How We Play Games… (Part II) [Time]

Time!!

I can’t be the only one who wishes they had more time in the day.

Between classes, working on programming assignments, spending time with my girlfriend and kids, and those other pesky parts of real life, I rarely am able to sit down and play a game until I am satisfied with it. And I doubt – highly – that I’m the only one with this problem.

Think about that though. Isn’t the reason that we play games to receive some kind of enjoyment, engagement, or satisfaction? If I am unable to be satisfied by my gaming habits (I spend on average about 10 hours a weeks playing video games), it would seem there are 3 options for what’s going on:

  1. I just don’t like games, and yet I continue to play them anyways.
  2. I’m addicted to video games, and no amount of play time would satisfy me.
    -or-
  3. Video games are not designed with people with a ‘busy’ lifestyle in mind.

Best use of genetic mutation EVER.

While there are times where I’ve considered options one and two for myself, I can’t help but think that option 3 is the real culprit here. Every time I think about having some sort of dedicated ‘gaming’ time, that means sitting in front of the computer or the Xbox for an hour+ (something as low as 30 minutes is almost not worth it to me).

The last time I was really able to be fully and honestly satisfied with a game was, slightly regrettably, Scramble with Friends on my android phone. Why? Because the game fits into my lifestyle. Anytime in my day if I have a minute or two, I can sit down with my phone, pull the game up in two seconds, jump into a round, and be instantly engaged. Granted, Scramble with Friends isn’t exactly my genre of choice, but it gives me something to be competitive at, and there have been several times where I actually got excited after winning – or even losing – a really close game.

I would challenge this word… if this was scrabble.

Another game that I think really embraced this well was the Pokemon series. Every game I’ve played from the main series (I never really did any of the spin-offs like Pokemon Ranger, or Mystery Dungeon… Conquest looked very interesting to me though) has a very simple formula to it: you get into the game quickly, you get out of the game quickly.

When the first games came out (Pokemon Red & Blue) it really embraced the ‘mobile’ gaming in a way nothing else at the time did. I think part of that is just that the turn-based RPG genre lends itself so well to the idea of a mobile gaming lifestyle: it’s never a big deal if you have to avert your attention elsewhere momentarily – or even for an extended period of time. As soon as you’re ready to get back into the game, you can re-access the situation you left yourself in and pick up the game without missing much. Other mobile RPGs like the Golden Sun and Fire Emblem were great for this as well.

Back when games were games…

Pokemon did something REALLY cool for it’s time though. They came out with Pokemon Stadium. Now, while I think they really botched some things with their implementation of this, at it’s core the concept that you could take your mobile game and use the data from that to then sit down in front of your TV and play out an enhanced version of your game there was just brilliant.

This looks like a fair fight.

Now Pokemon wasn’t perfect at this. Playing with your friends was ambitious, but very frustrating and disappointingly time-consuming. Not to mention both pointless (battling each other), and necessary (trading for pokedex entries and trade-exclusive evolutions) at the same time. In fact, Stadium on the whole missed the mark with it’s implementation. It ended up being more of a limited simulator with 3D graphics. And more often than not, the pokemon you had from your game were useless in the game. No one had level 100 pokemon without cheating – the highest level Pokemon in the game was only level 70 (Mewtwo), and you could essentially beat the entire game without much difficulty with a bunch of level 40s. Beyond that, no one knew (or cared) about IVs or EVs, and the movesets available to Pokemon from your cartridge were extremely limited without cheating. Add all this to the fact that a much younger me was thinking the game was going to be a 3D action fighting game a la Power Stone, but with Pokemon, and the game ended up not fully delivering on its expectations.

I miss this one.

Looking back, Stadium would have been much better as an ‘expansion’ to the original games. And I think that’s where the future of gaming lives. And the type of games I would like to create.

Imagine a game that you could take with you on your phone for playing in the cracks of your day, and then sitting down at your computer to catch up on the storyline you might have missed while playing on your phone. Maybe you notice a friend of yours online and join up for a co-op mission with her, or maybe you join up for a random queue to find some new friends (if that’s your thing), or maybe you’re feeling competitive and want to improve your PVP ranking a bit. Then you get a call from your buddy who wants to chill and game out a bit, so you jump to the couch and the two of you use your phones to control your characters while watching the game play out on the TV.


Something like this.

Essentially, designing a high-quality game that does engage you and satisfy you without a NEED to only play it in 2 hour chunks, but a game that you can play for 2 hours at a time when you want to. The balance of this is tricky obviously, as you really need to allow for those 2-hour ‘gamefests’ without making people feel like they’re ever necessary.

I remember back in the day, this is how WoW (and I imagine other MMOs as well)advertised themselves. Something along the lines of “hop in for 10 minutes and take out a quest by yourself quickly or gather up a group of friends and embark on an epic quest to conquer one of our many dungeons!” They’ve really stepped away from that idea recently though (in my opinion). When they redid the world in Cataclysm, especially the opening areas, all the quests are streamlined. You get all your quests in a centralized location and it’s set up in such a way that you only have to visit an area once and then you’ll probably never have to revisit that area again. This is great for people who are sitting down for a gamefest, but bad for the person wanting to log in for just 10 minutes to knock out a quest – there’s never an ‘end,’ and especially not in just 10 minutes.

Quests – COMPLETED.

I realized this when playing with SWTOR with our oldest, when she was getting frustrated by the amount of unfinished missions in our mission log. She wanted to not pick up anymore quests until we had finished the ones we had already accepted. I started telling her that’s not how the game works – that you just accept every quest you see and you complete them based on whatever quest is closest to you. But that’s when I realized – to a non-MMO player, what she said sounds completely reasonable. We could finish the quests in our log and then be done! Then next time we played, we could find new ones and work on finishing those until we were done.

To her credit, I think that’s a much better way of approaching the game. And when I get to a point where I can create my own games as well, I want to design around that ideal.

The ability to play with friends is another big element of all this for me obviously, but in many ways, that’s it’s own beast. And that’s what I’d like to talk about tomorrow.

Cheers!

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About Pantherra

Computer Science student with a desire for a career in Game Development or Software Engineering.
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