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The Long and Short of Growing Up as a Gamer

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Skychrono

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blog-0874873001336338170.jpg(Picture credit from Penny-Arcade.com: http://art.penny-arc...098_C3d43-L.jpg)

 

I recently became an "adult" to the extent that it's a detriment. Let me clarify that before my wife kills me - my son and wife are the best things that have ever happened to me as a person. But as a gamer, they've been pretty tough. The baby may only sleep for an hour or so you had better hope that your mission is more of a sortie.

 

But that's not something I can blame the industry for. But I can say that some games don't understand the idea of instant gratification, the idea that every time you're playing a game you're enjoying your time. If you're a game developer, ask yourself this:

If the time between savepoints wasn't fun, why was it there?

If you were watching the events unfold for the first time would they be interesting?

If you had to describe what you did in an hour's span to someone else, could you make that sound interesting?

 

The game that I've been referencing here, to be honest, is Zelda: Skyward Sword. I don't mean to rant against it, and I certainly don't hate it - it's just in dire need of an editor. Seriously, no game should follow a style guide, but this game garner some massive improvements by following those rules I put forth above. Let me tell you (with some spoilers) what I've done in the last five hours or so:

* Fought the reincarnation of an evil god for the second time (Awesome! Well, not as awesome as the first time, but still...)

* Finally got to hear some storyline information after hours of doing random quests for the sword...

* Learned a new skill that did exactly what a previous skill did...

* Fought a flying whale with eyes growing out of it (Alright, yeah!)...

* ...that required precise controls and wasn't any fun...

* Fought, uh, the reincarnation of an evil god again (it's only been an hour or so since the last time...)

* Fought the swimming controls to talk to a dragon...

* ...that turned an entire area into an underwater dungeon with annoying swimming controls...

* ...that required precise controls and wasn't any fun...

* ...to catch... musical notes...

 

And so on, and so on. The game is split into three parts with three sections in each - three initial visits to the surface, three visits to those areas to get musical flames, and three more visits to get parts of a song... and the second and third acts feel entirely useless to the plot and to the structure. Every mission feels like it's tacked on after the first section, every bit of storyline effectiveness reduced by adding long pauses before you hear a peep from Zelda or any of the Skyloft denziens.

 

The big problem here is not player agency - the player is always involved, and there are barely any cutscenes. The problem is not the inanity of the quests (like tadpole hunting), since those can certainly be done well (like in Mass Effect 2). The problem is that the game is structured like a game that doesn't care that someone has to play it. It wants to get its message across in its own particular way and thinks that games these days need to be long to be worth buying. But that isn't why people buy Zelda - they buy Zelda for dungeon designs (such as the first Dark World dungeon in LttP), the quirky sense of humor (the hookshot goes BOOO-OOOO-OOOOING), and its characters (Malon and Midna have so many fans you'd think that they were the titular characters in their respective games). Skyward Sword focuses on all of the wrong things.

 

But its combat is nice!

 

(And, no - a game that can be "chunked" out like this isn't going to lose its sense of immersion. Just look at Skyrim for a game that did it right - the universe is all there, and you can play as little or as much as you'd like.)

 

Here's some more exampls of games that could've been better with an editor:

- Metal Gear Solid 4 (intentionally?) favored quantity over quality with 1.5-hour-long cutscenes, a very literal example of Telling instead of Showing. When previous games in the series put the most interesting content behind codec calls this isn't super surprising but the final game in the Snake series didn't take any of the criticisms on previous games into consideration. I theorize that this game is really the End of Evangelion of the Metal Gear Solid series.

- Tales of Vesperia, that lost sight of its message thanks to its reliance on the Spirits (summons) plot. Yuri was a "renegade" with a heart, but a total departure from this plot by the game's second half made it feel like a dangling thread.

 

And, just to be positive, games that did length well:

- Portal 2 had three "acts," but none could really be cut. Trimmed a bit, maybe, but almost every puzzle was interesting enough to be kept in

- Skyrim and Saints Row are both "long" games, but with simple components for the most part. Walk around, find a thing, kill the thing, find a treasure. Every day can feel like an accomplishment.

 

 

Zelda is the worst offender I can think of recently. But it's not a terrible game. It doesn't tarnish the Zelda legacy. But, hopefully, it's a game which signals the end of an era instead of a proving point. Because this isn't how games can go on, with gamers getting older. If the industry only focuses on the 12-to-20-year-old crowd then it's going to lose out on a share of the market that actually has money to spend, a market share willing to pay for quality. Arkham Asylum, Skyrim, Portal - they knew how to do it. Let's hope that other games try to copy their success.

 

(Oh boy, I just realized that all of my positive examples are American and all of the negative ones are Japanese. That wasn't intentional. There are great Japanese games out there! Bayonetta for one. And, uh...)

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Oh man, another person not overly fond of Skyward Sword. My opinion suddenly feels validated =p

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I'm not overly fond of the entire Zelda franchise. Ocarina of Time was kind of neat, but I was never really captivated by the series or its gameplay. I certainly didn't cry when Link rode in on his high horse (pun intended). :P

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Very interesting blog, SkyChrono. You bring up some extremely valid points regarding Skyward Sword, especially some of what occurs around the 3/4 mark during the game. I suppose you could say I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum of you when it comes to how we view the game, but nevertheless I can definitely understand the complaints lodged against it.

 

I wouldn't necessarily say Skyward Sword focuses on all the wrong things, but its segmented world does lend itself to some of the more precarious design decisions implemented as you mentioned. And even though I actually did end up enjoying the tadtone segment, I admit there were a few times I groaned because the game made you do this first or go do that before you could get something over and over.

 

Anyhow, I won't turn this into a defense post for the game, but it is pretty interesting how polarizing the game is: from what I've noticed, either people hate it or they absolutely love it. I'm part of the latter group, but I do recognize its issues. That said, it still remains one of the best games I've played in some time.

 

But yes, well written blog, sir. I'd love to see more of your thoughts on video games and gaming in general sometime. :)

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Well, I'd be glad to elaborate on whatever you'd like. :P

 

As for Skyward Sword - I don't mean to sound like it's terrible. And the tadtones section wasn't all that bad in the end! But it's a matter of HAVING to do the things instead of presenting them as optional content, as you said - the day I got to that section I had about an hour to play games between an eleven-hour work day and a stint of taking care of my newborn.

 

What did I do in that time? Swim. For tadtones.

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