Puncherson_64Minor spoilers for Mass Effect 2 follow.

Now, Femmy and I are coming from the position that narrative in games is a good, if not vital, thing.  Keeping a player focused on the narrative is de facto good game design.  I know there are people who don’t think that way, people who basically want to throw your soda cans at interns and find all that heavy handed “story” to be too much to handle in a video game.  Why those people are not getting it is another post.  Suffice to say, we’re narrative-first people.

One criticism that I hear from time to time is that a game has “too many cutscenes.”  People openly wonder “Will Metal Gear Solid 5 be little more than an interactive movie?”  While too many cutscenes (which is open to interpretation) can bog a game down, using cutscenes to grab the player by the collar, making them focus on a plot point is a good thing.

A while back Buttons, you told me that often developers will tacitly use game devices to ask the player “what does the game want you to do now?” Cutscenes work to say to the player “the game wants you to pay attention to THIS! NOW!”

Trying to cram important dialog into free gameplay rarely, if ever, works.  Assassin’s Creed 4 had more than a couple missions such as “follow Blackbeard,” requiring the player to stroll after Blackbeard listening to him exposit.  This had two dangers: 1) the player would wander off to shop or hire dancers, missing everything on purpose or 2) the player would unintentionally get too far away, fall into a haystack they didn’t see, get distracted by the noise coming from a tavern, etc. and miss the story.  Couple that with badly placed save points, and you had players who wanted to follow every tidbit of story and couldn’t because of having too many unavoidable distractions.  Put all that in cutscenes so we don’t trip over soda cans we don’t even want!

Speaking of want, Femmy says: “I think Butch’s concern, even more than clutter, is when you HAVE to do something you hate in order to progress in the game, like ‘I hate Nine Men’s Morris, why are you making me play 10 rounds in order to talk to this character?’ (Not that this actually happened.)”    I think this was a main criticism of Mass Effect 2’s planet scanning.  Technically, you didn’t have to scan all those planets, but if you didn’t, and didn’t upgrade your ship with the elements you found, the punishment was a) severe, b) sort of unforeseeable (“Wait, Garrus dies forever because I didn’t get all that Ezoo?”) and c) unfixable without going back and replaying 60% of the game.  Now, I have no problem with that, because it made narrative sense that you should upgrade the ship before going on what everyone thought was a suicide mission and those lazy gamers got what they deserved.  But I can see the argument that that was forcing people into doing something they found boring.

“Completionist” is also a complicated word.  Sure, there are people that want to platinum every game.  I’m not one of them; I’ll never win a platinum trophy.  But I am a completionist in that I’m someone who wants to squeeze all the value out of my sixty dollar purchase.  I want to see/do/experience everything the developers took the time to put in there.  Certainly I want all the juicy details of the story.  But as someone who sees games as art, I want to see the entire artistic vision.  It’s very frustrating when it seems that the developers didn’t care about making anything artistic for me to find, that all they crammed in was checkers, and it took hours of my time to find that out.

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