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Note: Extremely minor spoilers for Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood.

Butch:

Must be getting close to the end [of Tomb Raider]. Last night got the trophy for “raided all tombs,” so done with that, and did that long climb to the research base. Gotta be close.

So my thought on last night: The climb. It’s funny, but the climb wasn’t hard. If you looked, you saw the white rungs, you knew where to go. You could line up the jumps. Indeed, I didn’t die once. But it was really, really tense. Slightly scary, even. Looking at the jumps, rational me said “Ok, easy.” But there was still this “nope, not gonna jump down to that zip line” twinge. It’s pretty good to take a slow, relatively easy part and make it tense. Nice design.

Feminina:

I agree. It was like when you had to climb the radio tower earlier: rationally and from a purely gameplay perspective, it wasn’t actually hard, but it FELT risky and made you all tense. I like this too. It did a really nice job of pulling you into the action even when the action was slow.

There’s also some nice realism there, in that climbing up ladders isn’t that hard (for most people), but if the ladder is hundreds of feet up on a cliff it’s still going to be pretty scary. Context is everything, and this was a good example of how establishing context can add tension and meaning to a scene.

Butch:

It DID feel risky. And what’s weird is, even thinking about it with my attuned blogging mind, I can’t figure out why it accomplished that. Camera angles? Sound? Maybe because you knew that you were getting close to the end? Weird.

And what’s funny is I think the lack of dying (and, thus, restarting) kept that feeling alive. It wouldn’t have felt as risky had you died three times. Which sounds counter intuitive, but makes sense.

I also say for the sake of thought, that here we have the mark of a good game: When you know you’re in the endgame, and you want to stall a bit because you don’t want it to end, that’s a good game. And I feel that way. A meh game is when you feel like the endgame’s a chore, something to plow through because, well, you’ve come this far.

I’ll miss Lara. For a while.

Feminina:

I think there’s something to your idea that it feels more risky partly because you don’t die a lot: it keeps open the possibility of making it without dying, while also maintaining just enough risk to keep you on edge. After all, you easily COULD die if you weren’t paying attention and just leapt backwards off the cliff or something, so it’s worth it to you to stay focused even though you’re almost certainly going to be fine. The touch of uncertainty makes it interesting.

In a way, something that’s really hard is actually less risky in-game: dying becomes less a ‘risk’ than a ‘certainty,’ so you expect it and it’s not really that big a deal.

Butch:

Or even the thought you could die if you weren’t paying attention. Like, there was one bit where you had to jump and catch a zip line that was under you. There was no convenient little X popping up. And so there was this moment of “did I get it? Did I get it?” that snuck in. Now, in reality, it was probably very hard to miss that jump. Anything generally close was going to be ok. But you didn’t know that, so that moment of “AIEE!” could creep in. Nice.

And also, with the death as certainty bits, dying sort of becomes part of the process towards success. We’ve all done the “I’m going to charge in just to get a sense of how many baddies and where they are before I die” trick. Maybe a couple of times. Hell, for big fights the first few times we’re not even trying to live. They’re fact finding forays. With this climb, there didn’t have to be that. I knew where to go, what to do. There needn’t have been any “die to learn” bits. So I tried not to die. And was tense about the possibility.

Feminina:

The removal of the little cues can be strangely effective.

There was a section near the end of AC 2: Brotherhood that I remember fondly, where you’re in the ‘real world’ instead of the Animus, and you’re climbing around the Colloseum (as one does, in the real world), and you have to leap and scramble on all these ruined columns.

It’s exactly the same mechanics you’ve been using the entire game, but because you’re in the real world they don’t give you the button cues, and for some reason the lack of that little graphic in the corner highlighting ‘X – jump’ or whatever makes it feel new and dangerous. And it’s weird, because I don’t actually LOOK at the cues when they’re there. By that point I’d been playing Assassin’s Creed for three games and who knows how many hours, and running, jumping and climbing was automatic. You don’t even think about it.

But the fact that the cues were gone, even though I never would have looked at them if they were there, made the actions feel different. As if I was to some extent just guessing, feeling my way in the dark.

It felt riskier, to use our hot term of the day. I know it’s ridiculously easy to do at this point, but WHAT IF I don’t hit X at the right moment? I could die!

Butch:

I feel exactly the same way. Especially in a QTE heavy game like Tomb Raider. I’m just waiting for it to tell me what button to press.

Don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

Feminina:

This will open up a whole new discussion about whether players are too dependent on cues. If we were forced to memorize everything and just make desperate guesses when we weren’t sure, like my grandpappy did back in the arcade after walking 10 miles through 6 feet of snow, we’d all be building a lot more character!

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