Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane e

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

James Leach asks: should devs cater to grinders, or ig­nore e them?

Nearly ev­ery devel­oper I’ve ever met has also been a great lover of play­ing videogames. It’s ob­vi­ous, re­ally. Love of videogames plus chunk of ta­lent equals job in the videogame in­dus­try. But gam­ing is a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for those who know how they’re made. First off, we love look­ing for im­per­fec­tions. It’s not enough that we make games and peo­ple like buy­ing them; oth­ers make games and we must find their mis­takes and er­rors. I’m not talk­ing about crashes and show-stop­ping bugs. Find­ing those in games is just heart­break­ing. No, I mean the lit­tle things. The bad an­i­ma­tions, the glitches, and, for me in par­tic­u­lar, the mis­read or badly de­liv­ered lines of di­a­logue.

Not only do dev types an­a­lyse ev­ery game, but they play them differently. I have seen AI pro­gram­mers de­feat hordes of NPCs sim­ply by know­ing how their al­go­rithms are put to­gether. It was like watch­ing some­one em­ploy god mode. And oth­ers in­tu­itively un­der­stand short­cuts, tricks and other de­vices in games be­cause if they’d worked on those ti­tles, they’ve had done the same. Some­times it’s as sim­ple as just know­ing where the hid­den col­lectible items are go­ing to be lo­cated. You just know.

Back when I was re­view­ing dozens of games a month, one of the things I had to be good at was get­ting as far into a game as pos­si­ble in the short­est time. Ow­ing to our mag­a­zine dead­lines, we sim­ply didn’t have the lux­ury of days and weeks to fully ex­plore the nu­ances of ev­ery game. Luck­ily, though, these were sim­pler times, and not many games were par­tic­u­larly nu­anced, so it usu­ally worked out fine. As a re­viewer, what was im­por­tant was that, if you some­times couldn’t see all of a game, you had to have seen as much of it as pos­si­ble. It’s ac­tu­ally a bit shock­ing, re­ally. Imag­ine writ­ing a film or mu­sic al­bum re­view with­out hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced it in its en­tirety. But if you have two days in which to turn out 500 words about a game, it’s likely that there are bits of it you will never have seen.

Now, I play games for two rea­sons. The first is that I’m work­ing on them, so it’s got to hap­pen. The sec­ond is that I en­joy them. I love every­thing from the un­box­ing to the rage­quit­ting to the restart­ing to the hope­ful com­ple­tion. Get­ting to see every­thing is a bonus, and I like to think it’s a way of nod­ding some re­spect to the de­vel­op­ers – that what they’ve put in will get ap­pre­ci­ated. (Un­like some of the lines of di­a­logue they should have re-recorded. I’m not too gen­er­ous.)

So while I think I know my way around play­ing and, in a non-cod­ing sense, mak­ing games, I still get sur­prised. I no­ticed that a first­per­son shooter I worked on a while back con­tained a side mis­sion which was far eas­ier than it should have been, and earned the player more points than it war­ranted. I asked about this weird lit­tle anom­aly and it turned out that the mis­sion was there purely so that play­ers who wished to could grind up their points and lev­els. Am I alone in find­ing this shock­ing, as­ton­ish­ing and some­how… wrong? There are mis­sions in games that ex­ist solely to re­ward those who want to max out their points or stats?

I had quite an in­ter­est­ing de­bate with the guys who were mak­ing the game. Should grind­ing be dis­cour­aged? Should it be en­cour­aged? Or per­haps it should be sim­ply ig­nored. I reckon the lat­ter. But it’s odd that I should ac­tu­ally get up­set that we’d put a ded­i­cated grind­ing mis­sion in a game, and yet I’d have no prob­lem if the same game con­tained a se­cret level in which the player couldn’t be harmed. Or, as dis­cussed above, the player could sidestep and man­gle armies of AI-con­trolled en­e­mies by sim­ply learn­ing their be­hav­iour.

The more I think about this, the more un­rea­son­able I think I’m be­ing on this is­sue. Hav­ing a place where peo­ple can grind is not un­like hav­ing a drop-in cen­tre where peo­ple can get clean new nee­dles with which to take drugs. You’re not con­don­ing the druggy/ grindy be­hav­iour by ac­knowl­edg­ing that it ex­ists and pro­vid­ing a safe place where it can take place. If any­thing, it’s a highly en­light­ened and ma­ture at­ti­tude.

Per­haps it’s sim­ply my view of grind­ing that’s the is­sue. It sim­ply didn’t ex­ist when I did the vast bulk of my game play­ing, and, like my fore­fa­thers be­fore me, I take a dim view of any­thing new­fan­gled. In my day you sim­ply had to play for long enough in proper lev­els

and know which crate to de­stroy in or­der to earn your­self a de­cent rail­gun. It’s not like that any more. Mer­ce­nary as­sas­sins to­day re­ally don’t know they’re born.

Hav­ing a place where peo­ple can grind is not un­like hav­ing a drop-in cen­tre where peo­ple can get clean new nee­dles

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