Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Experience Points Podcast #1: Finishing Games

Here it is, at long last, the first Experience Points Podcast. We have done away with the script style news posts and are embracing the future of recorded voice! Each Wednesday we'll be posting what we think is a podcast of reasonable length, usually a half hour or less. Since this is a new endeavor, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please let us know either by commenting or emailing ExperiencePoints[at]gmail[dot]com.

The podcast will be in our normal feed which you can subscribe to on the right. An iTunes subscription option will be available shortly. You can also download the MP3 file by right clicking the title and selecting "save link as." Listen to the podcast by left clicking the title.

This week we discuss Tom Endo's article "To Do: Finish Any Game" published in the Escapist. Endo writes about the phenomenon of unfinished games and speculates on some reasons why players put down their controls. We join in on the conversation with our own thoughts and potential solutions. Thanks for listening and Happy Thanksgiving!

Show Notes:

- Run time: 31m 44s
- Tom Endo's Original Article
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. It's amazing how much our opinions on matters such as these differ in our small circle of friends. Personally, if I am playing a game, that probably means that I am quite confident that I am going to enjoy the game. One of my criteria when buying games, though, is the length of the game. And I don't mean that it can't be too long, I mean that it has to be long or I typically won't be interested. If I don't get a minimum or 20 hours of gameplay from a game, I tend not to be satisfied. Why would I spend $40-$60 dollars on a game that I can beat in a weekend? Sure, there are always exceptions, but it's a general rule of thumb for me. For example, being a new DS owner, the first games I bought were FF Tactics (A2), FF III, and Phantom Hourglass. The game I will end up beating first is Phantom Hourglass, having already logged a significant amount of hours into it (despite the fact that it is shaping up to be the shortest Zelda games of recent times, though I guess that's no surprise because at the end of the day it's still a handheld game).

    I figure that if the story is not good enough to keep me hooked, then the game is not worth it. Since RPGs are my favorite games, I'm clearly not going into games expecting crazy new fighting systems or anything of that sort. I'm well aware that the majority of my time playing the game will be spent pressing the A button constantly to select "fight," curing myself when needed, and learning new skills to make battles go quicker. It doesn't sound exciting, but that hasn't stopped me from logging 100+ hours on games like FF Tactics, FF VII, and good god, I can't even speculate how many hours I've spent on Chrono Trigger (unless I'm mistaken, it is generally agreed upon that there are approximately 15 endings, I made a point of getting them all).

    There will always be a place in my heart for my favorite short attention span games like the Madden series, NHL '94, Ken Griffey Jr. Present Major League Baseball, or even shooters like Call of Duty, or a classic like Goldeneye, but at the end of the day, I will only pay for the games that guarantee me a long, epic journey along the way.

  2. Oh interesting. I don't normally listen to Podcasts because if I do, I can't do anything else (like read) otherwise I will just distract myself from them.

    I will listen to this one however, because it's a Podcast I can actually listen to from the start and also because it's short.

    Oh and maybe because you guys are behind it. Maybe... ;)

    Impressions when I've heard it.

  3. First and foremost, thank you for having a shorter Podcast. As I mentioned before I struggle to listen to them because I can't do anything else while doing so, so spending an hour essentially looking at the wall while I listen to one isn't as fun or interesting experience as it could be. A shorter one is much easier to handle and as such, it was a pleasure to listen to this one.

    Secondly, I kind of took notes during the Podcast so if I go off on multiple tangents, I apologise. Right, now onto my thoughts.

    One of the examples from Endo's article and something you guys discussed was repetition - generally of game mechanics - and how lots of repetition can lead to a player getting bored and therefore obviously not wanting to continue on with the game. I found it interesting to read/hear about it because, well I can understand it. JRPGs were mentioned a lot in the Podcast and for good reason with (some) games requiring some hours spent grinding just to pass a hard boss or whatever. I can definitely understand how players can get bored with this and then stop playing as a result, however while I get bored with it too, my completionist trait (if you will) sees me put up with the boredom because I know that the end result will be a completed game. It is irrelevant as to whether it's a JRPG or not, with every game I play I try and work out what I think I can finish and then focus on doing exactly that, finishing it. If it means playing on higher difficulties, collecting things or grinding for 5 hours straight just for the one battle, then so be it. I've mentioned my completionist side in some of my other comments so I won't repeat (heh, irony given the subject) myself here, but what I will mention is the interesting experience I had playing Eternal Sonata recently. I don't know if you guys still visit my blog or not, but on it I briefly mentioned how much of a chore it was to play through it twice in order to collect every item and obtain the achievements. The first playthrough was fine and the little grinding needed I didn't have a problem with, but that second playthrough was very hard to finish and it wasn't just because enemies' defense stats and strength were increased. Motivation to grind the hell out of it so that I had a chance of beating the bosses and etc. was very little to say the least and it awakened me (if you will) to some of the crap I do go through to finish these games. As I think was mentioned in the Podcast, we don't need to do it and can stop at any time so just why do I put up with it? I guess that might be a subject for a blog post rather than a (already long) comment, though.

    Another thing brought up was, as adults, the lack of time we have compared to our childhoods as well as the possibility that we play more. I absolutely agree with the latter one and at times feel like we are far too spoilt as gamers for our own good. Holiday period rush of games or not, we always have a quality game to play somewhere and if it's not a new release then it's an old classic that we have wanted to play but haven't gotten around to yet. Looking at November alone, I bought 8 games and am absolutely having a problem trying to balance them all at once. When you realise that these are big games like Fallout and Fable, that's a lot of time needed to spend in games and again, as an adult, time that is harder to find now than it was in the past. I actually think the amount out there to play is a bigger issue than our lack of time, because, really, I think that if a game is good enough then we will find the time to play it. Even if that is eventually.

    The other main topic I wanted to comment on was the comparison of games to TV shows and as an extension, episodic gaming. Reading the various blogs and websites that I do, the Games vs Film comparison comes up a lot. Yet everytime I read these comparisons, I have always felt that a comparison to TV was a much more apt one and it is generally speaking because of length. A movie is 2-3 hours, a game is double that or more and a season of a show is, by the end of it, generally around the same time as a game is. There are other reasons why I feel the Game vs TV comparison is apt, but again, blog post rather than comment. On the episodic thing though, I do think that something like Portal or Alone in the Dark (both mentioned in the Podcast) is a good thing in terms of having chunks of gameplay/narrative, split into time frames that are easier to allow into our already busy lives. Due to interactivity though, it is of course harder to split a game (where the experience could be unpredictable) into chapters than it is to do the same for TV, or even film which is of course passive and therefore a directed experience. I do hope the idea is explored more in the future though, even if it means learning from past mistakes (arguably, Alone in the Dark). When episodic gaming is thought of though, it is usually with Sam and Max and/or Half Life's extended episodes and sometimes I feel that maybe that is the wrong sort of definition we should be aiming for.

    Anyway long comment is long, which is nothing unusual coming from me. A few more things I wanted to touch on - Not trying to defend the game here because I agree with what was said in the Podcast, but I for some reason remember someone who worked for Bungie explaining something about nailing 30 seconds of gameplay and then fleshing that 30 seconds out into a full game experience. It explains why Halo's last level was/is a lot like the first and also why the three games haven't really evolved too much, but it's still an interesting thing to think about nonetheless.
    I miss being able to play through games more than once (unless I have to for completion purposes), with 30 runs through Metroid Prime being something I am proud of. I'm a Metroid fanboy though, so make of it what you will. As for justifying a game's cost by how long the experience is, I don't think that's a good thing to be doing. I mean, I can understand it because money doesn't grow on trees and so on, but to me, if a game is good enough then the purchase will be justified regardless of whether it was 3, 6, 12, or 50 hours long. Examples could be the aforementioned Portal, something like ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, or games like Oblivion, Fallout and GTA where some people are happy to spend hundreds of hours with.

    Alright, enough rambling from me. I swear it must be hard for you two to read my comments. :P


  4. @Eric

    I sympathize somewhat with your hours/value concerns. However, I've found that my tastes have changed to be fine with a short game that is densely packed with content (like Bioshock).


    Thanks for all those thoughts Steven. I think you're right to note that ideal game length varies based on why/how a person plays games. Completeists may want longer games than tourists.

    I also like the idea of changing the way episodic content is produced. I too think there is a lot of potential for innovation here.

    Ain't nothin' wrong with being a Metroid fanboy. Prime 3 is sitting on my shelf, beckoning as we speak. ;-)

  5. I'm afraid I am suffering under a games overdose that has left my Sunday-lazyhazy brain with little to say beyond the fact that I enjoyed this small conversation.

    If anything, one thing to contemplate is not just the age of the gamers, but the plethora of options available. As more games flood the libraries of possible games I could pick up at any given time, certain ones will appeal more. Because games are a 'common' form of 'pop' entertainment, I do wonder what this means for constructing a games canon (it's inevitable, I feel), and whether we'll see a schism as we do in comics and films (auteur/artistic versus commercial appeal). In this case, it appears the former might lend themselves (because of budget) to being completed more often by those who wish to discuss the full experience. I also see these having more freedom to move within the realms of providing material to be discussed in intriguing manners.

    Another aspect of this that intrigues me is achievements, especially as from what I've seen, many games have one for actually finishing or completing a game. Unlike with books, movies, et cetera, we're advertising our progress these days. While there exist those who do not, I think there are still a fair amount that will use this as a measuring stick.

    Hopefully that made sense.

  6. @ Steven

    Thanks for listening and leaving your comments. If you want to get in more podcasts, as there are plenty of decent ones, I recommend listening to them while playing a casual game. As for achievements and finishing games, I can't imagine it helps much. Those who are "achievement whores" likely do a cost-value analysis and simply get the most achievement points possible, which means playing shorter games.

    @ Denis

    The idea of a schism is an interesting one, but it may already exist. This might be what so many gamers are scared of when referring to casual vs hardcore. If casual starts to include short games pandering to low attention span, the outcome may be frightening who want an in-depth experience.

  7. @ Jorge, For the most part, you would be right. Whatever can get them the most points, the fastest, is usually what those people will play.

    I would call myself an 'achievement whore' as well, but as I have mentioned before that is tied in to my completionist side of things more than anything else. That is why, when I get my PS3 (might be sooner than I thought too!), Trophies will be mine as well... ;)