Got the new Computer Games Magazine today and read Tom's Back Space column. It's all about the lack of finality to death in PC games. A great line that sums it up... "Now victory is as inevitable as defeat used to be."
Tom, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Aliens vs. Predator is mentioned in the column and it's a game that I used to relate a similar argument over a year ago at my site One Gamer's Voice. Here's a link to the editorial I wrote. I also harped on this at Evil Avatar in my daily column "The Final Word".
I'm sick of it. PC games don't put you in danger anymore. You're always one key press away from safety. There's no risk. It takes most of the fun out of games and I think it's one of the reasons people are starving for story in PC games. Without any risk, the only thing left to enjoy is a story. You're essentially on a ride now.
This has spawned a new generation of "ride gamers" as I like to call them. They don't understand that you play a game, not watch it. As soon as they goof up and have to reload, they're crying "BAD LEVEL DESIGN!" or "CHEAP DEATHS!" rather than realizing that it's part of the challenge to overcome.
A recent game that had some success but should have had more which exemplifies the RIGHT way to do it is System Shock 2. The game is built so that with each level you enter, you're concerned. You can die in a very final way. Take out the save anywhere and it really becomes a nail biter. However, you always find the device that can bring you back to life (bio-reconstruction chamber) within a reasonable amount of time. This device keeps you in the fiction while allowing you some leeway to be daring. It's a great compromise that was built into the design showing that it's simply one of the best designed games you can play. Someone actually THOUGHT about that.
Anyway, great article Tom. Wish I could've written it. :) It's a pet peeve of mine how soft PC gamers have become. They seem to expect to be spoon fed their entertainment. Games are about playing, not about the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, there are less and less gamers that grew up in the arcades so they don't understand that type of enjoyment of pure gameplay.
This is in the February 2001 issue of CGM with "Mech Madness!" on the cover. It also contains my review of Superbike 2001! Woohoo!
By TomChick on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 02:13 am:
Great phrase about "ride games", Dave, even if you did use it earlier in your pro-Q3 polemic. :)
"It's a pet peeve of mine how soft PC gamers have become. They seem to expect to be spoon fed their entertainment. Games are about playing, not about the ultimate goal."
Well put. It's a tough situation. I'm honestly not sure if I ended up disliking Hitman because it was too difficult or because I've gotten too used to not being defeated. I can understand people who want to save anywhere because replaying certain areas gets tedious or because they might have to tend to a crying child or let the wife check her email. But I think we've lost some of the sense of *challenge* in our gaming entertainment.
"Unfortunately, there are less and less gamers that grew up in the arcades so they don't understand that type of enjoyment of pure gameplay."
I guess it might be a generational thing. Somebody stop me before I start muttering about 'kids today and their instant gratification'...
By erik on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 06:10 pm:
Hey, I just discovered the forums!
Good article, Tom Chick. The fact that you managed to work in references to Bottle Rocket *and* American Movie made it even better. I never understood why people were so upset about the lack of saving in AvP. For one thing, the levels aren't really longer than your average Rogue Spear level. Plus, Rebellion implemented the one feature that *all* saveless games should have: enemy placement is randomized on each restart. That makes the game more about the process of playing and less about rote memorization. It also helps create an atmosphere of real dread, which is perfectly suited to a game based on Aliens.
By TomChick on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 08:58 pm:
"That makes the game more about the process of playing and less about rote memorization."
Yes, yes, yes! If you're not going to have a save, one of the worst things you can do is not vary the action. This is a big part of what killed Hitman for me: for each replay, you're doing A, then B, then C all over again.
By Supertanker on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 09:19 pm:
The penalty cannot be too great, though, or it becomes too frustrating to play (redoing the same level for the Nth time counts as frustrating). This is part of why I like Counterstrike & its clones. The sense of danger is there because the penalty for dying is significant, but not so great as to make the game frustrating (unless you get killed off the bat for several rounds in a row).
I like to be able to save anywhere for a gameplay reason, too. I'll usually save before opening a door or entering a new area. If the fight behind that door is a good one, I keep a savegame of it so I can replay it later. There are some good encounters in Half-life and NOLF that I must have played 30 times, experimenting with different tactics & weapons. I love how these battles never turn out the same way.
By Bernie Dy on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 11:06 pm:
Nice thread. While I understand what the gist of some of the arguments are here, I have to say I'm a big fan of "save anywhere". It's not that I don't like to play, or that I want to be spoon fed, it's that I have a life that's full of everything but lots of free time, and I don't want to spend my precious gaming hours doing the same damned Mario jump over and over.
Tom put it best in another thread: We're wierd. Other folks don't spend more than an hour or two in front of a game like we gamers do. But when life forces you to spend less time on gaming than you want, you either do the right thing, or you beat up your kid when they bug you during an EverQuest game. I'd like to think that for most of us, that's not even a choice.
"Games are about playing, not about the ultimate goal"
I agree, but I'd add that games are also about entertainment, not tedium. Sometimes a save gives you a nice starting place to experiment with different solutions, and other times (when the level design really is bad) it's a place from which you have to attempt the same solution again and again and again...
What did you guys think about Soldier of Fortune's use of limited saves?
By Mark Asher on Sunday, January 7, 2001 - 11:21 pm:
I'm also a big fan of save anywhere. I don't constantly save, so I do tend to reply areas, but if I find myself replaying the same area for the third or fourth time then I'll try to creep through it.
By TomChick on Monday, January 8, 2001 - 12:34 am:
"What did you guys think about Soldier of Fortune's use of limited saves?"
I touched on this briefly in the CGM column, but I really appreciated what Raven did with the SOF save scheme. The best thing about SOF's set up was that it was flexible based on how the player wanted to play it.
Does anyone know if they did this with Elite Force?
By wumpus on Monday, January 8, 2001 - 01:56 am:
I think you guys are missing the point with AvP. Unfortunately I don't have access to the print copy of the article, so I'm not sure exactly what was said, so.. bear with me.
First, I played AvP and I sure as hell don't remember randomized enemy placement in the single-player campaigns for Alien, Predator, or Marine. I just checked some reviews and they indicated that enemy placement is only partially random:
It must be mentioned that the designers at Rebellion have made a decision that will be reviled by many PC gamers: True to their console roots, they've eliminated on-demand, intra-level saving. You must complete each mission from start to finish without dying. By wresting control of the save feature from the gamer, they are able to set the pace of the game and ensure that tension remains high in a way that simply couldn't be accomplished using the standard save-anywhere mechanic. Some of the levels are large, though, and if the idea of replaying them over and over again is unbearable, you'll want to give Aliens versus Predator a miss. Having said that, enemy placement is randomized with each restart. While they generally appear in the same area, their numbers and entry points change, so redoing a level is not simply an exercise in rote memorization and remains somewhat fresh even the nth time through.
But I think we've lost some of the sense of *challenge* in our gaming entertainment.
"If I want arbitrary punishment for not meeting my goals, I'll just fucking go to work."
I guess that's the heart of the issue. Should having to play more of the game be considered an "arbitrary punishment"? I think a game should never go more than, say, five or six minutes without a save point. But I also think the pace of the game should be part of good design.
By Dave Long on Monday, January 8, 2001 - 11:25 am:
But I also think the pace of the game should be part of good design.
Should having to play more of the game be considered an "arbitrary punishment"?
As you mentioned, these are hardly new.
As for Mario64, console platform games have long had hub structures like this. Gex, way old Mario brothers games, Rayman, etc. I wonder why more FPSes don't do this. Actually, didn't single player Quake let you pick different sections of the game? Didn't one of the first Hexens have a hub structure where you picked where you were going to go?
As for Tony Hawk, it's a pretty traditional "unlock the next level" structure. Not that I don't appreciate it -- it's kept me playing a game I suck at for a lot longer than I normally would have -- but that's also a pretty old convention. I think PC gamers chafe at the concept of having to unlock areas. I loved it in Perfect Dark, for example, as a reward for playing. We saw it a little in UT and Q3 single player tournament modes. I wish there was more of that in PC games.
By wumpus on Monday, January 8, 2001 - 09:18 pm:
As for Tony Hawk, it's a pretty traditional "unlock the next level" structure.