Electron Dance
20Feb/14Off

The Dishonest Player

veni-vidi-vici

When British mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, it was reported his answer was, “Because it’s there.” The desire to climb does not have to make any sense, have any rhyme or reason. The mountain was a challenge that called to Mallory. It’s very existence was enough to seduce him to its slopes in 1924 – and the mountain claimed his life. Mallory’s body was recovered in 1999.

There is a similar pattern in our desires to take on challenging videogames. Playing Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, 2010) isn’t making us smarter and doesn’t teach us anything about the human condition. We might argue that it improves reflexes but this is the kind of comforting babble we tell people who don’t play games. Players need no such justification.

Oh, wait! Except when we do!

Some reviews of Kickstarted puzzle game Full Bore: The First Dig (Whole Hog Games, 2013) find its rewards not shiny enough. “Gems […] have no apparent value other than raising your completion percentage,” writes Britton Peele for Gamespot. “Why should you spend time collecting them, other than because they're there?”

In other words, why should we spend time solving puzzles in a puzzle game?    

I bought Full Bore on a whim because the trailer made the game look complex and interesting. Let me now disclose that at the time of purchase I did not realise that (a) Full Bore was a block-pushing puzzle game nor that (b) Full Bore was not yet complete (hence the “First Dig” subtitle).

full-bore-puzzle

There are many things to like about Full Bore. With a constant stream of new block types, it’s quite rich for a block-pushing puzzle game. Full Bore is also good at letting you know when you haven’t cleared a room out – whether there is some hidden exit or gem remaining in the room. This was a touch I appreciated as I was hooked on beating its challenges.

There’s also some clever design afoot. The developers opted to rein in the tutorial aspect and do not explain how every block works. You learn through experimentation and, sometimes, through a puzzle that will stop you in your tracks. John Walker wrote: “There are certain puzzles I think I just currently can’t solve – perhaps there are abilities to come that will let me?” But no, John Walker. There are no powerups. It’s your head that Full Bore wants you to upgrade. And boy, does it get hard, especially once you enter the Deep Delve section.

There are real complaints to be made. I’d draw attention to the timed puzzles where you have seconds to figure out a hard puzzle before the screen explodes – some of which I only solved by taking a photo and reviewing at leisure. Sometimes it’s easy to screw up a puzzle by digging too much or jumping into a spot when you had no intention of doing so. Other times, gloomy lighting makes a puzzle too hard to read. When the player’s boar smacks repeatedly into a block that cannot be dug away, it sounds a lot like “fap fap fap”.

Like The Swapper (Facepalm Games, 2013) the puzzles are embedded in an open world you are meant to explore, but there’s one irritation that Full Bore has added to the mix. Although the game gives you the option of solving puzzles now or coming back later, some difficult puzzles require the player to navigate a tortuous route to reach them... which can discourage you from leaving the puzzle until it is solved. This can accelerate game fatigue.

There are other gripes to be had but let’s get to the bugboar I talked about in An Honest Game: story. Full Bore has a story but as I played the game over three months, I have little understanding of what I gleaned from the lore scattered around Full Bore's mine. All I can tell you is something a little Teleglitch happened down there.

full-bore-workings-map

Not understanding the story did not hurt the game in the slightest. I enjoyed wandering through it’s vivid, colourful underground environment, solving every puzzle the developers conjured up. Although it was clear that having a fleshed-out story hammered a degree of consistency into the structure and aesthetics of the game, I did not feel I missed anything of importance.

When Terry Cavanagh’s tough platformer VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010) came out, I do not recall anyone demanding a reason to collect the trinkets. Players collected them because they were there. Everyone who collected the infamous Veni Vidi Vici trinket will remember the euphoria of that moment. Kieron Gillen: “At which point I completed the level and was reduced to disturbingly orgasmic cries. I haven’t felt as good with a videogame, in that direct physical way, for quite a while.”

But why might VVVVVV get away with it and not Full Bore? I’d argue it’s because the game uses lore extensively as a reward for exploration. I’ve previously called this plastic exploration, where incentives destroy the natural urge to explore. This bleeds into every other goal of the game – the challenge is no longer enough as the player demands more sweeties for everything they do. Is the incentive-driven player even enjoying it any more?

And there’s a sense in which players are being dishonest with themselves. Back in the 80s, your reward for completing a game came in two main flavours: a big fat “CONGRATULATIONS” message or the game starting again but, this time, it’s all just a wee bit faster. If we were awfully lucky, we might get a little animation or crude musical ditty to comfort us. Score was also a goad to play but that was more a metric for achievement and competition rather than an incentive to play. The contemporary player now craves little rewards and bleeps and bloops over the simple act of besting a game.

Many grumpy words have been written about how unethical free-to-play design exploits human psychology to make us spend money when we otherwise would not. Yet the tricks we see here are an extension of tried-and-tested game reward systems and we should ask whether they mask unappealing game mechanics. Game designer Jonathan Blow has asked this already in his 2010 talk, Video Games and the Human Condition. One of his notable examples is claiming that attribute upgrades in RPGs are an illusion – when games match continuous character upgrades with increasingly powerful monsters the resulting difficulty curve is almost a flat horizontal line. It is no surprise Blow recently took his hatchet to F2P design.

blow-rpg-difficulty

Let’s detour for a second, to make sure I note some exceptions before you write angry NeoGAF posts about me.

The flip side of “rewards hiding trash mechanics” is when a game is ostensibly about story, yet pads out the experience with horrible gameplay sequences that no one finds entertaining. Electron Dance covered Suzy & freedom (Nicolau Chaud, 2013) in a Counterweight podcast a couple of months ago and found the fighting and platforming sections dull and frustrating. We argued that some of the mini-games got in the way of the story. It’s the reverse situation where the mechanics are trying to justify the reward – the story – rather than the other way around.

But sometimes unpleasant mechanics are the point as one of Suzy & freedom’s best moments highlights. At one point, the character Suzy is forced to write an essay by her parents, and there’s a tedious mechanic where the game asks the player to press a specific key to make just 1% of progress, and it frames that segment beautifully. The most important game of all time is, of course, Pong (Atari, 1972). Whoops, sorry, I meant Cart Life (Richard Hofmeier, 2011), which is full of soul-destroying, repetitive mechanics that service a greater, narrative good. Without the tedious gameplay the narrative rewards do not exist.

So back to the rant. In-game rewards can also have genre-wide consequences. A single-player RTS without a story campaign is considered incomplete by some players. On Sins of a Solar Empire (Ironclad Games, 2008): – why no single player campaign missions? On AI War: Fleet Command (Arcen Games, 2009): “I was disappointed that there is no story driven campaign.” Regardless of how refined the act of play is, the mere absence of a story dissuades some players from purchase. (Note that Arcen’s followup to AI War, Tidalis (2010), lampoons spurious collectibles and rewards yet sports a forgettable story mode.)

Those games that strip out cosmetic rewards, like the austere Sokobond (Hazelden & Lee, 2013) or your average 2D shooter, are naked and honest. Players can only enjoy these games if the challenge calls to them. They will climb these mountains because they are there.

The moral of the story is this: any analysis of Full Bore that asks why the player needs to solve puzzles demonstrates how contemporary player rewards undermine mechanics.

full-bore-horrible-puzzle

References

Electron Dance has articles pertaining to some of the games mentioned in this essay.

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Comments (19) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Ah, yes! I think this piece nails the ‘problem’ here: it’s not derived from what is absent from a game or its design, its derived from player expectations of reward. And, to an extent, how those expectations got where they are today.

    I’m conscious that it may sound like I’m becoming another Dark Souls bore, but this is definitely something that From’s design eschews. The game involves ‘levelling up’, and you can get new weapons, but none of that provides a crutch. I’m ‘level 25’ now but if I fuck up a fight against three or four of the game’s most basic enemies I could still be beaten.

    The bit about RTS games lacking a story mode is definitely something that resonates, as it’s something I’ve complained about myself in the past. And about 4X games, too. I think it was Walker who pushed me towards other ways of thinking. Skirmish mode, as it’s generally known, is the real meat of such games: unfettered access to tech trees and tactical options, and enemies and maps who’ll present unexpected challenges you’ll simply have to learn and adapt to.

    Story modes in such games, I might argue now, are for people who want to be led by the hand through a strategy game, and then probably put it down – perhaps after playing a multiplayer match or two.

    There are no shortage of exceptions to these rules, obviously. StarCraft 2’s singleplayer gimmickry is a lot of fun and bears limited resemblance to its multiplayer. The secret ant levels in C&C Red Alert were designed to present obscenely difficult challenges to players who were extremely familiar with the game. Etc.

    Going back to the original point, what this article made me think about was the way that excluding trinkets, rewards and leading by the nose from a game’s design is comparable to the way that artists and photographers utilise negative space, or writers choose what to tell their audience and what to hold back. The absence of something can be as important as its presence, basically.

  2. Shaun, I really should take on Dark Souls but I fear it would destroy my game playing for a year! Yeah, I’m aware I mixed up the RTS/4X games here but they are close cousins. It’s true that a story mode acts as a progressive tutorial but… I don’t think you need a story to create a tutorial. Plus I’m damn sure a lot of single player enthusiasts will only see the “story tutorial” and nothing beyond. It looks like the proper mode of the game, with skirmishing added for the devoted. Which means the real meat might be missed and we get sucked into “where are the new units/terrain/challenges on this level” instead engaging with the core. Content as a form of reward.

    It reminds me of card games where the “real meat” is deckbuilding, where you’re trying to create a strategy and you get to try out different approaches. I played Armageddon Empires and use the default decks. I have always used the default decks which were included because too many players complained they had to set up decks to play the game. Nonetheless, I fucking love that game.

    I think I see what you mean with the negative space analogy – by shedding extraneous detail you’re left with the honest game to focus on and nothing else.

    I’m still not totally sure about whether a story is a good fit for puzzle games. Puzzle games are suited for protracted play which means a complex story can easily be missed. But story can also act as a great theme – and if Full Bore didn’t have a story, I don’t know if it would be the same game.

  3. I’m not sure I have a well-thought-out point, but I want to bring up the idea of giving the player something vs. tricking them into playing. This was something that came up in Blow’s lecture; I did a project based on that lecture last year, so it’s something I’ve thought about a bit.

    So Blow thinks that some games trick/mind-control the player into doing things. They’re just skinner boxes. A lot of modern shooters do this, I think, with spectacular scripted events etc., but you can pull off the same trick by giving the players more resources, by doling out progress to keep them hooked. A lot of facebook games do this, but I’ve also seen it in Game Dev story, where your skill as a player or even your managerial acumen count for very little, because the game pretty much plays itself – every game you develop (ie. every obstacle you overcome) makes your team slightly stronger, which means you can then make better games, making your team stronger and so on. You can fire old staff and get new ones but really, the game is just a railroad that you travel down by clicking buttons.

    Arguing against this, I think Blow mentions some stuff about games that speak to the human condition, or games that offer something to players. To me, this is both inspiring and suspect; inspiring, because I totally get what he’s talking about and want those games too, but suspect because it’s such a vague metric that there’s not much you can say about it.

    My question is, if you dangle a reward in front of your player, which do you fall into? Are you dangling it because you want them to relish the challenge, and by offering them this chance to test themselves you’re helping them enjoy the game and get something out of it? Or are you dangling it because you know they’ll go for it, and that’ll artificially make the game more compelling for them? I feel like the Veni Vidi Vici level in VVVVVV is the former, and meaningless achievements are the latter, but I feel uneasy about this because, well, what’s the difference?

    And this article adds another layer: do you devalue your rewards by making them look *too* shiny? Should a reward be totally arbitrary, or *should* it offer something to the player? The odd thing is, it seems like the less actual *stuff* a reward offers a player (story, shiny cutscenes), the more the reward actually *gives* to the player when the player gets it?

  4. James,

    When I wrote about “plastic exploration” last year I wasn’t thinking much more than that but the reviews of Full Bore set me off thinking far more deeply about reward systems than I had before. Blow’s lecture had already taken me down this alley once and I could articulate the argument but I didn’t feel it. Now I’m starting to feel it.

    I’m getting a feel for an unfortunate trend in challenge-based videogames to confuse their purpose with rewards. I am reminded of how often I have played “to see more content” – enemies, weapons, locations – which is essentially “playing now to play more later” which is bizarre. I get something out of it, but looking back I can see something rather hollow about the whole thing.

    Even the merest hint of change can be enough as a goad to push you forward. How many times have you felt like you “finished” the game when you’d seen all the different types of enemies etc.? I feel that challenge-based games are replacing their original goal of challenge with discovery and once discovery has been exhausted, there are no more rewards. Game over.

    What I think I am now finding shocking is the subtlety of how this happens. And how unintentional it is. Developers like to provide a variety of content, but arranging that content into a progressive sequence creates a reward system in itself – and once that sequence is complete, you start losing players.

    I haven’t even begun talking about narrative rewards! That’s because it’s more complex there. Narrative rewards are where Blow is saying there is salvation. If progress through the game means something, that it’s not all for naught. But the trouble is a refocus on story means the videogame is about the tale rather than the challenge that was supposed to get you there. Writers do not like to be onboarded late into development – but is that such a bad idea, considering that narrative rewards may be the principal method of papering over crappy mechanics? The dev team may not even see this themselves.

    If the mechanics and narrative sing together, then it’s all good. As you say, there is no magic formula here. Blow was attempting in Braid to make interesting challenges and marry them with some overarching story. The important thing to note in Braid is that even if you don’t “get” the story, the challenges are interesting outright.

    We always hoped that rewards were there to make games better, to sharpen the emotional highs and lows. But it may be reverse: it’s diminishing their intrinsic value through “overjustification effects”.

    And the horrible thing is it brings me back, hard, to a ludological point of view. For challenge-based games, a focus on challenge is absolutely key. It also means “single use” games, setpiece design, which do not significantly change on a second play, are far prone to rewards contamination. Procedurally-generated games are more immune to this, but not entirely (exhausting all the different variations of content can kill them). Multiplayer games are the most resilient because they are about unpredictable encounters than obtaining rewards.

    Sorry this is kind of meandering. I’ve been having a lot more thoughts since writing the essay, none of which have congealed into something tangible.

  5. So, I’ve been into a particular Japanese album, and it seems to do story a bit differently, and I’m wondering if this is relevant:

    The album is, like most any album, a collection of songs about a series of disparate stories. Except, characters from one song end up in others, different points of view are presented to scenes that have already been shown, imagined failure scenarios are presented, and there’s even character development and a resolution. This album is secretly a long-form story! (well, it’s not really a secret, but whatever)

    Except that, it doesn’t really care if you notice that or not. For one or another reason that would bloat the size of my comment, the album is still just focused on creating disparate scenes like a normal album would. The past and the future are brought from time to time, but only ever in reference to the story/message the present song is occupied with. And, yes, there are a fuck-ton of thematic meanings to this structure. And, yes, I have thought way too hard about this.

    I mocked the idea of a disjointed long-form story, but it is now the only way I could ever imagine a long-form story in an album. This is a thing I want.

    Now, back to the point: In Full Bore, the game is feeding you bits and pieces of a larger story, but unlike Full Bore (I assume) the bits and pieces are vastly more important than the story they combine to make. I have to wonder, are there any other bands or games that do this? Oh, right, Thirty Flights of Loving. Well, I spent this much time writing this comment, and I’m not gonna delete it now.

    Also, can I just say? An album with different Visual-Novel-style routes is the most Japanese thing I have ever seen or heard.

  6. @mwm – Have you ever had those times where you started a book but didn’t get back to it for a couple of months? Were you tempted to start the book again because the details were no longer fresh? That’s the problem with story in puzzle games. The natural mode of protracted play interferes with piecing together a fragmented narrative.

    An album can be finished in a single sitting and re-listened to multiple times without effort, hearing more each time. I don’t know if I’d want to wander all across Full Bore again just looking for all the lore notes to read them again, let alone play from the start.

  7. I think you’re incredibly wrong and let’s just leave it at that. Lulz.

    But, really, you mistook what I meant, though that’s obviously my fault. I spent a lot of energy making sure the album got credit for the idea.

    Imagine a series of short stories. These stories are whole and complete on their own, with unique but related themes. The different themes, from all the different stories, combine to form a greater whole. Even though only the most determined readers will discover the overall story-line, most players manage to remember the individual lessons and are able to build up to the greater message.

    Universe building is re-used between stories, both for convenience’s sake, and to establish tropes that can be taken advantage of in a variety of ways (for instance, let’s say that “he who shall not be named” is mentioned through many of the stories. People shudder whenever his name is mentioned because of the hideous deeds he has commited. Later on, the reader is graphically shown these hideous deeds, thus getting a shiver out of them too, whenever his name is mentioned).

    Characters are recycled, also for convenience, but also to show general character development for its own sake, or for the sake of the work’s themes. Even if the reader can’t remember precise plot points and the work’s chronology, they’ll likely remember a small cast with distinctive characters.

    It’s also self-indicative of some pretty fun themes, but I’ll let you figure those out.

    So, are there any works that really do this, or did I just come up with a really clever idea?

  8. The Sam & Max episodic series are a little like what you describe, mwm, at least in season 3. There are callbacks to earlier episodes but each episode is standalone. The Walking Dead games function as more of a narrative whole despite the episodic structure, but does explore different themes from episode to episode, clearly being a more ‘serious’ undertaking than a comedic adventure series.

    Going back further the game I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream focuses on the stories of five different characters, and at least as far as I’ve reached their tales do not intersect in terms of plot. They are, however, all prisoners of both a mad AI and their own weaknesses and failings.

    As for the album metaphor, I’m reminded of something I read about on Indie Statik the other day: http://indiestatik.com/2014/02/24/schizoid-album-review/

    I’m sure none of this is quite what you mean, though there are enough similarities to make these worth mentioning.

  9. This method of storytelling also crops up in lots of different places historically.

    Renaissance sonnet cycles did this a lot, I think. There’s a cycle by Philip Sidney called “Astrophil and Stella” about a man’s obsessive love for a woman. Astrophil (the man) is broadly inspired by Sidney himself, and Stella is broadly inspired by someone he was madly in love with – although you do start to wonder whether it’s at all true to life by the end of the cycle. Each sonnet is a little story or musing on its own, but it’s always about love in some way because they’re all about Astrophil and his relation to Stella. As you read the sonnets you get a better and better understanding of how the characters relate to each other, but you can easily take a sonnet out of context and just read it on its own. There isn’t much story here but it’s a good vehicle for general thoughts and musings (which could also be said of the Renaissance sonnet generally).

    It’s worth mentioning The Castle of Crossed Destinies, too. A bunch of travellers go to a castle and find they can’t speak to each other, but they have a deck of Tarot cards so they tell each other their life stories by using the pictures on the cards. What’s fun is that a card can have a completely different context from one story to another – the hanged man could mean “I was tied to a tree” in one story but “everything was so confusing it was like being turned upside-down” in another.

    Myths do this a lot too. If you know a little about Norse gods (Loki’s a trickster, Thor’s an angry hero type, Odin is wise and sometimes brutal) then you can pick up pretty much any Norse myth and understand it, because it’s talking in archetypes. What’s also intriguing is that these myths often lack character development because it’s not even clear in which order they occur. In Odin’s metamorphoses, for example, there’s a myth about Phaeton, who drives the sun too close to the earth. The Great Bear (the constellation) dips below the horizon to submerge itself in the sea because it’s so hot. But this myth occurs before the Great Bear has been put in the sky, so it makes no chronological sense. What’s fun, though, is that it doesn’t *need* to make chronological sense because it’s set in a sort of timeless world anyway.

  10. Massive error – it’s Ovid’s metamorphoses, silly me. Serves me right for switching myths fast and loose.

  11. The sonnet cycle is the obvious winner of the bunch. There’s a decent bit about this topic that I can’t work into words, but a sonnet cycle even manages that. Pretty cool.

    I dunno, anything I try to write as a comment ends up looking pretty worthless, so, short comment.

  12. What I like about the sonnet cycle concept is that sonnets were never meant to tell stories – they were meant to evoke a mood. There’s only so much you can do in 14 lines storywise, but they’re punchy when it comes to atmosphere and unpicking ephemeral concepts. So when you put them together in a cycle, you don’t get a story that’s been crammed into a bad medium – you get lots of atmospheric pieces that happen to cohere into a loose story. In gaming terms, you get a game that incorporates story – is made better by story – but isn’t ruled by it like so many AAA efforts.

    I’m not sure how this would work with a puzzle game, though. Like Shaun says, IHNMaIMS is a good example of game “short stories”. I’m also reminded of the Mondo games, where each level is a comment on something-or-other. Or maybe Killer7 – I think the early levels each had their own personality and themes, though that spiralled out of control towards the end. I guess Braid is another example – level 1 is something about time, level 2 is something about things that can’t be changed and magic in a relationship, the penultimate level is something about marriage? But those were all scooped up into a main narrative, so maybe the effect is more story-focused there.

    I would like to see a puzzle game that attempts this. It would give the whole thing a decent unifying theme and it would mean that every level was comprehensible. No more “What was this plot thingy?” moments. You’d have a cast of characters – the Trickster, the Showman, the Leader, the Warrior, the Guide, the Gatekeeper, maybe – I’m so good at naming archetypes – and then in each level they’d all interact in a different way.

    The thing is, would that improve the actual moment-to-moment experience? I remember playing puzzle games where they tried too hard to match story and mechanics. Like there’s that platformer about love where the story for that level is “We seemed to be magically attracted to each other”, and then the rules for that level are “the girl and boy will always move towards each other. Jump to avoid spikes.” And at first I thought that was an interesting marriage of gameplay and story, but now I think it’s just an unnecessary attempt to justify gameplay – as though gameplay isn’t good enough without story. Which is silly.

  13. Okay, so, I just had a pretty tiring workout, and my brain feels fuzzy, and anything I write feels like it’s completely missing the point of what you said. So, like, wait a day for my response? I think I’ve got the basis for a decent solution.

  14. Oh, yeah, I’m feeling much better. Like, I’ve groaned whenever I’d thought that I need to respond to this thread. But, right now? I’m at the non-crash height of my day, I’m listening to some playful instrumental with a spanish guitar as lead, and I actually see what you’re talking about. It’s quite wonderful.

    So, would it improve the moment to moment experience? It might contribute to the author discovering good gameplay options and level setups, looking from a new perspective. It would make the game much more memorable, with visually and thematically distinct segments of the game. It would make QA a little bit easier, since the levels can be more easily re-worked without the need to keep them in order for the story. Increased modularity would enable certain options for selling and advertising the game.

    But, you know, that’s all marginal stuff. It really comes down to the question of whether or not this architecture would make the story better. Maybe. Well, probably, assuming you use it in a puzzle game, where the alternative is a non-functional story.

    I’m wondering if it would be better to organize it along individual levels, or arcs between 4 or 5 levels. I’m leaning towards the latter.

  15. I like the idea of level arcs. I was thinking of it along the lines of individual levels but that’s too restricting for most of these thematic ideas, I think. Level arcs reminds me of Braid, and now that I think about it the problem with Braid’s themed levels wasn’t the structure but rather the very vague and meandering stories it tried to tell with that structure.

  16. I’ve been chewing this over and it’s better I should express some disconnected thoughts than make an argument. So:

    I keep remembering the name of the game under discussion as “Boss Hog” (or “The Swapper”). I will refer to it as such whenever I feel like it.

    1: There’s no gem at the top of Mt. Everest. A real purist of the because-it’s-there attitude wouldn’t need a gem as an exploration reward. They’d just see a hard-to-reach spot and try to go there. (I did something like this in Redder once, by accident — I worked and worked to make a tricky jump which turned out to have nothing at all to do with the fuel cell I was trying to reach. BTW I think Redder is a critique of the gotta-catch-’em-all mentality but that’s another fragmented post.)

    But this would generally not be a way most people would want to structure a game — the gems tell you where the challenges are and guide your attention. In a blockpusher/treasure hunt like elarel it’s challenging to visit all the squares with chests on them and then the exit but if the chests were replaced with non-reward items with a similar effect no one would know that that’s the challenge that they’re supposed to fulfill. Maybe lore rewards and things like that in general guide you onto the main path. VVVVVV’s main levels are generally very linear with a big plot reward at the end.

    2: The overworld structure may encourage some of this mindset as well. If you have a bunch of disconnected levels that you pick from a menu people might be a lot less bothered by lack of story. Blobbo and Elarel do this (actually Elarel forces you to go through them almost entirely sequentially, which is a pain, and Blobbo more or less did that except it shipped with save files that let you jump past some of the stickiest sticking points — BTW Blobbo’s old-school save-file system was infinitely user-friendlier than Elarel’s one-key instant save/restore system, which makes it very easy to save a level in an unwinnable state and discourages experimentation). And one part of this may be that when you put everything in a big overworld you make the player go through a lot of effort to get from one puzzle to another — you mentioned this in Boss Hog and it’s also true of the Swapper.

    3: Less disconnected from point 2 than it needs to be, but what about a book of crossword puzzles? Do we feel unfulfilled when we haven’t done every puzzle in the book? Probably not. (My experience with Cogs, too.) Do we feel unfulfilled when we haven’t filled in every square in a puzzle? Probably. Why? Actually games tend to invert this; we want to get to the end but not necessarily to solve every puzzle along the way. Part of this may be that most games signpost some puzzles as optional extra hard ones to be done if you want to test your mettle.

    4: And then there’s the games, like Fez I guess, where some of the challenges are hidden. I haven’t even mastered the unhidden challenges of Fez yet.

    5: Actually, if Mallory had got to the top of Mt. Everest and back to the bottom, he’d have unlocked a whole lot of in-game stuff.

  17. I’m sure I brought this up when you wrote about plastic exploration, but Max Payne 2 makes it a point to put rewards at the end of every hallway- the original did not. So, I explored every nook* I could in 1 for the satisfaction of it, while in 2, I looked around hoping I’d get the ammo I wanted.

    *but no crannies, those places are gross

  18. Interesting note from the sidebar:

    “Because, yes, there are a few games up there, such as Shelter, which I abandoned because of circumstance or genuine impatience…but there are also a lot of games which weren’t using my time effectively. Games such as… The Swapper, which has a needless amount of puzzles compared to actual content.”

    I say, what?

  19. @BeamSplashX: How wonderful to hear your voice again, Sid. Where have you been? I don’t remember Max Payne or its sequel too well (I remember how they felt) so I will take your word for it.

    @matt: Yeah, I caught that. Joe’s earlier point was there were too many puzzles – that the concept was run into the ground and got kinda boring. But that was somehow not reflected in that final roundup with “needless amount of puzzles compared to actual content”. And at the same time, 12 minutes spent on Cart Life, Bioshock Infinite was moving. Eric suggested he was trolling us =)

    As for your 5 points above, I’ll add that all the gems appear to be optional puzzles – you can progress, narratively speaking, without them, but they fill most of the game. This is what has provoked Game Spot and RPS to ponder why they should bother. I can’t help seeing this as an example where story is undermining people’s appreciation of a game for what it is. You don’t need to collect every gem, but if you enjoy the puzzle workout that Full Bore is, you’ll strive to conquer each one.

    I have to quibble with the “we don’t need a gem to flag a challenge” because I think just getting to a point on a screen works so well in Full Bore’s type of thick and chunky 2D space as opposed to Fjords’ fine structure where there’s no obvious reward for reaching crazy places. Plus some of the gem puzzles are about getting access to a gem and not just reaching a particular spot. I associated the gem with the challenge rather than as a sign for it.


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