Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cranky Gamer: The Ever Growing Length of Games

I won't bandy with words here; if a game is too long, I probably won't finish it. Maybe I'm simply a product of the bygone days of classic gaming, or maybe I only have the attention span of a gnat, but its hard to deny the current trend. Reviewers demand lengthy experiences, developers are cramming everything they can into their games to deliver them, but I think its the gamer that's missing out here. Here's why:
More isn't always better. As a culture, we've got a fair amount of adages and phrases to communicate that, but none so clearly as the classic "quality over quantity". Sometimes its better to have a little of something really great than a ton of something less desirable, but that line of thinking is fast disappearing in current gaming culture. Most people probably, consciously or not, have a little formula in their brain that balances cost with play time, and are unhappy if a purchase doesn't live up to the figure in their mind.
In alot of ways, this makes sense; everyone wants to get the most out of their money. To feel validated in our spending, we need concrete standards on which to make our evaluations. You can't quantify fun, not in any meaningful way, and so the next logical step is time. The thinking goes like this: "If I spent a good deal of time playing a game, it must have been worth my money". Most people will probably content themselves with this and move on.
But what are we really getting out of all that? As near as I can figure, a game is meant to be fun; the fact that it helps to pass the time pleasantly is a fine bonus. But in adding length to a game, developers rarely add any fun. In my experience, they usually do just the opposite; incorporating needless extraneous gameplay elements, reusing assets endlessly, or simply repeating the same gameplay over and over again. Action games recycle enemy models, sometimes even boss fights, role-playing games make you grind for experience, even big budget hits like Halo reuse level maps. If there's no meaningful content added, then what's the difference between a sixty hour game and replaying a ten hour game six times?
I grew up with games like Ghouls n' Ghosts and Castlevania, so my ideas on game length are informed in a strange way. Both games are fairly straight forward, and a skillful player familiar with the nuances of either game can probably complete a run through in around two hours. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well that player probably spent innumerable hours getting good at the game! Nobody beats Castlevania on their first try, and most people NEVER beat Castlevania. Our gaming forefathers knew that challenge and fun were the best way to ensure satisfaction.
There's nothing wrong with trying to pack as much content in a game as you can, and there's nothing wrong with expecting a satisfying experience when you purchase a game, so long as your measure of quality isn't a stop watch.

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