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Shorter is Sometimes Better- The 10 Hour Campaign versus The Illusion of Content

No High Scores

Pictured is one way that Red Dead Redemption could have been improved. No, not by Jed Buell’s Midgets, but by it being shorter.

Over the past several years most AAA games, barring anything developed by Bethesda, Rockstar, and BioWare, have been offering shorter campaign experiences supplemented by multiplayer or extended play modes. With skyrocketing development budgets and the impetus to produce the next big blockbuster, the days of the 20 hour single player campaign- let alone the 40-50 hour one- are gone. And I say “good riddance”, particularly as games become more filmic and dependent on qualities such as pacing, direction, and visceral impact.

When Platinum Games’ incredible Vanquish released last year, one of the most common complaints from the internet peanut gallery was that its four to six hour campaign was too short. The usual forum cries ranged from “rental” to “ripoff”, with most bandwagon hysterics failing to acknowledge or understand the kind of game the cocaine-bender-of-a-shooter was intended to be. Yes, the campaign was short and indeed it was shorter in comparison to most modern examples. But it was also insanely paced, tightly directed, and sharply focused- not to mention that score attack and challenge modes extended the replay into an arcade-like experience and multiple difficulty levels double or even triple the play value. You wouldn’t want a game like Vanquish to be an epic 20 hour game filled with meandering story, repetitive missions, and long passages of doing nothing. I spent $60 on the game and I never felt shorted by the brief campaign. I felt exhilarated. All killer, no filler.

But many gamers chafe at paying full retail for a game that isn’t offering these extended story modes, mostly because everyone has these apocryphal (and likely exaggerated) stories of spending fifty to a hundred or more hours on Final Fantasy VII, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, or Baldur’s Gate. I think my legendary tale of game duration is probably Phantasy Star II, I swear I put a hundred hours into that one myself. But how much of that was actually in playing the game, as in engaging the gameplay and moving the narrative or character progression forward, and how much of that was in wandering around lost, talking to inconsequential NPCs, fiddling with equipment, looking at shop inventories, engaging in random encounters or simply grinding? It seems to me that many of these mythical hours spent playing the long games of days gone by was wasted in a quagmire of illusory content that may not have actually existed.

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The open world design concept has added many hours of play (if not content) to some current designs. But how much of a game like Red Dead Redemption is meaningful content and how much is just filler and empty padding to extend the length of time it takes to play the game and to enable Rockstar to claim that they’ve released an “epic” game with countless hours of gameplay? After ten hours of side quests including plenty of dreadful flower picking, I realized how much of a sham it was to suggest that there was this vast frontier to explore in the game- let alone that there was anything approaching a focused or well-written Western experience.

I’m at the point in my gaming life where I’ll gladly take a ten hour, tightly controlled campaign with good writing, tight scenario design, and great gameplay over a twenty or more hour one that has me doing what amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of story and character progression. Some games are more appropriate for a longer experience- I’m looking forward to spending 30 or so hours with Dragon Age II- but to suggest that something like Bulletstorm or a Call of Duty campaign should be more than a couple of hours start to finish is frankly ridiculous. Don’t you people understand pacing, rhythm, and narrative trajectory? You’d almost think that gamers would be more happy plunking down their sixty bucks for a sloppy, directionless game with a guaranteed 100 hour campaign than they would for a truly filmic, well-framed and executed story with tight gameplay.

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In a sense, it’s the director’s cut mentality- the belief that longer is by default better. Yet in many cases a director’s cut adds footage that was intentionally cut to improve the picture. It’s not always a case where the aggrieved artist was forced to alter their work against their wishes or vision, hence the subtext behind the term “director’s cut”. Less is often more, as any creator working in any medium is aware. What does Aliens really gain from all of that rambling footage with Newt’s parents? Nothing, except length and weaker content that lessens the strength of the whole.

There is a lot to be said for games that opt to tighten up content and streamline play to focus on what is most important and instead strengthen the whole. Mass Effect 2, for example, was an amazing example of how to edit the process of playing a CRPG down to its core essentials. Citadel may only have a couple of areas, but they’re all essential and there is a story component in each one. So what if you can’t walk into some random building off in the distance to look at some things that do nothing to further the world-building or plot development. Conversely, while playing Oblivion recently I realized that for as big and expansive Cyrodil is, most of it is completely inconsequential, meaningless, and existent only to create an illusion of true content. I played a fighting class, so the extensive magic and crafting system really added nothing to my experience. And don’t get me started on all of the lore found in all of those books, none of which adds anything crucial to the story or gameplay.

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I do believe there is a major difference in the discussion about game length when considering games like Street Fighter, Diablo, Starcraft, sports games, or a multiplayer-focused shooter. These are games that are much less content-driven and focused more on mechanics and skill-based gameplay. I think you can get as many hours of great gaming as you want out of these kinds of titles chiefly because they aren’t reliant on single-player modes or specific storylines. They’re like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But when the dinner bell rings on story-driven games, I’d much rather sit down to a great meal of that’s just enough than a gluttonous junk food feast. I’ll have the really nice small artisan pizza with farm-fresh ingredients over the $5.99 large from the corporate delivery chain, thanks. I’m finding more and more that once I hit the ten hour mark in most single-player campaigns, I’m ready for them to be over and I’m usually glad when they are so I can either move on to the next game or get back to playing something like a fighting game or multiplayer shooter. I do realize that for kids and folks who are more casual about gaming purchases that it’s more important to get value for the money out of a single purchase. It’s important to assess, however, where it is actually coming from- is it originating from solid, significant content or from lazy, bulky filler and false content meant to pacify consumers looking for longer playtimes and assumed value?

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

28 thoughts to “Shorter is Sometimes Better- The 10 Hour Campaign versus The Illusion of Content”

  1. I think the perfect example of a game that was exactly the right length was Portal. It had a nice difficulty curve, enough so that I’ve given it to several gaming newbies who could at least get to Chamber 15 or so. The fake-out ending leads to a whole new style of gameplay, and the ending is just sublime.

    All in, what, 3-5 hours max? So great, I am really hoping Valve can pull off a similar level of pacing with Portal 2…

  2. That’s actually what worries me about Portal 2. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first one, but I definitely appreciate its ingenuity as well as its subtlety and its willingness to bow out before it overstayed its welcome. A more expansive, specific story with more detail and events might upset what made the first game special. Do you really want 15-20 hours of Portal?

  3. I do think that, for the most part, Western developers have done an admirable job of rethinking content lengths. RPGs and Open World games are, as you point out, the last bastions of the “more is more” content philosophy that seemed to dominate in the mid-late 90′s.

    It will be interesting to see if Rockstar and Bethesda modernize their marquee franchises in the way Bioware has. And if they don’t, will any reviewers dare to take them to task for their bloated design choices? I think that besides Square Enix, whose JRPG stable seems to be slowly working its way towards irrelevancy, Rockstar and Bethesda are the last two major developers who are sort of entrenched in design principles they cemented over a decade ago. I mean at some point we’ve got to declare Daggerfall dated, right?

  4. It broke my heart when I read that LA Noire is going to have a thing where you collect police badges scattered around town. So much for it being a cinematic, measured experience that captures the feel of a classic noir or crime picture.

    That is a good point about how Bethesda and Rockstar in particular are holding on to this concept that the more random crap that’s in a game, the better. GTAIV could have been a stunning crime narrative with big themes about the immigrant experience and the decay of American morality, but instead it’s hours and hours of going bowling and inane prattle about “American teetees”.

    Bioware is definitely more with it in terms of modernization…they know how to keep it tight and focused but they can still pull off a longer game. I still think DA:O was very much the end of an era in terms of that kind of expansive RPG filled with inconsequential nerd-pleasing filler.

    It’s also a good point about Western development bringing game lengths under control. I think that has to do with the budget issue for one, but also with tailoring experiences to be more focused and less mired in dated video game concepts.

    I’ve got a full article about how fraudulent and lazy open world design is coming soon that ties into your comments as well. Watch this space.

  5. No I definitely don’t, but I’m hoping that they take those expansionist ideas and split them between the SP and Co-op campaigns. If each one was a max of about 8 hours, I think I’d be fine with that.

  6. I want to say that I would NEVER suggest that something like Call of Duty or Vanquish or Bayonetta be longer. Tight pacing actually works for these games, and is integral to the way they are played.

    You have to remember that games are NOT movies. You don’t HAVE to pace them like they are. Some people, myself in particular, actually like (crazy, i know) wandering around the wasteland in Fallout checking every footlocker for something neat(or not). I like exploring these worlds, and look for them as often as I do for a compressed air blast in my face from things like Bulletstorm.

    The broad terrain and lengthy quest through it is not, in and of itself, a design sin, and I like that games can offer me that kind of world as opposed to other media.

    I think it depends on how well that kind of thing is executed. Red Dead Redemption while having a pretty interesting adventure, actually didn’t need an open world design since there was nothing else to do in it outside of the story quests.

  7. This should be a podcast topic at some point in the near future. We’d get a great debate out of it, I think.

    As it stands, wish I had more time to comment, but I gotta tell ya, Mike, I reject the notion that some of the gameplay experiences you describe as “filler” are inherently empty. You may not enjoy them, and that’s cool. Other people so love big worlds to explore like those in Fallout 3 and Oblivion that this is primarily what they do once they get there. They just wander, do some sidequests, and love being in the world, sometimes ignoring the main plot entirely. There’s nothing wrong with that either.

    I fall more in the middle on this and, don’t get me wrong, I agree with a whole lot of what you wrote there. But just as longer doesn’t always equal better, so too it is that sometimes shorter is just shorter. I’d argue Mass Effect 2 is the poster child for taking any gameplay mechanics that could have been improved from ME1 and just throwing them out, leaving behind a solid game, but one that lacked much for the player to actually do.

  8. If you wanted to argue that the expansive landscape in Oblivion is not used to good effect, I’d be with you. A lot of it is just procedurally generated wilderness with nothing of interest. It’s an issue Bethesda did a great job of addressing in Fallout 3 where investigating even semi-notable landscape features invariably turned up a valuable item, unique weapon, or new quest hook.

    It’s your suggestion that Oblivion’s magic and crafting mechanics are included in the “illusion of real content” that loses me. Perhaps you played a fighter who felt little benefit from those systems, but people who chose to play as wizards or thieves — or magic-enhanced warriors — certainly felt differently. Those elements are not required in order to enjoy the game, but offer meaningful game play rewards to people who want to explore them.

    I think a better example of confusing “stuff” for “game play content” is Fable 2. It’s a game of choice without consequence: you can be good or evil, loved or feared, fat or thin, gregarious or introverted, and *none* of it makes one damn bit of difference. Your pick of combat skills barely even matters, and since you’ll have infinite gold to convert into experience points — I’ve never seen another game reward you so well for not playing — you’ll wind up buying them all anyhow. I’d wager you could slash 90% of Fable 2, bringing it down to a fairly linear button masher, and be left with a better gaming experience.

  9. Your points are valid for story-driven experiences that are more like roller coaster rides, like a Dead Space or Call of Duty campaign, but I feel fall apart when applied to open world games.

    There is definitely room for a tight, focused narrative within an open world, but there’s no reason to dispense with all of the other things for the player to do in the world to service said narrative. Assassin’s Creed 2, or the guild quest lines in Oblivion, are good examples of well executed smaller narrative experiences couched in an expansive world full of other content.

    The value you place on that content is subjective. If you don’t care for it, don’t do it. Some of us enjoy playing our games in a more free form manner, though. There is no reason to rob us of this content to suit your need for a 6 hour experience.

  10. Oh, I definitely agree with you as to the value of that kind of content- class-specific material- but I do believe that its actual value is sort of an illusion. And realistically, if you were to choose to play the game through with more than one character, then there is appreciable value there, I’m not questioning that.

    Where I’m coming from is looking at it more as a design issue. Is it really beneficial to players to have these vast, optional sub-systems rather than to focus on one character or style of play, assuming that narrative and storytelling is the impetus of the genre? I understand that in an RPG in particular you need to give the player choice to craft the game and their experience with it…but how much focus over the actual content is ceded, and does that necessarily make a game “bigger”?

    It’s one of those questions where emergent gameplay comes into the argument and confounds some things, no doubt. Definitely worth considering.

  11. Bayonetta was actually surprisingly long…but I freaking loved it, so I didn’t mind so much.

    As for games not being movies…that’s an area that I think is going to get very interesting in the next console generation. We’re at a point now where games are overtaking movies financially and the cultural uptake of games is higher now than ever before. They’re primed to become even more mainstream, if that’s even possible. And one frontier is definitely in games becoming more cinematic. And I don’t mean like those old CD-ROM “multimedia” games, I mean in taking in the film grammar and really leveraging it to create experiences that are filmic and resonant in the way that a motion picture is.

    It’s definitely true that games like Fallout let you effectively create your own pace and that’s absolutely a unique quality to the games medium. But taking Fallout as the example, how much of that game is actually relevant to the story it tells and your character’s development, and how much is filler to create an illusion of veracity? Does it really make the Capital Wasteland feel “more real” when you can open a drawer and find a clipboard and a coffee cup, particulary after finding HUNDREDS of caches of similar everyday and mostly useless objects? I’m not sure that’s necessarily immersive- to me, it just reminds me that I’m playing a video game that’s playing at being something far more expansive than it really could ever be.

    Some of this comes down to, again, another film term. Editing. How much is really critical to the gameplay, atmosphere, player experience, storyline, and so forth and how much is simply dead weight? Do we give games a free pass for having this kind of bloat simply because we can choose not to engage it?

    Great comment, lots to consider there.

  12. Save some of this for when I tear into open world games, OK?

    There is a good point here about smaller, “capsule” narratives…a really good point, actually. But I think your idea of robbing “us”(who?) of content is sort of jumping the gun.

    Also, I think that “if you don’t like it, don’t do it” is a cop-out. That’s not valid criticism of games as a creative medium, that’s a personal choice.

  13. I love big worlds to explore too, don’t get me wrong.

    But here’s an example of how suggestion- rather than empty content- can create a sense of wonder and exploration. When I was playing one of the Metroid Prime: Corruption, there’s that great sky city part (can’t remember the name of it, shoot me if you must). You can look off of one of the platforms and you can see other platforms that you can’t get to because it’s just not in the scope of the game or the narrative. I found myself thinking “I wonder what’s over there?”

    Now, if I had been able to go over there and there wasn’t really anything there beyond maybe an energy tank and and some bad guys, it would have been hugely disappointing.

    I appreciate that games like the Bethesda titles give you a lot of chances to wander and immerse you in their settings…one of my favorite gaming moments is in Oblivion and as soon as you get out of the prison, you’re outside and there’s a dungeon. You can go in it if you want, and then you’re in this side-quest exploration. Or you can ignore it and follow the story. I like that, but there’s also something tangible and meaningful in the dungeon (items, character development, atmosphere, and so forth)- not just something hollow like an achievement or checking off something on a task list.

    I totally disagree with you on Mass Effect 2, I think throwing out a lot of the fiddle-faddle and empty mechanics improved the game tremendously, particularly its focus on character and story over numbers and stats. There’s PLENTY to do, including _actual roleplaying_ instead of numbers-tweaking. But we’ll save that for later.

  14. Arguably, couldn’t it be said that it’s not the length of the game, but the implementation of the mechanics that makes you like it? Instead of saying “I don’t like long games” shouldn’t you say “I don’t like games where the story doesn’t keep me engaged” or “I don’t like games that feel like they’re filled out”?

    Now, to continue the tasty analogy, I’m glad you enjoy your fancy pants organic pizza, but I like my 5 dollar filth. It’s fantastic for you that all the cheap pizza joints are closing down and being replaced with all organic Italian eateries. However, we both live in Computer Games City, and I can’t get what I want anymore. Those other people who complained Vanquish was short? They’re watching their favourite cheapo pizza joints closing too.

    Where the hell am I supposed to get my pizza? Everyones becomeing organic pizzarias. Likewise, you can take your short campaigns, but the vast, vast majority of games are going the route of the short campaign. Thats rubbish for someone like me who can’t afford many games very often, and likes bloated games with lots to do purely because it goves me time to save for the next game.

    I’ve bought more games this generation purely because I’ve finished everything I feel is worth doing over a weekend, rather than a fortnight.

    As for fighters, sports titles and online FPS games being in some special different league, I don’t think they are. All that is is elongated multiplayer. I don’t like playing with other people. Other people are jerks. It may be an all-you-can-eat buffet, but guess what, when I’m full, I’ll walk the hell away, just like with every other game.

    With yearly sports titles, Blizzards overhyped games (Yes, they are overhyped. Blizzard could box their own entrails and people would swear it’s amazeing) and companies makeing a crap FPS storyline and going “Meh, it’s fine. They’ll just play multiplayer anyway” (All I ever hear from CoD fans is “It’s all about the multiplayer!” so why the hell is there a single player campaign at all then? Go MAG or go home.) I had my fill many, many years ago, and if I stay at this buffet, I think i’ll just vomit.

  15. The good news is that you can still get your long games, and ideally you don’t need that many anyway. If you’re playing a Bethesda game for 100 hours, then that’s what, five other games that you don’t need to buy, correct? Skyrim should probably keep you satisfied for a good long time…I’m looking forward to it myself, particularly because your class is generated by how you play the game- meaning that all of that peripheral content can actually emerge as part of the gameplay, not as pre-game menu choices.

    To be clear, if a game has content and narrative to back up its length, then that’s fine. If a game has filler content to make it longer than it should be, that’s not fine. Dragon Age: Origins needed to be long because you had all of these character arcs, storylines,and passages that had to develop and be resolved. I don’t mind that I put 47 hours into that (and that’s a short playthrough by some accounts).

    But I’m completely against games padding out content with shit like rooftop races, flowerpicking, orb collecting, and whatnot. I think that’s great if you’re looking for a buffet-style collection of minigames, not so great if you’re looking for a great story and focused gameplay.

    The financial argument is probably the most honest here. If you can’t afford or simply don’t buy many games, then it’s much less egregious to play a game and it be filled with busywork and minigames. If I were 14-15 years old I’d want games to be 100 hours long myself. But I’m 35. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford whatever games I want, and since I’m involved in games writing (and also because I just love games), I try to play almost everything that comes out. When something comes out that’s mostly filler, it’s more of an issue for someone like me, I’m sure.

    I am totally for extended play modes though, let’s be clear. I love that Arkham Asylum had a great 10-12 hour campaign and then the value was enriched by all of the stealth and combat challenges. Likewise, Bulletstorm was eight or so hours but the Echoes mode gives you PLENTY to do after that without resorting to shallow content or minigames.

  16. Awww, but I liked picking flowers in Red Dead.

    And yeah, I’m really glad that Bethesda and Rockstar still make long games with loads of random extras, but the issue I have is tht less and less people are makeing them. I’ll have Skyrim for the 100 odd hours that’ll be in it, but if I play my games for maybe 8 hours a day (When I have free days it can go up to double that. i have no connection to tv in my house. No cable, none of those netflix services america has, literaly just gameing) there’s no guarentee there’ll be games for me after that.

    There used to always be something, but not anymore.

    Also, I’m 22. I honestly feel sorry for any 14-15 year old in Ireland throwing down his 50 odd euros on a new game only to get a few hours of gameplay back.

    I’ve put 75 euros away for Homefront. It’ll get me the game, and whatevers left over will go on house bills. I know it won’t be long, but there’s nothing else until May 20th and LA Noir for me.

  17. Dang, my son…8 hours a day, 16 at peak? That explains your preference for these kinds of games, for sure! Plus, being married, owning a home, having a kid, and those kinds of things inevitably makes extremely long games less desirable as well.

    I game anywhere from one to five hours a day, so if I’m putting in 100 hours on a game, then I’m playing it for _weeks_. Possibly months, but doubtful anything would keep my interest for that long.

    I do understand the difference for kids…it’s one of the reasons why Pokemon games are popular with them…they’re like a million hours long with so much to do.

    The flower picking…save that for the open world article too. Short form- you don’t craft a cohesive Western story and then trail off into collecting flora for countless hours. Of course, you don’t write a scenario where the main character is a former bad guy trying to go good and let him kill hookers and slaughter countless people with a gatling gun, either…more later!

  18. Looking at the kinds of games on the market in the last few years, many of them have been very cinematic. They are, by no means, at the ideal level you are probably looking forward to, but you do have games like Heavy Rain, Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid, God of War, etc., that are heavily cinematic and are obviously influenced by films.

    I want to ask, how important is it for games to be cinematic? Do all of them need editing?

    Movies can create stories. From simple adventures to complex narrative, um, motherfuckers(i’m pretty wired so i couldn’t find a word here). What movies can’t ever do is create worlds. They can’t place the audience inside themselves, and have them even attempt to live in those worlds. Thus movie audience can only have vicarious experiences, at best.

    Games are unique in that they can create experiences unlike movies, and I think we should value that over how close they can approximate movies. We can see how awkward games can get when they try: in order to be more cinematic they have to take control away from the player which can get annoying(Metal Gear Solid) or they try to compromise and give some “control” back via “quick time events” (God of War).

    Most people can admit that Fallout is FAR from realizing its own world that’s totally believable/coherent/consistent and interesting, but it seems to, at least, try and leverage the opportunities, for such a world, this medium provides. Some games do this better than others obviously. While the world outside your missions in GTA IV is mostly chaff, Deadly Premonition (i know, i know, but bear with me) actually has a very interesting world that, while full of idiosyncrasies, will let you in on all sorts of background info that very often contributes to your(the player’s) understanding of the characters and their motivations in the story, and is totally optional.

    I like that in Fallout everything you do is like your own little vignette. At least to me, the point of the game was to tell these small tales and that there is no grand narrative necessarily but it’s as if the game’s saying “c’est la vie dans le wasteland.”

  19. No, I don’t think it’s important for all games to be cinematic, but I do think that there’s a lot that games can learn from films. I do agree that games that have more cinematic aspirations need a certain level balance, but I’ll tell you that even though MGS4 was heavy on the non-interactive cinematics, it kept me interested because what was there was compelling and highly directorial.

    But I like platformers, shmups, all kinds of definitely non-cinemeatic games, so that’s not the issue really. I’m questioning whether the tools that we’re supposedly given to “create our own content”, effectively, are meaningful. Perhaps the in-depth magic system of Oblivion is, but I’d argue that the silly minigames and diversions in most Rockstar titles are not.

    Totally agree with you on Deadly Premonition…but I would argue that it almost purposefully parodies modern design filler. A fishing game? Really? But it’s biggest failing was there was too much of it. 20 hours or more of that was just doing it to death.

  20. See, I thought the RDR stuff was an integral part of making it an actual ‘Western’. You’re out in the world, on your own, carving your path as Man against Nature. It’s an important trope to the story that was upheld in the gameplay, independent of the necessary/mandatory story….now, the fact that they focused so much on picking flowers is a bit much, but the general idea of it worked. There is a point in that they didn’t give compelling enough reasons for you to venture out on your own and things to do short of picking up flowers, slaughtering and skinning the countryside and stopping one of the billion robberies per day, but wandering off the beaten path and catching the sunrise over the horizon in solitude was an important piece of the experience for me.

    Perhaps it falls to what I’m forcing onto my character, but I think the freedom to craft my own story in such open world games is generally a massive bonus, you simply need to make it compelling and well-crafted enough to do so. In RDRs case I think it added an important and specific aspect to the crafted Western storyline, while Oblivion lets you craft your story from scratch to create such situations in your head….. but I digress before I write more than the article in the first place! Looking forward to your take on the open world aspect!

  21. That’s an interesting point, but that really isn’t so much of a core theme in Western cinema, which the game is REALLY trying to aspire to- particularly when the proposed theme is about change, morality, and the passing of the West. Survivalism is definitely a key tenet of Frontier narratives though, so I think I can buy that.

    I do like your take on it, and I can see where that would sell it for you. For me, it diluted the strength of the story and character and it felt like needless bloat and empty length.

    Also, I think you might have inadvertantly reinforced my point, in that you simply don’t have a compelling reason to do it or if you, it peters out. That whole “too long” issue again, really.

    Definitely agree about the sunrise- RDR was a game of moments for me, and that was a great one.

  22. I’m with you on it really I think. I’m pretty sure it was saved by not requiring you to do it at all, but by the same token that made it too obviously superfluous other than the ‘passing of the torch’ moments. Perhaps if you could only pick a certain type of flower for health or as they were your wife’s favorites and you’d get a wistful look after picking them up to give to her when you meet back up it would have been more poignant, happened less often as a result and given less reasons to feel like padding.

    It does add back to your point really, but with the caveat that there are good ways to effectively pad the experience where the extras can feel like an important piece of the puzzle if done well or at least have some basis for being done. It meets the latter of the requirements and even if it doesn’t really meet the first it comes close enough to get a thumbs up at the effort for me….even if I’m excusing it based wholly on my own faulty perceptions of reading too much into it.

  23. I think there are interesting points that you’re both making. But they aren’t quite the same…

    Mr. Barnes wants tighter narrative experiences crafted with more deft motivations and urgency in mind. While dragomort is arguing for a more dynamically crafted story where his actions determine the focus of the narrative. I think they’re both valid pursuits… the trouble is that RDR doesn’t do either with particular grace. There is a compelling story, but pacing that story in an open world is difficult. And while the game lets you craft moments, it’s a dead world that doesn’t really care to remember your past moments – even when it was part of the main plot. And holy-hell they could have made Mexico less giant. John be a farmer trying to save up money when he had thousands upon thousands of dollars was a hard pill to swallow. I say this as someone who really, really enjoyed RDR but wanted it to be more hardcore.

    I wanted to really have to take care of my horses. Horses shouldn’t have been so disposable. I wanted to hydrate in the desert… really push the survivalist envelope… but that’s another discussion.

  24. I’m in the, I’m mostly with you camp. I play about as much as you do, so I’m totally with you on the desire to not have to commit to a 40+ hour campaign for a game that I’m excited about. Getting 3 nutritious gaming session out of a game is plenty for me.

    The one point that I think needs further discussion is price and value perceptions. The idea of value is insanely weird… once you break out of the console garden… that $60 somehow magically changes? Then it’s an absurd amount of money? An iPhone game couldn’t possibly cost that much. That’s really a different point than I want to discuss… so let me be more clear:

    I take issue with perception that games are suppose to maintain some sort of high dollar-to-minute-of-entertainment ratio. I totally appreciate people wanting to get a lot of bang for the buck. Those titles should exist for that market! But the idea that it’s fair to cry foul on a game that provides a much denser, tightly designed experience with more raw awesome-per-minute but for much less time is ludicrous. I do think there are expectations that need to be framed beforehand. It’s important for games to be honest on what they’re going to deliver, or they going to get very justifiable complaints in this regard.

    We don’t judge other forms of art and entertainment by raw length as much as we do games. A good television mini-series isn’t panned because it’s not a full season. A good 90 minute movie doesn’t get bashed because it’s not Lord of The Rings epic. A novella doesn’t get knocked for not being Harry Potter.

    That sentiment doesn’t take in to account price, and I acknowledge that. Games are more expensive, but they’re also more expensive on average to produce. There are more people involved for more time. They’re going to cost more. Gamers have such strong opinions about what they want games to be and how they want them that they take on the naive position that the games they like will stop being made if they aren’t only made that way. You’re still going to get your monster open worlds with 100+ hours of content and DLC-then-some. People want them. They make lots of money making these things. But Mr. Barnes is right: They can be made less filler-y by making the content more relevant. There is also room for games that don’t take as much time but pack more punches and cost just as much to make.

    And because he’s right: Anthony Birch’s Rev Rant on Donations

  25. Totally agreed, Michael. Give me a Recettear or a Brutal Legend or an Ico any day, over a certain filler-packed “epic” RPG in a generic space opera setting.

  26. I agree especially with open world games. While I might be alone in that thought, I personally am done with the newest GTA or Fallout after about 20 hours. It’s not because I beat it, it’s because I’m sick of playing it. Maybe those games aren’t my cup of tea, but I think if they gave me less crap to do and focused more on the story I’d get a lot more enjoyment out of them. I guess I could just do the story, I don’t know.

    But I have to say I love the traditional RPG grind, I have spent way too many hours of my life walking in circles getting in random battles or trying to make chocobo’s have sex and then racing them. Then there is the literal 30+ days I have spent on WoW, never reading the story just killing things.

  27. I capped out with 155 before I could take out Mother Brain with the team I wanted. ***Spoiler Alert*** Michael, did you cry when Nei died, or did you just yell at the TV? I did both. I was 12.

    I’m 33 and I love longer games, but agree about the investment reward. I have a kid too, and I only choose to play a dozen games a year, most of them are the very long Bethesda, Bioware, Rockstar style games, because that is my thing. Each takes me about a month. I can see how playing a game for 100+ hours would seem miserable to some people. I remember beating Heavenly Sword after 8 Hours, and I didn’t feel too jipped at the $60 I spent on it, which would have been around $8 per hour. It was short, but cinematic, and had a lot of character depth. I paid the same for Fallout New Vegas, and had 130 hours into it before I decided to wrap it up. So around 50¢ per hour. But I did so many unnecessary things, like decorate the tables and shelves with food and supplies, and reverse pickpocket better gear in the Followers of the Apocalypse headquarters, because they were my peeps. Essentially flower collecting in my own way, but it was fun, so why not if I have the time? It would have been miserable for me to spend 20 hours tearing through that title, because I know how much more I could immerse myself in, even if it was just collecting, which is a gimmick, but a lot of gaming elements could be considered such depending on your perspective. However, it would have been equally miserable to me to drop another $60 on an FPS title with no main story *cough* CoD MW2 *cough*. I don’t apply the math to the cost per hour when I buy games mentioned above, because that is silly, it is just an example. I apply the happiness per hour formula, which is intangible, and varies person to person. Short but amazing? Maybe. Long and Epic? Definitely. Only because I can make the time to do so, at the expense of other titles.

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