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Minor spoilers for a tomb in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Butch:

I raided a tomb! The one with the big assed Galleon in the cave. I think there must be a legend about big assed galleons in caves, because didn’t Uncharted 4 have something like that? And junior said he read a book with Mayan shit in it with a ship in a cave.

Anyway, did that. Good tomb. I can not drown for longer, which is always a good thing.

But I played some other stuff, too, and that is where we shall blog.

So I got this little mini Super Nintendo for Xmas last year, which I have played with some, and I busted it out with the kids yesterday. We played some Street Fighter 2, some old school Mario, kids messed around with Final Fantasy 3 and Secret of Mana. And an observation: These games are HARD. Now, some of that was that they had to make them hard to make them longer. The original Super Mario game only takes about 70 minutes to beat if you don’t die, and people weren’t gonna shell out fifty bucks for 70 minutes. Dying fluffed it up. But the big thing I noticed that led to difficulty was there were no tutorials. You pick up Street Fighter, there’s no period of time where they’re all “Press X to kick! Now kick a few times! Used to it? Cool! Now press Y to punch….” It’s just Load screen, pick your character, GO!

This was true of the RPGs as well. Boom! Right into the fray!

And in some ways that was a little frustrating, but then, once we figured it out, it was fun. And it was nice not having a little prompt show up every time we could do something.

As a time frame, these games were from about 1992-1994.

So I start this day wondering…have we gone too far in the other direction? Yes, you weren’t playing games in 1992, but you can still ponder if things are too damn hand holdy. Prompts, quest markers, highlighted things you can use, etc.

Shit, just a few weeks ago I was complaining that the game didn’t teach me about swinging to lights and HOW DARE A GAME DO THAT!!!

Now I’m having an internal debate with myself.

Whatchu think?

Feminina:

Hm. That’s an interesting question. An initial thought–this was back in the days when games had manuals, right? Which people would sometimes read. So in a way, they could afford to teach you nothing in-game, because there was some expectation that if you didn’t want to just flail until you figured it out, you could RTFM.

And I think probably mostly people DIDN’T read the manuals, which is probably why games don’t bother with them anymore, but the flip side of that is that if you have no manual, you can’t just tell people to read it if they can’t figure something out.

I think that “if I can’t look it up for myself in accompanying literature (because expecting people to look something up online doesn’t count), you should clearly explain to me how to do it” is fair.

Now, whether we need to continue to have it explained to us after we’ve learned it once, I don’t know, that’s another question. Because you’re right, in theory once we know that we can hit X to open a box we don’t have to SEE the X hovering over the box every single time. Maybe we could just know that when we walk up to the box, we hit X!

I remember in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood they actually played with that a bit…if you recall, most of an AC game takes place inside the Animus, which is essentially a video game, and you get all the usual prompts for everything. So you get used to that, but then there are sequences (especially one near the end) where your character OUTSIDE the Animus is running around climbing buildings and stuff, and you don’t get the prompts, you’re just climbing and jumping from your memory of what buttons to push.

I thought it was really cool, actually. Some very interesting moments where you kind of merge with the character in the sense that you’re both relying on muscle memory of things you’ve been practicing during the game, and you feel pretty cool because hey, I’ve mastered this stuff!–but there’s a slight edge of danger now because what if I don’t remember something quite right and I try to jump to that ledge but instead just leap into space or something? Also, it was really visually clean and cool, because you’re just running around in this environment with no distractions from mini-maps or menus or prompts.

Maybe it would be cool if games turned off the prompts more often, at least for obvious, basic things that we know how to do.

On the other hand, prompts for obvious, basic things don’t really serve as reminders of how to do something, so much as they show us WHERE we can do the thing. Which is important. I mean, if we don’t have some clue to differentiate the stuff we can interact with from the stuff we can’t, we’re going to either miss things or (and let’s be honest, it’s this one) spend a ton of time clicking EVERY SINGLE BOX/BAG/BARREL EVERYWHERE to make sure we don’t miss things. And then we’ll be annoyed because we’re wasting a lot of time trying to loot when there’s no loot.

So…do we need hand-holdy instructions on how to do everything? No.

Do we want hand-holdy information on what specific things we can do stuff with? Yes. Yes we do.

And there are obviously different ways to provide this information. Maybe all the lootable boxes glow: they do in the game we’re playing, if you hit Survival Instincts, so maybe they could just ALWAYS glow, or something. (I remember in Dragon Age: Origins, lootable things would always sparkle. That worked. Just look around for the sparkle! Every time, before you leave an area, look around and make sure you’re not leaving any sparkle!)

Or, in the Tomb Raider we’re playing, climbable rocks look different. Climbable walls have white streaks. Etc. There’s no ‘hit square to use your axe to climb those pockmarked-looking rocks’ after the tutorial, they just expect you to know that. (Although if it’s been a while since you did something, they do put in the reminder prompt. Like, they always prompt me to hit square while jumping to throw the grapple axe and swing from something. I remember that!–but they always tell me.)

So they already take away prompts for things that can be visually highlighted in another way. I guess they just don’t like the way sparkly boxes look.

In closing, I don’t know what I think, exactly, except that I would be extremely annoyed if I had to click every box instead of having lootable ones hover the X when I got close. Also, sometimes the angle can be really picky, so you have to be standing just right to make the X pop up–imagine if you had to be standing just right to loot, but there WAS no X (or other visual hint). You’d never know whether you hadn’t looted a thing because there was no loot, or because you just weren’t looking at it right. I would HATE that.

Also keep in mind that if we find this particular game too hand-holdy, we can increase the difficulty, and things like the white smears on wall will go away (although I don’t know about the X for looting boxes). Maybe what would be cool is more of that…more options to turn off prompts? The ability to say “I’d prefer to flail around until I figure it out”?

A final thought for the moment…as you say, I wasn’t playing games in the 1990s, but didn’t a lot of them only have, like, five things you could do? It’s obviously a lot more reasonable to expect someone to figure out 5 things by trial and error button-pushing, than however many things Lara Croft has to do.

Butch:

Hmm. True. They did have manuals. And I don’t know about “people,” but I read every damn word before I even started. Even the huge ones that listed all the spells.

Though another thing games, back in the day, DID lack was a learning curve. There wasn’t some convenient tutorial where you were a kid and had to practice shooting with your mentor or some shit. It was “Hit start! AAAAAANNNNND GOOOOO!” And that’s not really a manual thing. That said, the benefit is that you got good pretty fast. Usually.

But I’m not so sure that I’d want a game that didn’t have SOME learning curve.

Dear God yes with the ‘hit X’. Shit, as you say TR even has text EACH TIME! “Grapple Axe: Hit square while jumping to-” I KNOW!

Maybe you can turn that off.

I’m gonna turn that off if I can.

But I WILL add that you could make different objects harder or easier to find. Lootable boxes? Light ’em up. But, say, the treasures in UC. They sparkled, sure. But not crazy obviously. Enough that you knew you didn’t have to click over every inch of everything, but subtle enough that finding them wasn’t often the easiest thing. There was some challenge. So there’s sparkly and there’s sparkly.

Ooo that AC example is cool! But then, AC had a very specific narrative device that allowed that to make sense.

Maybe that’s the way things are going. Options for different hand-holding levels for different things. I’m gonna try turning up the difficulty. Maybe that’ll work.

As for the number of things you had to do… yes and no. Some games, sure. Hit the button, the ship fires. But a game like, say, Street fighter, you could move, jump, crouch, block, punch, kick AND the characters all had special moves that weren’t exactly obvious. More than once yesterday one of us did something awesome and said “How’d I do that? I want to do that again!” but we couldn’t figure out what, exactly, we did.

But Lara doesn’t REALLY have that much variety. I’ve gotten to the point where I just hit square every time I’m in the air, just in case I have to grapple or grab on once I land. Safer that way. So sure, there’s grapple axe, grapple to ledge and “catch yourself,” but it’s really all just “Hit square while in the air.” Same with guns. 97 guns, but aim, fire. Etc.

But yes, she does have more to do than eating dots or shooting space invaders. That is so.

Feminina:

I do that too–hit square anytime I jump, just in case I might need to grab something with the axe. And then as soon as I land, hit circle, just in case I might need to stop myself from losing my grip and falling off. There’s that skill ‘never have to hit circle to catch yourself’ or whatever, and I will never bother to get it, because hitting circle is such a habit I’d probably keep doing it even if I didn’t ever have to.

I have to say, I like some learning curve, although it depends on the game. I mean, if it’s the sort of game where you just ARE going to die all the time and that’s how you learn, and you reload again right away–fine, I guess. Dive right in, flail, pick it up as you go.

I don’t usually play–or particularly want to play–those games, though. So, again, a lot of it is maybe the context of the game itself.

Butch:

Yeah. Grabbing the edge is something I don’t need help with. Though having both “breathe under water longer” ones, that’s gold. That’s what the galleon gives you, if you haven’t done it. And it makes some sense in context. Have you done it?

True about the context. And, as you say, if you reload RIGHT AWAY that’s one thing. Some games, like, say, this one, have LOOOOOOONG load times, and who wants to die often, or at all, when that’s the case?

Feminina:

Yeah, I did the galleon and collected the extra breath-holding one. Very handy. This game really likes its underwater sequences.

And they really aren’t so bad, when you don’t have to come up for air every 10 seconds.

Butch:

That made sense, though. All that practice swimming. Of COURSE she got better.

Not a bad tomb, that.

Feminina:

Yeah, it was pretty cool. Big old ships in the middle of mountain caverns have a certain spooky novelty. I was into it.

Butch:

Novelty…if you didn’t finish UC4.

Feminina:

Hey…some people haven’t!

Butch:

But YOU have.

Must be a Mayan thing. Or Aztec. What are these guys supposed to be? Incan?

Whatever.

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