Plateau

Hello, fair readers. This is Certis, making a small change to Fletcher's article. I'm given to understand that a few people have been blocked by their work filters from seeing the front page due to the saucy nature of his opening. I assure you the language is mainly clinical (yet sexy) so while I take no issue with it, apparently the filters do. That being the case, please click "Read More" to jump right into the article. Enjoy!

In 1966, Howell Masters and Virginia Johnson published the book, Human Sexual Response, based upon the work of Alfred Kinsey and almost ten years of their own research into (and direct observation of) male-female intercourse and masturbation.

Masters and Johnson defined the four stages of sexual response as: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. The cycle itself is often represented as a line graph with Time on the X-Axis and the first three stages (Excitement, Plateau and Orgasm) on the Y-Axis.

The female sexual response cycle appears as a gradual (sometimes maddeningly so) upward slope from excitement to orgasm, with several "false peaks" in the plateau region. Anyone who's ever performed cunnilingus while kneeling on a hardwood floor can attest to the validity of this representation.

The male cycle differs radically. The transition from excitement to plateau in men is rather rapid, represented by a near-vertical line. The plateau stage is then almost horizontal for varying amounts of time (see: premature ejaculation) followed by another extremely rapid ascent into orgasm. It looks like this:

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/sex_chart_a.gif)

Playing video games often reminds me of the above.


This has happened to me a few times recently: I've been playing a game, enjoying it immensely, and then after a few hours of learning how to play it, followed by a few more hours of kicking ass, some internal switch flips and the level of difficulty jumps into the stratosphere, rendering it almost impossible (and certainly undesirable) to carry on. Either that, or the rules suddenly change and I have to immediately learn a completely different style of play or face the humiliation and frustration of seeing whatever boyish taunt the devs have decided to pass off as a Death Screen, the most humiliating of which will allow me to continue hearing the audio of what is transpiring directly above my fallen corpse as if taunting my inability to respond.

My favorite recent example is Resident Evil 4. A fantastic game, filled with gobs of moody moodiness and all manner of neat stuff at which to look, RE4 is nevertheless a terribly frustrating game to play. I practically flew through the first several hours of this game, almost at one sitting. Then I hit the boulder scene, and my pace slowed to a crawl. Those five seconds of in-game time took me two hours to complete and made me wonder quite a few times why I should even bother.

I'm not going to spoil the surprise for anyone who has yet to play it (all two of you), but the game takes advantage of your increasing confidence in dealing with the undead-ish bad guys to throw a complete curveball at you, introducing a few seconds of Dragon's Lair-type gameplay into what had to that point been a pretty straight forward shooter. I don't know about the rest of you, but suddenly being thrown into a situation in which I feel that my prior experience has left me totally lacking any notion as to how to proceed smacks too much of middle school and/or my first sexual experience to consider "a game."

The designers apparently sensed that this would be somewhat of a departure and helpfully flashed onto the screen the correct sequence of button presses which would allow one to escape certain doom. Unfortunately the timing of this helpful display is a bit lacking. As I'm being hypnotized by an incredibly smooth, yet disorienting camera shift, and the rapidly approaching instrument of death (i.e. "boulder"), I'm a little too distracted to realize that I'll have only two seconds in which to press buttons which had heretofore performed completely separate functions. The helpful display of the action that pressing these buttons will now cause my character to perform (in these few brief seconds only) is likewise disorienting, as I've been completely unable to perform any similar action throughout the rest of the game.

The experience, on the whole, is not unlike attempting to copulate in the front seat of a Honda Civic. In order to accomplish the task, one must unlearn what one has learned about such things as the proper placement of hands, feet, (etc.), all the while one's mind is not in anything approaching the proper analytical state for performing such mental gymnastics, making the whole scene far more dramatic than it probably needs to be. After banging your shins on the fuse panel a few times, and getting a gear shifter lodged in your kidney, the whole thing just feels ridiculous. Yet some instinctive insistence that mission is more important than your pride is keeps you from pulling the plug.

To make matters worse, the game designers, like brassiere manufacturers, have decided that standardization is a bad thing and have changed the button sequence at random intervals. So just when I think I've got the timing down, and have my fingers cramped into position to jam the buttons down as fast as humanly possible (i.e. Jeopardy-style), I realize I've backed the wrong horse and that the hooks are on the front this time. The result in the game is a bit more severe, perhaps, than the prolonged pressure in the groinal region that results from the coitus distraho of shame-facedly asking the lady in question to remove the stupid thing herself. I mean, I've never been kicked bodily from a vehicle and forced to replay an entire date from french fries to fellatio just because I couldn't unsnap a brassiere. Yet that's the punishment some games inflict for the mental inability to blindly manipulate an unexpected, and completely unannounced, game mechanic.

By the time I'm through the boulder scene in RE4, I've restarted more than thirty times, my controller is bent from being thrown across the room and I'm wondering once more why the hell I torture myself by playing these stupid games.

I bought a Namco Museum plug-in handset a couple of months ago for sixteen bucks, and to date I've played it more than any game I currently own. This could be because I'm an old fart and newfangled video games piss me off. Or it could be because Pac-Man kicks ass. Looking now at the acceleration of difficulty in Pac-Man, I realize that it more closely models the female sexual response cycle, which, as a man, I've spent quite a bit of time adapting to. Perhaps that's another reason why I like it so. No matter how difficult the game gets, no matter how long I play it, I will only ever be asked to perform the same, basic set of maneuvers that I learned to perform in the very first few minutes of play. Again, kind of like with sex. Maybe that makes it overly-simplistic, but to me consistency is everything.

I'm not going to spend more than five words here bragging about how awesome I am in the sack. Suffice to say: I am. Yet I briefly dated one woman who challenged everything I knew about intercourse, forced me to consider the thought that I'd wasted half my life learning all the wrong moves and left me withered and spent, crying into my pillow late at night before discarding me for someone more to her liking, which to my everlasting chagrin, was her cat.

The feeling made me briefly wish that I could inflict the same pain on others by building a secret hideout in the center of an active volcano from which to remotely detonate nuclear weapons underneath all of the Western nations' capitals, or by developing a really hard game or something. Thankfully I discovered a well of confidence within myself and abandoned such puerile notions. If only more game developers would do the same.

Because what I really want, more than a game that takes thirty hours to play (owing to the fact that it takes ten seconds and five button-presses to switch weapons or save) is a game that's fun to play, the whole way through.

I know that video games are not the end-all be-all of human existence. I know that completing one does not make me any more of human being than I was when I started it. Face it, video gaming is mental masturbation. That's not to say that it isn't useful in its own right, but the act just doesn't contribute anything constructive to society other than providing a means for us to pass the time or ease the pains of the day.

Chasing algorithms around a phosphorescent maze isn't going to pay my bills or cure cancer, so the least I can ask from the experience is that it be fun. If I want an exercise in futility, I'll go back to work and try to have a normal conversation with my boss. If I want to exercise my inventory management skills, I'll try to load three weeks worth of burrito plates into my under-sized dishwasher. And if I want to have to attempt something more than three times in a row in order to get it right, I'll try to get somewhere in Boston by car.

When I have the time to play a game, it should start right up, require zero configuration or programming from me and be as fun and stress free as reading a book, because that's what I'll be off doing it it isn't. Perhaps I set my goals too high. This is my dream, but maybe it's like the dream of a poodle who dreams of chasing rabbits. The poodle has never seen a rabbit. How would he know what chasing them is like?

Comments

This article sums up why I hate EA Sports games from a Gameplay perspective pretty well. The effort of making the game playable takes longer than the game itself. And never works.

*sigh* these developers...will they never learn? You can hardly play a game that doesn't feature at least one soul-crushing scenario that appears to have been implemented solely for the purpose of making the player suffer. Fletcher, I feel your pain.

To continue with your metaphor: You know those bedroom performances that make you feel like you deserve some kind of a medal? The ones that result in loud, hysterical exclamations followed by tender expressions of awe and praise? That's the feeling of accomplishment I want from my games.

discarding me for someone more to her liking, which to my everlasting chagrin, was her cat.

Wait... WHAT?! I hope you mean she only went to her cat for company... otherwise... that's horrifying... hehe. Sorry, that joke had to be made.

I have to agree, every video game has that super annoying part. Guild Wars has the Trials of Ascension, the three hardest missions in the game, all lined up together. Playing Diablo II online was Act III... because that totally random/huge jungle would change every time, and it was impossible to find anything, especially with the little pygmy things running around.

I have to agree with your comments about sex, though... drawing on what little experience I have. Once I learned the combination to my girl's safe, it was cake. Though, I gotta say, learning the combo for a new girl is a little worrisome. I was never that good at remembering my locker combination in high school from year to year. I came back from one winter break, and couldn't get into my locker all day because I kept trying the combo from the previous year.

Fabulous article Fletcher, and an excellent articulation (by way of comparison) of an important distinction between two general types of games: the male kind, and the female kind, if you will. Judging by what I read above, you strongly prefer the female type of game. But are there any instances at all in which you feel that the developers may justifiably throw a male-style wrench into the workings?

Take mini-games, for example. They come in many forms -- card games, action sequences, etc. -- but what they all have in common is that they are brief and radical intrusions upon the normal gameplay mechanic. If female games are better in your estimation than male games, then do you object to the presence of mini-games under all circumstances?

Let's take another example: the Civilization series. The mechanics at work on the main world map are very different from those that govern the city screen, but each is very important to the way the game as a whole functions. An even better example may be the Total War series, in which the real-time battle scenes form a very stark contrast with the workings of the strategic world map. Do you also find such games as these unappealing?

I'm of course not trying to attack your preferences or anything; I'm simply trying to encourage you to more explicitly construct and/or express the system of criteria by which you generally judge your games.

Let's take another example: the Civilization series. The mechanics at work on the main world map are very different from those that govern the city screen, but each is very important to the way the game as a whole functions. An even better example may be the Total War series, in which the real-time battle scenes form a very stark contrast with the workings of the strategic world map. Do you also find such games as these unappealing?

Let's use Fletch's whole sex analogy again...

A game like Civ or Total War is like the full making love package. There's parts where you do oral, and there are parts when ya ride her hard. Alll parts are enjoyable... it's just a matter of preference as to which parts are your favorite, and a matter of skills as to which you're best at.

Fletcher, I crown thee GWJ Lord of Extended Metaphor. Great piece.

If you thought the boulders were bad, you are in for some major pain later in the game.

The little active cut scene mechanic was by far the worst thing about RE4.

Great... I just got to work and now I'm horny as hell. Oh well, only 8 more hours till I am home with my wife...

for bridging the gap between sex and video games, you should get the Nobel Prize. In a category yet to be invented. Yay!

.... Great article! But now I know why my work content filter wouldn't load the page!

(I kid, it was already blocked yesterday... because of adult language... you asshats! ;))

So, using that metaphor... Makai Kingdom would be like lots and lots of mini climaxes leading up to some sort of dramatic explosion that couldn't possibly live up to the expectations you've built up for yourself. And because you never really get off you just keep pounding away at it... hoping for that big payoff, but all you ever get are minis.

Another brilliant article brought to you by Fletch. The only tragically unexplored angle he left out of his ruminations are gay games.

BTW, to this date I have NOT played RE4. Who's that one other guy remaining?

BTW, to this date I have NOT played RE4. Who's that one other guy remaining?

*raises hand* Here!

Great article Fletch! I'll be in my bunk.

On a serious note, I see why you don't want to play WoW. Not that it gets any harder at any certain point, but it can be rather tedious. Particularly, inventory management drives me nuts and professions development involves a lot of gathering and still more inventory management. It can be a drag - but you can always just create another alt and mail everything to him and think about it later. I have to say the guild grouping makes all that worth while though. It's very satisfying to climax with a group of GWJers. teehee

The Package wrote:

I mean, I've never been kicked bodily from a vehicle and forced to replay an entire date from french fries to fellatio just because I couldn't unsnap a brassiere.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

BTW, to this date I have NOT played RE4. Who's that one other guy remaining?

Right here. Oh wait, there appears to be 3 of us!

Four.
/shame

Great article! Makes me think of the new Prince of Persia game. Here I am plugging along thinking, "Hey swinging on poles, jumping over spike pits, avoiding pendula, I remember how to do this!!" then, "Wait, swords? Time dust? WTF? Ooh that chick has a nice ra...GAH!"

The little active cut scene mechanic was by far the worst thing about RE4.

I loved those! My girlfriend handled them quite easily and she's not a gamer. I'm a bit shocked to see that it offered a real challenge to anyone around here. And I thought I was getting old and slow...

Rezzy wrote:

Four.
/shame

Thirded. Heh heh.

Thanks for the article, Fletcher! Somebody call Jack Thompson!

SillyRabbit wrote:

It's very satisfying to climax with a group of GWJers.

That is almost sig-worthy...almost.

Chasing algorithms around a phosphorescent maze

Brilliant turn of phrase, that. Great metaphor development. Yay you!

Rezzy wrote:

Four.
/shame

Five...or Six. But yeah, me too.

duckideva wrote:
Chasing algorithms around a phosphorescent maze

Brilliant turn of phrase, that. :)

Thanks. I've been sitting on that one for years

The feeling made me briefly wish that I could inflict the same pain on others by building a secret hideout in the center of an active volcano from which to remotely detonate nuclear weapons underneath all of the Western nations' capitals, or by developing a really hard game or something. Thankfully I discovered a well of confidence within myself and abandoned such puerile notions. If only more game developers would do the same.

Because what I really want, more than a game that takes thirty hours to play (owing to the fact that it takes ten seconds and five button-presses to switch weapons or save) is a game that's fun to play, the whole way through.

Your article hit a nerve with me, Fletcher. There's something wrong when both the developers and the new generations of gamers start regarding games as "work".
This is largely because gaming is treated as science instead of art... and its not even treated as a full-fledged science, but some sort of lazy guessful alchemy.

It has become an unwritten law, that when I pick up a game, it will go easy on me for a while, until I suddenly hit a wall and stop playing in frustration. Making games difficult is extremely easy. Making them fun takes a lot of hard work.

When I was making a textmode shooter back in 1996 with my cousin, we had no graphics to worry about. All of our focus went to gameplay.
For example, first we created the typical melee grunt monster. Thats a given. Then, we created a monster that shoots rockets.

We found that to be sort of boring, so the monster now DODGED incoming rockets as well - when it could. First I made it dodge rockets all the time, and gave it the speed and agility to do so. That became frustrating after a while.
So, I made it react slower. Now, it would only have a chance to dodge SOMETIMES, depending on circumstances. It wasn't done at random - if the player got the proper timing, he could kill the monster even inside a narrow tunnel while ducking the incoming rockets and slowly advancing toward it.
Of course the above scenario wasn't possible until we made sure that the monsters would get "stunned" for a moment when you land a successful shot.
All in all, this made the monster prone to error and prone to defeat, while remaining a quite smart and formidable enemy.

Another monster, with whom we had to create a custom approach, was the Chaingunner. Obviously, if given proper speed and AI, it could chase the player and reduce him to a puddle of blood 100% of the time. That is no fun.
So, we gave it an instinct of self-preservation. It would camp out behind obstacles and take pot shots at the player.
However, a sniping monster can be very frustrating, as can be seen in Diablo2.
So, we added the part where the monster had a fixed amount of shots it had to fire before it could move again.
Tratatata- KABLOOM ! You ran behind the corner and blew him away with your double shotgun.
Another element we added - he would fire when he 100% would hit the player, and also, when he wouldn't, but the player was near.
This gave the monster an element of fallibility, and the player - a sense of accomplishment for "almost" being hit, but not. It added more authenticity to a fire exchange.

Another interesting monster was the Stealth. It assumed the color of its immediate surroundings and attacked very fast. Of course, it drained health also very fast. We found that annoying. So, the monster would only chase the player until he turned a corner or somehow else made himself not within direct line of sight. Then it would change its color and camp out again.
This balanced the monster out without having to rob it of its uniqueness.

How many developers nowadays spend this time on tuning the gameplay like this ?
Untold Legends for PSP - you enter a dungeon room. Everyone attacks you at once. You hit a lot of attack keys and then a potion key.
THE END.
How about making monsters attack gradually ? Fine-tuning aggro radius ? Giving player spells like WoW's frost nova, or Diablo2's bone wall, to allow for some divide-and-delay strategy ?
Developer: "Sorry, what ? I was busy bumpmapping the polyamorously specular octagons."

so ya kinda feel like a total nerd leaving a comment here since im nto very into video games at all and mock my friends who are. but i had to comment that that article was amazing lol. it was funny and clever and very well written especially "I'm not going to spend more than five words here bragging about how awesome I am in the sack. Suffice to say: I am. " lol it was amazing just so every1 knows...

I'm currently employed to research Artificial Intelligence technology full-time, but once upon a time I was the technical director of a start-up games developer. One thing I would like to see that AFAIK no-one has ever done is a game that combines a predictive model of the player's emotional state with an AI engine that fine tunes the difficultly and choreographs game events to maximise enjoyment and excitement. Ideally the system should try and work out what mix of emotions (suspense, satisfaction, curiosity etc) the player is experiencing over time and try and optimise it to match a description of the experience the game's designer wanted.

Of course this would need bleeding-edge Bayesian AI technology to have a chance of working in real time, and it'd take a lot of work to get right. But the improvement in player experience could be phenomenal. Playing current games is often like being an actor on a movie set; you have to match your actions to the fixed, preexisting script and if you get it wrong (and die) you have to repeat the scene, possibly many times. But in theory, with the right AI technology, playing a game could really be like being immersed in a movie that a top-class scriptwriter is improvising specifically for you, in response to your actions. While ambitious, I think modern hardware and AI algorithms are beginning to bring this ideal into the realm of plauisibility.

Unfortunately the current games industry is very unlikely to go for it. All the effort seems to be going into visual and physical realism, with a completely scripted experience and fairly awful AI accepted as normal, and companies seem scared to risk letting the experience vary signficently between players. Ah well, perhaps one day I'll have a few spare (tens of) millions to start a company that would actually make this product