Friday, October 10, 2008

Taking Stock


When I was writing my last post, I realized that I have a pretty sizable stack of unplayed and “stalled” games populating my library. I thought it would be a good idea to take stock, if only to shame myself into finishing some games and prevent myself from investing in new ones. I omitted games I'm actively playing (like, in the past week-- Call of Duty, Viva, WipEout HD and Eternal Darkness) The inventory breaks down thusly:

Unplayed:

Devil May Cry 4-- An important consideration here is that Devil May Cry is one of these games that will be utterly shameful to play in front of my new housemates. There's some things you just can't expect the outsiders to understand, and having some absurdly-coiffed Japanese dude with sweet abs chant “Blastoff!!!” as he mutilates demon hounds is one of those things.

Burnout Paradise-- I only have room for one racing game in my life, and it's the erratically capitalized WipEout HD.

Killer 7-- I'm just intrigued. I'm don't expect to like it as a game. But I think I'm the kind of person who would dig it as a conceptual exercise.

Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty-- This game is perfect for me, since I've never played any of the other Ratchet games, and I like my games compact and flavorful. When it comes to my gaming diet, I'd be more than happy to eat tapas every day. Hey game publishers! More tapas!

Knights of the Old Republic-- The problem is that I rarely get the RPG itch anymore. As much as I like to kill things and earn levels, I find myself reluctant to put in the work. I really should have just played this game instead of Mass Effect, because my willingness to sink the amount of time time necessary to garner sort of rewards offered by RPGs is getting pretty slim.

Fallout 1&2-- Ditto. The fact that it's only on PC is another deterrent. Honestly, i should really play this one before I buy Fallout 3. But who has the time to play a Fallout all the way through?

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time-- Better known as “the only game that Yahtzee likes.” In the comments section of my last post it garnered a lot of ups from the reader base, including a top-five o' the generation mention from the always-reliable Mitch Krpata. I think this one moves to the top of the stack come the completion of Call of Duty.

Legend of Zelda Promotional Disc-- I have never played Ocarina of Time nor Majora's mask; both were released during my lengthy gaming hiatus and I never owned an N64 anyway. I'm also nursing this pet theory that Windwaker is a better game, and I don't need to take a step backward for the sake of literacy. Amirite?

Stalled (Played but Unfinished):

Silent Hill 2-- I got stuck in the first apartment block. You call that puzzle solving? It's always get the red coin, then get the green coin with you guys. On the other hand, I'm kind of hooked by the atmosphere, the beguiling sense that you have no idea what the hell is going on, and the game seems very demure about letting you in on why you're wandering in about the fog with this terrible camera and zombie-smashing plank in tow. Once I polish off Eternal Darkness out the way I'll come back for you, Silent Hill 2.

Final Fantasy Tactics-- On the second mission, my computer-controlled ally barged into a swarm of goblins and got himself killed, and that was the end of it for me. I love me some turn-based tactics but, Nintendo puts everyone to shame when it comes to making strategy games that are streamlined and easy-to-manage; Square seems bent on putting obstacles (read: menus) between you and enjoyment. (I just read a great review of Grimoire of the Rift over on the excellent Murderblog 3D which totally captured my sentiments on this front.) When I have a yen for this sort of thing I just play more Advance Wars: Dual Strike, which is an inexhaustible well of delight.

Final Fantasy XII-- This game is actually excellent. But I haven't touched it since 2006. I ran out of gas in the village full of slinky, tall rabbit-women, and Stephen Totilo tells me that I needn't ruin a good thing by forcing the game to overstay its welcome. I don't think people give this game credit. It's easily one of the best games in the series, and it took a lot of risks in terms of streamlining the combat. I think people disliked it for not being Final Fantasy enough, but do you really miss the experience of mindlessly jabbing on A through each turn-based battle in order to level up? Also, the plot is actually good, as in, not actively insipid. Which is a step forward. Hey, why didn't I finish it?

Planescape: Torment-- No, seriously, why do we quit playing games we enjoy? For me the reason is twofold: 1) I feel like I just got distracted at some point, and now I don't feel confident that I will remember what I'm doing if I try to make a final push. I remember I was making some sort of dream machine, and that it was a feather. This ring any bells? 2) Even with games as good as this, I am rarely drawn in by the plot and characters. Like, I admire and appreciate what the game does in terms of its approach to narrative but it fails to fill me with a consuming desire to discover the next chapter of the saga.

Conclusions

I think I need to write a blog post about why we quit playing great games in mid-stream. We don't stop reading good books in the middle, or stop watching good movies in the middle. Why games? Is it just that we have to put effort into making them happen? In the case of the two excellent RPGs above, it's not a matter of challenge. I could get through them if I put my mind to it, and if I remembered what I was doing.

I also want guidance from the community: October 21 is soon upon us, and time is of the essence. I wholly expect to be exclusively designing LittleBigPlanet levels based on episodes from In Search of Lost Time for the Winter months, and it will leave little time for other pursuits. What are my priorities? Are there any of these stalled games that are worth going back to, or do I forge on to new challenges?

19 comments:

Daniel said...

Funnily enough, out of your unplayed selection there lies two of my favourite games of all time - jointly tied for the title: Majora's Mask and Knights of the Old Republic.

They're both great for the same reason: world creation. The games feature the best, most detailed and alive worlds I've yet to see in a videogame. There's something about Majora's Mask's time mechanic that simply makes it such a breathing, fully realised world. KOTOR, on the other hand, is really just so extensive and believable, while featuring probably my favourite videogame plot, and some of the best voice acting around.

I like many of the other games on your lists, but those two I would immediately put at the top, even above Prince of Persia.

Christopher Hyde said...

As far as I'm concerned, it's almost completely a commitment and engagement thing when it comes to not finishing games. I actually totally loved Persona 3: FES, but dang I really had to kick myself a few times to get myself through the 100 hour playtime. Even though I *was* fairly committed to the characters in this one, after about 40 hours many times I dreaded having to fire that thing up to finish the storyline. In games (esp. RPG's like this) where I feel less engagement with the characters I often just don't have the get up and go to make myself complete it.

Movies are nearly always easy to get through even if you hate them because they're short; and whenever I tackle a really long sort of book it's always something like The Recognitions or Darconville's Cat or Infinite Jest and I manage to find myself engaged and able to keep going because at least you know when you pick it up you're going to be moving forward. You don't have to dungeon crawl the same spaces for an hour to level up and move on.

Time is really an issue here as well--even an 800 page novel is probably only going to take 20-25 hours to read for me. That means...I could read 4 of 'em in the time it took me to finish Persona 3. Yikes!

Denis said...

I have done that with books (sometimes with movies). Though this is likely attributable to reading/starting too many at once (which could also be leveled at my gaming pattern). Currently I am stuck in two books I really enjoy, but was distracted by other material. Much like with RPGs, there's a dread that I'd have to reread to understand where I was (which is not an option with the half-completed Don Quixote, sorry).

As for games which I stopped? Deus Ex remains the most glaringly obvious because of the participation I had early on with the Vintage Game Club. I suppose I'll get through it, but I lost interest because the game moved away from moral shifts to self-preservation. It's not a bad game (except the voice acting), but I can't bring myself to care about the characters anymore. I just want to know what happens to the world, can we skip the pointless stuff?

The same goes for Fallout. I completed the first one years ago, and started the second. Cannot recall why I quit, but I imagine I'll get back to playing them soon enough. After all, a little over two weeks before Fallout 3, which is already on preorder.

Tom Armitage said...

The problem I have the constant battle between novelty and duration; I often end up giving up on games I am actually enjoying simply because something new has emerged, and I am a fickle gadfly at times.

More strangely, I have a slight case of completion anxiety: I hit the point in some titles where I give up rather than finishing, and I cannot explain it - for instance, I'm in what must be the last half-hour to 45 minutes of Bioshock... but I've not picked it up in 3 weeks. I'm in the last 10 minutes of HL2Ep2, but god, I've spent so long on those Striders, that at least feels valid.

So sometimes I feel guilty, but otherwise, I don't know how to keep up with the medium if I'm pouring my time into a single title. Right now, World of Warcraft (fun as it is - I've been playing for six weeks) is in danger of stopping me sampling other things.

And then I pick up something I've not played in a while - Wipeout Pure, at the moment - and that pulls me around. As long as I head towards completing stuff, I think it's successful. "Finish those games" is the sword hanging over my head, so often.

Final Fantasy Tactics: no, I couldn't get on with it. Far too much interface and too stop-start; compare it to a more modern TBS like Disgaea (or, as you point out, any Advance Wars) and the game just seems less fun to play. I can't deny the depth, but dang it's clunky.

Steve Amodio said...

Not to nitpick, but I thoroughly disagree that FFXII is a great game. I'm stalled in the middle too, and after being blown away by what it did right at first, I too am stalled. It has a great first few couple hours, then it begins to send you through these endless same-looking labyrinths with just enough difficulty to force you to grind your way through them. The game is a great idea, but after you get cranking, it just starts to feel like the world's loneliest and most boring MMO. You and I are not the only ones who stalled, and I don't think that's a coincidence. Oh, also, it's been a few years but I think I'm stalled at the exact same point in Silent Hill 2, and this is coming from someone who will go to the mat for the first game, I'm quite sure that's the best horror game I've ever played.

There are a lot of things that can cause us to just put down a great game these days, and often I think it has to do with the design of the game. I talked about this issue this week through Heavenly Sword of all games, hardly a masterpiece of game-making, but my conclusion was that many developers these days don't realize just how little slack they have when it comes to presenting content to players in an inherently active form of entertainment. They either don't think that a player would put down a $60 game after a few hours if it wasn't entertaining, or don't care since they already have their money. Either way, that's exactly what I do, the fact that I paid for my ducat doesn't really figure in too heavily at all. I'll easily put aside a game I paid full price for; my time is more valuable than whatever I paid for the game.

garrett said...

We don't stop reading good books in the middle, or stop watching good movies in the middle

How often have you had to repeat your last hour of reading because you forgot to hit a save point? Or, worse, never had one provided to you?

chesh said...

I can't wait to see your take on Killer7.

Steve Amodio said...

@garrett: What's more, when it applies to movies, you actually need to take initiative to STOP watching a movie in the middle.

Nelsormensch said...

I'm definitely a bit of an outlier here, but for whatever reason, I'm really OCD about finishing games. Unless a game is absolutely, soul-rendingly awful, I'm almost psychologically bound to finish it.

I can think of three games I own that I haven't finished: Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy IX and Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. The first two were simply because of their length. They were interrupted by things I wanted to play more and getting back into them mentally would require no small amount of effort. I can't remember why I stopped playing Sphnix, I think moved or something.

You seemed to have picked them out already, but of your list, I'd find some way in the next few weeks to spend time with Sands of Time and Fallout. Planescape: Torment is one of my favourite games, but it's much better enjoyed when one can devote full mental energy to it. Same with KotoR.

Eric Robinson said...

You will probably find Ocarina of Time very similar to Windwaker, so youmightberight there. Majora's Mask, however, is an entirely different story (both metaphorically and literally). The game introduces a time mechanic and kind of stands on its own when taken with the rest of the Zelda universe. Definitely give that one a shot.

thesimplicity said...

Dude, I think it would longer to catalog my unplayed games than it would to finish half of them.

There are two games on this list that I think you really need to experience at some point: Killer7 and Majora's Mask.

Killer7 is huge. Like, really huge. It's a videogame version of Heart of Darkness as if directed by David Lynch. It changes things after you play it. I won't say anything more so as not to influence your opinion, but you really need to experience it.

Majora's Mask is an incredibly unique game. The time mechanic is really beautiful, and it was the first time any game had presented such a solid ecosystem. It's almost like a rhythm game... you have to hit all the right notes at all the right times to succeed, and if you don't you'll just end up reseting. Very interesting stuff.

I think KOTOR is a great game, but I'm a huge Star Wars nerd so I don't feel confident recommending it to others. FFXII is, as you said, probably the best in the series... but I played for over 60 hours without feeling like I made a dent. It's just too long for anyone over the age of eighteen. I'm fairly confident you can skip Final Fantasy Tactics (I just wrote something about that one last night, actually).

and I adore Burnout Paradise, but if you're playing Wipeout right now you should wait on it. It's best experienced without any comparisons or expectations, because it's quite different from your average racing game.

Jo Iacovides said...

You might want to look at Leigh Alexander's article on "Completion Anxiety Disoder" which offers an interesting theory for why we don't finishing all the games we start. While she sums up all sorts of reasons, she suggests that maybe we don't actually want to finish some of the games we enjoy because then the whole experience will be over...

Julian said...

I'm like neslormensch with finishing games. I blame it on my parents. When I was a kid they wouldn't buy me new games if I had more than one or two unfinished ones.

I only have a couple unfinished games that I'm not actively playing right now. A second playthrough of Persona 3 (in fairness it'll be my first time through The Answer), and I got stalled in Odin Sphere because of the semi-broken combat system and pacing and presentation that makes me feel like I'm doing something WRONG if I try to grind out a couple levels (although you're clearly meant to do that, based on the comparative progression of the enemies' stats and yours). I think I got to the final boss in The Red Star and realized that I screwed myself with a bad build and poor performance early on. And that's it.

I would really recommend trying to get through Sands of Time. It's pretty short, and so many of the things it did well have become common features in modern games that I get a feeling age won't do it many favors. It set the standard, but now it's beginning to feel simply standard. Incidentally, it's not the only game Yahtzee likes; he was unable to find any faults in Portal.

G. Christopher Williams said...

Interesting. You are stalled on many of the same games that I have been stalled on for years in some cases (the first 3 of 4 on your list are all stalled games in my collection).

Like others, I want to highly recommend a playthrough of Killer 7. Given what I have seen of your interests in discussing the relationship between the player and the authority of game systems (MGS 2) and your appreciation of more avant garde approaches to mainstream games (Eternal Darkness), you're likely going to love what Killer 7 does to the player. Check it out. Btw, the gameplay is not as bad as some have suggested. However, the concept you allude to is the real interest in the game and something I think you won't want to miss.

I also want to put in a vote for Prince of Persia. Again, there is some real substance to that game. I don't think it is as intellectually compelling as Killer 7, but it has anough meat and really great gameplay to make it a must play on your list I think.

Omari Akil said...

I vote for Burnout: Paradise. This game is quite fun, especially online multiplayer which you would typically not expect for a driving game. Plus, it doesn't compare at all to WipEout (I giggle every time I capitalize that E).

catfishmaw said...

You really must play Majora's Mask. It was one of the first games to really move me. There are real, identifiable relationships and heartwarming rewards for completing tasks.

Not to mention the mythology of the game. I love to interact with all of the characters and environments.

David Carlton said...

The rule that I've been trying to stick to for the last two or three years: don't buy a book or a game if I'm not going to start reading/playing it within the next two days. It helps. (Amazon Prime is the big enabler; done right, doing this will more than save you the cost of the Prime subscription.)

When I started doing that, I had a big backlog (almost a year's worth of books); it's just sunk costs, but I went through most of it anyways. I have to say, your video game backlog looks pretty good; my life is richer from having played Killer 7 and Majora's Mask. (I would like to give Burnout Paradise a try. But, well, I'm in the middle of other games right now.)

And: More Tapas! Yes!

Laez said...

Why we don't quit in the middle of great movies is the easy question: at 3 hours tops, they're easier to just sit down and finish. I think, in this case, television would be more analogous. If you've got a favorite TV series, when there's a break between seasons it's very easy to miss the first episode and never get back to it, which is approximate to what typically happens in games. You can hit a save point, put the game down, and maybe for a week or two not get around to playing it or simply not have the time for games, and by then it's entirely possible something else has caught your attention and you're now playing that. The thing of it is, I don't believe many of us actively quit playing the games we love, it really is just a lapse.

Personally, I do take the somewhat destructive approach of forcing myself to finish a game, as I'm doing right now with the first Yakuza. I've reached the point where I feel I've played enough, the story has gone far enough, and it could wrap up (I'm about 9 1/2 hours in). It's at this point where the decision becomes active, where I have to decide to play or to not play, and I'm going to stick with it, which will ultimately degrade the experience I've had with the game, but as a player I want to reach the conclusion. Of course this begs the question of how long games should be, which is almost inarguable due to different tastes and play styles.

You've got a very interesting list of mostly great games that need playing there, but only one I feel the need to comment on, which is FFXII. FFXII reminds me of Chrono Cross with it's place in the series. They're similar in that they're great games, both of which I've play to completion (FFXII twice), but they seem incongruous in their respective series, which naturally changes the popular opinion of the two games. When playing either of them I felt the slightest bit of cognitive dissonance, as though I would have enjoyed them more if they were the first iteration of a new IP. I felt like FFXI did a better job of portraying a Final Fantasy style world than FFXII, even though both were radically different in their gameplay than the rest of the series.

On a less thoughtful note, I played through FFXII a second time to stay strictly on task with the story portion, and honestly don't get why it's so often said that the story is better than previous Final Fantasies. In many ways the narrative was more well done, but key to a good story, for me, is having strong characters, and I could never bring myself to care for any of them, with the possible exception of Balthier, who really did seem to become the 'leading man'. Perhaps most damning was that I never really cared if I defeated Vayne, I never had a motivation to really hate him. All of his supposed cruelty came was told to the player, it came second hand, but was never shown to us. I've typed much more on FFXII than

I had intended, but I certainly encourage you to finish the game, I'd be very interested in what you think of it after completion.

savetherobot said...

If I could vote for a game to revisit, I'd say Planescape ... Planescape's my favorite game of all time. I was so totally sucked into the character, his fate, and the completely unexpected turns that the game kept taking that after I started playing, I couldn't put it down.

Just personally, the RPGS I play that have a tight, linear story are the ones I finish. I got 30 or so hours into Oblivion and gave up after I closed my fifth or so hellgate. If I can do anything, then eh, I can do anything. But everytime there's another really crucial piece of story around the corner, I just can't stop playing. It kept me hooked on Mass Effect as well, long after I knew it wasn't such a hot game ...