In the Monday Musings I try to talk about the stuff that’s happening in the world of Game Development, from interesting game releases, to interesting technology, and game business happenings.
With Regulator City currently in a mass-test session over at Gameround.co and a wide range of reviews and feedback coming in, it made me look more into how games have changed since the early days of me being a young gamer, and today’s games
Games were tougher
So, sit down youngling, and let me tell you how it used to be in the early days of video games. Just for context here, “home computers” were comparable to our current door-bells. Very little processor power, very little memory, but big aspirations!
Games created for devices like the Spectrum 48k, Commodore 64, the NES, and other 8-bit wonders started out very small, but have been growing in size ever since. Bigger game worlds, more characters, more gameplay twists and plots and better and more powerful graphics and sound design.
Now to get to the actual point of this: one of those things that simply didn’t fit into the old games was tutorials. There was no memory available to give all that information to the player in a good way. That’s also the reason games came with paper manuals, and later they turned into complete books!
The best games could do was give you a quick instruction text, and some information on which keys to use (although even that didn’t happen with all games).
A worthy time investment
As a player you sometimes had to put in a lot of time just to figure out how to move around in the game, and then figure out what to do in the game. I’ve played many games where I was just not getting passed the first screen or level for a couple of hours, or it took me a lot of game-play time to figure out that those difficult jumps I was doing had a much easier solution namely: a double jump – if only I had a tutorial!
The thing is, that we also didn’t have that many games compared to now. So if I finally got myself a new game (once every few months) I was very determined to actually LEARN that game and complete it or get the highest score possible. I couldn’t just give up and try the next game in my vast library, because there simply wasn’t anything new to play.
So even tho games would sometimes be a big investment of time, just to learn how to play it properly, it was a worthy investment. It was simply the only way to learn and play games, and get good at them.
Room to explain, but no time
These days, there’s a lot more room available for games to take you by the hand, and teach you the ropes. Like literal room: more memory, more data, more of everything.. except time!
As game developers we now have the resources available to create lengthy tutorials, animated information screens, special levels that exist only to show you the way of the game. And over the many years we have been using those resources to do exactly that: the the player by the hand, and make sure they aren’t leaving before they fully understand the game!
With so many games available, you really need to grasp the player and you can’t have them get frustrated or bored at early stages of the game, because they will leave to another game in their library and never come back.
We are lazy gamers
Now the “dangerous” part of this article, I’m gonna say it: Players… are.. lazy! “We” (because I’m also a player, not just a developer) gotten lazy and we don’t want to invest time to learn the basics of a game. We want to be guided through the basics, we want to reach at least the mid-way point of a game before we really are invested in it and want to figure out if there are other things we can perhaps do in the game world.
Find our path towards the end of a level? Sure, but at least give us some path markers, or maybe some NPC’s to run ahead of us towards the right direction. Want me to climb up a hill? Better mark that hill with some bright colors and add a bunch of pointers in the area around it showing me where to go.
Can I perform multiple cool actions? I’m not going to figure this out during the game, you better give me a little area to practice these, like a room with things that can not kill me!
Change with the times
As a game developer, I still design my games and the line “the player will figure this out” plays in my head many times. I might add a special power to characters that you need to charge before you can use it, and I think “it will be clear that the bar fills up when they grab this type of item” .. right?
Wrong! In current games we need to try and explain all those things in detail to the player. For my “old gamer” heart it still feels like players have gotten lazy. But I think it’s also a bit of a simple way of looking at it. And yes, when I play the big AAA games I usually play them on the easiest mode because I want to fully experience the story and all the areas the game has to offer. So I also understand it from the player’s point of view.
In recent years I frequently, during development, try to tell myself that the gamer should be able to fully enjoy my game, or else I’m failing myself. I’m creating these worlds, these experiences, and then I should hold the player by both hands to guide them from start to finish. So make a challenging game, but also make sure the player doesn’t get frustrated by it but enjoys the challenge.
Games have changed since the early games in the 80’s but the goal is still the same: make them a fun experience!