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Aethon's blog

7:45 AM on 04.02.2011

Guided Gaming: Where the Hell do I go?

I would like to start off with a bit of an introduction, if I may.
This is my first blog here at Dtoid. I've visited the site regularly for the last 3 years or so and decided to finally stop lurking after the epicness that was Faxtoid. It was one of the most imaginative April Fools gags I've ever seen. I'm going through some rough times right now and have a major surgery coming up in just a few days. I called up the 800 number yesterday and spoke to Dale North and thanked him and everyone at Dtoid for giving me a much needed laugh and break from all my stress.

To all of you, the Jawsome staff at Destructoid and all the community that makes this site what it is today, I truly thank you. The chief point, I think, that all the gaming critics and the mass media miss is how gaming brings people together and how we can help each other out during hard times.

You all get a Zaku for awesomeness!

Fuck yeah, Zaku!

Now, on to my post. I apologize in advance for how long this will be.

Colette posted yesterday, talking about the guide arrows that we find in more and more games these days. I haven't had the chance to play Okamiden yet so I'm not entirely certain how that feature was implemented. However, I had a similar discussion with a friend of mine about a similar topic and I wanted to share my viewpoint. So, I faxed them a 2 page diatribe about how I felt on the topic.
Sorry about that guys.

We all know the guide marker. Most games that aren't brutally linear have some kind of waypoint these days. Now the question is, is this necessarily a good thing?

Let's start with a look at the days of yore. I really got my gaming start back in 1987. I was a connoisseur of both consoles and PC games and I quickly learned one of the most essential tools one had to have for a game was this:

Serious Business.

You had to have a notebook around. Games usually didn't tell you where to go or what to do. They mostly just gave you often hints and expected you to use your wits and problem solving skills to get through them. There was no quest tracker, so anything an NPC said should be written down in case it was important. The most common consequence to guessing wrong was wasting your time. Just slightly less common was death. The problem was, a lot of older games were built around the concept of trial and error. You waste hours either trying to correctly interpret some cryptic hint or just trying anything.

Welcome to Trial and Error.

Most of the older point and click adventures followed this formula. You would get hints, or a character would give you an objective. What you wouldn't be told, though, was how to get there and how to do it. But was that necessarily a bad thing? The Quest for Glory series had multiple ways you could approach most situations and left it up to the player to figure out which ways these are and which one best fits your play style.

The real problem was when you played a game that had a large world and you had no idea where to go. NPCs would tell you that you need to go to a specific cave and only tell you that it is east of where you're at. And there would be the potential for a lot of east, with multiple caves. However, the game would certaintly let you know if you were going in the wrong direction. By killing the shit out of you.

Alright Hero. Here's a torch, 120g, and a key to get out of this room. Now go save the world!

Older RPGs developed difficulty zones that discouraged you from exploring too much as it would keep you in check with the threat of imminent death. You had to save often, but your objectives were never conveniently placed near a save point. You could cross a bridge to an unassuming meadow. The side you came from was populated by roving packs of squishy monsters which offered no real challenge to you. On the other side of that bridge, though, lurks the Nameless Horror. An eldritch monstrosity, named the Drinker of Sorrow from a now extinct (digested) civilization, formed out of the very essence of your nightmares that eats your unhappiness. Along with you. You'd have no warning that this was the Bridge of Death and that you were supposed to come back much later.

...yeah. Hey, I've got 120g and a torch. I want you to have them, I insist.

Now, it probably seems like I'm complaining about this formula. That's because I am. Don't get me wrong, I love it because I grew up with it. But that doesn't change that it's very hard to pull off properly. I agree with being guided in a game, but only up to a certain point. I definitely like having a marker to follow in a First Person Shooter, because it can be hard to keep your bearings when you're distracted by bullets. In RPGs or Action/Platformers I prefer something to guide me in the right direction and then let me figure it out. Something like a map marker. Something that says it's around there, but doesn't give away exactly where or how to get there.

For a more modern example of what I mean, take Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Your hand is held through the entire game. Every quest has a marker leading you exactly to where you're supposed to be. It's not a satisfying formula. It's as though you're going through the game by rote instead of using your own wit and skill set. The whole game progresses like an appendix of a book. To find Benny, go to Novac and talk to persons a, b, and c. Then go to Boulder City and talk to person d, onward to New Vegas to talk to person f. It would have been more compelling to have to, you know, actually look around for clues and piece together bits of information to progress instead of just following the Almighty Arrow.

Metroid Prime did a great job with guiding you through the game. It gave you the location of your objective, but did not give you an clues on how to get there or how to achieve that objective. There was the convenience of not having to double back and wander around lost with the added satisfaction of having to use some brain power.

But what would that game have been like if they took all the guidance away? What it you had no map or waypoints; You only have your compass, NPCs, and the environment to navigate. I admit that I would be a lot fun to try to find locations without any kind of map or guiding arrow for the sake of roleplaying. You'd only have vague directions from characters and perhaps signposts to give you your bearings. But given the sheer scope of the game, would you be able to stand spending hours going "Where the #@$% is Cottonwood Cove?!" Blindly wandering around hoping to find some salient landmark to let you know that you have at last, at your wit's end, found your goal?

This was my favorite part of Fallout 3.

I'm conflicted in that there is a much deeper sense of satisfaction and pride knowing that you not only had the reflexes necessary to beat a game but that you had the problem solving skills as well. The harder it is to figure out, the better it makes you feel when you overcome it. Is having your hand held through a game and having hints thrown at you at every puzzle (God damn Navi) almost to point of solving it for you worth the money you spent on the game? To me, not really. I guess in the end, a little of both approaches is how I prefer it.

If you're still reading this, thank you!

Edited slightly to make my point more clear. 's what I get for writing at 3 am.   read

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