Monday, April 25, 2011

Mmm... Filler

Some games have a serious problem. They hide their best parts behind mindless tedium.
A few examples:

Dragon Age: Origins- The Deep Roads
The Deep Roads is, doubtless the longest, most tedious, repetitive section of Dragon Age. At least to me. I purposely leave Orzammar for last just because of the Deep Roads. For those not familiar with the Deep Roads, let me describe them. Grey or brown tunnels, stretching endlessly, filled with monsters that you have to kill. This section, as the Spoiler Warning crew mentioned, can easily take 8 hours.
There are some interesting quests in there, but for the most part, the Deep Roads is delicious, delicious filler. What we really want to do, is get to the climax of the area. A high school student that paid attention in English can tell you that a good narrative has a build up, and then a climax, followed by the denouement, or simply the wrap up.
Where each of these falls in the book depends on the style, the story and the writer. It's also worth noting that too long of a build-up gives us a bit of a Charlie Brown effect. We're ready to run up and kick the football of literary climax, but the author keeps pulling it away. Now imagine that the first section of the book isn't even build-up. It's all flat. Where most of the other quests have you getting to the fun bits (the Fade sections, exploring ancient ruins), when you're doing the Orzammar questline, you're rather stuck.

First, you have to earn the trust of one of the guys who wants to be king. This, on its own, takes a good few hours as you need to go through a dungeon filled with rogues and criminals.
That done? Good! Go find us our genius! You wander through the deep roads, kill a bunch of stuff. Not fun. Bored yet? No? Go do the same thing only it's twice as big and fight a boss monster! (This is actually the good part.) Are we there yet? NOPE! Navigate the trap infested corridor, choose which side you want (dwarves v. golems), fight it out and then return to the guys.
So what we really have is a lot of failed attempts to build momentum here. Half the problem is that Orzammar is made up of no fewer than five different areas. Most of the time, the game will have you running from one end to the other. That's usually two loading screens per fetch quest, repeated at least once. I like that the area seems to be a living breathing city, but there are other ways to suggest that than by making me run through this place a few dozen times.
When you're choosing a noble to side with? That's building a bit of momentum that is instantly destroyed when you have to go and clean up the criminal element of the city. First you need to find someone who'll talk to you about the gangs, then you need someone to give you a special token to get into the hideout, then you start beating up dudes. For about an hour.
And you still aren't done. Orzammar takes two-thirds of the the game the first time you play it.

Mass Effect 2- The Scanning Mini-Game

I can't speak to the mini-game from the player's point of view, only from the point of view of having watched someone play. There's a reason that Spoiler Warning turned the probing mini-game into a Q&A series. It's boring. You need these resources to upgrade your ship, which you need to get a good ending (ie. One where 95% of your crew isn't dead). It's tedious and repetitive. Pointlessly so. This didn't need to be there.

Sims Medieval- Responsibilities and Resource Points
I was tempted to say Sims Medieval- The whole game, but that would be wrong. The Sims Medieval is a Sims game. Like the other Sims games. Only you're in Generic Fantasy Europe and you have sims. You can only control one or two of these (I think three is the most I've seen possible at once) sims at a time. These are your heroes. They all have little archetypes that they fit, you have your monarch, and a spy and a wizard and a knight and a bard... Here's the problem. You have to build up their numbers.
When you first start the game, you have to make your monarch (or use one of the premade ones but who does that? That's like buying a box of cookies for the cardboard and plastic) and run through a brief tutorial.
Once you finish the tutorial, you get "Resource Points" with which you can make another building, RTS style, which will unlock a new hero. Maybe. Depending on which building you build. The problem is that the rewards for completing the game's quests (Resource Points) don't scale, while the cost of building new buildings to procure new Sims does. This is a problem.
The other problem is the responsibilities in the game. Each sim has a set of responsibilities that they need to complete each day. If you're the king it might be holding court and listening to petitions. If you're a knight, you could be training someone to fight. These have a time limit. If you don't complete them, your progress on the quest goes down. A lot of the time, the quests themselves have filler, by making you walk back and forth from A all the way to Z. And the responsibilities aren't well explained. If you don't know where to find sagewort or how to make a potion?
It's a lot of mucking around to get to the good part, which is the questing and making new sims. After having played this for a few hours, I've found I want to be able to make my Sims more frequently. It's like they know they don't have a solid game, so they're filling it up with sand. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Dear Game Developers: If you don't have a whole game, perhaps you should finish making the game.

No comments: