Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

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 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

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