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The Escapist on 'Finishing Games'

Tom Endo from the Escapist wrote this post before. I thought that it, and it's linked forum thread, was very interesting. It has given me deep thought about gaming and game design, and will perhaps influence my future creations.

I do agree fully that I am spending less time per game then I had in the past, though this could be just as much to do with the current availability of games to me then anything to do modern game design, because:

  • Since I am working I have more disposable income to spend on myself then I did when I was in my preteens.
  • A vast variety of old games is available to me through budget re-releases, Wii Shop and emulation.
  • New games are drastically cut in price after only a few months on the market, I expect very few games on the market cost more then 50% of their original price after a year.

However I don't necessarily agree with the suggestion that gamers are finishing less games then they used to; excepting the C64 era (which was too bloody hard, no thanks to 1942, Robocop and the Last V-8) my ratio of games bought to games beaten has probably remained roughly about 40-60% from 1990 right up until today.

But the reasons why I don't complete a game have changed completely. In the Golden age of gaming, the typical game was generally pretty short (If you were only just good enough to beat it, you could probably do so in under 2 hours) with a sparse, passive narrative.

It was easy to jump into if you hadn't played it for awhile or even if you had never played the game before. You had to start from the very start of the game every time you inserted the cartridge and turned the console on, and you had three lives and perhaps a very limited number of continues to get you through the game; once you lost all of those, it was back to the start again. If you wanted to replay a section of the game you enjoyed, it wouldn't take long for you to get there if you had reached there previously.

The difficulty of the game was high, and the end screen was reserved only for those who had practised enough to gain the skill to get through the entire game. In essence, Players were rewarded for becoming skillfull enough to beat the game.

In the Modern era of gaming, the typical game is much longer, with only speedrunners approaching two hour completion times (the rest of us would normally take 8 hours plus). The narrative is stronger and generally force fed to us. Getting back into it after a break is difficult, as we may have forgotten the complex controls, how to operate the GUI or where the story had left off. If you want to replay part of the game you enjoyed before, you either have to manage your save game files (which can be tedious) or slog through the game from scratch again.

You only have one life, but the game can be beaten by practically everyone as you are usually only sent back a couple of rooms, at most you'll have to do the level you're on from scratch.  In essence, Players were rewarded for just spending time playing the game. The disadvantages of the Golden age of gaming is that it is frustrating to lose all of your progress for dying on a tricky jump, it's repetitive to have to play from the start again, and there's only two hours worth of content to see.

The disadvantages of the Modern era of gaming is that the games have far less challenge, the difficulty of entry and re-entry is higher, and without good save game management it's difficult to replay the parts that you enjoyed the most (Imagine if TV Season boxed sets forced you to watch the episodes in order!).

Is it possible to forge a balance between the two? Absolutely. Some people on the forum are claiming that episodic, or at least much shorter games is the answer; I respectfully disagree and believe that a full length game can provide the best of both worlds, and keep the player hooked for far longer then the 8 hours it takes to defeat the final boss for the first time.

The example I'll use is Goldeneye 007. Goldeneye had a lot of levels, greatly expanding on and going beyond the film. After beating them you could replay them again in any order at any time; if you just wanted to enjoy the complete Moonraker mission in the fifteen minutes before dinner, you could do so. At least on the harder difficulties, the levels were just long enough to be a rewarding challenge, but not too long that you would get frustrated and bored when you repeatedly failed.

There were cutscenes and mission briefing documents if you really wanted to get into the story of the game, but these could easily be skipped and even ignored completely without affecting the enjoyment of the game. Goldeneye actually had a lot more features that made the game much more enjoyable over a longer period of time but I think I've made my point.

Like Tom Endo, I also want to see the day when games will hook me from start to finish, but also when those same games will keep dragging me back for more. Perhaps the days of games with long, unbroken narratives are limited.