Instant Attraction


Does a game have to grab you immediately? Did it used to be different and it's changed because of short attention spans or has it always been that way?

I bring this up because of several observations over the years and a few recently. Painting with the broad stroke their are two types of games. Those that are instantly clear, instantly interesting, instantly fun with no preperation, no setup, no involvement. Examples would be pretty much any puzzle game, fighting game, racing game, most sports games, most action platformers, shooters, and the non−story FPS games. You turn the game on and within a few seconds you are playing, racing, fighting, shooting.

Then there are the other kind. The kind that have a story or an atmosphere that you need to get into. They are designed to draw you into the story or setting but if you don't play them that way, if you just skip the setup or play them with your stereo blazing away they are not effective.

Examples of this kind of game would be the Horror Survival game (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness), some RPGs, Action Adventures (Zelda), Exploration games (Metroid, ICO), and many of the story based FPS games like Half Life.

In these games, to really experience them you have to sit down, turn off the other distractions and give them all your attention. If you turn the sound off, put on your favorite pop music and play Resident Evil at noon you will not experience Resident Evil. You will not be scared, you will not feel the tension. In essense you will not get it. You will most likely think the game is lame.

Many RPGs or Action adventures have a similar problem. They have setup. In order to get into the game you need to know that story. You need to know that the princess needs saving, that she's being held by an evil dude that is going to torture her if you don't get there quick, that you are somewhat attracted to her, etc. You need that motivation and setup or you are not drawn into the game. If just skip all that, don't read the dialog or listen to the story and just try to skip to the action you just won't get it. It would be like going to watch a movie you've never seen and just fast forwarding to the last 10 minutes and expecting it to be great. It's not great to watch Yoda kick ass in Star Wars Episode 2 without all the history of Yoda behind you. You wouldn't get the impact of Bruce Willis killing the bad guy in Die Hard if you hadn't seen the previous 90 minutes of struggle.

So, that brings me to some recent experiences. One: Sly Cooper. I enjoyed it. I played it at home, I got into it. I got into the character, being a sneaky thief etc. Then I tried to show it to some friends. They had the sound off, they skipped the movie, jumped directly into the game and just didn't get it. "So you jump around." I'm not saying the game is the best ever but it's setting, it's setup, it ambience add to the experience. Removing those is not really trying the game.

Another experience, tried to show someone Eternal Darkness. It's a horror game, to really get it you need to be alone in a dark room with some good sound like headphones or a stereo. You put it in, your character starts going insane and the hair on the back of your neck starts to stand up as the game creeps you out. That's what makes that game work. Crank up the rock music, play it in a light room with no sound and it's pretty mediocre.

Metroid is another such game. Just looking at the action while there are a few cool things that's not what the game is about. The game is about immersing you into the role of Samus. Immersing you in the exploration of a strange alien planet. It's does this amazingly well which is why it's getting such high praise from those who give it that chance to immerse them. Those that don't, those that play with their other TV on MTV or with the sound off or with a zillion other distractions will not get immersed and as such they will not get it. They will not understand why others like this game.

Most of the time I happen to prefer the immersive games. The games that require you to give them your attention. I guess I'm writing this to ask you to give it a try sometime. I'm sure some of you will say "it's a game, I'm just trying to have fun". My counter to that is fine, do what you want but you are really missing out on some great experiences. You wouldn't put on a video of a movie you've never seen while cleaning your apartment and making dinner and expect to get the movie. It wouldn't be fair to say "yea I saw that movie but it sucked" when you didn't actually pay attention and watch it. The same is true of many games. Give an immersive game a change, give it your full undivided attention for a while and see if you don't have one of the coolest gaming expereinces you've ever had.

Game Development Forums
Metroid Prime