Thursday, February 25, 2010

Musings on Game Replay Value

sschafer_mega man Playing a good game again is, more than anything, like re-reading a favorite book. Its secrets have been revealed to you, and you’re familiar with its twists and turns. You’re back not because you want to know what happens, but because what happened, how it happened, and those to whom it happened are worth revisiting. Maybe it’s not new, but it’s comfortable.

As time has gone on, though, I find that I replay games less. To be more specific, the games I replay are rarely recent – I can count on one hand the games released in the last five years that I’ve played more than once in single-player mode. I guess today I wanted to talk about it.

Simpler Times

217514671_xcyao-L-2 That the games of yesteryear are fundamentally different from modern games is a given. As gaming systems have gotten more sophisticated, games have also gotten more “sophisticated,” at least in that they are more media-rich than old games. Fully orchestrated soundtracks, generally competent voice acting, and what passes for a written story accompany the detailed three-dimensional worlds of today’s major releases, where once a 45-second loop of digitized beeps would accompany a blocky avatar from the left side of the screen to the right.

One of the very things that lures one back to those older games is that simplicity. The games of twenty years ago don’t put on any airs, they don’t make you sit through long, unskippable cutscenes, their control schemes don’t sag under the weight of their own complexity. At that point, games still owed much to their arcade ancestors, and most games from this era are much easier to simply pick up and play.

Length isn’t everything

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With this simplicity also comes a welcome brevity, in a world where a six hour videogame is considered short and, in some genres, forty hours is just about average. You really need to be invested in a game that long, and frankly there are few games that long that really justify their length.

I like short games because they’re plucky and they’ve got something to prove – I’ll use the four-hour Portal as Exhibit A, and the similar-in-length Katamari Damacy as Exhibit B – both games, incidentally, on the short list of recent stuff I’ve played end-to-end more than once.

Both Katamari and Portal, as well as any number of other older games, have to cram all of their sweet, sweet gameplay into a shorter amount of time, resulting in a distinct, more memorable experience. Do you remember doing all of the five-dozen fetch quests in Borderlands, or the precious minutes you spent wandering from one end of Shadow Complex to the other? No, you don’t, except perhaps as some dim unpleasantness best left forgotten – this is called padding, and it’s one of my least favorite videogame habits.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

In a shorter game where specific sections really stand out from the rest, it is inevitable that some parts of the game will hang around in your memory for years – we all know where to find the hidden 1-up mushroom in world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., for example. With each subsequent playthrough, you remember more, making the game that much easier to navigate.

This is something I like to call comfort gaming, and it’s a great way to fill an hour if you’ve got some downtime – the best games (the Mario series, the better Mega Man entries) make mastery of the game as entertaining as was playing it for the first time. If you pull off an impressive series of jumps or gun down a robot master without taking any damage, you still feel a sense of accomplishment – at least insofar as people feel they’re accomplishing something when they’re playing video games.

Different Priorities

halo3-teabagging New technology doesn’t just make games more complex, but it lets us play games in different ways than we could decades ago. Xbox Live and its competitors have brought online gaming to the masses, allowing us to blast each other in the face even when we’re miles apart.

Online gaming has ushered in an era where the multiplayer mode is just as if not more fawned over than the single-player mode. Several high-profile releases have shipped with gimped, stupid, or otherwise disappointing single-player modes (I’m looking at you, Halo 2 and Modern Warfare 2), but have lived on because of their online multiplayer. This is where you find the replay value in modern titles, which means that single-player aficionados such as myself are often left in the cold.

Overload

blog-tour-overload Last but not least, we need to take note of the sheer number of games available for us to play these days. There are no fewer than six current and viable game platforms on the market, and that number shoots up rapidly if you account for stuff like the iPhone that just games on the side.

We complain perennially of the October-December rush, the deluge of games that comes with the holiday season, but 2010 is seeing high-profile releases packed into all the months of the calendar. If you want to experience even a fraction of what’s worth experiencing, you don’t have much time to go back and cover ground you’ve already explored.

The End

I can’t say whether this problem I have with replaying modern games is limited just to me, or if it’s a wider thing. I also don’t know if it is fair to lay the blame at the feet of the games, as I do here – it’s possible that it’s a function of my diminishing free time as I get older.

It is different when you’re younger, after all. Your game library is dictated not by what’s out and what’s good, but by what relatives pick you up for birthdays and holidays. I know I played the Super Nintendo version of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers way more times than it probably deserved, but when your game library is more limited perhaps your familiarity with the games you do have goes up.

Anyway, you should tell me what you think in the Comments section! Thanks for reading my blog post today you guys.