Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Completionism (8)

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Different Games for Different Brains

I’m starting to think that most of the heated debates that happen around game design choices are due to poorly-understood differences in how our brains are actually wired.

Like, I’ve written before about how some people hate punishment in games and others don’t and how this seems to be related to how we process tension, and how it’s easy to think someone else is a wimp or a masochist for the type of gameplay they like when it actually feels different to them than it does to you. But I realized there are other factors here too - punishment is worse for players who have trouble focusing on things that aren’t novel, which, like… that’s straight-up an ADHD symptom, right? I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I’ve got a couple of symptoms including that one. Allie has more symptoms, and she’s even more bothered by punishment and repetition in games than I am.

I’ve also talked about how I don’t like games that make you work to find the quality content in exchange for a sense of discovery that rings false for me. But when I saw the following mailbag question in a Shamus Young diecast post, I realized there was something else going on:

Dear Diecast.

The modern Persona games are lauded for their fusion of turn-based combat and social sim gameplay, but I’ve always been bothered by the social sim aspect. It’s less about roleplaying and more about puzzling out the spreadsheet nightmare the designers have conceived so you don’t miss out on story content and have to replay it in new game plus to see it. As such, I always play them with my head in a guide to negate the issue so I can instead focus on enjoying the combat and story.

What’s your thoughts on games that are hard to play properly without using a guide and have you ever found them enjoyable in spite of needing to look things up constantly?

-Victor

My immediate thought was that yeah, I feel the same way about Persona and that this kind of design is stupid in general as just another way to make you work to find the quality content - but I made myself take a step back. It’s not very likely that the designers of several incredibly-popular games are all just making the same obvious mistake over and over and the fans somehow don’t understand the resulting flaws. It’s much more likely that this is another case where players have different but legitimate preferences.

Victor’s question has assumptions baked in - that if you “miss out on story content” you then “have to replay it in new game plus to see it” and that seeing all the story content is the only way to “play properly”. I didn’t notice at first that these were assumptions, because I’m a completionist so to me (and I imagine Victor) they just feel true. Like Victor, I find it hard to enjoy a game if I’m constantly worried that I’ll miss content - particularly story content - particularly if it’s a story I’m enjoying. Like Victor, I often deal with this by using a guide and then lament that the game “requires” a guide.

But like… that seems like something in the area of anxiety or OCD, maybe? I’m not sure exactly what the divide is here, but roughly speaking I suspect some people prefer certainty and control (the completionists) and others prefer exploration and surprise. For the latter group of players, the fact that it’s possible to miss some story content based on your choices is a bonus - it means that you can actually be surprised by what you see, even if you return to play the game again. To me, this is a baffling way of looking at things - but some quick internet research shows plenty of evidence that some people like surprises, some people hate them, and many people in each group do not at all understand the people in the other.

A lot of us have trouble explaining what happens in our own heads, and it’s difficult to realize when something you thought was universal is only true for people with brains like yours. And it’s really hard to see where someone else is coming from if your disagreement stems from one of those things. A lot of the time we’re arguing about things like game design decisions, we’re being much more subjective than we realize, and that leads to heated and unproductive discussions that say more about ourselves than the thing we’re trying to talk about.

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I am a completionist.

I am a completionist. Not everyone is. This means certain game design decisions affect me differently than they affect other players.

See, for example, my post about Smash Ultimate giving a unique spirit to people with Dragon Quest XI save data. The non-completionist sees this news and thinks something like, “Oh, that’s a cute little reward to remind me of this other game I enjoyed!” Meanwhile, I’ve been maintaining a complete spirit collection so I see this news and think, “Dammit, Smash, why are you giving me homework?”

My reaction isn’t invalid, but neither is the other one. The annoyance I feel at the news is a fact about me and not an objective quality of the game itself. At most, I could say the decision to distribute this spirit in this way is likely to annoy completionists (especially ones who, say, already bought DQXI on PS4 ages ago) and not that it is an inherently annoying decision. That’s a statement about audience, not just about game design.

My completionism affects how I feel about a lot of game design decisions, but I don’t always realize that’s what’s going on. I’ve fairly-well internalized that some players aren’t annoyed by the things that annoy me about certain achievements, for example, because it doesn’t bother them to decide not to get an achievement. But that’s mostly because there’s been a lot of discussion about achievements, so I’ve heard other viewpoints and it’s easier for me to avoid the typical-mind fallacy. There are other less-discussed areas where I’m pretty sure I wrote things I wouldn’t have written if I were not a completionist, without acknowledging that as a factor.

It’s important to separate what’s true about a game and what’s true about an audience, so I’m going to try to be better about this.

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I like that Smash is a platform, but this is getting weird

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has cross-promoted other Nintendo properties by adding new collectible spirits on several occasions already. I should be used to it.

They’ve now announced that if you play the Switch port of Dragon Quest XI or its demo, you’ll get a new Tockles spirit in Smash at some point. There’s not much info available yet, but I assume what this means is that at some point, Smash will get patched such that if it detects DQXI (or demo) save data on your Switch, it’ll gift you the spirit (similar to the Partner Pikachu and Partner Eevee spirits you got for having Pokémon: Let’s Go save data before).

This bugs me and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think it’s because unlike the Spirit Board events that the game seems to have mostly settled on and which require you to defeat the relevant spirits in battle, this promotion requires you to download and perfunctorily engage with a different game. It’s not a new challenge with a corresponding reward - it’s just a hoop to jump through that’s basically equivalent to clicking on an ad. As a result, it feels much more manipulative and devalues the experience of trying out Dragon Quest XI. (I talked about the causes and effects of this in my article about engagement rewards, but the short version is that an external reward for a specific but easy action instead of for performing at a high level makes that action less intrinsically rewarding.) And as a Dragon Quest fan, that makes me sad.

It’s not even a good spirit! Fog immunity is easy to come by and not an ability you need to double-up on.

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I feel like there's a common problem where...

I feel like there’s a common problem where endgame/postgame content doesn’t get playtested and polished as much as the earlier portion of a game’s experience. If you’re playing the game like a normal person everything’s fine, but if you’re a completionist or you really like the game and you’re going hardcore into the optional objectives at the end, the tiny problems you didn’t even notice before get magnified and become really obnoxious.

And, like, this is probably a correct allocation of resources and I’m not advocating doing anything different. But it always makes me a bit sad when my devotion to a game is rewarded by the last few hours of my experience being kinda bullshit for easily-preventable reasons.

#video games #gaming #ratchet: deadlocked sent you back to the station after each postgame mission which was annoying if you were farming bolts or weapon xp #senran kagura burst re:newal sends you back to the ninja room after every free mission which is similarly dumb

Tags: Thought, TOPIC: Completionism

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Achievements and Insecure Design

Achievements do a lot of things, but one of them is to direct player attention. This can be a safety net - say you’re making a game that includes fishing as an important source of food and materials and you’re worried the player might not realize it’s an option and thus have a harder time than intended. In addition to putting in signposts pointing to the fishing hole and having friendly NPCs talk about how great fishing is and such, you could add in an achievement for catching a fish. Like with the signs and NPCs, it won’t solve the issue for every possible player, but it will for some and won’t really affect anyone else. It’s basically just an additional guard rail.

Suppose you instead set the achievement to require catching ten fish. There are a lot of reasons you might do this - maybe catching one fish feels insultingly trivial to reward. But once the player has caught a fish, they definitely know that fishing is an option. They should be able to decide whether it’s something they want to invest time in - maybe they enjoy the minigame enough that they’d fish for fun, or maybe they dislike it enough that they’d rather avoid it in favor of other sources of food and materials, or maybe they’re somewhere in between and will do it when it’s an efficient way to meet a particular goal.

For players who care about achievements, some of them would have gotten ten fish anyway and the ones who wouldn’t now have to either forgo an achievement or spend time on an activity they dislike, making the game worse for them. All because the game wasn’t content to let the player try it once and then decide for themselves.

I’m sure there’s a better name for this, but I call it “insecure design” - game mechanics that use extrinsic rewards to encourage the player to spend a lot of time with certain game modes or content as though the designer is worried that content isn’t enjoyable enough on its own for players to want to bother with it. And much like using engagement rewards, I think it almost always backfires.

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Compromised Mechanics

I’m fascinated by game mechanics that seem to have been rendered nearly pointless due to what looks like design by committee.

The last few Super Smash Bros. games have had “Challenges” that give various rewards for accomplishing various in-game goals. They’re basically Smash’s Achievement system, but some (generally minor) game content is also locked behind particular challenges.

Each Smash game with challenges also provides players with “golden hammers” that can be used to clear challenges without actually doing them. The challenges feature most or all of the game’s various modes and range widely in difficulty, so if someone doesn’t like a particular gameplay mode or isn’t capable of mastering it hammers let them skip those particular challenges without missing out on whatever content is locked behind them. But only a handful of hammers are available, so the challenges are still a meaningful goal for completion. Players can just file off the roughest, least appealing parts of that goal - which will vary from player to player. And hardcore completionists can still get bragging rights from clearing all the challenges without using a hammer. This is great!

But it seems like somebody didn’t want the individual challenges to lose their potential for bragging rights, because some challenges don’t let you use a hammer - usually the hardest ones for each game mode. As a compromise, this almost completely destroys the value of the hammers. Now you can’t just file off the roughest parts of the challenge completion goal - and why bother filing off the less-rough parts? If you can beat the hardest challenge in a mode without using a hammer, then you can beat the easier challenges in that mode too. And if you can’t, then you’ll never completely clear the challenges anyway, so why bother hammering any? Now the only reason to use a hammer is if you want the specific content locked behind a specific hammerable challenge that you can’t do for real or don’t want to bother with.

Not only have I never used a single golden hammer in any of the Smash games with challenges, when I realized in Brawl that the “Boss Battles” challenges that I knew I’d never beat on the higher difficulties didn’t allow hammers, I lost interest in all the other challenges too. I had a similar experience in the 3DS Smash. It looks like Ultimate is the first Smash where I’ll actually finish the challenges (all I have left are the grind-out-online-matches ones) but the hammers still didn’t help.

I have to wonder whether Nintendo is particularly susceptible to this, because the other example that comes immediately to mind is the Super Guide that can help stuck players in certain Mario titles but carries a lot of weird restrictions. It really should have been permanently available but activated from a menu; instead, it becomes available when you die a certain number of times, guaranteeing that players who want it will need to suffer through the requisite amount of frustration first and that players who don’t will see it as the game mocking their failures.

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Curse of Completion

For the completionists among us, trophy/achievement lists and other in-game checklists are basically the steps of a bizarre ritual to escape a curse.

It’s like, “Oh, you wish to be free of the grip of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? First, you must clear all 615 spaces in adventure mode, collect all 1302 unique spirits, and defeat all 124 challenges! Only then will you release its hold over your mind!”

Just eighteen challenges to go until I can move on to Marvel’s Spider-Man