The lure/illusion of short time investments (re: game play)

Just commented on Christian Nutt’s feature at gamasutra : The Rise Of Dragon Age II.
I’ve been saying for years that “I’m just not an RPG guy” (though it seems I’ll avidly play every other genre). I think of it as a question of time : when I hear a game has more than 30 hours of gameplay – I hesitate to buy it. Because I know I won’t be experiencing everything it has to offer. (would you buy a DVD/Bluray if you knew some parts of the feature would be omitted?)

After spending a lot of time in Mass Effect (and TooHuman, and a bit in Fallout), I feel like i’m more open to the RPG genre again. I think the oft-overlooked problem is that RPGs aren’t designed to accommodate bite-sized players like me. … Two concessions come to mind:

1) Would deeply appreciate a better “recapping the story so far” system.

If I take a 6 to 12 month break from an RPG, I often feel like I need to just start over. I can’t remember who was doing what. ugh. I usually just start a different game.

This happened with Mass Effect. Got about halfway through it before life distracted me. Played many other games in the interim. Then when the sequel came out I finally sat down pushed on through to finish.
I was only able to stick with it because I read through every *$^@ entry in the codex to remind myself what was going on. And it totally worked!
I kinda hated it. Endured entire “gameplay session nights” where all I really did was “start xbox, pause game, read codex entries for an hour, turn off xbox.” (but I prepared myself for this, thinking “tonight I guess I’ll go read a &#^%!@ book on my xbox. Maybe make some coffee.”).

After I beat the game I fell deeply in love with it. I purchased (and played through) the sequel’s special edition. I purchased the 3 tie-in books (and just finished reading the first a couple weeks ago). I now consider myself a big Mass Effect nerd.

I loved it so much that I’m now planning to buy DragonAge1 and play through it, so that I can then buy DragonAge2. I’m planning to become a DragonAge nerd, if the franchise will let me.

But again, I’m nervous. What if I take a break during Dragon Age? I find myself thinking “I wonder if DragonAge has a codex?” which then makes me grimace. ugh.

The first Professor Layton is the only game I can remember playing where I restarted it – and was thrilled to find a polished presentation of everything that had transpired so far. I have no fear about picking that game up at any time. (admittedly, the story is weak and the art style doesn’t suit my tastes. I have little desire to complete the game or invest in sequels. But I have no fear about jumping back in at any point).

– they made an abbreviated version of ME for the PS3 port of ME2, right? would be neat if this was a feature that covered your progress in ME2 as well. Like, after you’ve completed part of the game, you can quickly play the reader’s digest version of the game so far to get back there (potentially making alternate choices).
It would open the game up to trying out alternate choices quickly and easily, without having to mange a wide swath of save games.
(I kiiiiinda want to go back and play through from the beginning as a renegade biotic, and as a paladin tech. But realistically I know this will never happen. sigh.)

2) Would appreciate some way to understand how much time, minimum, is needed for a valuable gameplay session.

I have no idea if Dragon Age will let me sit down and make any real progress in 10 minutes. Usually during Mass Effect, I’d think “I’ll just do one more mission.” But had no idea if the next mission would take an hour. or 3. I think if there was a clearer idea of time investment, I would have jumped into the game far more often.

Steam informs me that my small chunks of TF2 and L4D (I’ll often just play for half an hour to 2 hours) have added up to over 100 hours of playtime in each title. Clearly long time investment wasn’t really the problem.

Sometimes I’ve started L4D2 thinking I’ll just play some scavenge mode for 10 – 20 minutes – and ended up playing campaigns instead, for 10 hours. Having a clearer sense of the potential time-sink lured me in.
(much like selling a core model for small price, with all these add-ons, tends to have more mass-appeal than selling one does-it-all model with the add-ons built in? there’s an appealing illusion of choice and thriftiness).

I don’t know how this proposition could be worked into Bioware’s stronger story-focused games. But I think it would draw in more players.

2 thoughts on “The lure/illusion of short time investments (re: game play)

  1. Steam tracks total playing time per game for the user, eh?

    Stupid question War. Are there any games that use Steam as an conduit to collect a human user’s tactics in say a FPS and then successfully feedback that data into AI to make the robo-players better?

    1. I don’t think this sort of detailed data is collected by steam and send to central servers. But a lot of games do perform this sort of process to adjust the in-game AI.

      I first heard about it back when Sin:Episodes came out (may 2006). They were all proud of themselves because : if you shot the baddies in the heads, then the baddies would start wearing helmets. If you shot off the helmets, then the baddies would wear locked face guards.
      Guess that’s more of a difficulty scale than appreciable AI.

      I remember be stunned during the first Half-Life game (november 1998), that soldier AI seemed to be getting better at flushing me out of cover with grenades…

      I don’t really understand the world of Video Game AI, but am very interested in plumbing further. (will report back, basically).

      – there is a system called Steamworks, which Steam makes freely available to game developers. I believe it promised to let you gather gameplay feedback/stats… or maybe i ‘m confusing the sales tracking and territory localizing… hmm.
      more on this later too.

      The last thing I read on modern game stat tracking was Wired’s article on Halo3.
      They gathered user data in such a way as to generate “heat maps” of where they were dying, or getting stuck. not such a leap to think this could be used to make AI drones smarter. not sure that this much data could be sent over existing networks (like Steam or Xbox Live). I expect it would seriously slow shit down.

      but very curious. definitely coming soon if not already here?

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