Editorial: The Chore of Starting a New Game

Bored Office Worker
Just the thought of starting a new game has put this poor woman to sleep.

Last Thursday, a day free from work and chores, I awoke with the intention to start one of the many games in my backlog. As I was deciding which game to play, I became increasingly disenchanted with the idea of starting a new game. I began to think of all the other recent titles I had played, and how much the opening hours of current games absolutely sucks. There was a time that the RPG genre was the undisputed king of the slow openings, but today even the most basic platformer will test a player’s patience with a snail-speed opening. Lengthy tutorials, boring story introductions, and force-fed explanations are a few of the main culprits that make me think twice before popping in a new game.

One of my biggest pet peeves with current games is how they deliver their story. Every game has a story in it, and most developers think their game has an amazing story. Developers get themselves into trouble because they seem to think there are only two good methods to tell their amazing story, either hours of cutscenes or miles of text. Once the developer decides which of these two options will be used, they proceed to front-load it into the game. Most games introduce themselves to a gamer with a lengthy video or a dialogue sequence that leaves a gamer mashing a button with the hope it ends soon. Presenting so much of a game’s story up front makes it feel that developers are trying to force the gamer to have a connection with the characters and setting rather than cultivating that connection throughout the story.

Partnering with the slow story sequence is the lengthy tutorial. I can not fathom how many times I have nearly lost all interest in a game because of tutorials. As a child, I had no use for in-game tutorials as I would read the instruction manual before playing a new game. I may have been in the minority, however I found my experience to be much more enjoyable when I prepared myself by utilizing the instruction manual. Games of today merely keep an instruction manual around to show the mentally challenged how to put a disc into their Xbone and to warn them that their new game could potentially turn them into a Michael J. Fox impersonator. Unfortunately, I know how to put a disc into my console, and I have never had a seizure, so current instruction manuals serve no purpose for me.

To think all this frustration could have been avoided with a little bit of reading.
The Wii U proved that even when in digital form, people will not read a manual.

Taking all the information that should be in the instruction manual and turning it into a tutorial would not be too terrible of an idea, except that most developers make it a part of the actual opening of the game. One of the biggest problems with this is that the tutorials often end up contain parts of the story, and as a result, are made impossible to skip. While this can be acceptable the first time through a game, it can quickly destroy the enjoyment found in replaying a favorite title. With sequels and series being so popular, many mechanics end up being recycled, yet each subsequent game feels the need to annoyingly spell out the exact steps for something I have done hundreds of times in the past.

While not every game can have an opening story sequence like Final Fantasy 7, it is important to look at it and realize why its opening sequence kicks so much ass. The game wastes no time throwing into the action with a battle happening within the first two minutes and a Mako reactor blowing up before the first fifteen minutes have elapsed. The game then breaks up what could have been a long story sequence with various events forcing the party to keep on the run. The last thing I want is for every game to copy Final Fantasy 7‘s opening, but it would not hurt if some aspects were borrowed to break the monotony that other games have.

On the tutorial side, a game from the same generation had it right. Banjo-Kazooie was a game that had a tutorial that was able to be fully skipped. The tutorial itself was not even obnoxiously long, only requiring roughly ten minutes to learn all of the basic moves. The rest of the more complicated moves were learned throughout the rest of the game and the player was given a short tutorial on how to use the new move. Developers could clear up a lot of issues with tutorials by either putting them under a separate menu option or allowing players to skip them if they choose. Both of these methods would allow a gamer to skip the tutorial at will, letting them dive into a game when they felt ready, not when the developers felt they were. Of course, if the Wii U’s Miiverse for Super Metroid is any indication, most current gamers probably need even more of a tutorial then is provided by most games.

While I do dread the opening hour of a new game, the truth is that the rest of the game often makes up for the time spent contemplating the virtues of gouging my eyes out. The real problem is that I, like most readers of this site, am part of the minority of gamers. I do not need my hand held to figure out simple puzzles and I do not think that reading is only for pussies. While I hope that one day I can play a new game without being greeted by a long tutorial or endless text boxes, the more likely outcome is that I have to develop some patience and deal with it.

9 comments

  1. This post effectively describes what prevents me playing major-release games nowadays (and what deters me going back to some older games).

  2. “it can quickly destroy the enjoyment found in replaying a favorite title” YES.

    When I think about games I replayed a lot, they’re usually ones that had simple quick beginning sections either with no tutorials or skippable ones.

    Also, when thinking about replaying games, I tend to dissuade myself because I don’t think I’d want to replay ALL of it, just the fun bits. Often times, in almost any game of any caliber, there’s some slow part that was tense or fun the first time but, knowing all the answers, is now just boring. And though it seems to run counter to this editorial, I think lots of games have their best parts in the beginning. It’s there that many games have their best balance, you’re not too overpowered (often you’re underpowered) and there’s a good deal of challenge to sink your teeth into. And there’s usually more interesting locales front loaded into the game, the parts that seem to be emblematic of that game, whereas the ending of even some of the greatest games seems to get industrial-disease where you’re suddenly in some uninteresting factory or stronghold full of grey riveted walls and armored versions of the guys you fought in the beginning. Where the opening in games usually is bright and interesting and organic, too many games back fill with metal and uncreative gloominess.

  3. Perhaps games should flash “READ THE MANUAL” with a very loud klaxon sound accompanying it for 30 seconds and then drop the hand-holding act.

  4. Ethos, that would imply games have manuals these days.

    On a semi-related note, that last game I recall needing a manual for was Demon’s Souls. Not for typical reasons, but because the game insisted on using inane squiggly symbols next to the character stats and item stats, and silly me couldn’t remember which squiggle meant damage and which meant equip weight. They did fix this in Dark Souls by allowing you to press Select to explain the stat being highlighted.

  5. I have seen tissues with more substance than today’s game manuals…

  6. I used the Demon’s Souls manual for the exact same reason. On the topic of manuals, the Alundra manual is very nice. Suggested reading.

  7. Oddly enough, tutorials and beginnings of games are usually my favorite parts- at least the first time around. I love the notion of just starting out, of not knowing the boundaries the game will set around me and, for one brief moment of glorious naivety, anything is possible.

    This probably also explains my patience with games like Victoria II, during which I devoted an entire afternoon to series after series of tutorials in order to learn how to play the game. Of course, in good Paradox Interactive Fashion, I still have no idea after all that. But I’m sure it’ll be fun once I figure it out…

  8. The dread of learning a new game is actually part of what stops me from pursuing so many these days. I find it easier to find one I can invest a great deal of time in, and focus on it for several months. In the case of Dark Souls, it has become over a year of game time. And in the case of an old favorite, Bushido Blade 2, it has been almost fifteen years.

  9. Too often new games decide the best course of action is to explain everything up front and thoroughly, in turn destroying any notion of not knowing the boundaries set by the game. Many of the games I enjoy the most are titles that have simple beginnings and use the rest of the game to roll out the more complex ideas. Portal is an excellent example of this.

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