Wednesday, April 11, 2012

EXP Podcast #167: So Wrong, Yet So Right

We've all played some clunkers in our time, but what what are the roots of a bad game's troubles? Could it be the person at the end of the controller? Could we be doing it wrong? Today, Jorge and I talk about the line between a bad game and a bad player. Inspired by Sean Sands' thoughts about getting a new perspective on games he hasn't liked, we discuss the search for a clear vision. We touch on everything from Kinect Star Wars to Far Cry 2, and have a great time searching for the good in even the most tedious experiences. As always, feel free to jump into the comments with your thoughts!

Some discussion starters:

- Has there ever been a time when you realized you were playing a game "wrong?" What prompted this realization?

- What kinds of things do bad games teach us? Is "bad" more of a relative concept based on popular conventions than an absolute category?

- To what extent should developers guide players toward the standard or "right" way to play?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 35 min 14 sec
- "You're Doing it Wrong," by Sean Sands, via Gamers With Jobs
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. I remember a friend of mine giving up on Thief: The Dark Project because he "couldn't get the hang of sword fighting". I don't think he believed me when I tried to persuade him that the game was all about avoiding sword fighting.

    To be fair, the stealth genre was still in its infancy back in 1998. Thanks to the likes of Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, the average PC gamer had been conditioned to assume that any game presented in the first-person to involve running into throngs of enemies at full pelt, weapons blazing. A game that required you to actively avoid combat seemed absurd.

    To this day I don't think that friend ever returned to Thief, which surprised me given that he was a big fan of System Shock and, later, Deus Ex. Was Thief too ahead of its time? I sometimes feel the game's tutorial trained people to play the game the wrong way. There were a few "get from point A to point B without being detected" lessons, but the tutorial wrapped up with an extended sequence on the use of weapons, particularly the sword. The player would come away having learned about three or four sword moves, how to fire arrows at various distances and anything the tutorial tried to teach them about stealth had become a distant memory.

    Still, one happy byproduct of all of this is that System Shock 2 used Thief's Dark Engine and the stealth systems and enemy AI remained intact, meaning you could play through SS2 as a stealth character, using darkness as your friend, keeping a low sound profile to avoid attracting enemies, etc. The game's narrative never suggested this was possible, pushing you more towards a soldier or psi-based character. Thankfully this didn't escape Irrational's notice, which is why BioShock offers many opportunities for stealth fans too.

  2. Far Cry 2 disappointed me at first. Everything I'd heard about the game ahead of its release suggested this was going to be STALKER: The Safari Years. Instead, we got infinitely respawning checkpoints, geography that herds and funnels you into very specific choke points, enemies that can pick you off with pinpoint precision from several miles away, etc. Basically a game that wasn't as open-ended and non-linear as it led you to believe.

    But a year or so later and I returned to Far Cry 2, no longer weighed down with expectations I'd carried over from the STALKER games, and actually began to enjoy it. Yeah, that respawning was still annoying, but once progress a little and start getting to the more juicier missions, the game starts to feel a lot more open once again. And while it can take a long time to get there, once you get to the second massive geographic area, things really do start to take off.

    I still prefer STALKER, the original Far Cry and Crysis, but once you get into its rhythm, Far Cry 2 becomes a lot more fun to play.

  3. Ridge Racer Unbounded is a fine example of a game that people "played wrong". Eurogamer discuss this in detail, but essentially they failed to include instructions on how the controls were even supposed to work, which led to many people having a frustrating experience until they discovered (or were told) the "correct" way to play it. They were certainly playing the game according to the rules, but without a certain level of knowledge about the game system, it apparently became an unenjoyable experience.

  4. Thanks for mentioning that article Ben. Interesting (and sad) example of how guidance can be a good thing. Ridge Racer as a series sure seems lost in the woods, doesn't it?