Being Content with Less Content

I think it’s about time for a random long post about generally nothing since I haven’t really done one since the first post I made, so I’m going to do a bit of a spiel about content in games, specifically games with content coming out of their ass. A large amount of this post will be referencing RIFT (which I haven’t played in a while) but the ideas can be translated to most AAA games out these days.

 

As the years have gone by, data storage systems have grown exponentially. I remember the day my parents went and bought a computer with the salesman spouting claims about the 2GB HDD being “larger than you will ever need”, and he was right for a time, until downloading songs started to become a natural thing. Soon enough that 2GB got filled with songs and other files, and my parents upgraded to a new computer with a 40GB HDD, which was “much larger than you’ll ever need” according to the new salesman. Of course storing video files became the next big thing, and that 40GB filled up fast too. Nowadays the average sized HDD is about 500GB-1TB – which I’m sure a lot of salesman claim will be “more than you will ever need”.

For game developers, this means one thing – more space = more content. You could probably find a picture of the original Doom that is larger in file size than the full game, but you’d be hard-pressed to do the same with newer games – lately games have been hovering around the 8GB mark (although I did recently install Grand Theft Auto 4 which came out to be around 35GB total). Now I know first hand that this isn’t because of the programming, the code hasn’t changed, it is the assets. All of the in game art, sounds, maps and models all contribute to the larger file sizes. This is a good thing however, it allows for prettier landscapes, easier immersion into games, and has resulted in gaming slowly becoming a part of the mainstream. If something looks and feels more real, the mindless drones of the public are more likely to pick it up (disregarding the actual content – see: Call of Duty).

The other side to this is that there is more that can be put in a game. More enemies, more quests, more areas, more puzzles, more everything. It is a major contributor to all the new sandbox games that have been coming out over the recent years. Games like Just Cause 2 (note: awesome game) have content streaming out of their ass. The map is huge. There is so much stuff to find and do, it is mind boggling, not counting the main story line. More and more games like this have been coming out recently with more content, and I’m not sure that I like it.

I noticed recently that I don’t tend to stick to some games for long, while others I can play for hours and hours and not get bored. The ones I play for longer, I eventually get bored of, and the reason for that is too much content. Games like RIFT try so hard to make you keep playing, that they shove patch after patch out with more and more content, so much that you will never be able to actually finish the game, and when you do it is only a matter of time before the next patch to add more new stuff. I can see this being a big selling point for some gamers who spend thousands of hours in the same game, but I’ve come to realise that I’m not that sort of gamer. I like games that can switch their play style at a moments notice, making you think instead of mindlessly mashing your number keys in your pre-determined pattern of buffs-de-buffs-spells-rebuffs, and that is all current MMOs seem to do. Granted I haven’t properly played an MMO since I played RIFT, but I’m pretty sure nothing has changed in that time.

The more I played RIFT, the more I could predict what content was coming next – I noticed that each region was the same as the last, with different terrain and NPCs littering the area. Whenever I got to a new region, I would go hand in the quest that led me there, and pick up the 4-5 quests from NPCs standing around beside the guy I had just visited. All of these quests would be “Kill X amount of Monster-X” or “Collect X amount of X from X” with some irrelevant back-story. No matter how they phrased it, every quest was one of these two types. After completing and handing in these 4-5 quests, I would then pick up the next 4-5 from the same people, complete and hand them in, and be sent off to the next quest outpost in the area. Rinse and repeat 5 or 6 times per region, and that pretty much sums up the levelling for RIFT. After a while the game became less of a game for me, and more “only one more set of quests till the next outpost – maybe the baddies will be a different colour here”. I’m sorry to say to the writers of the game lore, but the stories behind each quest just didn’t matter. I barely read anything on the quests that didn’t have some form of “Go here, do this”. It is disappointing, because I do like to get into the stories of games, but when they become irrelevant due to the huge quantity of the same crap, it just becomes a waste of time.

In comparison, you have games like Portal or Braid. Sure there is a lot less content than games like RIFT, but I enjoy them a lot more, and on occasion can put in the same amount of hours, just for the gameplay and story that goes with it. Both games you can finish in a few hours, but once you do finish them you feel satisfied. There is no need for more content, because everything that is there rounds itself off nicely. The gameplay changes and becomes harder as you go along, require more thinking, and often changes before you realise what has happened, Personally I have played through each of these games at least twice, with Portal being in the 5-7 area – and I would still play them again.

Having a good game is more important to me than having a game that spouts claims of hundreds of hours of gameplay, with 5000 different story lines, 10000 different items and a billion monsters. I would much rather sit down and play a shorter game that is actually good, compared to spending countless hours grinding on pink pig-men just to get the next shiny metal thing for my character to prance about in, only to replaced the next day with something better. Sure these games can become addictive, and you can spend a hell of a lot of time in them, but how much of that time isn’t classed as a waste when you look back on it?

Looking back on my playthroughs of Portal, I can honestly say that none of it was a waste of time, I genuinely enjoyed the game and story each time I played the game. On the other hand when I look back on the countless hours I have spent in (most) MMOs, I can say that a large amount of it was a waste of time. The predictable patterns, grinding, and general repetitiveness of games with “more gameplay” just becomes a blur after a while, and I remember a very small percentage of what I was doing the times I played.

In regards to MMOs, I have come across at least one exception – that being DDO – which I played for a while not long after it went F2P. I found the gameplay in DDO to actually be fun, and I didn’t consider any part of it a grind. The funny thing is DDO didn’t have as much content as today’s top MMORPGs, after a set amount of hours, when your levelling slowed down, you had to repeat quests on more difficult levels to get the experience you needed, and I found this fun. Getting to this point rarely awarded new quests, so you just had to keep going through the ones you had done before, but the repetitiveness didn’t really come off as such, the gameplay made up for it by actually being fun. As opposed to the normal MMORPG formula of spamming your number keys to cast this and that, DDO combat is hack and slash which when done right is annoyingly fun.

As far as I am concerned, this brings a small sliver of hope to the possibility of proper games in the future that aren’t based around the amount of “stuff” they say they have, but rather the gameplay and the stories that go along with it. Concentrate on those two things, and in my opinion it won’t matter how much stuff you have in the game. If it is good enough, people will play it again and again, most likely getting more enjoyment out of those playthroughs of a good game, rather than half of a playthrough of a huge game with cookie-cutter gameplay, and repetitiveness that just feels like a waste of time.

 

If you managed to read through all of that without shooting yourself in the foot, I’m surprised, and would also like to know your thoughts on this idea – so leave a comment below.

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