Game Over or Continue?
This article is over three weeks late. That’s right, three weeks after I intended to have it written I have finally delivered. In that time I have played quite a bit of VVVVVV on 3DS whilst commuting and a tiny amount of Max Payne 3 when I had a chance to sit in front of the telly box. Hopefully that sets the tone of where I am going with this.
I don’t like the term “hardcore gamer” but I am a gamer through and through, most of all I love to play but I also relish the chance to read and write about games and the industry with any spare time I have. The worrying thing is, as I get older that time is being eroded quite severely.
I’m really showing my age here but the first all night playthrough I can remember was a sort of shift worker affair. My cousin and I swapping control of the SNES each hour or so for the duration of what has remained my favourite game of all time, Super Metroid. I picked up a big box copy of the game with the bundled players guide and we decided to play through the entire game in one exciting day and night. Those sorts of play marathons carried forth to my university days when Playstation and N64 were current gen. Group play of Goldeneye in our flat led to a fully completed 007 agent cartridge and pretty much every game we played was completed.
Now I am older and have to juggle work, relationships, a child, mortgage payments, exponential living costs and my long-term escapist hobby. Whilst I am still into lengthy, challenging and fulfilling experiences my tastes are clearly changing. I simply don’t have time to plough a weeks worth of hours into a lengthy adventure or RPG. It has become increasingly difficult to find the time to complete even moderately long single player titles like Uncharted 3 or Arkham City. Given limited playtime a full title campaign has to be incredibly good to hold my attention strongly enough to make me forfeit other aspects of my life. I still purchase a lot of games but my completion ratio is becoming dangerously low. It’s now even getting to the point that I have started questioning if I really should be spending money on the latest releases.
One difficulty is that given a free night or weekend of gaming I might go out and grab a copy of a new title I have been dying to play, put a solid eight hours into it and then be forced to stop due to other commitments. When I eventually find the time to plug back into the game the likelihood is that picking up where you left off is difficult, not only remembering what you are supposed to be doing next but entering at a high difficulty level after minimal recent play can be off putting.
If I have a quick hour to play on Xbox do I really want to spend it trying to remember the nuances of a quirky control setup, dying repeatedly in the process? Do I start over? Or do I just play something else?
I have a large pile of unfinished games due to this issue and I’m confident I’m not alone. I wonder if it is possible for developers to create dynamically changing difficulty for exactly these sorts of circumstances? It could be complicated real time changes or it could be something pretty simple, for example if a save file hasn’t been accessed for over two weeks the game would apply temporary increases to the players energy bar, reduce their hit box, increase their attack power or dumb down enemy AI for around twenty minutes. Maybe this would create its own problems, forcing unforeseen difficulty spikes once the game re balances but I still think it would be a beneficial option for those with limited time.
Multiplayer focused games such as COD, which you might presume to be the solution to my problem due to their drop in drop out nature are also troublesome. If you are to stand even half a chance of keeping up with the headset abusing, energy drink fuelled 13 year old who knows the maps inside out and is repeatedly skull capping you, then a staggering time investment is required. Being killed and then respawning every 30 seconds becomes hugely demoralising and progressively discourages play. Have my skills really slipped that far? Or is the lack of time the sole reason for my diminishing fragging performances?
With multiplayer titles I can only suggest better matchmaking procedures to ensure that lesser players are not relentlessly fed to the lions until they switch off and do something else. Maybe online game clubs could be an option, set up through XBLA, PSN, and whatever weird network Nintendo is currently using. Someone should really go and restart their router for them.
A separate issue entirely is the fact that it really helps is if my other half is into the game I am playing. She is a digital creative and therefore isn’t against games, plays a lot of iOS titles and quirky games like Machinarium. I managed to get her interested in The Legend of Zelda by encouraging her to play and finish A Link to the Past. Happily this led to the agreed purchase of a 3DS and a copy of Ocarina of Time 3D. A few weeks after that we found ourselves using all our spare time frantically trying to complete Skyward Sword before the upcoming birth of our daughter. We failed and Link’s latest adventure lies unfinished in its box alongside the lovely bundled Zelda golden Wii-mote plus.
If games were generally more appealing to both of us it would be entirely feasible to spend more time playing as a shared hobby by replacing movie nights and so on. The problem is that a lot of games made to appeal to a female or mixed gender audience are aimed at the hugely inexperienced gamer and neither of us is interested in the sort of arm waving casual shovel ware that has become a familiar sight on retail shelves in recent times.
Increasingly I find myself looking to XBLA or PSN for quirky indie titles that tick all the boxes. Braid, Limbo, From Dust, Bastion, Journey, Flower… there are lots of downloadable titles that seem to fit the bill perfectly, being short enough to be consumed in their entirety in one or two short evenings and offering creative new takes on both aesthetics and game play mechanics. It is great testament to the success of XBLA and PSN that these great titles can flourish using the download model, as surely they would be doomed to failure in the shelved boxed disk retail space.
Another suggestion I have is the re introduction of genuine, real life social gaming. Since the slow decline and eventual death of the traditional videogame arcade there has been no attempt to re capture that market. Are gamers social enough creatures by nature to attend a games social club of sorts? Perhaps it would be a bar with various consoles and a fully stocked games library? Somewhere to meet up and have a drink after work whilst playing a few rounds of Street Fighter 4, Left4Dead or other competitive and co-operative games?
I wonder how many other gamers out there are finding their play time squeezed in the way mine is. Please leave any comments below as I would love to hear your suggestions of games to play when time is tight or how you think the industry might cater for those of us in this situation.