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Bob Muir avatar 7:30 PM on 11.23.2007  (server time)
Friday Rantoid: Game Length and You

Necros says: After my brief excursion Monday to the front page, I'm back today with your regular installment of Friday Rantoid, unfortunately shortened due to the holidays. As of now, I'm considering writing future Bonus Rantoid installments, but that will all depend on finding a topic that would justify the time needed for an extended analysis. Anyways, thank you again, CTZ, for making the Cblog Appreciation Week Thingy happen!

They were all the rage during the fifth and sixth console generations. Developers made it a focus point during the creation of new games. The media raved and shouted the news whenever a new milestone was announced. The age of lengthy playtimes had come.

I'm sure we all remember hearing developers boast about how long a game was going to be. Final Fantasy VII would be 70 hours long! Golden Sun would be a 40 hour quest on a handheld! Xenosaga's cinematics alone would take days of your time! Oblivion would last over 100 hours! It seemed that while game prices stayed the same, consumers were getting much more for their buck than ever before. Why buy a game that lasted a measly 20 hours when you could get the latest RPG with over double that amount for the same price?

Obviously, I have a bone to pick with RPGs. By their nature, they are often have the longest singleplayer gametime in the industry. However, herein lies the problem: in order to achieve so long a game length, they incorporate so much filler material that Naruto would be jealous. In between actual segments of progression, you are often forced to spend time leveling up your party in order to deal with the next section of the game. While training, gamers must spend time going back and forth between the battlefield and whatever hospital-equivalent the game has. And the sidequests, dear lord the sidequests. Because the developers don't believe that the story is strong enough (or long enough) to stand on its own, they sandwich in sidequests to extend the game. To use the popular Final Fantasy VII as an example, sometimes this works, like with the Wutai sidequest, which expands on Yuffie's character and gives gamers the challenge of completing a section without their materia. However, it can also fail miserably, like with the abysmal strategy portions at Fort Condor which added nothing substantial to the game other than a few free items.

Non-RPGs are also sometimes guilty of artificially extending their gameplay. One that Nintendo seems to be guilty of as of late is the endgame fetch quest. After plenty of momentum, having to search for the pieces of the Triforce in The Wind Waker or look all over the game for the nine Sky Temple keys in Metroid Prime 2. Similarly, utilizing multiple dimensions without suitably expanding on those mechanics is a recipe for disaster. While Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's inverted castle forced the player to do something new with the level design, Harmony of Dissonance included a two-dimension castle that only offered an offensive color scheme with very similar gameplay, making the actual game seem very sparse of content. Finally, backtracking is another technique that infuriates most gamers. Outside of the Metroidvania subgenre, in which it is usually pulled off well, a game like Kingdom Hearts showed how annoying backtracking could be in 3D; trying to find all the Trinity Marks to get the secret ending was far too exhausting for what was essentially a 1 minute trailer for Kingdom Hearts II.

And what do these methods end up doing? They keep you playing the game longer. Sure, that may sound like a good thing, but consider that they are essentially diluting a game with some added value that doesn't really need to be there. Is it that much better in the long run?

No, it's not. I'd much rather have a tight, concise gaming experience than a long, bloated one. Take a look at Resident Evil 4. It's only about an eight-hour game, yet it's eight hours of pure awesome. This fall's Portal is another great example. Some lament its criminally-short three-hour gameplay, yet ask anyone who played it if there was any time in the game where you were not having fun. Like movies, a longer playtime does not automatically equal a better game. So the next time you complain about a game being too short, remind yourself of how much fun you had with the game, because if you didn't have much fun to begin with, I doubt it would have been solved by lengthening the game.

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