Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Tommy looks concerned

Have you read Those Honeymoon Hours posted on 29 November 2011?

Christopher Lampton talks about the “sublime confusion” experienced at the start of a computer game, before you’ve bedded in and learnt how it works. He thinks this confusion is essential for a game to be great.

Those Honeymoon Hours used Mafia to demonstrate this concept. I approached it from a different angle, that of sadness when the player goes professional, having become comfortable with its systems. Bring on the save scumming. Bring on the min-maxing. You can’t get away from this and I’m not sure it is a good idea to try: think back to Arithmophobia recently where the predictability and familiarity of numbers was celebrated by RPG enthusiasts. But Those Honeymoon Hours are sometimes the best.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Pippin Barr: “I absolutely cherish that early period when it’s all strange and new.”
  • Steerpike: “I wonder if it would be possible to make a series of games that are nothing but first moments.”
  • Amanda Lange: “You know, I feel this, but at the same time, I kind of don’t agree.”
  • Badger Commander: “I played through the beginning 4 times and then sort of got bored.”

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9 thoughts on “Countdown 2016, 5: The Mystery in Mafia

  1. This theory puts Starseed Pilgrim in a different light!

    Also, I think I would want to treat separately mechanics/games that are *only* interesting in the honeymoon stage (like GTA girlfriend mechanics)

  2. Sean, you’re right that some games transition from mystery into mastery very effectively. My beef about Starseed Pilgrim was that there was so much more to the game than its mystery and critics were not making that clear; think also about the right roguelikes like 868-HACK where there is more entertainment in solving these systems vs discovering them.

    At the time I believe I was thinking exclusively about the narrative-led AAA genre where the games always try very hard to suggest complexity and freedom but the beginning is effectively letting you down gently.

    Amanda has a point also that some games are terrible during their opening phase – something like Banished or 4X titles which are primarily about learning the rules. Then again, those games can sometimes have a special sense of mystery where the world can feel more alive until you start to recognise patterns.

    Grindy stuff usually feels interesting for the first few goes until it feels like grind.

    There is definitely more nuance here.

  3. I think for me the problem is frequently a lack of challenge/content towards the end, not letting me do anything with all the skills I’ve mastered/resources I’ve gathered. This seems to be more of a problem in recent games than in older ones, although it’s not new or anything. When playing open-world games, I frequently wish for some great event that’ll force me to up my game – you’ve been taking the world sector by sector, but now your enemies really start fighting back! the army’s after you! good thing you bought all those bases! – but instead I just get one moderately easy mission and that’s it.

    Maybe games need to learn more from TV shows with good arcs. Too many games don’t really go anywhere from where they start out.

  4. I think that’s the first post I’ve read here. Fucking hell, has it been five years already? Way to ruin a perfectly good evening…

  5. Jonas, that’s an interesting point I don’t think I’d picked up. I think some modern games are of a more conveyor belt mentality where they must keep giving you scoops of content at a regular pace otherwise there is danger of player disengagement (I would guess). Rewards over rising difficulty?

    Ketchua – wow, that is clearly the first comment you made, as I referenced. I’ve been doing Electron Dance for over six years now, so this site makes me feel even older than you do right now.

  6. This reminds me of the ‘Chick Parabola’: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/122041/Analysis_AI_Fallibility_And_The_Chick_Parabola.php It’s tangentially related, but I appreciate the enjoyment being on the way up and then dropping off once you start seeing the patterns and connecting the dots.

    At A Distance is one that sticks out in my mind for maintaining its mystique or ‘sublime confusion’ right up until… well, until it ends. It’s one big honeymoon (and I shared it with you Joel! Haha).

  7. Ah yes, Gregg, The Chick Parabola is one of those articles I know you like to keep close to hand. Perhaps under the pillow at night, where some people might have a handgun. At A Distance does maintain the mystery quite well… even if we weren’t playing it as intended (as a “group” effort at the expo).

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