Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Playing The Game vs Playing A Game

Ready? Let's talk some MORE about this week's favorite topics: comparing The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. This time, we'll focus on the gameplay. No story spoilers, so don't worry. Some gameplay spoilers, though.

When I was playing Bioshock Infinite, I was annoyed by people who found the combat to be interesting or exhilarating. See, even on hard mode I found the combat to be a cakewalk. I looked at the difference between how they played and how I played, and I found that they didn't use any of the exploits I discovered ten minutes into the game. People kept saying "swarm of crows is great, it distracts people" and "if you combine X and Y then Z happens" and "those giant mech men are really dangerous!"

To be clear, I never found out any of that, because I just used possession against crowds, flanking against minute men, and strafing against mechanical men. These three tactics made combat extremely easy. I only died when the game changed the rules on me, usually without explaining. I discovered the exploits and it made the game's level of gratuitous violence boring in addition to disgusting.

Now, in The Last of Us, I am dying a lot. In fact, in most of the significant encounters, I literally plan on dying, and use my first few lives just scouting out where the arbitrary trigger events are. I've gotten so sick of The Last of Us' instant-death failure states that I just assume, any time any combat starts, that the game is going to kill me over and over until I memorize the proper routes. Each time I only lose perhaps 30 seconds of effort thanks to the incredibly forgiving autosave feature - which frequently autosaves in the middle of a sequence and will actually reset me to a more advantageous position than the one I was actually in. Dying can actually be advantageous.

This totally ruins the game for me. I understand the theory that zombie apocalypse gameplay needs to feel tense, and therefore your characters should perhaps feel fragile. But simply resetting ten seconds means that there really is no gameplay. It's just bang your head against the wall until you do a nearly perfect run. It's really fucking boring.

But I got to thinking: what if there's people out there who are acing TLoU the way I aced Infinite? Where I get attacked by two runners only to be instant-killed by a clicker and the respawn screen helpfully insults my intelligence by telling me to move slower, another person might have already figured out the proper use of bricks and molotovs to make the encounter easy. I'm sure there's some possibility there, because I'm constantly wandering around full on every single resource except bullets, so it's clear I should probably be using them. But my method of play is "how about - no, respawn, fuck this. What about - no, respawn, fuck this. If I - no, respawn, fucking borrrrring. Okay, got through. blah."

So I began to think in terms of whether people are playing the game they think they're playing... or if they're playing some other game and cramming that into this game's framework.

My play of TLoU is essentially Metal Gear Solid. I am playing Metal Gear Solid with a zombie skin on it. But that's not TLoU. TLoU's actual play is probably quite different, and perhaps there is some depth that I'm not seeing. I'm not seeing it because TLoU's shitty framework allows me to keep forcing Metal Gear Solid into the framework when it should be taking me aside and saying "hey, um, this game is about using resources wisely, not acing every encounter. Maybe use some of that perpetually-full inventory of molotovs and nail bombs?"

On the other hand, my play of Infinite was basically oldschool Doom combined with god mode (possession). Infinite doesn't need to take me aside and tell me how to play: Infinite needs to put up barriers against my using exploits. While I'm struggling with TLoU and need guidance, in Infinite the game needs to say "you haven't fired any bullets in four hours... maybe there's an exploit I need to nerf so you need to actually play the game."

Everyone plays a different game. Even though the game runs on the same engines, through the same levels, the framework people build up in their mind is different, especially among more casual players. The game they think they're playing is probably a combination of the game that the designers intended and some game the player played last year. This is especially prevalent in open-world games. I don't think I've ever seen two people play Skyrim the same way. Everyone approaches it from a radically different angle... and some glide through on exploits the developers didn't think of, while others hit insurmountable brick walls the developers didn't think of. It's only after you've tried to play through a few times you actually understand the course the game designers thought you'd take.

There's something to be said for the player taking the time to try and understand the game as it is rather than as they assume it will be... but there's even more to be said for the developers making it clear what the game is and not assuming everyone will understand the exact play they had in mind. There's also a lot to be said for developers understanding the range of play styles players might bring in and allowing them to at least partially follow such paths, while still offering your own unique play.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter.


Isaac said...

Not to mention all of the games where the game the developers were making and the game they actually made are two different things.

Isaac said...

That the developers thought they were making, I meant to say.