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Clicker Heroes 2 isn’t for me... yet.

I revisited Clicker Heroes 2 in Early Access now that they’ve replaced Gilding with Ascending to see if that addressed my concerns from before. And, I mean, it kinda does? Ascending still basically resets your skills in exchange for a damage multiplier, but you retain the stat boosts from most skill nodes and even a few of the abilities, so you can still make gradual progress in the direction of a particular build across multiple ascensions.

But I realized what the real problem is for me in Clicker Heroes 2 compared to my favorite idle games: you never get anything else to fill the downtime.

It’s common in idle/clicker games for your focus to sort of zoom out over time. At first you’re focusing on individual clicks or actions, then you’re focused on upgrades or automation, and so on. The time between meaningful choices gradually increases - you start out clicking near-constantly and eventually reach a point where it makes sense to put it down for minutes or hours and come back periodically to spend your accumulated wealth.

In some idle games, there’s something else to go do while you’re waiting for that wealth to accumulate - something that ties in to the economic systems but can be basically any kind of gameplay. Some of the most famous examples have been essentially roguelikes, there’s a dual-stick shooter and a town builder in my list of examples a couple paragraphs up as well.

But in Clicker Heroes 2, there isn’t something else. The thing to do is just - put the game down and come back later. And the only thing you do every time you come back is spend the wealth to increase the accumulation of wealth for the next time you come back.

This is kind of a weird thing to criticize since it’s basically the core loop of the genre, but for me it makes it hard to stay engaged. Spending a couple of minutes on upkeep just to make sure I’ll have something to spend a couple of minutes on again later starts feeling empty pretty quick. Once I’ve gotten to the point where I have an actual character build going, there’s no longer anything to sink my teeth into.

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So if you start Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive...

So if you start Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition on a Switch where you also have a save file for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you get an optional bonus: you can start the game with 100,000 G.

This kind of reward has always confused me. It’s not, like, a Rex outfit for Shulk or something, which is a pattern I’ve seen in other games that makes sense to me - a cosmetic reward that’s a nice touch for the people who can get it. Instead, it’s just a big pile of currency - which means this is a balance question.

Positioning the extra money as a reward implies they think the game is better if you start with it - in which case, why don’t you start with it by default? Or even if this is a case where some players would probably enjoy it and others wouldn’t, then why only give that choice to people who have already played a sequel to this game?

One way or another, I feel like the game has been (very slightly) worsened for one group or another in order to enable a reward that potentially has significant effects for early-game balance and pacing. I feel like the intentions here were probably good, but the results are just kind of weird.

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Animal Crossing Trolls Focusers

I wrote recently that players can be divided into “multitaskers” who don’t mind interruptive context-switching and “focusers” who find it disruptive and unpleasant. And now, just as I argued that Animal Crossing effectively trolls completionists, I’m going to argue that it also effectively trolls focusers.

Inventory limits and equipment durability are the most common way. Running out of pocket space while you’re in the middle of something (catching bugs, fishing, harvesting fruit, shaking trees, hitting rocks, etc.) is obnoxious in all the usual ways, interrupting your fun with a chore you now have to deal with before you can go back to doing what you wanted to do. But if you’re a focuser, you’ve also got the interrupted goal unpleasantly on pause in the back of your mind the whole time.

Equipment breaking is similar. If you lose your axe in the middle of chopping wood, or break your pole while fishing, or break your shovel while there are still rocks to hit, or whatever, now you have to run back to a crafting station (and possibly home to your storage if you aren’t keeping materials elsewhere) and craft a replacement before you can continue (and man is it frustrating to see a rare bug while you have no net or a balloon gift while you have no slingshot). Though in some ways it’s even worse than the inventory problem, because there are no visible durability meters and unless you’re keeping careful track of your tool use it’s hard to predict when one will break. You can craft and carry extras, but tools don’t stack so doing this means you’ll run out of inventory space more often, and you’re just trading off one interruption against another.

On top of this are the mid-scale daily activities - digging up four fossils, hitting six rocks, talking to ten villagers, shaking every tree, etc. It’s very easy to get interrupted while doing this - maybe you’re shaking trees when you see a balloon gift, or you’re running from rock to rock when you see a fast-flying bug and need to chase it around. Making sure you talk to each villager every day is perhaps the hardest one since they wander around unpredictably and it can be hard to keep track of who you’ve found so far.

Again, if you’re a multitasker this probably won’t bother you, but if you’re a focuser it’ll be frustrating to keep in your head who you’ve talked to and which rocks you’ve hit and how many fossils you’ve found. For the first weeks of my time in New Horizons, I found that this led me to do things like a “rock pass” and a “tree pass” over my island during which I focused fully on that goal, not letting myself get distracted and sometimes literally writing down which villagers I’d seen and which I still needed to find. It turned the game from one I could relax with into one I had to pursue with dogged focus until I finished the once-a-day tasks.

Eventually I realized that there are mobile apps that allow you to create daily checklists prepopulated with the common tasks so you can just keep the app open on your phone and tap the villagers as you talk to them and so forth. This lets you offload the mental overhead of keeping track of those things and just relax and enjoy.

It would have been fairly easy to include this sort of functionality directly in the game itself, where it could auto-update and be even easier and not require separate hardware. It’s not uncommon for games to have that sort of tracker. It seems likely to me that Animal Crossing‘s designers deliberately chose not to include it (and continue making that choice with each sequel). For multitaskers, such a feature would probably feel like it was pushing the player into completionism and away from just relaxing and enjoying the game - while the very presence of that feature is required for focusers to relax and enjoy the game.

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Multitaskers and Focusers

I’ve written a few times about the idea that a lot of debates about game design actually come down to poorly-understood differences in how our brains are actually wired. I think I’ve found another example.

Games often ask the player to context-switch - to go from one type of task to another with different relevant considerations. But there’s a difference between context-switching because you finished a task and doing so because you were interrupted.

Suppose you’re playing a dungeon crawler or looter shooter or something where you fight your way through a dungeon and return to town to sort/sell/upgrade the loot you earn. These are different experiences - combat and exploration, followed by upkeep and optimization. They require you to focus on different things. Which parts of the dungeon you’ve explored and how much ammo and health you have left matter a lot in the dungeon, but back in town you’re concerned more with stats and currency.

If you finish the dungeon and then go back to town to sell, you can safely stop thinking about the dungeon’s concerns. They need no longer take up any mental resources. But if you are partway through the dungeon and then need to return to town because your inventory is full, you aren’t done worrying about which parts of the dungeon you’ve explored and how many enemies remain. You can’t forget about those things even as you must start focusing on equipment and currency instead for a while. They’re just temporarily on hold, like a mental equivalent of leaving a bunch of browser tabs open as you switch to something else as opposed to finishing a project and closing them all.

For some players (whom I shall tentatively call “multitaskers”) this is fine. For others (tentatively “focusers”) this can be deeply unpleasant. A focuser doesn’t like holding context in background memory. It’s difficult and distracting.

This is why when Torchlight adds the ability for you to send your pet back to town to sell things without having to leave the dungeon yourself like you have to in Diablo, some players love that this keeps you in the action while others lament that this disrupts pacing and removes breaks. If leaving the action means you’re preoccupied with an unfinished task the whole time, it’s not much of a break at all!

I am a focuser, and much like the fact that I am a completionist this has a significant effect on how I feel about certain game design choices. In fact, I think they’re connected - there’s a lot of overlap here with my claim that completionists feel anxiety about tracking long-term objectives. Both a focuser and a completionist as I’ve described them want things like a quest log or map icons to keep track of those objectives so that the player doesn’t have to keep them in background memory - if that task can be offloaded because it’s written down somewhere and automatically updated, then the player doesn’t have to spend continual mental resources on it. They can close the mental browser tabs.

As implied above, I think this is also a big part of why I dislike inventory limits that interrupt you with sudden mandatory inventory management, which has turned me off several games over the years.

And it’s likely also connected to my general dislike of punishment, particularly of the “you died on the boss so replay the level” variety. I want to immediately retry whatever it was I failed on, because holding the details of that challenge in my head while I fight my way back through other challenges is frustrating and unpleasant. The need to do so has also turned me off of a number of games over the years.

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#gaming #video games #neurodivergencies #completionism #inventory management #torchlight #punishment

Tags: Thought, TOPIC: Completionism