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ManWithNoName avatar 8:17 AM on 10.25.2012  (server time)
The Quest for Knowledge

Those days, I have being playing a PSP JRPG called Fate/Extra, a spin-off of the famous visual novel-turned anime Fate/Stay Night. It is not a incredible good game, in fact, is average. It have its qualities in the characters, that are interesting, and intriguing story. But the main attraction in here is one element of gameplay mechanic rarely explored for most developers. Knowledge.

The main factor that determine your victory or defeat in the game is how much knowledge you was able do gather about your next opponent in the Holy Grail Tournament you are participating. The battle mechanic works as this: you choose a round of six actions, that can be Guard, Attack or Break and so do your adversary. If you have enough knowledge about him, you can see a few of his attacks, determine its patterns and counter effectively. If you know nothing about him, you will have to guess his moves and pray that your Servant, the one in fact attacking, is strong enough to use sheer force to win, which is way harder and time consuming than it should be.

It is not that determining what is the true identity of your opponent, neither that gathering information is overly complicated or challenging. The only way to mess up is if you just ignore the game's interactions with the NPCs and just rush to battle. What is interesting, is that very few games works challenging the player to gather information and use it to determine the best way to act.

Also, tell me you don't want that glasses.

Four other games comes to my mind where investigation and knowledge plays a role. You can only achieve the best endings in Heavy Rain if you use all the knowledge you gather in the game to determine the identity of the Origami Killer. In Harvey Birdman for the PSP, gathering clues is important to use in the trials, and how and when you use those clues is key to have a favorable outcome. In the first Assassin's Creed, Altair had to search for information about his target so he can know when it will be the best moment to strike (albeit you need to do this and cannot progress in the game without this information) and in Persona 4, the main theme in the game is about reaching the truth (despite it being very hard to figure the guilty party by yourself, all resuming in eliminating the suspects from a list Naoto shows you near the end of the game).

Of course, asking for the player to think for him/herself is not an easy task. People are all different and it is hard to ask all of them to have the deduction abilities of a Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, if you make your mystery too hard to uncover, most people will feel cheated and if you make it too easy, many will feel unchallenged. And that is why feel games have you solving mysteries for yourself.

But that aside, it does not means that games cannot use the quest for knowledge as a theme in them. Most games is all about fighting your way to the end. Few are about learning your way to the end. Knowledge, in real life, is a very important tool to use to achieve your objectives. In fact, achieving anything through knowledge is way easier and effective than by force. Yet most games just let you brute force your way, with the most basic knowledge they ask of you is if the enemy is weak against fire or not, and even in those cases, you can always compensate by sheer force alone. In the case of Fate/Extra, even sheer force will hardly help you, specially when you can barely touch your enemy.

I wonder if we will ever seem many games that asks the player to use his own head to progress, aside from knowing that ice monsters are weak against fire. If games will one day asks you to solve a crime by yourself or to defeat an enemy by collecting information against him and finding ways to use it against him.

Not that HIM is a good example of intelligence...

As games mature, and specially gamers get older, many just can get satisfied with mindless challenges. Many start asking for challenges more than just pressing the right buttons on the right time or managing its inventories correctly. Of course, 'mindless' games will never lost its space, because they have a place and a time for them. But I wonder if games who asks to you to think first and act later instead of acting all the time will grown.

Knowledge is an important tool, one that can surpass every challenge if used correctly. I am honestly interested in seeing more games made around this premise. After all, we are thinking creatures (or at least, we should be) and there is no bigger challenge than thinking by yourself.

If you let others think for you, this may be you in the future. Just saying.

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