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Default bit-tech.net - Dumbing Up Gaming

May 31st, 2008, 18:35
Bit-tech.net posts an article by indie dev Cliff Harris (Positech Games) which asks several worthwhile questions about the framework of modern games, such as " Why do games always cater for the lowest common denominator?" and "…why are so many games treating us all like idiots?" :
You can take a lot of great game ideas, and then dumb then down to the lowest common denominator and make them boring and dull, that's a given. There are some great game ideas though that you just can't dumb down before they fall apart. Right now that means the game doesn't even get out of the starting gate.

I've heard of games flopping because the marketing sucked, budget problems, piracy and poor design but I haven't heard about any big games failing because they were too highbrow. Yet nobody is even trying to make those games…
Here he gives a specific example:
There was a game called Hacker when I was a kid, that my dad was into. I always remember him telling me with great excitement that when you got to a certain part of the game, in France, the game spoke to you in French. No tooltips, no help, you needed to know French. Pre-Internet, this was a considerable stumbling block. My dad bought a French dictionary and kept on playing. He also therefore learned a bit of French. Awesome idea.

You would never ever in a million years get a game like that past a publisher any more, which is a pity because I think there is a group of people out there who would love it. Games challenge our reflexes, our puzzle-solving skills, our memories and our endurance but they rarely challenge our knowledge. Why not? We aren't all drooling idiots.
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May 31st, 2008, 18:35
We all have our breaking point when it comes to complexity of games. Without pointers to the locations of quests some of us would become bored or frustrated in just walking around trying to find the darn thing while others may have increased immersion in not being spoon fed. That's true for all of the "modern conveniences" games have.

I enjoyed the old PC rpg's of the 80's and 90's but when I play Might & Magic III and have to do a lot of work just to swap out an inventory item I can't stand it any more, I'm used to the modern conveniences. I certainly wouldn't want a game in which I had to learn French. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be led by the nose to the resolution of quests. Maybe the ideal is to have a setting within a game on how many of the modern conveniences you want, some games have these settings.
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May 31st, 2008, 18:57
Originally Posted by NFLed View Post
Maybe the ideal is to have a setting within a game on how many of the modern conveniences you want, some games have these settings.
Sadly enough, this usually comes down to everyone choosing the easiest options. Still, I agree with your post - drawing maps on paper could be the ultimate fun for someone, but most modern players would simply hate it and skip the game in a wide berth.

As for the article: no games failing because they were "highbrow"? Maybe I'm oversimplying a bit here, but wouldn't Planescape: Torment be a perfect example of a game which failed because of that? Sure, you could argue it's the bad design throwing so much text at the player, but I really don't think that's the problem.

Still, I'll have to agree with this article; instead of going the "System Shock -> Bioshock" route, we should head in the opposite direction (no examples, sadly enough).
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May 31st, 2008, 19:26
Could somebody please feed this article directly into the minds of high responsibles of ALL major gaming companies ?

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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May 31st, 2008, 23:14
It's the same problem that the movies have. It costs so much to make these things anymore that no one wants to take a chance. Occasionally some independent will make a push in a new direction that ripples throughout the industry, but in general, the corporates just want to make sure they don't lose money.

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May 31st, 2008, 23:28
I don't know if adventure gamers are a different bunch than other people playing games these days, but I played a demo of a game called 'Yormujak's Ring'. The game's language was in Hungarian as the game took place in Hungary; it had - you've guessed it - English subtitles.

The game's developer did a poll on the gameboomer's website to see what we preferred; nearly 70% or 80% of us preferred the game to have Hungarian voices and English subtitles. It just seems more realistic, we (nearly) all agreed…

One of the examples of foing to opposite direction is actually Mask of the Betrayer expansion for NWN2. How MCA got that by Atari, I don't know, bit Mask of the Betrayer is so good that even the rpgcodex loves it. As they do *the witcher*. I even think CD RED project used the 'rpg codex approved' as some sort of marketing ploy or trick.

I'm a bit dazzled as thy Bioware did not try to make up some alien languages in Mass Effect. I would have loved to have learned some Turian or Asari or Krogan words. I know that there are people who are somewhat fluent in Vulcan or in Klingon or even in Tolkien's Elvish.

I agree with the article's intention, though which seems to say that everybody loves a good challenge. I know I do. But is has got to be at the player's level meaning that the player needs to just stretch a little bit to solve that problem or win that fight. The only time recently I had to give up was in BG2 where I had to go
look at youtube video to win a fight.

Another example might be how well (relative wise) the indie game 'eschalon -
book 1' is doing. Having only played the demo, I just pressed on and on and on.
Even if I died 10 or 20 times before slaying the monsters. When I finally slew them, it was like being rewarded big time.

However, I also agree that most of todays (casual) gamers might not want to do this. They just want to sit down and play games to relax and that's fine with me.
Game's are now seen as more of entertainment value than educational or giving people a challenge…

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May 31st, 2008, 23:59
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
I'm a bit dazzled as thy Bioware did not try to make up some alien languages in Mass Effect.
On thge other hand, one of the most well-known movies has it - even only rudimental: Star Wars.

There are English sub-titles for the speech / words of Jabba and of Greedo.

Others are not translated, like the Ewokese language and that of Nien Nunb, the co-pilot (which is said to be in reality an african language, although I don't remember the language's exact name).

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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June 1st, 2008, 00:56
We aren't all drooling idiots.
Bah! Speak for yourself … no, wait

"Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could've been a republic in a dozen moves." - Commander Vimes in Thud! by Terry Pratchett
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June 1st, 2008, 05:59
When an individual has all their basic needs met: food, shelter, companionship, etc. then it seeks a challenge. This is when the individual gets creative and puts their mind to work.

There are games I still play after 15 and 25 years that I haven't solved.

Hackers was one I heard about but didn't hear good things. I mean..why not just hack for real?

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June 2nd, 2008, 16:23
I like the general gist of the article, but buying a dictionary so that you can play a game? That's over the top. Way too much even for me.
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June 2nd, 2008, 20:18
Originally Posted by doctor_kaz View Post
I like the general gist of the article, but buying a dictionary so that you can play a game? That's over the top. Way too much even for me.
Well, now you know why I so rarely bought non-translated English-language games in the beginning of my gaming career.

Still, nowadays English-language are too often better (with speech, for example), than translated games in my own language.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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June 2nd, 2008, 22:23
Well, in my opinion, there are multiple factors when talking about "dumbing down".

Though they might all be related, there are still different names for them. There are conveniences, there is streamlining, and there is overall lack of challenge.

A convenience is rarely a bad thing, in my opinion. As long as it doesn't interfere with the challenge. A good example of a convenience interfering with challenge is the recent Dracula Origin adventure game. It has a feature that enables you to see all points of interaction in each scene - simply by pressing spacebar. Now that sounds harmless enough, but if you understand the genre - you should know that sometimes the famous "pixel hunt" isn't just a pixel hunt. Sometimes you're using your brain to deduce WHERE you should pixel hunt or in what general area you should pixel hunt. It might be a silly little insect you have to interact with, but there's a fine line between the frustrating and mindless pixel hunt and the genuine deduction that leads the player to the obvious point of interaction.

So, if you design your puzzles in a logical manner, I don't see that such a convenience is beneficial, because the gameplay should partially be about knowing where to look.

That's just an example to illustrate my point.

Streamlining is also a kind of convenience - and yet not QUITE the same. For instance, in Deus Ex 2: Invisible War - they decided to make "universal ammo" as we all remember with sadness. Why should the player need to fiddle with different types of ammo when they could just have one-fits-all ammo.

That effectively removed an element of gameplay that - to many - enhanced the immersion and sense of reality. Even if it was just an "illusion" of depth - it added something to the game. At least, many people think it did and I agree.

Another example is Dungeon Siege, where the ever brilliant Chris Tayler decided that players only needed 4 skills to choose from - and all characters focused only on 1 (one!) skill. Now THAT'S streamlining - and this was after Diablo 2 had demonstrated just how entertaining a well-planned and diverse skill system could be. There was absolutely no need to make any kind of development decision because everything increased automatically just by using whatever weapon you wanted.

Then we have just pure lack of challenge. That has nothing to do with how complex, convenient or streamlined a game is - but simply how hard it is. Some games are incredibly simple and streamlined - and yet can be extremely challenging. One example might be minesweeper and another might be playing Call of Duty against hardcore players. In those games it's hardly the interface or the wealth of features standing in the way of victory.

Naturally. there are other elements to consider, but these are probably some of the most typical. I personally prefer games that are very convenient, with little or no streamlining, and with a reasonable challenge level. Given the choice, I'd prefer "hard" over "easy" - but that's highly subjective. I just want whatever challenge level designer had in mind, and as such I'd rather not have to choose between "easy", "medium", or "hard".

Don't even give me the choice.
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June 3rd, 2008, 17:22
The Indiana Jones Adventures had quite a different approach regarding "difficulty" :

- the way of the fists
- the way of the two
- the way of the puzzles

In Indy & Atlantis, each game was indeed a bit different from the other - even so that different locations were visited and different things happened !

In an 3D environment, this is almost pointless, if the environment is free to walk within for everyone.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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June 3rd, 2008, 17:33
As an avid adventure gamer, I like the (new) feature that reveals the hot spots. Us veterans can just decide not to use them while it sort of eases new adventure game fans into the game's mechanics i.e. the puzzle hunts for pixels. I think one of the reasons many adventure games have this feature today simplay is because in the olden days you could move your cursor (or mouse) all over the screen and then still miss the clue or hot spot.

When speaking og Dracula: Origen, the characters will say that they're not finished examining everything…that's a clue so you will know that you need to look some more…

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June 3rd, 2008, 20:28
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
As an avid adventure gamer, I like the (new) feature that reveals the hot spots. Us veterans can just decide not to use them while it sort of eases new adventure game fans into the game's mechanics i.e. the puzzle hunts for pixels. I think one of the reasons many adventure games have this feature today simplay is because in the olden days you could move your cursor (or mouse) all over the screen and then still miss the clue or hot spot.

When speaking og Dracula: Origen, the characters will say that they're not finished examining everything…that's a clue so you will know that you need to look some more…
Sure, I can decide to just not to use it like I can decide to eat healthy or stop smoking.

The feature is meant to be used, and it's as simple as pressing the spacebar.

At least make it an obvious "clutch" option, instead of the intended way of playing.

Not that I think it's a big deal overall, I just don't believe the convenience outweighs the pleasure of figuring stuff out for myself. But it all depends on the kind of hotspots they use, and since they've obviously designed the whole game with this feature in mind, it most likely wouldn't work too well without it.
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