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Sentura

Game Overhead

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Lately I've not really been interested in playing games. It's not really that I don't want to play them, but the whole ordeal of installing, booting up, going through the menus to ensure the default settings wont screw me over etc. Only after doing this I get to start the game, and if it's a new one it's usually filled with a tutorial that is text heavy and not really focused on gameplay for the first half hour or more. At this point it feels like starting up a game is an achievement in itself, and it often tires me out so much that the few times I do boot up, I stop some 20 minutes in because there's just too much overhead. Not all games are like this, but the exceptions often either lack depth or points of interest, or require you to specifically set down a date to play them - sort of like planning a field trip.

I wanted to present this topic as a discussion for what we as designers can do to change this sort of behavior. I think it is especially valid during this period of the Steam summer sale, where many of us have and still fork over cash for titles that we'll never get to play simply because they're cheap. I also keep hearing people having huge backlogs of games, and I suspect one of the culprits behind that is also the same issue.

I was personally tinkering with the idea of having games where you would completely remove menus, startup cinematics and logos. You boot the game and you immediately start playing. I get that people are proud of their accomplishments and want to present them in a proper manner and also give nods to sponsors and supporting entities, but most of those requirements could also be a part of the game world. This is of course a trade-off, and not a one-size fits all solution. I'm interested in hearing other perspectives on this. 

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If I remember correctly, Carmack imposed that you had to be able to get into the game with 2-3 presses of the enter key.

I'm not a professional so I dunno if designers cage themselves in the constraints of teaching players over and over... if that's not the case, the concept that player needs the training can be tested by removing all this overhead. You have to accept to go after the niche of expert gamers and hope the sales will reward you enough to pay the bills.

I personally feel where the conversation starts @Sentura, had the very same problem for a while recently... I feel that it all depends on the type of game, depending what you want to achieve seems you have to go through certain steps.
One thing is controls, I dunno why and how companies make certain choices sometimes,but I think people should look around and copy more. Eg. I get immensely pissed off at Ryse that basically has a very similar combat to Batman, but that one button that is different, making me constantly break chains. (Also, I don't see a reason why you can't allow people to bind a pad).

Edited by blackdog

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I don't mind changing settings, because generally speaking you only have to do it the first time you boot up, but I completely agree about all the logos, cut-scenes and tutorials. At the very least, the logos and cutscenes could be combined so that you only have to sit through the logo once at the beginning of the narrative.

I've heard/read some developers claim that the cutscene or logo are actually loading screens for the game, but in this case I would always like to be able to see a progress bar so that I can skip as early as possible. Those same developers would probably argue that this breaks immersion, but I'd say me standing up and wandering off to do something else is probably even more breaking.

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You might want to cut your own company logo, but I think that frameworks you have to have those "powered by" because of license agreements?

one thing I have always planned to do if I'll ever get to make my own game, in case of sp, narrative type of game, I would have "cookies", so that the opening could be skipped completely after first play through. Also I'd have not only completely skippable cutscenes, but I'd like to be able to rewind & pause (cos your dog might bark or your mum could walk in and you miss a piece).

But I thought about this before people started concealing maploads behind those sequences. For as nice as it sounds, I'm afraid this is somehow even worst cos unless it's amazingly quick to load, you will suffer (Max Payne 3 😤)

For narrative purposes, I've had in mind of starting a game straight after the (necessary) logos, even have the character wake up so that the fade in is completely natural.

All of that is nice and dandy, but on PC you need to calibrate graphics… I think recent games are doing very well, but still you might need to tweak :/

Edited by blackdog

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I'm not saying you shouldn't be able to crank up graphics, game options in general are relevant and perhaps the least problematic overhead. I think the bigger culprits are long tutorial sessions and missing transparency (e.g. game loading not showing). I was also briefly thinking about how games could begin with cold openings as well - like they do in movies/tv series where you get a piece of drama before the title slams in. In this way you get some action immediately and afterwards you could transfer to a title/menu screen.

My main point with this thread was to see what people think about these things and how to potentially combat them.

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Maybe for games like fps, they could make you train your aim in a mini level while it loads. The issue there would be that it could significantly make loading very long  :)

In rpg's you could imagine something like that too, or managing your inventory. But same here about performances :)

However, I do have to agree that not knowing is horrible, it's like when your computer reboot after an update and it displays a black screen and you cannot know if it is stuck or whatever.. you don't know for how long you're going to wait!

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Personally I have no problems in hiding loading screens, when it's properly done. Splinter Cell Conviction and Blacklist have very quick load times (you can skip sequences very early, whether in Max Payne 3 it was taking forever and was continuous interruption).

But there is a true point in the whole "training the player" experience.
Remember we could skip all that crap in -say- the old days of COD1 or HL1, where you had to choose to go through the bootcamp. Then the trend of "making it immersive" took off. But I don't blame the designers, I guess that testing showed people didn't know how to handle themselves? For example if I remember correctly in Just Cause 2 I didn't understand I could tether enemies to something until checked the achievement list and found there was one about that! It's just a matter of how you execute... like in Batman Arkham it's very clear when you are getting taught how to do stuff, but I think these instances are very well spread out, so they are not annoying.

Edited by blackdog

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Player training is important, but it should be spaced out through the entire game and not just happen during the first hour. The main problem I have with these sections is that most designs focus on rudimentary training which is akin to watching the flight emergency instruction video when you've been on an airplane for the 200th time. It's too overt and too shallow to really make a difference, even for new players.  In my mind what they should instead focus on is trying to explain the game depth.

Most games have a depth that goes a few layers of abstraction down, and such depth allows for creative thinking from the player's side. Investing time into training players how to get creative with game challenges rather than how to play it would immediately give players a greater emotional investment as they would feel they were the ones coming up with a solution to a challenge rather than the game handing them the solution on a plate. Game depth is a complex and hard entity to understand for most games, meaning that anyone would be hard pressed explaining it using just words. This would mean designers would have to get creative and use non-verbal methods of communicating/telegraphing design to players - which would work on a more instinctual and intuitive level. The beauty of teaching game depth in this way is that design stays subtle and elegant without boring neither seasoned players nor newcomers. It also forces the design to be simple without being shallow.

@blackdog, I think your example with Just Cause 2 and tethering enemies is a good example of what should have been explained instead of the conventional tutorials. Tethering enemies (or using a grappling hook in creative ways) is what makes a game like that fun. It's not just about killing people, it's about how stylish you can be while killing them.

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It couldn't have been said better Sentura, agree all the way.

About Just Cause on the other end I can imagine the sense of achievement people had when figuring out how flexible the grappling was… that's powerful

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