Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Completionism (13)


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.


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

Tags: Thought, TOPIC: Completionism


Animal Crossing Trolls Completionists

I wrote recently about dividing gamers into “completionists” who want to master a game and not miss anything and “wanderers” who want to explore a game and find surprises. Game designs can be good for one group and bad for the other, or can try to find compromises.

Animal Crossing is very much designed to appeal to wanderers, to the point where it almost comes across as purposefully trolling the completionists.

Animal Crossing wants you to slow down and relax. It isn’t designed to be binged - it doles out mechanics slowly, limits what you can do in a day, and adds in overnight delays to encourage you to come back tomorrow. The game actively resists players who want to power through its content, offering its best experiences to those who just check in for a while once or twice a day.

And that’s fine, even if it’s not how I normally play games since I like to progress on my own schedule, not someone else’s. I have to remember to get in the right headspace for the game, but then I can have a good time. The problem is that Animal Crossing also has several mechanics that make it very hard to stay in that headspace.

If you’re a wanderer who naturally approaches games in a relaxed, open-ended way - then you’re fine. But if you’re a goal-oriented completionist then Animal Crossing is actually a bit of a minefield, primarily through having checklists of goals with time-limited availability. Such as the stringfish.

See, there’s quite a variety of fish you can find in Animal Crossing. They vary by time of year, by time of day, by body of water, and sometimes by weather. On top of that, they have varying levels of rarity. The stringfish, for example, can only be found from December to March, from 4 pm to 9 am, in elevated rivers, and even then it’s quite rare. You can do everything right - stock up on fish bait (which is tedious, as you must hunt manila clams and then craft them into bait one at a time), head to a clifftop river at the right time of day during the right month, catch dozens or even hundreds of fish, managing your limited inventory and breaking fishing poles along the way, and never get a stringfish.

It might seem clear that this is the wrong way to play. It means a lot of time spent doing things that are tedious and stressful instead of relaxing. Clearly it would be better to just do some fishing here and there when you’re in the mood, and if/when you finally do catch the stringfish it’s a pleasant surprise.

Except. EXCEPT. There’s a museum. The museum lets you donate one of every fish, bug, and fossil you can find, displays them in somewhat spectacular fashion, and rewards you for completing a collection. The museum turns fish into a checklist and stringfish is absolutely on that list. And Animal Crossing released on March 20, less than two weeks before stringfish became unavailable for nine months. Is it any wonder that some players felt pushed to try hard to get the stringfish before the month ended - and then felt aggravated when they put in a lot of time and effort and still didn’t get the damn fish?

This is my problem with Animal Crossing. It provides experiences that are best enjoyed in a wanderer-style way, and then includes mechanics that encourage completionists to approach the game in a very different way that’s much less enjoyable. It’s sort of the completionist’s fault that they are playing the game wrong, and it will especially seem this way to wanderers who fall naturally into the better ways to play. But the game could do a lot more to lead more kinds of players into its best experiences.

Here’s another example that’s new to New Horizons: tool durability. When building most tools (shovel, fishing pole, bug net, etc.) you first have to build a “flimsy” version from common materials. This version is only good for a small number of uses before it breaks. You can also build a normal version of the tool, which takes the flimsy version and a slightly rarer material. This version lasts many more uses.

Here’s the thing, though - going from the flimsy to the normal version doesn’t add uses. It sets them to a higher number. That means that the most efficient use of your materials is to use the flimsy version almost enough to break it and then upgrade it to the normal version.

That’s already a kind of obnoxious thing to do, but on top of that tools don’t have a visible durability meter. So if you do want to optimize this, you have to learn how many uses a tool has and then keep count per tool. Undercount and use it too many times before upgrading and it’ll break instead; overcount and upgrade early and you’re missing on potential uses - either way, you waste crafting time and materials.

Now, I think it’s fair to argue that you aren’t supposed to try to optimize this way. Many players will just craft the flimsy version and the upgrade in one go and not worry about the “wasted” uses and probably have a better experience. But here’s the thing - the game could have easily catered to both types of players. If the upgrade added uses instead of resetting them, it would always be correct to just go straight for the upgrade and all the players would have the better experience.

By not approaching its design in this way - by not setting things up so that the mechanically optimal way to play is also the most enjoyable way to play - Animal Crossing is actively setting traps for players who want to optimize. The game is designed to be maximally enjoyable if you approach it as a relaxed experience but has mechanics that cause certain kinds of players to not be relaxed.


Completionists and Wanderers

There are a lot of ways players differ, but one frame I’ve been thinking about a lot is the spectrum from being what you might call a “completionist” to a “wanderer.”

Completionists are goal-focused. They want to understand a game’s rules, master its mechanics, and conquer its objectives. They don’t want to miss anything.

Wanderers prefer to explore and experiment. They like surprises and like to feel like a game’s world is organic and huge - perhaps bigger than can ever be fully understood.

Most players are somewhere in between. I personally am pretty far on the completionist side. While there certainly are games that can appeal to players regardless of their position on the spectrum, many design elements will hit players differently - the point where “good design” for wanderers can be “bad design” for completionists and vice versa.

For example, I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the fact that in open-world games in the Ubisoft formula, you end up with a huge checklist of map icons instead of a world to explore. These people tend to also celebrate the approach used by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which doesn’t give you much in the way of automatic icons, instead tasking you with looking through binoculars and marking points of interest yourself. To wanderers, the latter feels more like actual exploring and is far more satisfying. To completionists, it can be nerve-wracking - it puts all the pressure on the player to notice and keep track of everything (I’ve even seen reviews suggest playing with a notebook and maintaining a to-do list) lest they miss something.

This can pose a challenge when designing games for large audiences and there aren’t always viable compromises. I find that what helps me a lot is having some kind of safety net: if there’s an unobtrusive checklist tucked away in a menu or something, such that I know I can always check in on it and be sure I’m not missing any objectives or sidequests, then the pressure is off and I can stop worrying and can actually enjoy exploring. But I’ve also seen people (who are presumably far on the “wanderer” side of the spectrum) complain that the mere presence of checklist features, even optionally, can ruin the feeling of free exploration.

One of the absolute best implementations of a completionist safety net I’ve ever seen comes from inFAMOUS 2. Both of the first two inFAMOUS games feature hundreds of collectible “blast shards” scattered across the games' respective cities. Collecting them increases how much energy you can store, but you don’t need all of them in order to max out. But there is a trophy for finding them all. And unless you keep careful track as you play, if you find yourself with 349/350 shards in the endgame you have no recourse but to scour the entire city for that last damn shard. Not a big deal to wanderers, but potentially infuriating for completionists.

inFAMOUS 2 had a similar setup, but with a simple addition - a late-game optional upgrade that let your map radar always point you in the direction of the nearest shard. It’s such a minor change and it doesn’t disrupt the game’s balance, but it’s a lifesaver if you find yourself in the position of missing one or two shards at the end. Knowing this is there, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of the shards you do collect. You can just play the damn game.

And that, I think, is key to the difference between wanderers and completionists. To a wanderer, a completionist might seem like someone who should just relax and enjoy the game. But the completionist might be wishing they could do exactly that! They don’t choose to have anxiety about missing content. And a couple of simple accommodations can usually cut out that anxiety and let the completionist enjoy the game just as much as the wanderer.


So there's a thing that games do sometimes that I...

So there’s a thing that games do sometimes that I need a better name for. It’s when totally innocuous actions that aren’t telegraphed in any way as consequential result in significant unrelated content being locked out and you don’t find out until hours later.

As nostalgic as I am for JRPGs, I feel like they are worse about this than any other genre. For example - I was lukewarm on Final Fantasy XII from the beginning, but the moment the game died for me was when I found out a few hours in that by opening a totally unremarkable chest I had locked myself out from ever obtaining the game’s most powerful weapon.

It’s a particularly brutal combination of Guide Dang It and Permanently Missable Content. I know this bothers completionists like me more than others, but it just seems so disrespectful to me. I can only think of it as the game saying “fuck you” to the player. So until I get a better name, the degree to which a game does this is its FUCKYOU index, for Flagrantly Unintuitive Conditions Keep Your Objectives Unobtainable.


#gaming #video games #completionism #Final Fantasy XII #backronym #the things you lock out if you recruit the first optional party member in Star Ocean First Departure are truly ludicrous #not only can you not get the best party member but even entering the room where it happens causes you to permanently lose another member #also you can't get the main character's best attack

Tags: Thought, TOPIC: Completionism, GAME: Final Fantasy XII


As a completionist, my thoughts about...

As a completionist, my thoughts about achievements are complicated. But here’s a simple illustrative anecdote.

I’ve been meaning to play Stick it to The Man for a while now, since I found out the story was written by Ryan North. I have it on my PS4 from when it went free on PlayStation Plus, which means it has trophies, which means I look up the trophy roadmap whenever I’m getting ready to play it. And thus far I haven’t managed to get past that step and actually play it. And Stick it to The Man doesn’t even have a particularly bad trophy list. There’s really only one trophy that sounds at all frustrating or unpleasant.

Then I saw the game was only a couple of bucks on Switch during the holiday sale. Switch doesn’t have trophies. So I paid a couple of bucks to buy a game I already have so that I’d have a version without trophies that I could just play and enjoy. I paid extra to not have trophies.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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