically the ideal setting for freeform gameplay.

No need to kill poor King Film to get into Queen General Public's pants, for she is a bloated and promiscuous beast who tires easily and bores frequently.

Nothing new, really. Try playing COD4 campaign for the second time and it's exactly the same thing. Yeah okay, you can chose whether to run to the left or right of the room, but that's about it.

It probably has something to do with all those whiny dipshits complaining about the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time or similar dungeons and puzzles, so developers went "Fine, let us hold your hand and lead you through the game like a blind paraplegic 4 year old."

targren:

[What happened to] the thrill a developer used to feel when players came up with a solution they didn't think of?

HAH! Nowadays, even for single-player games, if we lowly players have the audacity to do that, we can expect a 'fix' in the next patch (I'm looking at you, Gearbox!).

Why Gearbox? Borderlands is one of the only games you can mod for the console version. In fact, I would say it's one of the more compelling games of this gen; even if it is in a crack/cocaine (I need another gun) kind of way.

Besides, the only time that bothers me is when they fix all the little exploits and things like that but don't fix the big (game halting) glitches and crashes: I'm looking at you Bethesda.

But actually Fallout 3 is one of the only games that is as deep or interesting as my favorites from last gen. It was actually worth $60.

The shallow and ridged gameplay from this gen I don't think is completely borne out of a lack of creativity. Not to say the industry is overflowing with creativity; far from it. However I think it's more of a push by publishers to complete as many titles as possible and get them on the shelves.

I can totally see why: Gamers have proven themselves to not be too picky and most are easily talked/hyped into buying the new shiny disc. So of course the publishers want to get as many different titles out there and will spend as little as possible on development. Why pay people for two years to make a spectacular product that will only sell a bit more than a more shallow product they can make in one year.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: The Rise of Rail Roading

Is less choice and less complexity really the future of gaming?

Read Full Article

Yahtzee, I know that you won't reply to this, but I have to ask you a question: Why does it always seem like you hate us fans? Every time you bring up people who watch Zero Punctuation, you talk the nimrods and morons who infest the earth.

What about those of us, like me, who never say, "HEY YATZEE, REVEIW THIS GAME, PLZ!1!!1", always halt what we're doing every Wednesday to watch the latest episode of your show and never register complaint when you give a bad review to a game we like?

Just curious.

I didn't mind the bit in Enslaved. The game I found was less about finding your own way, and more about navigating the path in the most efficient way possible. By that I mean hitting the buttons in the right direction to jump and so forth. Especially when it was combined with time-sensitive events like the ground falling out beneath your feet or the woman about to fall to her death unless you haul her up.

It's honestly not that different from Prince of Persia, one of Yahtzee's favourite games. Every time you enter a room in that game, the camera pans along the path you need to take. The question is not where do I go from here, but rather, how do I navigate this pre-set path that has been obviously shown to me. When I first started playing the game it seriously pissed me off because I felt it took all the exploration out of the game. But after I got used to it I didn't really mind it because the climbing was still fun.

Batman Arkham Asylum on the other hand is a classic example of hand holding. When you're having a boss fight and the game tells you, on your first run through the fight, how to defeat the guy it's friggin annoying. Though, less annoying than the fact you have to fight at least four similar bosses in exactly the same way. There may even be more after that, I don't know. I got fed up on boss#4 and started playing Bulletstorm instead.

GonzoGamer:

targren:

[What happened to] the thrill a developer used to feel when players came up with a solution they didn't think of?

HAH! Nowadays, even for single-player games, if we lowly players have the audacity to do that, we can expect a 'fix' in the next patch (I'm looking at you, Gearbox!).

Why Gearbox? Borderlands is one of the only games you can mod for the console version. In fact, I would say it's one of the more compelling games of this gen; even if it is in a crack/cocaine (I need another gun) kind of way.

Besides, the only time that bothers me is when they fix all the little exploits and things like that but don't fix the big (game halting) glitches and crashes: I'm looking at you Bethesda.

That's what I'm talking about. Niggling little gameplay tweaks like downgrading chests to prevent farming and "adjusting" certain plot fights, while some quests are annoyingly bugged.

Admittedly it's not as bad as what Blizz did to Diablo II (admittedly, subjective, but I don't like that I can't use the official no-cd patch without all the crappy MMO elements and the game elements being rebalanced around them), but I still find it obnoxious.

Yahtzee has put into better words than I ever could the very same vibe I've been getting from this current generation of games.

Ten years ago, I would claim I didn't like JRPGs because they were all linear railroaded corridors compared to traditional western CRPGs, especially those I grew up with that didn't even give you a map or told you where to go. You had to figure it out all for yourself, and dialogues were handled by text parsers so yeah.

Now compare it to nowadays' "Game of the year" RPGs: three choices, at best, with one clearly marked as "This is evil", one "This is good" and the other "This is neutral", with good being the parody of the most naive and gullible protosaint on earth, evil being a completely insane mouth-frothing baby eater and neutral being "I do it for the moneys". Oh, and don't ever hope that your choices will actually make some sort of impact in the game! You'll get either the "good" ending or the "evil" ending.

I know asking for another Planescape: Torment or another Deus Ex or another Thief or heck, even just another Baldur's Gate lookalike may be a little too much for today's industry, but damn it why is there no other option except from the opposite extreme?

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