It’s Done when It’s Done

It’s an old discussion on the video gaming interbutts, talking about lengths of games and how important that is to their overall quality. The discussion has changed somewhat, what with the indie scene becoming a pretty big thing and production of mainstream games growing in scope and resources, but talk of this has been around for pretty much as long as I’ve been a cognizant part of the sphere. Even now, people will decry games for being too short, games will use their epic scale and 100+ hour playtimes as selling points, and longer games are generally considered superior to shorter ones.

From a market-based perspective, I can see a lot of why that is. With the mainstream publishers putting their games out there for $60 a pop, which equates to several hours of work for most people, I can understand how people would be seeking a certain level of value for their investment, and for those who use playtime as a measure of value, well, it’s not a bad measure at all.


And yet. Time doesn’t really seem to be a great indicator of the quality of experience. I was struck by some of the recent games I’ve been playing. Final Fantasy XII, where, although I still enjoyed it more than I expected, I was still hit with the impression that it was built with developmental efficiency in mind. Like, given the legendary development difficulties in the game, they ended up trying to get the maximum amount of playtime out of the resources they had available. Led to large gulfs of time between notable gameplay experiences, probably one of the biggest weaknesses in the game. On the other hand, Prince of Persia Sands of Time was a very compact experience. It would have been easy for them to stretch that game out, see some more variations on established iterations between the platforming segments, puzzles, what not in order to stretch it out. But they didn’t. Combat aside, most features that come up only appear a handful of times at most. It feels like a game in which they had all their ideas in a list, highlighted the good ones and only used those, and as soon as they ran out of the good ideas they capped it off and called it done. It’s a very deliberate, satisfying experience throughout, and feels like it’s constantly refreshing and bringing up new concepts. It’s not a long game, but most of it is very well designed, missing a lot of the flaws that drag a lot of it down.

Most pieces of media out there have constraints as to how long they’re supposed to be. Most novels are going to shoot for around 80,000 words. Movies are around two hours in length. Comic arcs get around six issues of 21 pages each to tell their story. Television shows have to fit story arcs into episodes of 30 minutes or an hour each, or if they’re telling an overarching tale, they still have to match that to the length of the run or season. And yet what if your story doesn’t fit the mold, exactly? You have to cut it down or stretch it out to fit into the timeframe you’re looking at, but both ends of those have negative repercussions on the quality of the work. Video games are one of the few story telling mediums where it’s largely acceptable for the work to be just as long as it needs to be. When it’s done, it can be done, it doesn’t have to meet any artificial timeline in order to be produced. We should be taking advantage of that. Many do. Yet even then, there’s a push to make things longer and longer, get more of that time value out of it, regardless of what it does to the quality. And when there’s backlash against that, I feel like it is ignored.


I think part of it all comes down to one’s style of play. The video games medium has grown into a very diverse one. Yes, even with all the clone games and ripoffs coming out. Yes, I know 2018 seems to be the year of the Battle Royale mimics, but there’s more than just that out there. Trust me. The medium has something to offer for any of a variety of personality types and playstyles. However you like to game, there’s plenty out there for you. In my case, I maintain a collection. Once I acquire a game, it becomes part of the collective. I’ll generally buy games when I can get them on the cheap years after they come out, and I’ll play them for the first time months or years after I get them. At the same time, all those games are a part of my life, and I’ll always come back to old games somewhere down the line. I cycle through them. So the whole value proposition is quite a bit different for me. Cost doesn’t matter to my enjoyment of it, because I generally work on a different framework disconnected from the price. Playtime is not so important, because I’ll play games multiple times over during the course of my life.

I’ve seen people on Steam logging thousands of hours into multiplayer games. I enjoy plenty of the 40-100 hour epics myself. Yet there’s also a big place in my heart for the games that can confidently present themselves as a concise experience. Those Sands of Times, those Shadow of the Colossus’s, those Superhots, the endless amounts of quality games checking in at single-digit hours. I’ve gained a special appreciation for short games as part of this quest I’m on to beat all the games I’ve owned, where they serve to counteract the lag I start to feel when I get bogged down in this sea of RPGs I’ve built for myself, but even beyond that, they form a very important part of the gaming sphere. There are definitely places for those epic games. There are tons of great games that will take you 70+ hours to get through, and more power to them. But let’s hold some respect for the games that deliver in short form. If a game can boil itself down to what it does best, and deliver that while resisting the temptation to weaken itself by taking on hours that don’t fit, that is something to be valued.

A Player’s Fatigue


God of War should have been a great game.  It had everything going for it.  The mechanics, the design, the care.  And you know, it was a pretty revolutionary game.  It deserved to be, with everything the developers put into it.

But it had one big flaw that turned the whole experience way down, left it short of being truly ‘great’.  In fact, that’s something I’ve noticed a lot of games fall into.  One bit of wisdom that my quest to beat everything has given me.  So many games have it all going on, have got their groove pretty straight in pretty much all aspects, except it’s just one aspect that doesn’t get the attention they deserve or one single mistake that brings the whole experience down.

Anyways, God of War does that.  It has that one big thing that ruins it.  And you know, that one big thing is a big thing that it shares with a lot of other games.  God of War just happens to be a bit of a better example than most.  And that is the problem of the player’s fatigue.

You hear it all the time.  Games bragging about how long they last.  Those good old “100+ hours of gameplay!!!!!111oneone” that are supposed to show you’re getting your money’s worth.  Plenty of players, I’ve seen, have been justifying their purchasing decisions based on how much time a game takes to complete, too.  People don’t seem to realize that all that time doesn’t count if it sucks.

But it’s one thing to just throw in lots of padding or unpolished gameplay.  To waste your time in the interest of getting that number up.  That’s a horrible, horrible thing, and there’s been plenty of dialogue about that in the gamosphere already.  You don’t need a sexy genius blogger to tell you about that.  Rather, God of War’s problem, and those of its ilk, is a bit different.  A bit more subtle.  Although it hasn’t aged the best, God of War is definitely a quality experience, mostly throughout.  It rarely just wastes your time the way so many of those punchclock games do.  It’s got a lot going for it, it just stretches these things a little bit farther than they should.


Things just take too long, in God of War.  There’s content for it, it’s not padding, it just takes too long.  Levels start stretching on and on, fights keep going as enemies pour in to replace those you’ve slain, and the gods’ whiny “omg got 2 kull areeeeees!” gets hammered into your skull over and over again.  Every little thing makes its point and then some.

It’s far from unique to God of War, too.  Remember how Persona 3 was super great, then you got to the Nyx Avatar fight and it’s a 14 stage final boss that takes half damage from everything and will charm you into fully healing her over and over again unless you’ve already beaten her and know to prepare?  You remember how every single level in Alan Wake was the same bloody forest?  You remember the final level in whatever the last game was that you beat and how the designers hit crunch time and just decided to start with the CTRL+C, CTRL+V model of game design?

So yeah.  It’s not a good thing.  For a very good reason.  Video games are very kinetic, much more than most other mediums.  Players should be feeling something.  Excitement.  Accomplishment.  Empathy.  Awe at how great that Aether guy is at video games.  Emotions naturally run high in games, as their active nature draws out whoever’s playing.  But emotions also take mental energy than a passive observer would be giving off.  And when you draw too much mental energy without cycling it with something, that’s where you run into fatigue.

Usually, this comes up when the player stops feeling like they’re being productive.  When the level goes on and on without changing, it becomes less “oh, what a huge level” and more “oh, I’m just not getting anywhere”.  Likewise, when God of War’s respawning new enemies in the middle of the fight that are exactly the same as the ones you just killed, kind of makes you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in the mud.  It feels like grinding.  If you make a player go through the same thing over and over again, no matter how good the fluff or the mechanics, eventually it stops being fun and just starts getting to be work.

In most any progressive story, it takes a bit of a break or change to keep that mental energy up.  It’s an odd thing.  Although mental energy doesn’t really take any actual energy, it’s still important to manage.  That’s why books are always swapping chapters of POVs right when it hits the climax.  Just that small bit of change and variation keeps things feeling fresh.  When you go so long without that, that’s when things start to wear thin.  Then you get people on the internet complaining.  Who wants that?

So, in summation, if you ever find yourself playing God of War, remember to be appropriately grumpy about it.  It’s a good game, sure, but grumpiness is the order of the day all the same.