I can still remember, back in 8th grade, a little quote that was pinned to a board, in our library. It essentially said : books are meant to be enjoyed.
There is no law forcing you to finish a bad book. But there seems to be some kind of convention saying that finishing games is the normal thing to do. Just look at the whole concept of achievements. Do every single stupid bullshit in a game and you'll be rewarded for it. Hell, to get all the Dragon Age achievements, you probably need to finish the game 15 times...
Yet I can't even seem to be able to finish it once. Not because it's too hard; I played it in normal mode and thought it was ridiculously easy. But being older and actually having money means that I can afford the luxury to buy a game and throw it aside if I don't like it. And it seems I have been doing that a lot lately.
Zyrshnikashnu, in his beautiful commentary on the Steam platform, explained how he had tons of game which he didn't finish. I just had to check on my own Steam account and see for myself how it applied to me. I have 34 games, 30 of which have a 'finishable' part to them. I completed 2 : Mass Effect and Portal.
For my first blog post and a last minute monthly musing, I'd like to present the finer points of finishing games, and why it can be, at least to me, a horrible or a great experience.
I'll start explaining my dilemma to finish or not to finish games by taking a few examples from my Steam game list, namely Mass Effect and Portal. Why have I finished them and no others? One might think 'they are short'. True enough, but my two favorite games (like favorite games ever and forever
) are Baten Kaitos and Baldur's Gate. I have obviously finished those. They're arguably hundreds of hours long. Then one might also think that 'they were good?'. Indeed they were, but on my Steam list you'll find The Witcher, Deus Ex and Assassin's Creed, what some might call 'triple A' games. Yet I can't find the will to play more then halfway through each of them.
Then what's special about Mass Effect and Portal?! Simply put, they were compelling. And that's where I start to think that recent games have forgotten everything about classic storytelling in exchange for 'new concepts' or 'intense action'. Other developers simply underestimate the effect of backtracking on boredom. That's when I can't even finish a game; the idea of trying to finish such a unpolished or flawed game becomes a chore.
Take Far Cry 2 for example. I just bought it off Steam for 10$. It tried mixing the sandbox genre with classic FPS, and at first I thought it was great. If I had my own 'memory card' tributes the beginning of Far Cry 2 would be in it : I loved how it introduces you to the environment. You're being driven around in a cab. You actually feel like the world is large and beautiful, that there's a civil war going on. The suspense is there : when they inspect you before the bridge, I was thinking 'all right, I'll have to defend myself'. But no : your driver bribes them with beer. Yeah everything was set out to be great, except when the backtracking starts. The game, after its tutorial, becomes 90% playing in the sandbox and 10% compelling story. Come back to the village, we have another random mission for you. Go fetch some gold for me. Go destroy that equipment. OH and don't forget the diamonds. You have found... 1/9000 briefcases. After 5 I had enough : getting out of your car every 5 minutes each time you see a green light bleeping sucks. Being RPG'd at every scouting point also doesn't help with the whole useless time-consumption thing.
So Far Cry 2 had a great setting, but did everything possible to make me lose my time. And surprisingly enough I don't play videogames to waste my time. When I go to the cinema or when I read a book I'm hoping for an experience that will change my perception of life, or at least entertain me. This isn't the era of Tetris anymore guys, videogames are a medium, not a gimmick to waste my time on a long road trip.
So bam, one game I didn't finish.
As I don't want to bore my own readers, here's my main problems with the games on my Steam list, in a simple yet direct point form.
1. Obviously the useless time eating thing that a lot of games do so well. This includes backtracking, useless and numerous sidequests. FAIL. Ex : Far Cry 2. Assassin's Creed (the second deserves less then 3.5).
2. A complete lack of storytelling elements. Unreal Tournament 3 tried making up a plot, but it failed miserably because that plot was horribly presented. It would have also helped if they didn't try to make a plot around multiplayer mechanics like capture the flag. FAIL. Ex : The Last Remnant. Command and Conquer 3 (didn't make ANY sense).
3. A shitty porting. The Last Remnant is a prime example of this. Just try to play it without a gamepad, you'll understand. Controls are unresponsive, and action triggers are still represented by the gamepad keys. FAIL. Ex : Beyond Good and Evil. Jade Empire. Knights of the Old Republic.
, 28 games I didn't finish for those reasons. Out of 30. Simply because of 1 thing that makes the whole experience unbearable.
Another situation of hate often comes from games of the shooter variety. They just get rid of the whole story thing, put so many explosions and deus ex machinas everywhere to keep you entertained while forgetting that too much is like not enough. Or that a plot twist (getting killed?) means nothing if there's no real plot. When I do end up finishing said game, I'm not happy at all. I feel dirty. I was pushed against my will to complete an empty shell of a game. Finishing a game is thus not always a pleasurable experience, it can also lead to a certain discomfort.
To put things bluntly, if my girlfriend suddenly decided to go BDSM on me, do the whole sex thing in 30 minutes while I was handcuffed and blindfolded, it would probably feel the same as Modern Warfare 2 did. It was short and intense, but you'd rather not think about it once it's done.
I can't finish this blog without explaining why finishing a game can actually feel great when done well. When you keep me entertained 24/7, that the gameplay mechanics are fun, the characters lovable, and the end promises more cake to come, yeah, I'll finish Portal and want more! If you recreate the D&D universe and let me follow the path of a god's bastard child as he is manipulated yet still finds his way to immortality, yeah I'll finish Baldur's Gate. If you let me save the world as I discover my true identity, while using a great real time card battle gameplay, yeah I'll finish Baten Kaitos.
One could try to understand every single aspect of those games, dissecting their core gameplay or storytelling aspects, but the one thing they have in common is that they didn't do anything to turn me off. I could simplify my whole article by saying that way too many games have a core flaw comparable to vomit. If Jessica Alba assaults me, I'll push her away if she's drenched in vomit. Far Cry 2 was drenched in the 'pretending our game is long' vomit through backtracking. Assassin's Creed is also drenched in the same vomit, but uses the 'useless and annoying sidequests' tactic. If you look at their graphics and decide to ignore the vomit, it's all cool. But it personally turns me off instantly. I'll go through the foreplay, sure, that can be fun, but if I undress a game and I see how horrible it actually is well sorry, I'm not gonna finish what I've started.
And no one can force me to do so either. But give me something gorgeous without any of the usual bullshit and I'll love it... from the beginning to the end.
Ever wondered why players hack your games, major publishers? It's because we know that you can hide vomit through gorgeous trailers and fallacious review scores.