Puritan Work-Ethic, How I Loathe Thee

I do not like work, even when someone else does it -- Mark Twain

Most video games are a rip-off.

Nearly every video game since "tank pong" has buried its best content behind layers of work. Unlike any other retail product I can think of, when you buy a video game, the chances that you will actually get what you paid for are infinitesimal. I can't think of a single game I've played where I am confident that I've seen every single level; unveiled every coveted secret; unlocked every whatsit and pretty and soundtrack left like kipple by the designers in the dark corners of the code.

I bought it. I want my game.

When I buy a book, the only thing that stands in the way of completing it is the page count. And I know the page count going in. I can read the last chapter standing in the bookstore. If I find Chapter 56 too cumbersome, I can skip it entirely and move on to the better parts of Moby Dick (there are better parts, trust me).

Sometime about 10 years ago, we started measuring video games in terms of "hours". A game that gave you 5 hours of gameplay was somehow a ripoff. A game that proffered 100 was some kind of opus. But the reality is that most gamers play a small fraction of even those 5 hours. Let's face it, a lot of games suck. I buy the game. I play it for an hour or two. I see the pretty. I hear the boom. I go "cool" at the twist or the plot or the theme that made me want to buy it in the first place. Then back it goes into the GameSpot "used" bin.

Some genres are bigger offenders, bigger overall ripoffs, than others.

From Doom to Halo, first person shooters have propagated the evil concept of levels. I'm playing level 12. Level 12 sucks. I suck. I've killed random demon #212 and I'm 5 minutes past the last save point. But I have to get through level 12 to play level 13 where the giant pretty monster of death awaits, and that's supposed to be the coolest thing ever. Excuse me, I bought the game. I'd like to go directly to the pretty monster of death.

Zelda, Oblivion, and all the role playing games in-between take this curse of Calvinist suffering and at least attempt to justify it through story. If I want to meet the Grey Fox I've got some thieving to do first. These games are marginally more palatable and feel like less of a ripoff, because at least the barriers to the content are logical. But as a capitalist consumer, they still keep me from getting what I paid for without an additional investment of hours and hours of time.

But by far the worst offenders are MMORPGs. Oh how the hours have drained from my life as I've made cloth caps or shot rabbits solely to get to the shiny I've ostensibly already paid for with my $14.95. Even highly refined and otherwise excellent games like World of Warcraft, or more recently Guild Wars: Factions, suffer from this curse. Hey, at least with the offline offenders I can spend half an hour with my friend Google to find a magic "cheat" that gives me the hollow satisfaction of sneaking out what I paid for in the first place.

I play games to escape. To go somewhere else. But our industry has so ingrained this concept of "earning" our fun that the best is somehow always saved for last. Like modern day Puritans, we've convinced ourselves that we are not worthy of that for which we've already paid. Sinners in the hands of an angry god, we don't deserve our fun until we pay in blood.

But verily I say unto you all is not lost. I think we might--just might--be in the midst of a rebellion. Increasingly, developers realize that to be successful they must treat the consumer with respect. Most FPS titles are now designed for content-leveling multiplayer from the ground up, or at least contain enough plot and story that they break the "level" mentality. Even Battlefield 2 with its unlocks doesn't systematically leave the casual player subject to the eternal boot-licking scorn of the cheese-eating high school student. The Grand Theft Auto series, while maintaining some traditional story-based barriers, is popular precisely for the sense of freedom it evokes. There's still content below the surface, but you feel like you can go find it if you want it.

Real Time Strategy games, which are often conceived entirely as competitive multiplayer experiences, have dropped their content barriers as well. A few hours with a modern RTS title and most players will have seen the full spectrum of what the game has to offer, and can focus on (heaven forfend) actually playing the game. Sims (all kinds) break the very mold of the problem. In Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight (FS9), you can fly any plane, from any location in the world, at any time, in any conditions. All that stands in your way is your own competence. Sandbox games like Spore (we hope!) and Second Life replace the very concept of levels with building and evolution--violent and competitive evolution occasionally--but not illogical puritan denial.

Perhaps this curse of puritan work-ethic is easy to understand. Games are supposed to be challenging. When the opponent is simply a machine, there needs to be some reason to keep playing, a goal. The only coin the game can offer is what it can hide in the bits and bytes of the game itself.

But you know what? Real life is hard enough. Give me back my game.

Comments

I think, rabbit, that your view on the "work" in the games you buy comes about because of your own personal style of game playing and not so much a negative trend in the gaming industry. Game publishers are out to make money. They aren't going to continually publish something that isn't going to pump in revenue. That simple fact means, I'm afraid for you, that the games that are coming out are selling and they aren't going to change their formula until they stop selling.

On a more personal note some of us actually like the "work." Hell, I love Tetris and that is only the work. What about racing games? Is the racing the work? Because that's the point of the game. I like killing monster #59 through #343 in level 13. The pretty boss fight? Not so much, sorry. I even liked Doom 3 for the most part except it did something that a lot of your "work" games do which I think is the real problem. They cheat.

I don't mind putting a lot of work into a game to accomplish its goals, but when the computer doesn't have to work as hard as I do to break down my accomplishments that's when I get angry. Doom 3, using shadows as spawn points when you put your back to them? That is game breaking; it is not cool at all.

It's those moments when you've tried so hard and come so far, and in the end, it doesn't really matter, that trend needs to stop.

To me, especially in linear games like the FPS's that you reference, the "work" to get to the uber awesome critter of DOOM is the equivalent of the rising tension in a film as you make your way to the climax, or the fun and entertaining foreplay before you make sweet, sweet love to a wom-- *ahem*, err, sorry, tangential twist there.

But the point being that it's not "work", it's rising tension. Now, some games may be unreasonably difficult for some of us. Ninja Gaiden, for instance, I'm having to face the possibility I may never see past the third chapter, because I suck. I wish there were an easier difficulty mode. Yes, I could get Ninja Gaiden Black, but then I don't get the classic NES Ninja Gaiden games to unlock (which is a huge carrot dangling from a stick for me on that game).

Oblivion handles this fabulously. There's a difficulty slider that goes from "as easy as slaughtering puppies" to "as tough as wrestling a giant amoeba". You can change the slider anytime you want during the game. I've had to use it once or twice when the challenge of a given quest was unreasonably difficult for my particular character build. I like a challenge. I don't like something that's impossible due to my particular stat combination. So, while I usually keep the slider at the default setting, I've occasionally raised or lowered it as needed.

I won't say whether I agree with rabbit's points here, but I am supporting him in his bid for President of the Twelve Colonies. Seriously, I have been hating on artificially long games for some time now. Give me as many hours of a compelling experience as you have, and that's it.

rabbit, you really hit the nail on the head through the use of the word "work". There's far too much of that in modern "games". Even Oblivion annoys me by forcing me to schlep items to the proper stores to get the best deals, or grind certain skills in order to raise them. If there wasn't such a good game behind all the work, I wouldn't do it. Games are for fun!

Agreed that Oblivion handles this very well (then again, Oblivion handles many things very well).

My point isn't so much that games are inherently too hard. My beef (and admittedly, this is a rant) is with the ethos behind "earning" what you've already paid for. I'm not advocating a world where games are simple and unchallenging. I'm advocating a world where the game isn't hidden from you because you don't have the desire or time to plow in.

I do think many games are breaking this mold. Games like Half-Life 2 manage to keep you focussed enough, and unveil enough cool stuff frequently enough, to keep me satisfied.

Doom3 was such a shocker in terms of tone and visuals for me that I spent far more time on it than I would have otherwise. The demonic closets (as a friend coined them) made it nearly laughable in terms of how this 'work for it' mentality can go wrong.

Puzzle games are an entirely different animal. I *love* puzzle games. Part of the reason I love them is that in general, the content is right there in front of you. I do get frustrated, even by games like Lumines, when there's something I want that I know I'll never get: I'm quite sure there are few tracks and themes in there I will never see.

Game's don't have to be *easy*, I just appreciate it when they treat me like the owner of the thing I bought.

Ah, that makes more sense to me now.

So basically, you're the type that hates when games are needlessly repetitive and holding off on new content until you're ready to quit -- like, say, Halo. Man, I really liked Halo, but I quit at the Library level and never could force myself to try playing through the game again. Far too much repetition.

Sounds like you want something closer to a movie than a game, or maybe a movie where you need to push a button every so often to advance the story. But for the most part, I do agree that games that block you from advancing because they believed that the challenges need to increase beyond what is reasonable is poor game design, and is a way of cheating us out of our money's worth.

As others as well as I have argued here in the past, for games that have a (semi)linear story to get through and roadblocks of some form placed in the way, there should be some straightforward means to get past the challenge if the player cannot seem to do so in the fashion intended by the game.

For adventure games, the roadblocks are many, but these days with uhs-hints and on-line walkthroughs, the challenges are met easily if the player chooses to use their aid. For action games, seemingly the only solution is to use some "cheat code" which makes the protagonist(s) some variation of superman or the like. Using the former makes me feel stupid at times, but it doesn't spoil the game (or not much) but the latter I detest, and would really prefer some in-game way of getting past the challenge. As Farscry mentioned, Oblivion's slider is one way that likely works for most.

Thinking back to the games I've never finished, the most common cause has been the game's ability to turn what should have been fun into tedium (or torture) as I cannot get through the boss fight/endless jumping puzzle/rapid-reaction sequence/etc. that the game requires me to complete. For adventure and some RPG games, it's generally been more of a "I don't care enough to bother". I don't like what feels like a waste of my money for all of these, but of the two it's the action game one which ends up getting me angry as well.

Farscry wrote:
Ah, that makes more sense to me now.

So basically, you're the type that hates when games are needlessly repetitive and holding off on new content until you're ready to quit -- like, say, Halo. Man, I really liked Halo, but I quit at the Library level and never could force myself to try playing through the game again. Far too much repetition.

Play Halo on Legendary with a friend in the Library, it becomes euphoric.

Rabbit wrote:
Increasingly, developers realize that to be successful they must treat the consumer with respect.

Later Rabbit wrote:
Even Battlefield 2...

DOES. NOT. COMPUTE.

Completely disagree. If every game had a fast forward button there could be no sense of achievement. Is Samus's grapple beam a case of content unjustly withheld from the buyer because it must be earned in game? No. Earning it is the point.

The only game where I agree with your main point you use as a counterexample. In all three 3D GTA games you start with two thirds of the game locked behind many hours of quests. This is an example of unnecessarily withheld content, but it is the only series listed that deserves this kind of scorn.

Psst, in each Halo you can choose what level to start on in the menu.

I'm currently having a hard time defining too hard, btw. I've recently rediscovered Burnout Revenge on my 360 (I didn't have to look that hard, I only own it, Oblivion, and Marble Blast). I usually do not fall prey to the trap of wanting to collect every item or get a perfect score on everything, but for some reason I'm wanting to get a rating of Perfect on every race. It would seem that the races that are simply you against the clock ("Burning Laps" and previews) are right on the line for me when it comes to difficulty. In order to achieve Gold on one of these levels, you generally need to hit a majority of the shortcuts, some of which will easily cause you to crash if you don't hit them just right. Any crash will almost certainly cause your time to exceed the maximum allowed for Gold. Last night, I was repeatedly and vigorously cursing the designers (and their people) every time that I failed to achieve this goal. The funny thing, though, is that I usually blow off timed runs anyway...but for some reason, the presentation has convinced me that it's worth trying. This might have something to do with the damned GamerScore feature of the 360.

There is a happy ending: I did, after maybe half an hour on one 2 1/2 minute race, finally get the gold, at which point I exulted with a "Yaaaauuuussss!" My girlfriend, who was sitting next to me and cursing vigorously as she tried to get the last giant coin in a certain level of SMB DS, did not seem to notice.

You know, I don't mind that I have to play a lot of hours in Fallout to get the Plasma Rifle. It's part of the progression of the game. Likewise, it doesn't bother me that I need to reach 18th level to get the Silent Death perk. If there's no reward for effort, if I can reap the benefits without challenge at all, what's the point? The same goes for meeting the Gray Fox in Oblivion. I mean, I also don't read the last chapter of a novel first.

However, I hate unlocks. Hate hate hate. Because they feel so arbitrary and completely outside the context of the game. Utterly artificial. I hate the unlock system in Battlefield 2. (Especially how they botched it with regards to unranked servers.) I hate that you have to unlock characters in Soul Calibur before you can play them. I hate driving crappy crappy cars for hours in Need For Speed: Underground before I can get something that looks halfway decent.

So I'm not sure whether I agree with the article or not. But I can certainly see your point.

Danjo,

I think we can agree to disagree.

Earning it is the point.

As Chiggie commented, perhaps this is an issue of preference and playstyle more than anything else. For many people, I suppose "earning the game" is the actual motivation for playing the game. But games don't *have* to be this way to be good. Nor are all games that stick with this morality of work bad.

As an example: I love Tony Hawk. Played every one. I still get frustrated with the "skate better to get somewhere better to skate" mentality. I'm currently loving Guild Wars: Factions and I'm frustrated like crazy that to get my PvP character working right, I'm going to have to spend several hours going down a line of PvE missions I don't particularly want to play.

Another thing I forgot to add that you all reminded me of is that "medals" or "rank" in a game ups its replay value 10 fold. My example is Robotech : Battlecry. I like this game a lot but don't think it's the best shooter in the world. There are some real problems with the level design sometimes and some of the levels are just torturous. But, this game does give you medals and extra stars on those medals for completing goals. Other things are unlocked with the medals like different veritech variants and pain jobs for them but the medals themselves kept me coming back.

I earned every medal in the game and all but two of the extra star clusters and those clusters burn a hole in my soul. I'll be back for them and that makes that game better to me.

I *love* rewards. I'm still running through all the songs at medium in Guitar Hero because I want to get "5 stars" on them all. In Wipeout Pure, I still run through levels to try and "gold" the ones I missed.

I guess the question comes down to where you draw the line behind "work" (aka "grinding") and a good challenge to achieve something. I like a good challenge, and enjoy earning accomplishments, but when my expectations on how hard / long / exact I must perform something to advance the game don't jive with what the game expects of me, then it becomes an exercise in frustration. Sometimes this takes the form of a massive grind (flash back of FFXI *shudder*), or the game being artificially difficult at times (ie, the game cheats.)

As has been mentioned, the difficulty slider in Oblivion is a great fix of sorts for the type of game it is. I was honestly getting tired of playing, as my favorite activity, exploring and clearing dungeons, was becoming tedious and drawn out for my character. With a slight tweak of the difficulty (you can hardly tell I've adjusted it) the game has again become enjoyable, the pace has become much more engaging, and I'm once again free to explore without fear of being beaten within a tick of death if I encounter *gasp* two baddies at once.

rabbit: great, great article, of the quality that attracted me to GWJ in the first place. Witty, insightful, BLAH BLAH BLAH. (don't you hate people who drop in only to brown nose your work?)

My favorite thing about this article is that it suggests another, different type of genre or gaming nirvana that we haven't seen yet. I don't know what that it yet, but I'm pretty sick of the leveling/questing/box-checking.

My biggest gripe about games these days isn't so much about how they make me work, it's that they won't make a deal with me.

I often really enjoy one aspect of more open-ended games than others. If I run headlong into a brick wall of a challenge in a game, I'd like it if a game would detect that and try and cut a deal with me.

The game could do the equivalent of: "I see this is the 52nd time you're trying this San Andreas mission where you try to fly the mini-biplane from the hobby shop, kill four guys on motorcycles halfway across the city, then fly back and land without running out of gas. You're clearly not going to get it. How about we cut a deal? Don't worry you're not cheating, I'll just note in your Stats that you'll have spent 500,000 game dollars to buy your way out of having to bang your head against this mission."

I recently had a fall-down, crushed-by-despair gaming moment when playing the Bloody Palace mode of DMC3:SE. Since this is an additional, challenge mode, I don't really consider these spoilers, but here goes:

My former record with Dante was in the 3800's (of 9999, going up 100 levels per, uh, level). After finishing the game on Very Hard mode, I got the infinite devil power skin. This grants the strong attack power, large damage reduction, resistance to being knocked back and knocked down that devil form does, but does not give you slow healing as in the regular game. And it never runs out.

Powered by that I spent two hours and made it through a smattering of lucky boss fights.

In the 6000 series of levels, the second form of Agni+Rudra showed up, the one with both scimitars, fighting me on the disc instead of in a boss fight proper. Dirty pool, but he's not hard to kill, just tedious.

In the 7000 series of levels and later, the game started adding in multiples of those really annoying large, black-robed laughing creatures that have the scythes and teleport around at the sound of a tolling bell. I call them banshees, and alone they're not terrible. In three's and even fours they just throw you around the ring like a ragdoll, with at least one or two of them attacking at any given moment while you try to chip away at one that isn't swooping in.

At level 8900 I ended up in another boss fight. I'd been lucky all this way, getting a random boss fight that wasn't really tough. Heck, the previous boss fight in the 7000s had been the first rooftop boss fight against Vergil. (They show up every 10 jumps or so, each jump being at most 100 levels.) This was the big bad fight, though. This was the level-20 Vergil fight.

I JUST scraped through with one segment of health left out of I think ten or fifteen total. I was exhilarated. I jumped for joy. I pointed and told the cats I'd just awakened nearby who the man was. This was the last the last boss fight. It was cruising -- tough cruising to be sure, but still cruising -- to the end from here on in!

The 9000 level loaded. New backdrop, as with every 1000-level. Jester faces ringing the arena, but still the same size arena. I have to stay focused. One segment of health. I have to nail these guys fast and stay in the air to get some green orbs and heal up. The enemies drop in. POP go three spiders, appearing on the level with a blue flash. Spiders didn't scare me so much since I'd settled on the Agni+Rudra swords as one of my two devil arms in the Bloody Palace -- the elemental fire and ice tended to stagger them, keeping them from striking as often, and the wide swings would catch nearby foes more easily than Rebellion would.

Demons always blinked in in red, but this time it was blue. The blue flash...I squinted at the screen in horror. "No." I said to the empty living room. "NO!" I shouted. The cats didn't care. The spiders all had the blue aura that appeared around enemies after a short time in a room in Dante Must Die difficulty mode. The same blue aura that would appear around enemies in the Warrior's Challenge in easier difficulty levels. The blue aura made the creature far harder to stagger and far harder to kill.

Here's where I'd like the game to pause and tell me "You've earned 180,000 orbs so far tonight. You can't use Items in Bloody Palace mode to heal up, friend, so here's a special deal. Vital Star L's heal you totally, and cost 10k normally. Give me 50k and you'll get healed fully. You've been at it for 2 hours 18 minutes. Don't let it slip away from you now. What do you say?" And I'd have done it. Insert joke about inability to make a deal with the devil may cry game devil here.

I paused the game, drank a much-needed full glass of cold water, flexed my hands and wrists to limber up, and started back in.

A couple of minutes later, after much leaping and furious gunplay that didn't manage to kill any of the spiders, Dante got hit for the last time. Dante's corpse exited demon form with a flare of red energy and flopped onto the ground.

Thanks souldaddy, I never say no to a blah blah blah...

As is clear from the reponse, there are definately multiple playstyles and preferences out there.

Perhaps what I suffer from is as much ennui as it is suckiness. Perhaps you reach a point where you've played SO MANY GAMES that you just can't go through the grind again. This is why games like Oblivion, with its modicum of free will, attract. I do hope that this gaming nirvana of which you speak is out there. Alas, I fear it will come piece by piece, as it always has.

But it's fun getting there.

Infinity:

I think you nailed it. One game that did something like this was God of War (a game I missed until recently when I went on a PS2 orgy). If you really chunk it, eventually it asks if you just want to play on easy. But it was a one way ticket, you can't trade back and forth between what you need for now but what you'd like long term. Your idea seems much more interesting, and like Oblivion's slider, fungible.

rabbit wrote:
eventually [God of War] asks if you just want to play on easy. But it was a one way ticket, you can't trade back and forth between what you need for now but what you'd like long term.

Ah I forgot about that. Yes it definitely would have been nice to be able to switch back to the difficulty you wanted after a fight. I played through GoW on Hard because I thought it would unlock more things. I made it all the way to the end but couldn't conquer the second of the three phases of the final boss fight. That was a bitter pill, having to go to Easy to finish it and not be able to choose Normal instead.

Ratchet: Deadlocked is very good in this regard. Whenever you load the game you tell it what difficulty you want to play on, and when you die a bunch of times in the same area Clank will sometimes remind you via voiceover that you can set the difficulty when you load your game.

This is one of my favorite franchises -- the sense of humor on the 1-to-5 star difficulty scale is great. I'm currently replaying the game on 4-star Hero level. Kids have your picture on posters in their rooms on this level, but 5-stars is "Seriously, you don't want this kind of challenge." difficulty.

I really wouldn't see a point in playing Animal Crossing with all items and the largest house available to you right off the bat (then again I don't see the point in Animal Crossing period.) Or the point of being able to go straight to the Library level on Halo without going through any of the other levels first. Any game that feels like work isn't worth playing. Period. If you're honestly sitting there and forcing yourself to play through it then just stop. I don't care if its Oblivion, I don't care if its Doom 3, Halo, Half-Life 2, even Legend Of Zelda or any blockbuster franchise. If the game feels like work for you then its missed the entire point and just isn't worth your time.

LupusUmbrus wrote:
I guess the question comes down to where you draw the line behind "work" (aka "grinding") and a good challenge to achieve something.

This line may be hard to find in some spots, but it is very clear in relation to mind-numbingly boring repetitive actions required to obtain a desired or required result. An obvious example is obtaining high-level potions in World of Warcraft. You have two choices - spend hours collecting reagents, or spend hours farming for gold to buy reagents from the poor bastards who collected them. These things are NOT FUN. Period. In theory such a thing could be made fun, but the WoW implementation requires no skill and simply consumes time and energy. And yes, MMORPGs are the most hideous offenders in this regard, as the time-sinks involved are massive, endless, and practically required for progression in the end-game. Gold farmers are a symptom, not a problem.

Aetius wrote:
And yes, MMORPGs are the most hideous offenders in this regard, as the time-sinks involved are massive, endless, and practically required for progression in the end-game.

. . . and are pretty much the point of the experience. Have you ever watched someone play an MMORPG? To them it's not repetive gameplay, it's visual accounting, they love it. The live for it. For those of us who didn't live for it, we quit. People typically aren't going to keep playing something they think has no point.

Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:
Aetius wrote:
And yes, MMORPGs are the most hideous offenders in this regard, as the time-sinks involved are massive, endless, and practically required for progression in the end-game.

. . . and are pretty much the point of the experience. Have you ever watched someone play an MMORPG? To them it's not repetive gameplay, it's visual accounting, they love it. The live for it. For those of us who didn't live for it, we quit. People typically aren't going to keep playing something they think has no point.

This is why I quit WoW, but why I don't go around trying to get others to do the same. Everyone enjoys games for slightly different reasons, just as we have differing personalities. Ironically enough, though, I'm trying to get myself to switch from a puritanical play style to a puritanical work style. Man cannot live on murloc soup alone.

What a wonderful reason to talk up "stupid fat lazy Americans"!

I am a huge fan of the GTA series of games, but I have to say that the single most annoyingly cheap POS moment I've experienced in a LONG time was when I first played GTA: SAN ANDREAS.

They finally let you swim in this damn game, so when I get to the top of the "allowed" real estate with it's blocked-off bridge, I decide to just jump in the river and swim across. Suddenly, I'm a 4 star wanted felon, with SWAT teams sniping me from helicopters and cops in hummers on suicide missions trying to flatten my ass. For what!? Swimming across a river? That's a killable offense? (hey, not like I was an immigrant or anything).

That single moment really ruined the "sandbox" experience for me. I still forgave the game and learned to love it, but it was a damn, damn cheap move.

It seems many people in this thread interpret the "work" idea a little too literally, while the article wasn't really about that. Sure, the game must have things to overcome, and having access from anything you want in the game from the start defeats the purpose of "beating the game".

However, there's a tendency in the gaming industry to make gameplay a grind that it doesn't have to be. Games are supposed to entertain. They are NOT supposed to feel like "work". Ever. Games are fun. Games that fail to escape the "work" mentality simply were made by a designer who's not good enough. Maybe good enough for the mainstream, for the late-comers, for people to whom killing nameless kobolds is a novelty, but not for people who have been gaming since single-digit age.

My ideal game's playing curve should be this -

* Variety of content. This time its a chaingun guy, the other time its a grenade launching guy, then its a cybernetic guy who has a magnetic field that makes your bullets swerve at an angle, or something, always something new.
Each level/environment/setting should have a distinctly different look. No "Alpha lab 1 looks the same as alpha lab 15 because its realistic" bullsh*t.

Most games do this nowadays, and it is a shame. If only they put their time and storage space into creating juicy, non-repeating content, instead of 1024x1024 textures. Alas...

* Gradually, evenly increasing difficulty, which never borders in the impossible. There shouldn't be sh*t like "near-invincible chaingunner that suddenly gets introduced at level 7 and makes you throw the game at the wall in frustration".

* Multiple, intuitive ways to solving problems. For the typical example of that NOT happening - there's a level in Half-Life 2 which made me drop the game and never finish it. See, I'm driving this boat, then suddenly there's explosions ahead and what looks like a blocked path. I get off the boat, swim to shore, and then there's this cool building with a lot of guys, and I kill them all off, and finally, proudly, I get out, only to be followed and killed by a helicopter.

The helicopter turns out to be INVINCIBLE to being fired upon. INVINCIBLE. Several dozen times I ran almost all the way to the next part of the level, but I never quite made it because I kept being shot down by the damn thing. Finally, I asked on a forum and I was told that I wasn't supposed to abandon my boat WAY BACK, and now I have to redo the entire sequence with killing those guys in the building from scratch, as well as a good chunk before it. Except, I don't have the savegame where I was in the boat anymore, and going back it seems to have disappeared in a level transition glitch.

I should be able to eventually shoot down the damn helicopter when I am firing at it from automatic weapons for half an hour ! I should at LEAST be able to kill the gunner !

* No "in retrospect, you should really NOT have done that". See above. If the game is linear, let it be HONEST about it and not frustrate the player with seeming open-endedness only until you run out of the desert you will be told that your path is blocked and you should've gotten into a plane WAY BACK.

* No "die and learn" formula. The "die and learn" gameplay is easy and cheap to design. It doesn't work for me. I want to feel rewarded for being able to spontaneously recognize environmental cues and getting out of tough spots based on my INTELLIGENCE as opposed to MEMORY.

I don't want to be walking down a road and suddenly blowing up, only to write down to myself "Ok, you go down this road, you blow up." and start the level over.
An example of this approach is the entire game of "Another World", for instance. It is impossible to pass just by your own skill, you have to memorize stupid sh*t.

Another game is the Hitman series. I like the Hitman series but only because I can gun my way down and feel like Leon The Professional on a slightly homicidal rampage. I could never get past the first level in Hitman 2, though, without doing that.

* Overzealous backtracking and redundant labyrinths. Hitman series are guilty of that too. Every house has an improbable amount of doors and redundant rooms that lead nowhere. Hitman: Contracts has this area where you run into a crypt, which seemingly leads to more place, except there's nothing there. Nothing at all. No function to it whatsoever, except to make me backtrack.

Mind you, Hitman games are hardly alone in this. Hardly at all.

* Redundant tasks, as probably an extension of above. It is not CONTENT when you make a RolePlaying Game and then create this huge world where 90% of it is filled with filler, 5-minute-design quest which involve you carrying 10 beers to coordinates X, Y. It creates mundanity. A game should feel special, different from real life. It should make YOU the HERO, not the f*cking Fedex boy.
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What is an example of a good game that follows most of these rules ? Well, let's take Quake 2, for instance. Gradual progression in difficulty which is much better designed than that of Doom or Doom 2. Gradual introduction of new, cooler, and more impressive enemies. Gradual introduction of new and cooler weapons.
Yes, the levels look alike, but not nowhere in the vein of Doom 3. The textures may look alike enough to maintain a "consistent universe" feel, but the level design remains imaginative and gives you a sense of progress.

Backtracking ? Yes, it is present. I would rather not have it at all, but in this game it is done at a tolerable level. Just at the time when I would feel lost, I would find a way back.

Cheap traps ? Every single problem that pours on you in Quake 2 can be solved without "dying and learning about it first". There's no super-tricky, "7th Guest" type unguessable solutions to killing bosses.

Another game would of course be Fallout 1. Even though you may be in the same locations a lot, the content/context of it changes. The plot engages you along. You feel a constant sense of progress, and that you're a part of a consistent universe, where, even if some tasks that you do may be somewhat repetitive, they don't last long enough to irritate. Your character grows, as does his equipment (pun intended). Locations look fresh and distinct from one another. Etc etc. Ok I typed too much by now, time to get back to work.

Well written article, but it makes me think... Don't cheat codes solve this? They provide quick and work-free access to game content for users who dont like to grind, but they are totally optional, so others can work their way through for that sense of achievement.

SommerMatt wrote:
I am a huge fan of the GTA series of games, but I have to say that the single most annoyingly cheap POS moment I've experienced in a LONG time was when I first played GTA: SAN ANDREAS.

They finally let you swim in this damn game, so when I get to the top of the "allowed" real estate with it's blocked-off bridge, I decide to just jump in the river and swim across. Suddenly, I'm a 4 star wanted felon, with SWAT teams sniping me from helicopters and cops in hummers on suicide missions trying to flatten my ass. For what!? Swimming across a river? That's a killable offense? (hey, not like I was an immigrant or anything).

I agree that this is silly, but at the same time the arbitrarily illegal islands allowed for an interesting minigame. First you get a parachute, then you break into the airport to steal a plane. The goal is to fly as far into forbidden territory before being shot down by missiles (which can be dodged with practice) before parachuting down to a survive-athon. Bonus points if you can snag a tank or Harrier.

The same goes for the two prequels which do not give you stars for breaking into islands before you supposed to. In Vice you can even buy a save point on the second island, and there's a helicopter for reward and returning to get missions.

Seeing as how this is so unintentional I don't think it can justify the poor design decision to block off two thirds of the terrain for no reason, but it's still a ton of fun if you've the urge to go places your not suppose to.

Was there even a premise for barricading the player in the first island with San Andreas? I know Liberty and Vice both had a broken bridge and storm thing going on. A bit weak but at least it was something.

Um, you just got linked on Slashdot. Congratulations!

EDIT: Also, my condolences to Pyro et al.