Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
James Leach catalogues his everpresent search for satisfaction
What makes a game satisfying? I mean, some games are astonishing, some are chilling, many are immersive and beautiful, but more than any other attribute, I want to be satisfied. I want a game to engage me and impress me, but more than anything, I want it to feel… right.
Confused? Read on, because I’ve done some thinking here. The first thing that satisfies me is knowing the game world. Actually being told, concisely and, this is just me, with a hint of humour, what the situation is and what I need to do. I want to face a problem to rectify, and to have my imagination fired up so that before anything else happens, I’m thinking of ways to sort it. Even if I’m jumping the gun with my plans, I know that simply wanting to see how I can get my game on and solve things is a good sign. It means that I’ve bought in, and that I’m considering different approaches. A series of tasks presented in order won’t do this, and thus isn’t satisfying. I have to perceive, however erroneously, that I am choosing how to approach the game.
Next, I would like to be surprised. I’d like everything I was previously planning to be thrown into doubt because there’s more to the game than I thought. For example, I was planning to get the tech or weapons, defend, and let them come to me. It turns out I can’t because I have to source the Impossible Crystal. That’s going to take some time, but I know why I need it and off I go. Satisfyingly.
Then I want a massive win. I want to think I’m great at the game because the first battle was easy. My strategies worked and I’m already coasting to victory, and I want this because I know what’s coming. I want to achieve a lot quickly as I know things are properly about to kick off. A game that does this, to my mind, has simply got me into the thick of the action quickly and efficiently. I haven’t had to learn how to walk, run, pick up things and defeat a couple of woodlice. It’s taught me how to do things and given me the idea that I can do them well. Because now it’s getting real and I’m being taken seriously.
And now is not the time for plot twists, NPCs betraying me, falling in love, getting a dog and new game-changing discoveries. Now is when I fight hard in the next bit. Every unlock is worth the struggle, and what keeps me ahead is simply being better and knowing how to play. I’m getting a comfort zone, even if it’s uncomfortable because it’s not easy.
By now my poor, ancient brain has learned the keys, buttons and actions. I’m not fighting the game, I’m fighting the enemy. I know what to do and it’s working. So yes, let’s have more things to face. But I also need the game to be on my side. Not in terms of being easy, but it needs to make what I do work. When I want to pick up things, it’s fine if I’m not directly over them – the game knows what I’m doing and there’s leeway. I can get health when I need, I can bust open crates as I pass in one cool move, and I can direct my armies without having to stop and work out how. Part of this is me, getting faster and better, but it’s also the game knowing that I want to do these things, and letting me with the minimum of fuss because the foe is surrounding me.
I’ve always been a fan of cuddly, cute console games and this, I’ve worked out, is usually why. You tend not to get stuck because you accidentally went a pixel too far. You can enter the houses even if you’re not perfectly lined up with the door. Games should know your intentions and allow this latitude. Imagine in real life if you spent ten minutes next to a parking meter because you weren’t facing it dead on. You’d quit and starve at home. Which, in my case, would take a while.
The next chunk of satisfaction is in scaling up. I’m doing well, and I feel too big and important to be running over roast chickens to boost my health. Give me entire banquets to max it out and I’m happy, but I want to be thinking in terms of thousands of HP at a time. The game mechanic is the same but it feels a magnitude larger because I’m that much more of a big deal. If the game automatically takes care of such things, I’m also happy – the battles are getting very tough now and there isn’t time. I want to forge on even though I should have been in bed hours ago.
And eventually we come to the end. There doesn’t have to be the long sequence as a trophy, in the same way that the last part of a meal doesn’t have to be the tastiest. I do love knowing how well I’ve done. I’ll take stats if you have them; that’ll make me play through all over again. But I simply need to know I haven’t missed out chunks of the game, and that, for the love of god, I’m not facing a vastly bigger sequel. Let me just be satisfied.
I feel too big and important to be running over roast chickens to boost my health. Give me entire banquets