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An open letter to the #occupybioware and #retakemasseffect movements

March 21, 2012 17 comments

This post contains no spoilers of any kind.

Ok, something needs to be said about #occupybioware, #retakemasseffect and the related backlash movements against the ending of Mass Effect 3.

Let me firmly state for the record, this is not a defence or discussion of said ending, Mass Effect, or Bioware in general. What this is, is an appeal to reason amidst the frothing angst, wailing and gnashing of teeth that has become the gaming community’s de facto response to any and all disappointments, perceived slights or difference of opinion.

The entitled hysteria needs to stop, because its happening with such regularity that the actions of the vocal minority threaten to tar the entire group and eradicate any credibility games as an industry, and gamers as a community may have established, even amongst ourselves. More importantly, it makes it much more difficult for gamers to have an ongoing, reasoned and constructive discussion with the people who create the games that we love.

Let me be clear – your complaints, your points of view, and your right to voice them as loudly and as regularly as you want are both valid and valuable. The point I’m trying to make is that constructive, useful feedback is very easily lost amongst the shouting and table pounding which is currently dominating this discussion. Worse yet, in your anger you’re rushing to set a precedent that may have very undesirable consequences in future – not just for you, but for all of us. For clarity, I want to separate the useful points of your message from the troubling one:

I hated Mass Effect 3’s ending! Great, lets hear your reasons – its probable there are a lot of people who agree with them, and they should be heard.

I’m not buying any more Bioware games! Ok. If you feel strongly enough about it, articulate a reasoned argument somewhere online, or send it to Bioware, in hopes that future efforts are more in line with what interests you as a gamer. Personally, I don’t believe a creative difference about how a story should have ended warrants such a reaction, but to each their own.

We’re entitled to the ending that we built up in our heads, and we believe we have the right to make and enforce decisions on your creative output – we demand that you change the story you wrote, so it is exactly the same as we would have written it! Unless you do as we say, we will hold your company to (financial) ransom.

Please.

There are a number of reasons why this last approach is both obnoxious and ultimately destructive. Here are a few of them.

1. You are misunderstanding your relationship to Bioware’s intellectual property (and the nature of sales transactions).

When you purchase a product, what you are entitled to is full and unfettered access to the experience of that product. There is no guarantee that you will enjoy that experience, nor are you entitled to one.

Of course, should you be disappointed, you are entitled to react to that disappointment any way you wish. Complain loudly, tell your friends not to buy it, boycott the company or suggest your changes – all reasonable reactions. Reasonable, as long as you understand that the company is in no way obligated to make those changes. Thats one of two key issues here – that you feel that the company owes you, somehow, and that they can legitimately be forced to change their game to meet your every need. The other is the way that this feeling is expressed as screeching rage about ‘betrayal’ of fans, as if the ending was consciously, maliciously designed to shatter everyone’s dreams while Bioware twirls its collective moustache and cackles like a cartoon villain.

Funnily enough, in situations where fans might be entitled to demand changes from the developer (if it doesn’t work properly – like the buggy mess of Fallout: New Vegas, or the massive performance issues of Skyrim on PS3), we don’t see this kind of reaction. There’s some complaining and bad press, some embarrassed apologies from those responsible, and then we all get on with enjoying the games for the awesome experiences that they are.

The paranoia that characterises this latest backlash, seeing persecution of loyal consumers where in fact there is only (at worst) an ambiguous or less than stellar conclusion to an otherwise brilliant series, makes us all look like crazy, spoiled children. You know what? Sometimes great things have disappointing elements. The ending of Return of the King is one of the least interesting and most unnecessary parts of the entire series (except for the fiasco that is Tom Bombadil, and everything he touches). Are we chanting in the streets and petitioning the Tolkein estate to have the bad parts re-written? No. Are we all maintaining that the entire trilogy is ruined by an imperfect conclusion? No.

If you absolutely must find an outlet for the energy created by your enormous overreaction, the accepted thing to do in these circumstances is relentlessly howl your derision into the internet, mocking the culprits for their lack of perfection, until their once legendary creative vision becomes an industry joke (like Star Wars fans did with George Lucas). It might not get the results you want – if it did, Jar Jar Binks would have been retconned out of existence years ago – but at least it shows you understand your relationship to other people’s intellectual property.

We understand that what we as consumers want is extremely important to game developers, and that these wants should (and do) have an enormous influence on the story and mechanics of games when they are conceived, and as they are developed. This influence however does not equate to being able to arrogantly demand that the finished, released product be changed to meet your exact specifications, even assuming everyone universally agrees on what those are (and they don’t).

2. Be careful what you wish for…

What exactly do you expect to come out of this movement? Is it a reasonable discourse with a company resulting in better products and a better relationship in future? Or is it Bioware caving to your demands, and the subsequent ‘victory’ that comes with asserting creative control over something you have no rights to?

So Bioware have said they will keep working on ‘additional content’, recognising that some of their more passionate fans ‘needed closure’. Not that its likely, but what do you think will happen if this content involves changing the original ending? My guess is there may be an immediate backlash against the change by an equal number of people who, even if they didn’t like the original, are even more concerned about the idea of outspoken internet groups holding game development to ransom in this way. Alternatively, some other group will be furious that your proposed ending got used and theirs didn’t, prompting another campaign to change the game yet again. The best case scenario is months of petty squabbling over which ending is canonical. At the end of all this, how much time do you want Bioware to spend managing their PR, creating explanation videos and gently indulging your this behaviour, and how much time do you want them to spend actually making games?

Most importantly, the most powerful message a retconned ending (as opposed to some DLC that ties up loose ends, which is far more likely) would send is that its open season on everything. That the vocal minority somehow deserve ultimate control over the creative output of the industry, and that any gameplay mechanic, story element or character that doesn’t meet with their approval grants them the right to demand a change.

Once we start down this path, and send the message to developers that every significant part of their game needs to be pre-emptively approved by the internet in order avoid a boycott on release, it will be very, very difficult to come back from. Is that really the direction we want the industry to travel? Do you really think that crowd-sourcing the development of complex game trilogies is a great idea? (If you do, consider how many people out there think Farmville is amazing, then ask yourself how excited you’d be about private terminal messages saying ‘Admiral Hackett needs your help planting his corn!).

Cooperative writing projects on the internet aren’t a new concept, but I’m yet to see the output garner many prestigious awards for quality. Cast your minds back to the last time an entertainment project actively allowed internet fans to suggest direct changes during production. Is that what you want Bioware’s next project to look like? I don’t. Consider that the power you’ve incorrectly assumed is yours by right, granted by Bioware, actually extends to the entire community. If changes to future games are going to be made because people demand it, the changes that get made may not be the ones that you asked for. Relatedly…

3. You don’t speak for everyone

As of March 10, Mass Effect 3 had sold more than 1.6 million copies. The Occupy Mass Effect petition, large though it may be, has not amassed 2% of that figure. This discrepancy makes the distinction between passionate arguments and aggressive demands all the more important. You don’t speak for everyone (certainly not for me) so please stop with the pointless, childish behaviour, committed in the name of the wider gaming community.

Ultimately, if you don’t like a game, by all means complain. Stop buying products from Bioware, EA, or anyone else creating things you don’t enjoy, as is your right to do. All I ask is that you stop before you get to the entitled, hysterical demands – you are not entitled to have story changes delivered, and behaving like you are isn’t good for you, the games, or the industry in general. Situations like this are why we have the term ‘pyrrhic victory’.

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Choose your own adventure

March 9, 2012 13 comments

I’m really looking forward to picking up Mass Effect 3 on the weekend (fashionably late, I know), saving earth, getting to know crew members new and old, and generally soaking up every detail of the universe.

In anticipation (and also as a procrastination technique while I’m ostensibly studying) I’ve been thinking that in amongst all the horror and shameful antics of the Jennifer Hepler backlash fiasco*, the interesting piece of news about the multiple game ‘modes’ in ME3 went largely undiscussed. Regardless of whether you intend to play either the ‘story only’ or ‘action only’ version of ME3 (I do not), its unarguably an intriguing idea from Bioware. Personally, I feel that both the gameplay and the story of the Mass Effect series are brilliant and I wouldn’t miss a minute of either, but the concept is worth investigating, and I think its something I’d be interested to see other developers experiment with.

Mass Effect 3

Femshep, seen here advancing the story.

Remember, of course, that the fact that the option is there in no way detracts from your game experience if you choose not to take it (we’ll have no fanboy vitriol about people who only want to play the story, or intellectual sneering at those who prefer action here, thank you). Thats the best part of this approach of allowing people to choose the option – there’s no ‘dumbing down’ of the core experience to make it accessible to those who don’t like complex mechanics, nor are they ditching the quality story of the universe to appeal to a wider range of action focused gamers. Bioware is offering a choice of experience, and you get to pick the one that suits you best.

Now, these are some polarising choices, I’ll grant you, but what if other developers started thinking the same way and made the overall experience of their games available in different ways? What if I could get say, the story and character building of Final Fantasy X, without thirty interminable hours of ‘random encounters’ with the same three monsters every time I walk ten feet through the world?

Alternatively, what if I could have the story experience of Heavy Rain without losing my favourite characters to these awful one-hundred-button-combination quicktime events?

Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any games in which I’d happily sacrifice the story elements for more of the action, but thats probably because I tend to play more RPG’s than anything else these days, and is purely a personal preference – I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who’d do the reverse.

Of course, this doesn’t need to be limited to the story or action choice that Mass Effect 3 offers. My last post about Amnesia got me thinking about the possibility of value in ‘less scary’ versions of the game, easily achieved by giving the player character a small amount of power to wield. Would it still be a worthwhile experience if before you started, you could either select to play the original version, or a game mode with slightly more monsters, but also some basic, Penumbra style combat? What if you could collect scarce, flimsy weapons by exploring, and have the ability to fight back against some of the monsters? Granted, you’re making it a totally different game by doing that, but does that make it valueless?

In this case (somewhere in Sweden, Thomas Grip has felt a disturbance in the force) you’d need to really restrict the number of weapons in the game so it retained the ‘survival horror’ feel, and probably also make it risky by forcing the player to use precious lamp oil and tinderboxes to explore the darkest areas where a weapon might be found, but I think it would be an interesting experiment.

From a pure business case point of view, Frictional might opt for this version out of a desire to make the game appeal to a wider audience (and therefore rake in cash to fund more of their awesome games) without wanting to dilute what they feel is the ‘true’ experience they set out to create. Looking at it from the player’s perspective, it would allow more people to share in an amazing experience, even if they don’t like being scared out of their wits for hours at a time.

I really only raise this to debate the issue – I’m not suggesting every game could (or should) do this, or even that its a good idea in the case of Amnesia. There are however, a number of series that over time have alienated their core fanbase by shooting for wider appeal, and I think this provides a reasonable answer to the question ‘how can we convince a wider range of people to buy our series, without pissing off the current fans?’

Given that we know units sold will (almost) always win a fight against preserving the integrity of an existing IP, I think its an option worth exploring further.

Who’s with me?

*Which I won’t dignify by linking to – as a community, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Also, ‘backlash fiasco’ is yet another great name for a band.

Good Griefing

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

As always, I’m several months off the pace with my thoughts and most of what I’m talking about has been previously documented elsewhere, so this post assumes some prior knowledge about the wonders of Dark Souls’ multiplayer. If you’re not familiar with the specifics, and don’t have the requisite 50-odd hours spare to learn the mechanics by hand, you may want do a quick skim over the basics before reading on.

Jerks are an inventive lot. Over the years, a range of methods for shoring up your insecurities by ruining everyone else’s day have grown into common usage in online gaming, from simple camping to the ludicrous concept of ‘ghosting‘, and none of them make their participants look like balanced members of society.

If From Software’s Dark Souls is remembered for nothing else, it should be the contribution it made to expanding the multiplayer experience, and introducing the idea of griefing as a sometimes necessary tactical option, moving the concept beyond the cheap thrills domain of over-angsty teens and damaged shut-ins. To be clear, there is a significant element of PvP to Dark Souls, and many ways to voluntarily engage in PvP by inviting other players to invade your world, or joining one of several covenants with a particular bias towards that side of the game. For the scope of this post, I’m talking about the ‘involuntary’ PvP and the particular brand of griefing it involves – invading the world of someone who isn’t threatening or opposing you, without their prior knowledge or consent, and attempting to kill them.

Not being a PvP player by nature, I looked upon invaders as people out to get their joy by feasting off the pain of others, (doubly heinous in a game like Dark Souls, legendary for its pain-feasting single player challenges already. In fact I’m surprised – and a little disappointed – that Namco Bandai didn’t sell Dark Souls under the tagline ‘Your tears are delicious’. If you’re reading this marketeers, feel free to use it for the sequel).

The Gaping Dragon

A fair fight, Dark Souls style.

Dark Souls was almost universally hailed for its innovative and complex multiplayer gameplay, but I’m yet to read anything that touches on what I feel is one of the most extraordinary elements – the way it acknowledged, challenged and subverted the role of griefers in online multiplayer. Its no secret that online gaming encourages some malicious behaviours, within the largely harm free confines of various imaginary worlds. It doesn’t matter if the game is a Halo deathmatch or a My Little Pony hair-braiding friendship jamboree, there are going to be players who only enjoy the game if they’re making it worse for someone else. From Software have taken this unfortunate truth, and built a multiplayer experience that at once encourages dastardly behaviour (by offering rare resources as reward for successfully invading another player’s world), and discourages it (by giving invadees access to more than one method of karmic vengeance). Most importantly, it humanises the invader in a way that – at least for me – nullified a lot of the angst I would otherwise have felt against them.

Lets examine further, using my experiences as flimsy anecdotal evidence.

Acknowledgement

Right off the bat, Dark Souls acknowledges that yes, jokes at the expense of others are fun. Giving players the ability to leave messages for others meant it wouldn’t be long before lulz-motivated signs inviting the unwary to leap from cliffs in pursuit of secret treasure flooded every level. There are rewards for leaving helpful messages (as rated by other wanderers) but no penalties for deliberately misleading information – everything about Dark Souls leans towards a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality – if you’re brave/foolish enough to blindly trust anonymous tips on the floor, the consequences (good or bad) are your own to bear. Having said that, its not just that you’re given the means to lure the innocent to yet another untimely death that suggests the developers had griefing in mind. There is so much packed into the game that isn’t explained, so many nasty surprises, and so many secret treasures tucked away that as a player, you’re sorely tempted to gamble on this advice from strangers – the rewards balance the risk so well, and the game odds in general are so overwhelming, each questionable message results in a serious internal struggle of ‘will I or won’t I?’, which (one presumes) ultimately makes the knowledge that your false trail resulted in yet another frustrating restart for someone else all the more satisfying.

Of course, only the least committed griefers would be content with such entry level pranks. Invasion is where its at, and Dark Souls not only acknowledges that this is going to happen, it makes it a core element of the multiplayer experience. It also clips the wings of the invaders a bit, randomly making a match between invader and invadee, as long as they are within 10% of each other’s level. This nullifies the tactic of repeatedly targeting the same person, or targeting someone many levels below you. Additionally, you can’t use your primary healing mechanism as an invader – the health you go in with is all you’re going to get, giving the potential victim a much needed psychological advantage. Adding this kind of framework pushes your sadistic types into a specific ruleset for griefing, forcing it to happen in a way that doesn’t break the game for everyone else.

Challenge

As noted above, I don’t generally do a lot of PvP in primarily ‘single’ player games. I thought on starting Dark Souls I was playing purely for the single player experience, and would suffer through the occasional invasion from some joy-stealing arsehat with nothing better to do than further stack the odds against me. My first such encounter was deep in the Sewers below the undead burg, where I was already beset on all sides by smog-breathing curse-frogs, and my heart sank when I saw the ‘You have been invaded’ message appear.

Most of that encounter was me stumbling backwards in a panic, swinging wildly here and there, dodge-rolling for all I was worth, but by some good fortune I emerged victorious. The righteous thrill when I blocked his final swing and thrust the Drake Sword through his gizzard was better than beating any boss the single player game had served up so far. Against a human, it wasn’t about exploiting a hard-coded attack pattern, it was a vicious, real struggle to the death. For both of us, locked in mortal combat in this dank, horror filled dungeon, that one fight was the game. The random nature of the world invading mechanics meant that once this battle was concluded, there was little chance of the two of us ever crossing paths again. Within the context of my game world, there were no restarts or ‘best of three’ for us – this fight was all or nothing.

Smog Frog

I hate you, smog-frogs.

This set me up to start thinking a little differently about the value of the multiplayer aspect of the game in general, although I still viewed my invader with disdain – surely his only motivation could have been my fear and rage, the reward for his efforts my anguished wail as I died and restarted from an oh-so-distant bonfire.

Some time later, I realised I was wrong about this too.

It was in Anor Londo, when I was ready to face off against Ornstein and Smough – widely acknowledged to be one of the most teeth-gnashingly difficult boss fights in a game which makes its living from them. After attempting it once, and being told (via grisly and extremely rapid demise) that this was not a fight I was going to win on my own, I decided to summon in some co-op assistance and even the odds a little. Using the last of my precious humanity, I summoned in a nearby friendly and we set about our business. The result was much the same as my solo attempt, although this time there was a glimmer of hope there – perhaps if I summoned in two co op players and tried again, we could teach those guys a thing or two about the pointy ends of our swords.

That was when I realised I was totally out of humanity. With no way to turn human, I had no way to summon help. With no way to summon help, I had absolutely no way of winning this fight, and beating the level. I didn’t have many options. (Note: For the sake of brevity, I’ve edited out the part of this story where I now trek all the way back to the Undead Burg and start looking for rats, in the hopes of a random humanity drop. Rest assured it happened. Sadly, that humanity was burned in a couple more futile attempts at this fight.)

And so there I was, slowly coming to the realisation that the game had been waiting for me to arrive at since I picked up the controller. I was going to have to invade some poor unfortunate, kill them, and harvest their sweet, sweet humanity.

I got quite lucky (again) here. When I arrived in the victim’s world, she was already embroiled in combat against two Giant Knights, and not having an easy time of it. Distracted, it was much too easy for me to stroll up and get some easy hits in. My victim panicked and tried to flee, reminding me starkly of myself, many hours earlier in the sewers, stumbling blindly away from my attacker. I imagined all too vividly this person at the other end of the net connection cursing my name, and wondering aloud at what kind of mental deficiency made a person enjoy grief-killing someone as they struggled through this monumentally difficult game. I cut her down as she ran.

I felt terrible. I desperately wanted her to know that it wasn’t malicious – that I had to do this, in order to be able to get the help I needed to defeat this awful level, and ultimately, the game. I wanted this person that I’d never met to know I wasn’t a bad person, and that it was the game itself forcing me into such a dastardly role. (I also briefly considered how ironic it would be, if through some quirk of the summoning system, she was one of the friendlies selected to assist me in my fight against the end-bosses, after stealing her humanity to do the summoning.)

In the end, I made the most of the spoils of my evil – with the aid of some summoned companions, I put Ornstein and Smough into well-deserved graves, and said goodbye to Anor Londo. It wasn’t all smiles though – my opponent had been carrying ‘Indictment’, an item that added my name to an online Book of the Guilty, marked for future vengeance by a shadowy cabal of bounty hunters. I eventually got what I deserved.

Subversion

This whole experience, not surprisingly, changed my perspective on invaders – I was always forced to wonder (and ultimately, chose to believe) that they were just like me, desperate for humanity to summon assistance for a particularly brutal boss battle, and forced to fight me for it. I bore no ill will to those that defeated me, frustrating as it was at the time. Of course, for true griefers, the fun is in hearing the impotent rage of your victim, and their fruitless desire for revenge. Philosophically, it makes no difference – they are free to imagine my furious tears, if thats the value of the exercise. I wonder if it feels slightly hollow(er), knowing that your victim might instead be quietly wishing you best of luck, and full use of the stolen humanity against their own horrible trials? I imagine it does. More likely, the joy of griefing would be diminished by its incorporation into the core mechanics of the game – offering the same ‘reward’ of being able to ruin someone else’s game for your own fun if you so wish, but ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules if you do, and the victims are not without teeth of their own.

The brilliance of Dark Souls wasn’t just in acknowledging that griefing will happen if you give people a forum in which to do it, or in taking the primary griefing method and making it a structured and balanced part of the game. These things alone prevented those surly few from ruining it for everyone. The amazing extra layer was in making invasion a last-ditch (but always reliable) method of obtaining humanity, your only way of summoning assistance from other players altruistic enough to offer their help to other adventurers, often the only way to best this brutal game. Like the moral choice with the Little Sisters in Bioshock, this is a mechanic that answers the question ‘Can a video game make me feel guilty?’

Yes it can.

Did anyone else have a similar experience, or did you manage to get through the game without needing to ruin someone else’s day?

The Fabtabulous RPG Media Blackout Challenge (Part 1)

February 8, 2012 6 comments

So lately I’ve been bemoaning RPG fatigue (here, here and here), and the difficulty I’ve been having recapturing the intense sense of immersion and escapism that I got so easily from these games in my childhood days. Rather than look too deeply for any personal or lifestyle reasons as to why this might be the case, I’m choosing instead to leap immediately to a flimsy conclusion, and attempt some half-arsed experiments to validate my theory.

My leading hypothesis is that a lot of the wonder of playing a brand new game is diluted by the sheer amount of information you have these days about the world, the mechanics, the environments and enemies, all long before the disc is in your perspiring hands. Taking the case of Skyrim (my current whipping boy on this particular subject), I feel in the year or so preceding its release, I probably read something in the order of 40,000 words in previews/reviews, saw 50 odd individual images, and watched 40 or 50 minutes of video. Don’t get me wrong, at the time I absolutely loved it – those numbers above represent the volume of information I took in the first time. If you count re-reads, re-looks and re-watches, I shudder to imagine what the true stats would be.

The end result was that I knew way too much. There was no real wonder at the constellation-style levelling system – I’d seen it before. Almost no time spent lost in just getting to grips with the world and its mechanics, as I knew how most of it worked. Possibly most importantly, not nearly enough time spent wandering and letting my character build itself – the amount of knowledge I had meant I’d already done most of the building in my head. I knew exactly who I wanted to be, and how to build that character, and (arguably) the best part of the rpg experience lost its most important dimension.

Prior to launch, I felt like this knowledge fuelled my excitement for the game. In hindsight, after being disappointed by how quickly the intensity of immersion and simple, exploratory bliss of exploring the world wore off, (and finding nothing at fault whatsoever with the game itself), I’m starting to wonder if having ‘used up’ so many tiny snippets of the all important initial experience before I even played the game is at the core of the issue here.

Obviously, I blame myself and my extraordinary lack of willpower in the lead up, but I wanted to ask the question – is anyone else finding the same thing? Is the sheer overwhelming volume of information about a game available before you play it helping, or hindering your enjoyment of the final product?

To test this theory, I’m kicking off my Fabtabulous RPG Media Blackout Challenge. Its a simple premise: I will pick an upcoming RPG about which I know next to nothing (I would have said absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to risk blowing this whole thing by accidentally ending up with a Final Fantasy XIII), and I will avoid knowing anything at all about the game until I play it. No previews, no trailers, no reviews, no news. I’ll have to either avoid google reader altogether, or put a filter for the name on it to prevent accidental learning. Probably also un-follow a few twitter accounts for the duration as well.

I’ll document the experience (using the world’s loosest definition of the term) here, and then make a totally scientific gut-call on whether or not I found the experience more or less engaging than I have with similar games about which I knew almost everything going in.

Obviously, choosing the right candidate is going to be a tricky endeavour. Anything coming out in the next month or two is out, as the damage is already done. As is anything which is a sequel or spiritual successor to anything I’ve already played.

I’m open to suggestions. The only thing I can think of at this point is Risen 2. The sum total of my knowledge about this game so far is:

  • Sequel to Risen, a western style fantasy rpg which was solid but flawed (not sure of the reasons, as I didn’t pay enough attention)
  • Its pirate themed. Or set in a pirate world. Or has something to do with pirates.

Thats all I’ve got. And thats all I’d like to have, right up until game time. (Someone will need to help me out with the release date). The important thing is I know nothing about the story, characters, mechanics or gameplay.

If you know of something thats still relatively unknown but will be released reasonably soon, feel free to shout out the title and release date in the comments.

Is too much content ever enough?

February 6, 2012 3 comments

Will there come a point when our growing demand for bigger worlds, denser lore and infinitely generating side quests hits some limit, predefined by the capacity of our brains to appreciate only a certain volume of content?

Surely, if we’re not getting close, we’re at least getting closer.

On a personal level, I feel like I am. The catalyst for this idea is the current fantasy RPG du jour, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, currently basking in the adulation of reviewers and fans the world over and enjoying a tidy 80 on metacritic. Chief amongst its laurels are its 10,000 years of history and world lore (courtesy of R.A. Salvatore – a decidedly cheer worthy innovation, even if you aren’t the biggest fan of his ‘regular’ work) and more relevantly, its 200+ hours of content.

I’m starting to feel ambivalent about these multi-hundred hour epics. Reams of history under every rock and non-essential npc’s behind every tree, just waiting to be mined for the individual 0.0001% of the game world they illustrate. One the one hand, I love them – RPG’s are definitely my genre of choice, and the open-worldier the better. On the other hand, I find myself having to remind myself that this is the case these days.

I thoroughly enjoyed the demo. Played it through twice, experimenting with different play styles and builds (my thoughts will probably turn up here in another post), even within its limited confines – but when I got to the end and thought about doing the same thing for another 200 hours, I felt exhausted, rather than elated. Even accounting for what other, more professional bloggers have noted as a distinctly overwhelming opening few hours, I just wasn’t as excited as I thought I’d be about painstakingly exploring every element on offer. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Amalur – individually everything about it was great fun, and I do expect I’ll pick it up and take a legitimate stab at it. Eventually.

A similar thing happened with Skyrim – despite being absolutely certain I’d be playing nothing else from launch day up until, well, now, I found myself putting it aside after 100 hours or so. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, but dammit, it’s tiring living in a world that detailed for so long, and knowing there’s still so much content out there that you’re missing. My decline started with the odd book collected here and there, stuffed straight into my inventory, without being read. Then it progressed to where I was taking armloads of books back to my stash, promising myself I’d read them all later. I started to feel guilty about fast travelling. I stopped talking to every npc in town before I started a quest, and just started beelining from the local store (after offloading my latest pack load of combat bounty/ill gotten loot) to the current quest giver, and back out the front gate, and that made me feel even worse. I wanted to do justice to the amazing world, but I’d become fatigued – a situation discussed earlier by a pants-hating friend of mine over here.

So here’s the thing. I’m starting to realise my completionist days are over, and maybe its time to stop worrying about that guilty voice telling me I how I really should be playing the game. Maybe a 200+ hour game can really be looked at as a truly brilliant 100 or so hours, without having to eke out every scrap of lore, or grind out multiple play throughs with different builds just to keep the experience alive, as I used to do before the arrival of these behemoths. I do think I’ll still feel bad about it though.

Returning to my original point, is 200ish where this phenomenon maxes out, or 10 years from now is 400 going to be the norm, with my 100 hour effort being tantamount to throwing 5 hours at Arkham City and calling it a day?

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