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Puncherson_64LadyBrain_64

No spoilers

Butch:

It’s time to talk about time:

I’m 90 hours in. I’ve done all the story through what pride has wrought, all the companion quests (that I know of), about 2/3 of the rifts, half the shards, four or five constellation thingies. I’m pretty much not going to do much more than finish the thing, in terms of story, so figure I’ll be, what, 95 or so. I’ll say 96 for math purposes.

You did 116. That means you did 20 hours of nothing but shards, rifts, and constellations. That’s as much time as I spent completing TLOU. That’s as much time as I took to complete BOTH Portals.

Which some would say is “filler.” But let’s be clear: I ignored a lot of that “filler,” and got NINETY HOURS of great game anyway. NINETY HOURS! I do not feel cheated by this game at all.

I DID feel cheated by Skyrim.

So why the extra game’s worth of “filler?” Did people really want that? Did you? I certainly don’t think it was necessary to the enjoyment of the game, cuz I ignored it and still love the game.

Feminina:

I don’t know what people who complained about filler really wanted. Maybe their definition of ‘filler’ is more sweeping than yours, and they considered some of the shallower companion stuff (kill 5 rogue templars for Cassandra, or whatever) to be filler as well as the bottles, shards, etc. Even at that we run into the question of how big can a game really go on nothing but ‘non-filler,’ or plot-dense stuff.

We’ve kind of concluded that you couldn’t really do 100 hours of heavy plot…or at least, you’d lose 95% of your audience because at that much plot you’re going to get so dense that people will get bored and/or annoyed and/or offended by whatever your storyline is, because it’s really hard to tell a super long, super dense plot that millions of people will care about. Hence, you stick to the classic save-the-world scripts, because even if they aren’t original, they’ll at least read as ‘worth following’ for a significant number of people.

I kind of feel like maybe people just want more of whatever plot they personally like. Which is a desire I sympathize with, but perhaps an unrealistic expectation from a big game. And, I mean, if you just weren’t into the story, that’s fair to say. “I found the save-the-world plot hackneyed and all the companion stories boring, so I basically didn’t like the plot, and what was left was filler which I also didn’t like.”

Fine. The game wasn’t for you. Not everyone likes every game. But the whole “there wasn’t ENOUGH plot” argument seems off base, because as you say, there was actually quite a bit of plot. “There wasn’t enough plot I liked” is a whole other criticism.

Butch:

True, some of the “kill 5 templars”-type stuff was a bit empty. But my beef was more of a lack of follow up, not it being there in general.

True, it’s fine to criticize story. Critiquing the narrative is sort of what we do. It’s there to be critiqued. People do generally like more of what they want….except when they don’t. More in a moment on that.

But let’s look at the shards/rifts/etc. (Or, in that sense, lets look at the stuff I didn’t do.) That stuff “didn’t matter.” It didn’t. Like, at all. I’ve ignored it, and I still got 90 hours of great game. And people complain cuz it’s “extra,” or “unnecessary.” Well, duh.

See, I think it’s a disconnect between developers and the players. Buttons has said that there’s some sense in AAA design of giving players a game they can play “their way.” Want story? Follow it. Want to collect shit? Go collect shit. Want to fight? Fight.

But I’m not sure the majority of players approach games that way. Even Buttons, developer that he is. I think most players feel some sort of compulsion, or at least some pressure from the game, to do everything. You and Buttons both did. Do you like running around collecting shit in games? The busy work? No. You play games for narrative and character. But you spent twenty more hours than I did doing just that. You didn’t say “fuck it, I’m going to ignore this.” Something in your head, the game or both made you spend a whole AAA game’s worth of time doing it.

So these games don’t end up being games where “people can play them how they like.” They become games that have “a bunch of shit I don’t want to do, but feel the need to do anyway.”

Which I don’t get. Why can’t you and Buttons, otherwise arguably sane people, walk away? Why can’t most gamers? Why don’t devs get that they won’t?

Feminina:

More interesting points…I agree that something merely existing in a game does exert a certain pressure to do that thing, even if it’s something that’s optional in the sense that you don’t have to do it to complete the game. I mean, it’s there! I should do it! It wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t something I should do! There’s definitely an expectation that a thing ‘ought to’ be done, based on simply including that thing as an option.

Especially collections. People just like to complete collections of totally random, pointless things (in real life as well!). But I think asking why I (I can’t speak for Buttons) “couldn’t walk away” from collecting shards is not really accurate. You say that we don’t like running around collecting stuff, we play for narrative and character, and that’s true…but only to a point. I mean, yeah, I don’t play JUST to run around and collect stuff: I would dump a game in an hour if ALL it was was collecting shards. (Although one could imagine a perfectly workable phone game built around that premise…) And yeah, I do play big games with a main focus on narrative and character, because that’s what keeps things interesting for me over the long run. And that’s what’s interesting to discuss later on blogs.

But the entire game wasn’t about shards, the shards were just little puzzles interspersed among other things, and I actually DID enjoy collecting them, which is why I didn’t walk away from those quests. Why would I have? I was, in fact, having fun doing them. Was it ultimately kind of pointless to gather them all? I suppose so…but everything you do in a game is ultimately pointless if you want to get really technical about it. Every fight, every door we had to bash down, every conversation with some side character who only provided general background information without contributing a key plot point or bit of character development… When you get down to it, it’s a game, it’s kind of defined by not having any practical purpose, and whatever you do in it that’s entertaining at the time IS the point.

I liked closing rifts, too. I kind of liked fulfilling requisitions. All the time I was doing extra stuff I didn’t have to do, I was doing stuff that was fun for me at the time, and saying “why can’t you walk away from stuff that’s fun for you?” is not really a question that makes much sense to ask about a game.

I guess a fair version of the question might be “why is this kind of stuff fun for some people when other people totally don’t care about it?” but I’m not sure we’re ever going to be able to answer that other than with the classic “there’s no accounting for some folks’ taste.”

And sure, I complained about how many shards there are to pick up, and how the army never runs out of things to requisition, but I also complained about how hard giants are to kill and how annoying it is when your companions run off after some passing enemy you don’t care about…I don’t think any of these complaints indicated that I think some specific thing shouldn’t be in the game at all (no hard battles or wandering enemies!), or that I really wished I didn’t have to take some action but felt compelled to by the thing’s presence in the game world.

I think your main point is that you got a perfectly satisfactory game experience without collecting the shards and closing all the rifts and so forth, and that’s totally legitimate and deserves to be said. I can absolutely see how you could do that, and I acknowledge that all the extra stuff I did was in fact ‘extra’ in that it was in no way required for a satisfactory game experience. Anyone who says “there was too much stupid stuff you HAD to do to finish the game!” gets little sympathy from me, because so much of it was in fact skippable.

But the extra stuff I did WAS fun for me, and I think you may be slightly discounting the extent to which other people actually enjoy that kind of thing. Remember: I like brewing potions in Skyrim, too.

I’m sure that some people out there must get obsessive about games and feel they HAVE to complete every collection and finish every quest even though they don’t really enjoy it and aren’t having any fun with it…and I feel bad for those theoretical people, because that doesn’t seem like any way to spend time, but that’s not even close to my experience. And I’m not sure it makes sense to suggest to developers that they should include fewer optional collections, or whatever, on the assumption that more people can’t walk away, than choose not to because they’re having some pointless fun.

In short: I can stop any time I want!

Butch:

Yes, people do feel compelled, and yet, devs don’t seem to understand that. “Freedom” and “customizing your game experience” can, for many people, become to do lists.

And well, ok, fine, you had fun with the extra stuff. But then, you weren’t one of the voices complaining about filler. The complainers sounded like they didn’t like that stuff, and yet “then I just won’t do it” either didn’t become an option for them, or they felt that not doing it didn’t leave them with enough game.

I saw somewhere, and it’s true, that when people eat, they will fill their plate no matter how big their plates are (my parents used to have these HUGE plates and I never understood why I was so stuffed when I ate there. They changed the plates and lost weight.) It seems that games with “small” plates, like, say, Portal 2, where you “eat” everything on it makes people feel like they weren’t gypped. Whereas DAI is a HUGE plate, but if people don’t feel like they like everything or there’s some left on the plate, there’s a psychological bias against that even if they got to eat MORE of what they liked than what was on the little plate.

“Spinach! I don’t like this bit of spinach!”
“But you got to eat three burgers and two pies!”
“But there’s some SPINACH, and I DON’T LIKE SPINACH!”

is worse to people than:
“I got one burger and it was great.”

It’s true with food, I think it’s true with games, and it’s just human nature.

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be there. Or that people shouldn’t like it. What I am saying is that if you don’t like it, then don’t CHOOSE to do it, then bitch that you did it. If you did it and loved it, good for you. But this stuff seems to have fed the complaint mill. People are bitching that they spent those extra 20 hours when they COULD have said hell with it and walked away, and that’s what’s weird.

To take the food thing above, if you like spinach, you’d’ve eaten the spinach, and great. But what people are doing is eating the spinach, getting more spinach, then yet more, then complaining that the game had spinach and they don’t like spinach.

I guess it’s a balance. I suppose I just get frustrated with the people who seem to think a 90 hour game is gypping them when the source of said gypping is the 20 hours they didn’t want to do and didn’t have to do.

Feminina:

Ooh, I like the food/plates analogy! It’s true, I’ve read about that research, and it’s fascinating. Also, that people will unconsciously eat more (but not be any more satisfied) if you give them more food. Brains are weird. So, give people games that are the equivalent of giant plates covered with 30 kinds of food, and they’ll play more hours, but may not like it any better, in addition to feeling cheated if they didn’t want to eat absolutely everything on their giant, stuffed plate, because ew, spinach. (It touched my burger!)

And yeah, maybe that IS why people can’t just ignore the stuff they don’t want. It’s on my plate! I should like everything on my plate! The fact that 5% of what was on my plate was unappetizing to me means I didn’t get my money’s worth, and that ruined the whole rest of the meal for me! Even though I gorged myself on the other 90 hours of content.

Right here, the seeds of our first academic paper!…right after our rabble-rousing anti-homework activism.

And it’s true, there is something very delicious and satisfying about a well-crafted, small, self-contained game that just does one thing and does it really nicely. Like having a meal that’s a delicious sandwich and doesn’t also include an appetizer, side, two other courses and a dessert.

Yes, we can work with this.

Butch:

Exactly! Ergo my comparison to Portal 2. You really won’t hear anyone bitch about anything in Portal 2. Not its length, its content, nothing. It’s universally loved. This is a game that a) you pretty much do the same thing (that is, solve get to that door puzzles with the portal gun) and b) is MAYBE 15 hours long. Compare to DAI that has all SORTS of different stuff, is ten times longer, yet people complain. Big plate, small plate.

And it seems independent of money. I can see people bitching about, say, The Order being 7 hours long and 60 bucks, when people don’t bitch about a 7 hour game costing 20. That makes sense. But Portal was a full price release (when it was released), TLOU at 20 hours was full price, etc. So people aren’t saying “given I paid 60 bucks I should have no spinach, it should be 120 hours of pie” cuz people don’t treat all 60 dollar games like that. It just seems to be the plate problem.

But all this begs the question: what are devs to do? I mean, there’s a place for that sandwich, there’s a place for the ten course meal, there’s even a place for the endless buffet of greasy crap. One does like one of those from time to time. Yet, one can make a bad sandwich, a bad ten course meal, a bad buffet. With games, it’s a hard call to say what type of game fits what type of approach. Take a big scope game with a whole lot of silly collecting. You didn’t have as much of a problem with DAI’s shards, yet you did have an issue with AC4’s fragments and shanties. It can’t be as simple as “Well, in DAI I got some cold resistance.”

So what to do, devs, what to do to please us, your fickle consumers?

Feminina:

What are devs to do, indeed?

Work on making sure the plate always looks smaller than the meal so people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth? Is it all about marketing/presentation? That’s certainly one lesson we could take from the plate studies. Give people a meal on a smaller plate that’s nearly full, and they’ll feel just as satisfied as if you give them twice as much food on a bigger plate that’s equally full.

Maybe if DAI had been advertised as a medium-sized, compact game (that just happened to have 80 million optional side quests that you could do if you want), people would have been more willing to see the extras as extras, and would have enthused about how “there was all this additional stuff I could have done if I’d wanted, but I still got a good, solid 80 hours out of the main plot!” instead of complaining that too much of the content wasn’t meaty enough.

And yet, people–some people–seem to want that huge, ‘open-world’ experience, so maybe they would have lost customers by trying to sell it that way.

Maybe the real issue is just that DA is not perfectly suited to buffet style presentation, but they felt they had to go that way because of perceived demand for hugeness, and so we have a basic mismatch between the type of food that BioWare does best, and the hot plate/salad bar set up that a semi open world requires.

So maybe the real lesson is, “know the type of dining experience you’re trying to offer, and focus your menu and presentation accordingly.”

Not that developers get to plan the marketing campaigns.

Butch:

Not easy, it’s true. Add that to the long list of hard things, and it’s a miracle games happen.

And, really, the complaints are not dominating the conversation. I point them out for the sake of discussion. The thing still sold well (according to bioware; we have no figures) and it got great reviews and awards and whatnot. So it isn’t necessarily an emergency. DAI was no flop.

Especially as it was an established franchise. When you’re Dragon Age, you sort of have to be big and sweeping because, well, Dragon Age games are big and sweeping. When you’re Portal 2, following up the 9 hour Portal 1, then you don’t have to be what you are (or TLOU as a new IP). I mean, Elder Scrolls 6 is going to have to go big or go home.

Having franchises is a double edged sword. People like us will buy it no matter what, as it is a DA title, and they get sales. But it also puts handcuffs on them creatively, and marketingwise.

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