The Only Thing Worse than Redoing a Bad Job is Redoing a Good One

madmoxxi

I’ve heard it said that the DLC is the best parts of Borderlands.  And I can see why.  The dev team really seemed to pick up their game when it came time for the Add-on content.  More humor and character shines through, you get a lot more variety in your enemies, the battles are more intense, and the game just seems more creative in general, like they’re trying out all the concepts they were too scared, inexperienced, or schedule-crunched to add into the vanilla game.  Really, taking all factors into account, I should be having more fun with the DLC than I was with the regular game.  But I’m not.  And that irritates me.  I was having a big, unlucky bandit-shaped blast with the regular game!  The DLC, on the other hand, is just something I’m kind of slogging through.  What I should be enjoying the most is making me stare at my screen in anguish.  And it’s all because of one simple reason.  It’s because the DLC keeps making me do the exact same thing every time I start it up.

See, in Borderlands, both base game and DLC, missions will send you all over the place.  You may have to collect 100 Bear Asses in one area, then go make some Soylent Green Brand Chunky Salsa in another area three loading screens away, then have to return to a third map in a completely different location in order to turn them all in.  In the base game, that works out just fine, thanks to the magic of Fast Travel!  You don’t have to worry about transit in between them, if that area’s already explored, you can be right there!  Not so with the DLC.  For whatever reason, there’s only one fast travel point per add-on, right at the beginning.  You’ve got to take the long way around to do anything.  Which, thanks to the amount of back and forth you go through, that enemies respawn every time you go through a loading screen, and that the simple act of loading a save takes you right back to the first area, means you spend a lot of time covering ground that’s already been tread.  With bullets.

Repetition is not engaging.  It’s not fun.  I know I can’t speak for every player, but personally, there’s few faster ways of causing me to lose interest in a game than making me do the exact same things I just freakin’ did.  In the Borderlands DLC’s case, the problem is that I every time I start a play session, I have to spend fifteen minutes to a half hour just making my way back to where I was at the end of the last session, walking in my own footprints, re-icing the guys I already killed, spending the same time I already paid last time around.  By the time I get to the content I want, I’m already bored, frustrated, and pissed off with the game.  Not exactly the feelings any game should want to instill.

Back when I was a cub, this kind of repetition was just a fact of life of gaming.  It was how almost any game punished you for losing, by making you play the whole blasted game again.  And it’s a really piss-poor way to handle it.    Video games deliver in a variety of ways.  Usually they’re fun and entertaining.  Sometimes, they may be touching and enlightening.  At other times, they may instill a feeling of triumph.  But however video games find their value, it never benefits from making the player do the same thing, over, and over, and over again.  There is nothing to gain from redoing a good job.  The task loses some of the fun factor, becoming more and more dull every time the player has to repeat it.  The story will absolutely lose its pacing and impact when the player has to go through it again.  And it’s hard to feel triumph by overcoming an enemy you’ve already beaten.  You will never be able to add to the experience by making the player re-cover the same ground.

Game designers have recognized this for a long, long time.  It’s why Super Mario Bros. had that simple  “re-start from the world you’re on” cheat I could never work out.  It’s why Mega Man gave you a password every time you ended a level, whether victorious or not.  It’s why the Legend of Zelda had the capacity to save.  And fast forwarding through the history of gaming, it’s why check/save points, fast travel, and so many other convenience features exist in games today.  As I mentioned in a recent comment over at Red Metal’s house, I think that’s one of the biggest advances the medium has made, in that games have cut down on how much it requires the player to cover the same ground.  Game designers still have plenty of hiccups in implementing the philosophy, however.  And it almost always hurts these games when it comes up.  I’ve had an excellent time with Borderlands.  The DLC should be even better.  Yet I can’t load it up without having to grind my way to the content I actually want, and it’s killing the game for me.

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7 responses to “The Only Thing Worse than Redoing a Bad Job is Redoing a Good One

  1. There was at least one game I’ve played where repetition actually enhanced the story. It did it in a way that makes you question whether you’re doing the right thing when it forces you to start over again and again. It is an instance where the story interferes with the gameplay, but I ended up liking the twist in hindsight. Luckily, a lot of the repetitiveness is optional, so it wasn’t honestly that bad. I think you may have played the game, but I won’t reveal the title for those who haven’t.

    Otherwise, yeah, repetition is an aspect of gaming I’m not sorry to see go away. I get a sense of dread when companies boast 100+ hours of gameplay because I know a lot of it is going to be filler. Fortunately, game makers are starting to learn that making players go back and forth doesn’t actually add content.

    • I’ve got an idea of what game you’re talking about, but yeah, thar be spoilers, so we should probably let that lie.

      There’s definitely a difference between good repetition and bad repetition. The stupid boss I’m stuck at in Dark Souls is a good example of both. The boss himself poses the same challenge to me over and over again, but I’m using that to hone my skills, try new techniques, and build my strategy. It might be the same fight I’ve been ramming my head against for hours, at this point, but I’m still adding to my experience every time I try again, because even if I don’t get to the content beyond him, I’m still making something new myself. That’s good repetition. Having to make the long walk back from the bonfire every time I lose, where I’ve nothing more to gain from the enemies and challenges there, is bad repetition. Just spends my time without growing the experience.

      • When you get killed by a boss, you want to challenge them again immediately. You have to get out of that “boss fight” mentality in order to focus on getting back to the arena. I know exactly how that feels. I remember that feeling when dealing with the Taurus Demon of the Undead Burg.

        Actually, if I may ask a question about a detail from the other thread, what are some other games that you deliberately got rid of without thinking twice about it?

      • Not a whole lot, actually. Let’s see… the NES Shadowgate is the first one that comes to mind. That was one that was bought for the whole family, rather than just me, but little baby Aether was so terrified of it that I kept hiding it around the house, until I think my dad loaned it to the neighbor and we never saw it again. I remember being quite glad to see it out of the collection. I traded in the Power Rangers Game Boy game, along with a few others and my Game Boy handheld, to pay for a Game Boy Color, and while I’ve since re-obtained the two other games I let go of in that transaction, picking that one up again never crossed my mind. Similar story with Judge Dredd for the SNES. My sister and I sold our SNES and collection when I entered college, figuring she didn’t use it anymore and I wouldn’t have the room for a console that was several generations old at that point, and I’d been kicking myself for it since. A friend gave me his SNES a few years later, and I since have rebuilt most of the old collection, but I’ve still got no intention to pick up Judge Dredd. And I don’t know if you’d count this, but my copy of Eternal Darkness got damaged past the point of usability a few years ago, and while I’d usually replace the game when that happens, I haven’t really felt like paying the price I’ve been finding it at for that game. Which feels a little odd to me. I used to really enjoy that game, and the market price isn’t unreasonable, but I haven’t had any interest in replaying it since I found the disc was damaged. And of course, Yoshi’s Story. I left that one with an ex shortly after our break-up, because she was a fan of both Yoshi and N64-era games, and I never wanted to play that game again.

        And…. I think that’s it. How about yourself? Any games you got rid of, that you were glad to see go?

      • As much as people these days have a go at Sierra for creating games with obtuse puzzle solutions and cheap deaths, for the most part, they had nothing on Shadowgate and other ICOM Simulations games, which were just plain evil.

        I tend to be a bit pickier with my game collection. Generally speaking, if the game doesn’t leave a lasting impact on me (or said impact is decidedly negative), I’m going to want to get rid of it. One could say the unofficial rule is that a game I would award a 6/10 or less on Extra Life has a good chance of being let go, and if it’s a 3/10 or less, it’s practically guaranteed. Like you, I got rid of Yoshi’s Story – I gave it to EB Games (back before they got assimilated by GameStop) for store credit.

        I also got rid of The Last of Us because, as we’ve discussed in great detail, the ending was so infuriating (two words: audio log), that it ruined the rest of the game. My first playthrough had me in a state of bored tolerance – I couldn’t imagine conducting another one knowing just how incompetently constructed the ending is. At that point, I knew the only recourse was to sell it on eBay before it depreciated too much.

        I also sold my copy of Far Cry 4, though I didn’t think it was particularly bad. It’s mostly because the superior Far Cry 3 made it feel redundant. I think it’s also because I’m a little tougher on token sequels when they’re in an oversaturated genre. For instance, in the Far Cry series, a token sequel is going to be another first-person shooter, which the market isn’t exactly hurting for at the moment. Because it’s a thematic series with self-contained narratives for each installment, it makes sense to only play the best one. As a counterexample, Super Mario Galaxy 2 could also be considered a token sequel, but both games are so unique not only in the Mario canon, but in all of gaming, making that status negligible (assuming it’s a legitimate claim to begin with). Indeed, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of my all-time favorites.

        Moreover, I remember attempting to play one of the Battlefield games. However, by the time I got around to playing it, I had already experienced the original Modern Warfare, which I feel is the definitive title of its subgenre. Playing a game that was content to hit the exact same bullet points resulted in me not caring about the story or its characters – the fact that they were different series made by opposing companies did nothing to mitigate this reaction. It’s one of the few games I made significant progress in only to quit – not because it was too difficult, but rather it wasn’t engaging enough to make me want to see things through to the end.

        Have you ever had it happen where you play one game that’s such a good example of its style that lesser efforts stick out like a sore thumb? In addition to the Battlefield example, it’s the primary reason I wasn’t blown away by The Last of Us; I had already played Planescape: Torment and the first two Zero Escape games by the time I picked it up. Those three games demonstrate how good of a writer one needs to be to pull off a story-heavy game.

        Other than that, I’ve gotten rid of other games here and there, but I felt those four cases were the most noteworthy – I can safely say I wasn’t sad to see any of them go. Most of the other instances were just me getting rid of dead weight for a little extra cash.

  2. Although I enjoyed Bravely Default I would warn you to stay clear of it if you dislike repetition. When I was a kid I was content to replay the same levels over and over, but not anymore. I have been spoiled by save points.

    • I haven’t got that far in Bravely Default, but I’ve been spoiled as to the big moment. I don’t know how well it’s carried on in the game, but I do remember watching someone play Escape From Bug Island and groaning harder than I have in a good long while when a very similar twist came up. And I wasn’t even playing that game!

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