The Long and Short of RPGs

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The Long and Short of RPGs

Susan Arendt has a scorching case of RPG OCD, but thinks she's devised a solution to her problem.

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Someone else in the same boat as me! I have numerous RPGs that I never finished. But there's hope yet. Not too long ago, I finally went back to Suikoden III and beat that... with 150+ hours logged. Only 245 RPGs to go!

I like the idea, but don't think most people are introspective enough to realize they have the same problem (I do), and many would probably think it embarrassing to play the short version. In my opinion, RPGs probably should actually be shorter. There's no question that the same plot could be fit into half the playtime in most RPGs if some of the more tedious gameplay segments were shortened. Of course this doesn't make sense for every game, but I've come to realize that a 30 hour game is basically just as good as a 120 hour game in terms of play value because it's unlikely I will play that full 120 hours (though there are some games where I have).

I have the same problem - most of my gaming collection remains unfinished - but it's worse with RPGs. I have played damn near every Final Fantasy game ever (Especially the ones that aren't numbered), and to this date I have only finished FFV. And to be honest, that was one of the worst - if not THE worst - when it came to grinding, since every character had about thirty different Jobs (Read: Classes) they had to grind XP in.

It's on my notepad. When I break into the industry and gain some influence, I'll be sure to set this idea in place. It even fits my existing pet-project.

I have the same issue. I've spent hours walking in circles in Final Fantasy games to level up all the characters I don't normally use, or checking every clickable object for loot. Ending up with piles of things like Elixirs which I never use because they're RARE and I should just reload my last save and try again.

I don't think I could handle a "short" version of an rpg either. Then I end up spending hours checking tons of EMPTY containers/dead end nooks. Unless they actually removed the side hallways that things tend to be down.

And I can't just NOT look for things. That's how you end up missing your super ultimate weapon that happens to be hidden in the back corner of a cave. The real solution is for a game designer to be up front about saying nothing more valuable then some money is going to be hidden in a stupid pot down a dead end hallway.

I'm patient enough to dig all this stuff out, but that's part of the reason it takes me 15 hours to play the first disk of Lost Odyssey and then end up putting the game down before I'm finished. While my roommate who is an RPG fan ponders swearing them off altogether after seeing me carefully pace the front and rear walls of every section of the game to find loot.

Yes, Fallout, I'm looking at you for hiding loot behind walls that you only see when walking near them. And Lost Odyssey for hiding loot behind things like posters. And Final Fantasy for every Elixir placement ever.

Oh, and Too Human for a slow run speed and putting treasure obelisks at the opposite ends of long corridors.

I have always been an admirer of those of you who actually dedicated your time and had the patience to search everything, do everything, find EVERYTHING in an RPG. I tend to treat them like a race to the finish, doing only what is absolutely necessary to move on to the next stage because I just HAVE to know what happens next! On my side of the fence, I always feel like I have missed out on 1/2 the game, but I have already beat it, so what's the point in going back in to find find the most ULTIMATE WEAPON EVAR!?

I can only hope some of your persistence and patience wears off on me so that I can get more game for my money ;)

The RPG OCD disorder you speak of is probably what's led to what feels like an industry-wide shortening of games in general. Rather than building lengthy linear gameplay, they opt for shallow but wide experiences where little bits of fun gameplay can be replayed differently to keep the entertainment going long after you've completed the last chapter of the story.

Logan Frederick:
The RPG OCD disorder you speak of is probably what's led to what feels like an industry-wide shortening of games in general. Rather than building lengthy linear gameplay, they opt for shallow but wide experiences where little bits of fun gameplay can be replayed differently to keep the entertainment going long after you've completed the last chapter of the story.

But surely that's been there since Manic Miner?

I'm a bit like Susan. Quite often I feel a terrible angst for NOT finishing a game I started, as I have always thought of games like the digital equivalent of books - why pick them up and start them if you are not going to get to the end? Shame on me.

This isn't just RPG's for me, it's any genre where the gametime exceeds that 15-20hr barrier that I also seem to struggle getting past. I've only succeeded with Oblivion, Mass Effect, and Jade Empire. I'm hoping beyond hope I finish Fallout 3.

My issue isn't necessarily with turning every stone to find stuff, although I can certainly see how that exacerbates (sp?) the issue, it's more about momentum for me - if I feel it waning then I seem to have to push myself further along, instead of being merrily carried along by the current of the game. Story has a certain impact here, but also if the game isn't challenging me mentally anymore, I know the end is nigh.

But you know what - we play video games to pass the time in an enjoyable manner. It's a passion, a hobby, and in it's simplest form - is just an active form of entertainment - we are not solving the problems of the world here. If passing the time with our hobby means we get 50% through 10 games, instead of 100% through 5 games - so be it. At the end of the day, it matters not. It IS about the journey, not the destination.

Have you gotten your money's worth spending 20hrs with a game instead of 40? Damn right you have.

Well that's made me feel better anyway :-)

I have RPG OCD too, but not just that, I'm a completionist at heart, which is probably why I don't understand people who sell their old games that they've simply beaten. So, while I have the problem of finding everything in a game, I'm so determined that I have no qualms about dedicating 200 hours of my life to a single game, grinding through it until I have found everything.

In other news, I'm now jealous of you because I've always wanted to play Koudelka.

You've completely summed up how I play RPGs. I don't like leaving stuff behind. Although I find I still finish a lot of those games anyway. Intead of giving up when I realize what I've been doing, I just try to power through and ignore any of the side stuff. It feels terrible though. It's why I don't play more RPGs and like it when a game offers a more encapsulated experience.

The length setting idea seems more like a crutch than an actually useful design idea. RPGs already typically make it possible to skip a huge amount of content to get to the end, and I imagine a lot of people do just that. It sounds like it would be a significant development investment just to sooth the cognitive dissonance of people like me.

I enjoyed the article though. It's a nice portrait of a weird piece of gamer psychology.

What I personally think is the best thing to do is to instead not allow yourself to play any other games. Force yourself to only stick to one at a time, and, eventually, you'll get done. Believe me, I have the same problem. I need everything in the games. Every side-quest completed, every item found, logged, and in it's proper place, every part of the map must be filled, everything. And thats what I do. I have 3 games sitting next to me as I write this, patiently waiting for me to play through "Infinite Undiscovery" the requisite 2-3 times that it will take to actually beat the game full and proper. And, when I get to them, I'll do the same for them(well, okay, one of them is Max Payne, and I don't think that has too much exploration, so that one is a moot point, but still).

Game length I'm fine with, but if they could give you an option that replaces those long-winded cutscenes or dialog sequences with a blurb, I'd be able to get to the meat and potatos without having to suffer through the cabbage and pumpkin. God I hate pumpkin.

Lost Odyssey was the worst for pumpkin. The stupid funeral scene, that crappy sneak through the world's worst security network in search of your weapons bit... gaargh.

That's why Fallout is still the greatest RPG ever. Cutscenes? We'll give you an intro, a few nuclear explosions and some talking heads, that's all you get. Now here's a sniper rifle, there's a bandit and you have Bloody Mess, work the rest out yourself.

Oh no, a Short Setting would drive me mad. I'd be constantly wondering what I was missing out on, whether the choppy dialogue meant chunks were taken out or just normal awkward videogame speech, etc. etc. I already agonise for minutes every time I have to start a game on a particular difficulty setting. I've been known to check the internet for advice on whether a given difficulty setting is "too hard" or "too easy".

We need help.

Another wonderful column (can I call it that?), Ms. Arendt. I even went back three times to make sure I found every item of intellect and each weapon of wit. I'm actually amazed I finished it.

Ahem.

One additional point, any maybe others have experienced this as well: I play RPGs not only for the gameplay itself, but for what is usually an engaging experience in terms of all aspects of storytelling. So, if I try to come back to an epic, complex story, such as Final Fantasy XII, I certainly can't just continue where I left off months ago! Surely I would be forgetting some nuance in the story that legitimates my return to the game! In that case, I'd better start a new file (but keep the old one of course--just in case). Apparently, I keep forgetting that starting a new file is probably futile, considering I didn't finish the old one...oh well.

With regards to FFXII and gamer OCD, the loot system was a big problem for me. I really didn't mind spending the extra gil by purchasing the items directly from their respective shops, but I couldn't ignore this glorious system of economic management! I had spreadsheets keeping track of how many items I'd sold, which loot I needed, which loot scored multiple items at the bazaar...what a mess.

I'll bring donuts to the support group.

How odd, I run out of steam in some RPGs for the exact opposite reason. I hate doing all that collecting and grinding to raise character levels, then I find myself at a point in the game where it's physically impossible for me to beat a boss or something similar. Then I get bored trying to raise my characters' levels to a reasonable point.
Your solution cures both of our problems though Susan, so I have to agree, give us the option to do without that grinding process!

susan , do you think that RPG will be more convenient for your gaming taste if they are cut for short ?

- RPG means long .
- FPS means short .
- RPG is smooth gameplaying .
- FPS is steady adrenaline driver .

+ you want to play RPG video games , because you love them but you have no time to play many of them . so , now you are complaining why RPG genre video games are long but not short .

+ if we cut a RPG video game to its short version , then it will lose RPG gense essential essence and meaning . i doubt your propose .

+ the story will be broken .

+ or maybe get rid of LEVEL factor for short version of RPG .

TheWickerPopstar:

One additional point, any maybe others have experienced this as well: I play RPGs not only for the gameplay itself, but for what is usually an engaging experience in terms of all aspects of storytelling. So, if I try to come back to an epic, complex story, such as Final Fantasy XII, I certainly can't just continue where I left off months ago! Surely I would be forgetting some nuance in the story that legitimates my return to the game! In that case, I'd better start a new file (but keep the old one of course--just in case). Apparently, I keep forgetting that starting a new file is probably futile, considering I didn't finish the old one...oh well.

Oh, god, I do that, too. That is one reason why I started getting strategy guides, so that I could refresh my memory as to what's going on if and when I ever pick up the game again. Except that's unsatisfying, so I decide to start over from scratch, and...yeah, I think you all see where this is going.

So...support group meeting at my house next week?

It's a common error but except for part 2, the Zelda games are not RPG's. They're Action/Adventures.

I thought I was the only one that loved RPGs, but never finished them! We should form a support group.

At any rate, I eventually came up with a solution--I now pretend that I'm actually in the RPG game world and I focus heavily on the main quest. I no longer try to do every quest, explore every nook and cranny of every area or look in every barrel, closet, etc. I think to myself, "if this were my real life, would I really go around doing all this stuff?" I work in Manhattan and I walk from Grand Central Station to my office in Times Square, but along the way, do I talk to everyone I see, go in every store/bar, or look in every trash can? Of course not. I've come to the conclusion that, for me, RPGs are all about immersion and if I'm trying to do everything and look everywhere, it loses its realness and breaks the immersion. The game becomes a huge task list, instead of a living breathing world.

With this mindset, I'm happy to say that I actually completed the last two RPGs I played (Mass Effect and The Witcher) with no gaps or intervening weeks off playing other games. This is very rare for me.

I'm pretty sure it's not OCD, but ADD that you have, Susan. Perhaps you should stick with Tetris?

There comes a time in most RPGs (or Action/Adventure games, for that matter) where the repetition in gameplay elements outweighs my interest in the storyline. I have a good tolerance for repetition, but I also have a really good memory, so once I decide to put it down I'm almost guaranteed never to return to the game.

I love strategy guides. They tell me where the important stuff is so I don't have to search everywhere for it. Most of the RPGs I've beaten were with the help of some form of walkthrough.

Not because the game was especially hard, but because the walkthrough told me where the important stuff was and I could focus on the main storyline.

I didn't realize that's what drew me to walkthroughs until now, as I never really thought about it. Neat!

I have a similar problem, but it's not limited to RPGs. I rarely finish any game of any genre, usually because the difficulty curve rises faster than my skills. To beat, for example, Burnout 2 would require me to grind as a player for hours and hours of easier races before tackling those extra-hard cops-vs-speeders levels.

I'll make the coffee at the support group.

---

I thought there are a lot of parallels between this Long / Short RPG idea and some of the industry trends that Ray Huling was talking about in his September 9 article "Beat Your Game to Death". Ray talks about how the really hard-core players of games like Ninja Gaiden II do not play (and buy) games the way game publishers would like: if you spend hundreds of hours on one game, you're not buying other games. So perhaps the industry would be open to variable-length RPGs because they might encourage more people to buy more games more often. I would like them to keep the Long option in there, though, because I also think some games are far too short - the games I have beaten have generally been in the range of 20 hours or less, which leaves me feeling a little bit unsatisfied.

I am not a hyper-completionist, but I do suffer from restarting because I forgot what the story was about halfway through. Short options for RPGs would totally fix this problem.

Here's what I'd do to fix it: The biggest time-sinks in RPGs are random battles, looking for chests, and watching in-game cutscenes. In Short Mode, there are 50% less random battles (each of which gives 2x the stuff), all cutscenes can be skipped, and any hidden object you missed appears in the next shop.

Think about it... minimal extra effort by developers, although you'd need a lot more testing to make sure things work in both modes. You'd cut a 60-hour epic to 30 hours, while still allowing people to grind, look for chests, watch all the story bits, etc. if they want to.

Robyrt:
I am not a hyper-completionist, but I do suffer from restarting because I forgot what the story was about halfway through. Short options for RPGs would totally fix this problem.

Here's what I'd do to fix it: The biggest time-sinks in RPGs are random battles, looking for chests, and watching in-game cutscenes. In Short Mode, there are 50% less random battles (each of which gives 2x the stuff), all cutscenes can be skipped, and any hidden object you missed appears in the next shop.

Think about it... minimal extra effort by developers, although you'd need a lot more testing to make sure things work in both modes. You'd cut a 60-hour epic to 30 hours, while still allowing people to grind, look for chests, watch all the story bits, etc. if they want to.

GENIUS!

I think the "grind" aspect of RPGs can get very frustrating (and boring, which is the last thing games should ever be), which is why it's nice that RPGs have evolved, to some degree, beyond requiring out-of-story leveling up and similar activities. It seems that the more recent RPGs that I have played have an experience curve that is very compatible with game progress. The bosses are just challenging enough so that I don't need to go gain five levels before attempting the battle, but at the same time I'm not ready for the endgame dungeon half-way through the game.

Of course, the super secret dungeons where every enemy is like a mini-boss require a bit more dedication, but I'm okay with that.

We have donuts, coffee, who's bringing plates and napkins and such?

One problem I have with RPGs is that when I do play one I usually do end up not finishing it immediately and turn to other things for a while. When I come back I can't remember what it was I was trying to do and I end up wandering around for a couple of hours before finding the plot again or giving up entirely. This wouldn't bother me as much if someone hadn't solved this problem over a decade ago.

In Phantasy Star IV there was a very simple system for keeping the player on track, an option called "talk" that would make the party recap in brief the details of the last major bit of dialogue, pointing the player to the next important thing in the main storyline. It was an ingenious device. When I left the game for a month or so and then came back, I just hit talk and I knew which planet to ship off to and what I would be doing when I got there.

Why haven't I seen this feature or something like it replicated in any game since?

shMerker:

Why haven't I seen this feature or something like it replicated in any game since?

Actually, there have been several games with similar features. The more recent Pokemon games have something that recaps your recent activity whenever you turn it on, and I believe Dragon Quest VIII allows you to talk to your team for relevant information.

You're correct though, this is a marvelous feature that should be included more often.

Robyrt's suggestion that missed items appear in the next shop is excellent, in my opinion. I second Susan's "GENIUS" comment.

Does anybody with some experience of game development think this would be a difficult feature to implement? Walkthroughs I've met have included detailed lists of each and every hidden item in the game, is this something that a program can do itself while running?

The "talk" feature also sounds great. But I'd prefer it was skipable, just like the cutscenes. Cutscenes should ALWAYS be skipable, not just in short mode.

It wouldn't be difficult at all. For example, play the Jake Hunter game. Every so often during a case, Jake stops to think over the case (During the third case in the game, you can think at any point) and the game provides you with a multiple-choice exam to see how much of the case you can remember.

And I used to live thinking I am the only one having the urge to open every single crate that comes in my way! Thanks for prooving the contrary :D

Brilliant idea with the short and long versions of the games, I'm sure it would have helped me with finishing morrowind and oblivion (yes, horrible, I haven't).

The question is, will any developer actually play along and put up with all the extra work? :/

I can see RPG developers implementing this system, and then taking lessons from difficulty levels and overdoing it, creating unlockable modes like "Very Long" mode, and "Some people, Staaarted Playing it...." mode

Well, while I think RPGs do in fact need to be shorter, it would be far easier if the Games just allowed us to cheat.

I mean think about it. Would the NPCs start shunning you because you got a better advantage? Would the King of the Nation start condemning you for not earning your share? You're saving the world, for crying out loud, you need all the advantages you can get. You aren't harming anyone when you are cheating, after all.

If we can cheat then, there would be no need for some sort of Short Mode, altough I would vastly prefer Short Mode anyway, just in case people hate the idea of cheating. (I'm fine with cheating in SP, not cheating in MP)

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