I wanted to share a Twitter conversation this week that started with Hayden Scott-Baron. Obviously this is just one version of the conversation – I can’t snag every related tweet. Any thoughts? You know where the comments go…

Hayden Scott-Baron (@docky): I feel exhausted just looking at a lot of games. Perhaps I need to find more action games that aren’t boring brawlers or gun-man sims.

Alexander Bruce (@demruth):  I feel like this whenever I start a game and it immediately presents me with walls of text / several steps of menu before any game

Hayden Scott-Baron (@docky): a pile of voice acting feels just as bad.

Bennett (@bfod): dark souls, dude. It just drops you right in.

Hayden Scott-Baron (@docky): yep I like dark souls. Just after a while I’m surrounded by 200+ hour wiki/FAQ based players.

Bennett (@bfod): I agree with that, but you can always just play offline

Hayden Scott-Baron (@docky): I don’t mean online, I mean the climate of play amongst other players and friends. Spelunky suffers slightly from this too.

Bennett (@bfod): Oh I see. Yes, that can be a turn-off for me too but the only true solution is to play games that are unpopular or bad

Harry Harrison (@_hrrsn): there’s no way around that, Saddly. Spelunky, fez, Skyrim, all great examples of pressure gaming.

Ed Key (@edclef): Fez is a great example for me: the early access players really put me off. Skyrim not so much: I just tooled around

Hayden Scott-Baron (@docky): Fez appeared more like a wiki/faq social experiment than a game I could play alone for fun.

Bennett (@bfod): I cut myself off from everything playing Fez. No faqs, no friends, nothing. It was great!

Ricky Haggett (@KommanderKlobb): and did you solve everything?! (if so: wow)

Bennett (@bfod): I really wonder if there’s a way to enforce this experience on players. Can we invent games that can’t be gamed?

Frank Lantz (@flantz): wait what are you guys looking for? Puzzles without spoilers? A deep game w/o a community? Solitary expertise?

Bennett (@bfod): for me it’s that if I come to a game and have to play it alongside power-gamers, it shows too much of what’s behind the curtains

Frank Lantz (@flantz): I think looking behind the curtains is a key ingredient of any really good game

Bennett (@bfod): I like to have the experience of pulling them back myself. I don’t like to arrive on set with the curtains already gone.

Frank Lantz (@flantz): maybe you can construct a second set of curtains in front of the real curtains to create the illusion that you are the first

Bennett (@bfod): this is a really great idea.

Frank Lantz (@flantz): there’s no way to hide the fact that getting good at a game is a ridiculous, humiliating, exhausting, repetitive waste of time.


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10 thoughts on “A Second Set of Curtains

  1. Minecraft keeps surprising me because of the updates.

    You might sneak some mysteries into a game this way.

    Mind you, I don’t look things up before I play, to avoid taint. Afterwards however I will gorge on FAQs to see what I missed.

    I also avoid trailers for films.

  2. Power gamers never bother me–in fact, I appreciate that they exist, because they give me hope that games can be conquered. I had some dark times with Dark Souls that were helped by watching Let’s Play videos.

    That said, I’ve come to appreciate games where the gameness is at the forefront of the experience–I’m getting tired of games that try to disguise it.

  3. Interesting. I think the shared consciousness that surrounds games like Skyrim, Spelunky, et al. is really fascinating–in a lot of ways it’s a good thing, I think, a sort of emergent community where you can share experiences without actually playing the game. The experience of Skyrim is indeed (or at least can be) as much about hearing other people’s stories of Skyrim as it is about playing the game itself–which is very similar to most non-game experiences, it seems to me; a sports fan or athlete’s experience of their game is as much about watching and hearing about others’ play experiences, and learning from them, as it is about playing the game itself. Learning solely through doing is an oddity in the world, especially in the networked wiki world.

    I think, for the most part, that’s a good thing, because doing is often dangerous and expends limited resources which may not be worth it if there’s an easier or safer way to learn. But of course there’s no danger to games (more or less), and no resources spent except time (more or less), so it’s understandable some might look to games for those experiences–and certainly, sometimes the learning mentality of wikis can with games become a kind of tourist maximus mentality of here’s all the cool stuff you have to see and do in this game to get your money’s worth, which is anti-fun.

    I think that’s ultimately a problem of open-world but not procedural/emergent games–the more fixed content there are, and the bigger the world, the more vulnerable it is that mentality, of trying to experience all the “stuff”. When the content of a game is primarily emergent–when a game’s not a diorama like Skyrim often functionally is or a series of tests to experience fixed content like most adventure games–you get something closer to the sports experience of shared low-level knowledge/techniques or the non-canned tourist experience of shared unreproducible stories.

  4. There are so many games that I think try to have that curtain in front of the curtain, giving you some entry point and hiding the actual game away for you to discover once you’re acclimated. I’m thinking StarCraft/SC2’s single player which is so significantly different from the multiplayer that they really might as well be different games. But it preserves that sense of figuring out the systems on your own, at least until your first contact with another person at which point you realize how much more you have to learn.

    I remember reading the rules to Magic: The Gathering and one of the instructions was something like “go play a game with someone who knows how, then come back and read up on the rules.” Which is a really cool statement of purpose right off the bat.

  5. It wasn’t until I read this all in this way that I had a thought. A completely randomised game that has no prior “press” or teasing. It’s not randomised in the sense that there are chunks laid out, it picks and creates a story for the player by the player. You can’t win or loose, no-one can be better at it than anyone else.

  6. Lovely comments everyone. No, not lovely. Sexy, delectable comments. (I’m revving up for my Polymorphous Perversity piece next week.)

    Personally, I’m not too bothered about games being torn apart and analysed by millions before I even set foot in their worlds. It does mean spoilers sprout up everywhere, of course, and Twitter can be deadly when a game goes live. I’ve actually argued before that not everyone plays for the social aspect. Pre-internet, I was brought up on the Atari computer and I was surrounded with friends who had either Spectrums or C-64s. I had no one to talk to and I had a great time.

    Sometimes, though, it’s nice to be part of the pioneers’ conversation. Watching Buffy as it was happening and unravelling on television for the first time is a completely different experience from sitting alone in front of the box set ten years later.

    @CdrJameson: I think that’s a bit of a “cheat” though, having updates that keep everyone on their toes. It still means the “core” of the game feels mapped and explored by many others plus if you don’t play right on the time a new update hits, it won’t be long before the new changes become just as discussed and translated as everything that went before. But, yeah, I avoid trailers of films all the time! I avoid game trailers in general, too, but usually because they’re quite dull.

    @Eric: It is nice to have something “to look up” occasionally. It depends on how much game time you actually have. (Playing Polymorphous Perversity recently, there is simply little information out there and the game is quite difficult. I was pretty much on my own. Then again… I liked it that way.)

    @circadianwolf: Welcome to the comments! It’s a good point. I’ve “enjoyed” Dark Souls, Dwarf Fortress and DayZ vicariously and played none of these games. I find Frank Lantz’s comment interesting because of the implication that the journey of a game is an overly-convoluted route to a destination. Now the destinations of games (let’s stick to single-player here) are typically terminal and, let’s face it, end of game cutscenes really aren’t worth 20 hours of grind. So aren’t we actually playing for that grind? Like you suggest in open world games, are we confusing the joy of the journey with the paltry nature of these destinations? Or perhaps the destination is simply the achievement of completing that journey and not any shiny trinket the game decides to feed you?

    Sadly, I can be sucked into hunting down every detail in open worlds. A game like FUEL undoes that for me, it is all about the journey because there is no destination.

    @Switchbreak: But I wonder whether it is possible to actually feel that you are the first person on the Moon when you’ve got documented evidence scattered across the web saying other people have been there already. Am I making too much of that? The only time I’ve rushed to play in recent memory was Portal 2 because of the fear of story spoilers. But none of those spoilers would have “destroyed” the rush of figuring out the mechanics and solving the (easy) puzzles.

    @Harry: That’s a big ask I think, because you’re almost arguing for a game where the very rules are procedurally devised. Even though Dwarf Fortress is a super-deep world simulator, you can still get better at Dwarf Fortress- you’re all playing the same rule set. Plus, if the true procedural game was a reality, it wouldn’t take long before people started trading their games – I want to play your world, that looks great – and you’d still end up with competition and much analysis of popular worlds.

  7. Ricky Haggett (@KommanderKlobb) brought a few extra tweets of his to my attention:

    [to @docky on games as Wiki/FAQ social experiment]
    “For me one of the main draws to Fez/Souls is the collective community effort. Like doing science in the 18th century or something.”

    [to @bfod on completing games alone]
    “giving a friend a subtle hint and getting a subtle hint in return is a really lovely, buzzy feeling..”

    [to @bfod on making games that can’t be gamed]
    “yes, but the hard part is retaining that feeling that you’re up against something hand-crafted and special.”

  8. My god, that’s so much easier to understand than, you know, looking on Twitter! More of these interesting — and digestible — exchanges please!

    I hate spoilers. Hate, hate, hate. I hate film trailers more than anything in the world and I find myself frequently sitting there in the cinema with my fingers pressed on my ears, humming whatever I can with my eyes closed. I must look like a right nutter. I’m keen to avoid them when it comes to games as well, mechanical spoilers included. The Souls games are strange games because I didn’t feel that bad lightly perusing through the wikis and various forum threads for nuggets of information. They’re both such merciless games with mechanics that embrace the input of other players that this extra research just sort of fitted in with the experiences. Yes, I’ve heard about certain bosses, enemies and areas before coming across them but when you’re in the game you’re usually so immersed and focused on the matters at hand that they’re the last things on your mind. I’m usually like “Shiiit, I wonder what’s down here… oh god, it’s that thing/place.”

    When it comes to the power gaming culture, if I feel like I can compete with these ‘no-lifers’ I’ll try and give them a run for their money. Admittedly, I don’t often feel like this but with regards to Brink, and in the last week Tower Wars, I’ve become exceptionally competitive and eager to raise my game. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift’s Speed Weekend DLC took over my life for a few weeks because I was absolutely adamant that I was going to get into the top 100 on the global time trial leaderboards on as many tracks as I could and sure enough, I did. In fact, I’m still in the top 5 on some and in the top 20 on others. It’s exhausting but exhilarating standing amongst these crazy people. Having said this, the standard multiplayer mode has become rife with exploiters so unless you’re willing to learn all the dirty tricks you don’t stand a chance. Mario Kart DS went the same route with people ‘snaking’ into 1st place, a technique that involves exploiting a quirk in the kart physics to get substantial speed boosts. Having tried it myself on my own I was astonished by how hard it was on my thumb. Seriously, ouuuuch.

    Which brings me round to Quake Wars and strafe-jumping and that entire collective of old-school FPS power players. I absolutely cannot compete with them; it’s a black art that, had I enjoyed a faster internet connection when I younger, I might have stood a chance joining in on but now it’s beyond my patience. Strafe-jumping and bunny hopping were the two things that pushed me away from Quake Wars and thankfully Brink ditched both of those things, much to the disgust of Splash Damage’s hardened veterans.

    Anyway, uh, yeah, big comment.

  9. Oh, that’s something else I wanted to bring up: Dungeon Defenders is very much one of those games where seeing behind the curtain is really deflating. When you witness another player using a weapon that does astronomical DPS it really diminishes your own excitement when you acquire a new weapon that gives you only a fraction of that damage. It’s the main reason I never played with anyone but my friends. The problem was when Luke, my girlfriend’s brother, acquired a sword off some ubermensch he met online and brought it in to play with us. It did millions of damage per second while our weapons were probably scraping the tens of thousands. It totally destroyed the balance of the game until eventually he realised it was a bit overpowered, just a bit, and decided to sell the sword and split the returns. By that point the damage had been done though; we all felt pretty feeble for a long time after that.

  10. I often retweet but little of that makes it down here into the articles. This seemed like such a thought-provoking conversation in its own right that I just had to share. It is very difficult to “save” a Twitter conversation in all its branching splendour though.

    Gregg, on spoilers, I have to point you back to the Post-Secret Game Design article that Drew Davidson posted on Tap last year. He was promoting the idea that we just have to live with it – when electronic communication is so fast and widespread, it is a virtually impossibility. Personally, I’d rather destroy the internet than accept this =) But like your Souls example, spoilers for such rich games don’t often destroy it, because you’ve only cheated away a tiny chunk of the whole.

    I think, Gregg, the only way for me to get to the top of the leaderboards is to buy into a game during beta and compete with a small player base. Then again I’ll have to check whether I still remain in the Fotonica scoreboards…

    Interesting Dungeon Defenders example. Strange how just one weapon could ruin the experience so badly – and permanently.

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