Sometimes, the game changes

18 August 2008

I wrote a response in a comment on Leigh Alexander’s post at Sexy Videogameland on the “Four Month Bell-curve”, and felt it only fair to reproduce it here, given it’s touching on some ideas I’ve been batting around for a while. And, also, because back before we had comments, we used to respond to each other like this.

Well, sometimes the problem [with the drop-off in interest after you play a game after launch] is that the game changes.

With GTAIV, there are three phases to the player’s relationship with the city. To begin with, you have the shock-of-the-new: a whole world you’re washed up in, lost, just like Niko. You empathise with how lost Niko is, and you slowly learn to love Liberty City.

The second phase is feeling like you fit in – you know the shortcuts, you don’t always need the GPS, and you take pride in every minute you shave off journey time. This is what it felt like a while after moving to London – I felt native, rather than fumbling around like a tourist.

And then you hit this final phase, where you’re no longer even thinking about the neat shortcuts; you’re just picking up the mission, going where you gotta go.

That’s just commuting. And GTAIV turns into commuting about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through, really. I still love the city, but man, it feels like work.

I’ve recently started World of Warcraft, and bits of that game turn into commuting very, very fast – even though I’m still going “wow” at all the new locations my friends charge through.

I don’t know; I think there’s something about the higher fidelity that makes me concentrate on the artifice to begin with, and only when I tire of the artifice is the game stripped back to raw mechanics.

To use your Sonic example – the distance between the raw mechanic and the artifice is much smaller than say, in GTAIV or Bioshock – and so the “commuting” phase never really kicks in. The game is so focused on making you enjoy the act of being in it, stripping away unnecessary walking between Acts or menu interfaces… it’s an easy game not to tire of. By contrast, I find I tire of games more easily than I used to.

But there’s still joy to be had going back. I went back to Bioshock a few weeks ago and have ploughed through the final 75% of the game – and am about to finish it. I’m really enjoying it, and I think being a way from the hype cycle has helped that. I’m looking forward to doing the same to GTA in the near future.

And, in the meantime, I’ve found staying out of the bellcurve – the hype cycle, if you like – has helped me enjoy games like never before. It’s lovely to be surprised by a new game – something we miss out on a lot now.

1 comment on this entry to date.

  • 18 Aug 2008
    Yoz said... 1

    I’m on the final GTA4 mission now, and I still don’t feel like I ever *learnt* the city – sure, I recognise bits all the time and remember some routes, but I still use the routefinder for everything. As for commuting, being able to forget about driving and just take cabs (nearly) everywhere is one of GTA4’s best features. (And the use of the same button to both hail and hijack a cab is one of its worst.)

    That said, I’m not sure right now that I’ll ever complete the game. Not only is the final mission by far the silliest, with some of the worst dialog, but it takes 20 minutes to get to the point where a half-second mistake (bike missions, doncha luv ‘em) means you have to do the whole thing over again. Given that my other favourite game of the moment lets me undo a mistake with a 2-second press of the X button, my tolerance may have been stretched to breaking point.

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