Editorial: First Impressions

The most important part of storytelling is the way information –characters, setting, and plot—is conveyed to an audience. Games, perhaps unfortunately, have the double task of both giving audiences an understanding of mechanics and story all at once. For the most part, this happens in the introduction.

I am not a patient gamer. I like my introductions fast, to the point, and without any fluff. In other words, I want my game introductions to play like a Hemingway short story reads – unadorned, fast, and fulfilling. Unfortunately, a lot of games fail in this respect. A game can be hailed as having the most innovative mechanics or the most advanced graphics, but if I am not hooked within the first twenty minutes chances are I will probably not be back for a second session.

Yet, I often find myself forced to sit through what seems like hours of cut scenes and plot for what amounts to around ten minutes of actual game play. Am I the only one who is bothered by this? Authors do not write successful novels and start them with dozens of pages describing every freckle on the main character’s face—so why do games feel the need to delay the actual game? Let me get my feet wet first: fight a few battles, explore an area or two, and then start throwing all the flash and sparkle at me.  Some games are able to mix all of these element together in a way that keeps players wanting to come back, but others fall short.

Pokémon, one of my favorite titles, has an ideal introduction. “This is a pokémon, this is what pokémon do, and now here is a little scene so you can get your own and start your adventures.” Recently, I played through the introduction to Disgaea 3. While I loved it for its sheer over-the-top qualities, it was very long, at times tedious and, again, I never managed to go back to it. It is, quite probably, a very worthwhile game—but the somewhat unwieldy introduction turned me away.

So, Lusipurr.com readers, have you had similar experiences? Have you encountered fantastic games with terrible introductions? Or games with introductions so unwieldy you could not possibly stomach more?

Does it get much more over the top than this?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGARNuxWsLo]

0 comments

  1. I’ll reply with the first example that comes to my head although I’m sure there are better ones:

    Take the Pokémon Ranger series. The first one had a brutal introduction. The training seemed to last forever, and it held your hand for ages.
    The sequel, however, probably had a LONGER training segment, but it was integrated into the gameplay, so it never felt like I was waiting for the game to start. It was far more intuitive and compelling.
    I’m sure I’ll think of other examples as other people think of some.

  2. I hate forced tutorials, they completely spoil subsequent playthroughs. An example of how to do a tutorial well is FFVII, where if you wish to know something you ask the tutorial guys. An example of how to do a tutorial poorly if FFX, where you get frequently bogged down with in depth tutorials to explain everything from the sphere grid to how to use elemental spells, to which character to use for what kind of enemy. This wasn’t so bad the first time around, but in every subsequent playthough it annoys me a little bit more each time, I just want to play damnit.

  3. @SN – Very true. I was just thinking about that. There should be a “have you played this game before?” option for every game. FF9 is nice too – and similar to FF7 – with the vast majority of its tutorials being optional text.

  4. Tutorials in games are plague incarnate. I HATE THEM. There are these things called instruction manuals. I played through Dead Space a little while ago – the game tells you no less than FIVE TIMES in TEN MINUTES to cut their limbs off, dammit, cut their limbs off. This, after they hyped that mechanic up for months before the game’s release, AND it’s in the instruction manual. I remember when video games didn’t treat me like an idiot.

    Wait! Hold Everything! You need to press A to open that door, dude!

  5. Also, Persona 4 is a thoroughly fantastic game, but the plot setup takes two hours. Fortunately it’s a fairly entertaining setup, as it’s a well written game, but there’s only two actual battles in that whole two hours. It’s pretty ridiculous. There’s a new game+ option and a whole bunch of new stuff to do, but I shudder at the thought of playing through the game again just cause i don’t want to wade through that introduction again. Two hours, man.

  6. Yeah I had nearly forgotten about that, P4 has one of the most ridiculously lengthy opening sequences of any game I have ever played, to the extent that I was begining to worry that the entire game might just turn out to be an interactive cutscene. Luckily however once you get past that hurdle it turns out to be a very good game indeed.

  7. I hate tutorials.

    Please give me the option to ‘skip’ at the very least, if not “Yes, I’ve played this before so STOP TRYING TO TELL ME HOW”.

  8. @Lusipurr – Exactly my point

    @protomark – I know you’re not a fan of FFXII anyway, but that’s another one that takes WAY too long to get into it. I love the game and I’m a patient guy, but I’ll admit that it has a very slow opening five hours.

  9. Lol what was that whole thing at the start where the game tried to teach you how to move the camera and open doors, it would be nice if devs gave gamers a little credit seeing as these features have only been in most games for the last decade or so.

  10. If I recall, though my memory isn’t entirely strong on this point, Eternal Sonata has an option where you can skip through the tutorials… it would be so much nicer if every game did this.

    @SN: The hardest part is actually getting over that hurdle with games like P4… it’s like I have to sit through hours of tedious cutscenes and text to finally get to where I can start to enjoy the game. Most of the time, however, I’m not up for it.

  11. Twilight Princess struck me as a game where I spent far too much time getting out of the ‘introduction’ part of the game.

    I want to pick up the controller, start the game, and then play it directly–not have my hand held for hours whilst the game teaches me which button is X and how to turn the game off.

    I understand that instruction manuals are only included these days in order to cover all of the health & safety bases, but I still think some credit should be given to gamers. I know how to talk to people and I know which button is START. I don’t need to be told.

  12. @Thea- I actually love cutscene heavy games, but the start of P4 was too much even for me, as was the last disk of Xenogears. Ideally I tend to enjoy games with about a 70% gameplay 30% cutscene balance, when cinemas dictate the progression of the game any more than this however you begin to feel that you don’t have control over your party, which tends to spell death for an rpg.

  13. Games really need a good way to judge a player’s experience when the game starts, then they can aim tutorial sections accordingly. I’ll agree sitting through RPG battle tutorials is incredibly tedious, but since every game is somebody’s first game, they always need to be there in some form or another. In an ideal scenario, every game would ask “How often do you play games of this genre” then tailor the tutorials accordingly (I’m not talking incredibly fine-grained changes, just 3 settings “Never before” “once in a while” and “frequently”). Then they can just cut out all the tutorials that are “under” your experience level.

    As for P4, I’d say the intro for that game goes on much longer than 2 hours. Right now, I’ve got a new game plus sitting at something like 5 gameplay hours, and I’m still wading through cutscenes while holding the triangle button. I love P4’s story, but I think the intro is dense enough to prevent me from getting very far on my second playthrough. That series really needs skippable cutscenes :F.

    All in all, the beginning of games are always slow. Even if you ignore the “tutorial” aspect, the premise for the world and characters still needs to be set up. Personally, I really enjoy it when games have “chapters” you can revisit at will, so say you finish a game, then you can start a new game plus at chapter 2 or something along those lines. Not sure how well this would work for RPGs, since the level-building wouldn’t really play nice with it, but I wish there was some way to integrate that in.

    It’s like The Fellowship of the Ring (the movie for the sake of my argument, but the book can be substituted and the point still stands). It sets up the premise for the trilogy, but if I want to watch one of the movies, it’ll be either Two Towers or Return of the King. FotR is needed, but skippable once the viewer’s already seen it. We need something like that for RPGs.

    Anyway, please forgive any typos or nonsensical ramblings in my post. I’m getting quite sleepy, so I’m not entirely sure if I’m actually forming coherent thoughts any more or just vomiting through my keyboard.

  14. I find that most of the especially heavy handed games are Japanese. Be it Zelda or FF or what have you, it seems like you’re going through hours of tutorials regarding the most basic of things. Western games tend to be a lot more to the point, and many even turn that crap off at higher difficulty levels (Gears) or let you turn that crap off manually (Brothers in Arms: HH). I get the reason for tutorials (let’s face it, some things you can really only get by doing), but companies earn mad points when they’re quick about it.

    As for games I couldn’t stomach due to their obscene intro, definitely Xenosaga. I’m sorry, but hours upon hours upon hours of cutscene is just not going to cut it. If I wanted to watch a movie, I have better ones on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as a Netflix account.

  15. @Lusipurr – Absolutely agreed with Twilight Princess. Majora’s Mask too. I really don’t like that you have to play that training 3 days before the game really gets started.

    @MC – Agreed. Either mad quick, or give the option. And while I’m okay with cut scenes, I also really appreciate innovations like in Bioshock when the story is told through diaries or mostly cutscenes in which you still control the character.

  16. I love game who still have the “use the left analog stick to walk and the right analog stick to look around” tutorials at the beginning of the game. Yeah, I’ve played a game before and I’m not a complete moron!