[From “Crossing Roads”] Computer games stuff, Part 1

Rambling about games and me:

In the last six months, I’ve been looking at games in a slightly different manner; before, I’d simply play them and move on, nowadays, I actually try to identify what are the points I’ve liked and disliked.

Now, I mainly play role-playing games (a fine blend of character grooming, action, and story is a hard thing to achieve, but it is superbly gratifying if successful). I’m not a combat nut – I’d expect some balance, a marginal requirement of skill, mostly to create an allusion to realism, and if some strategy and tactics especially with a party can affect the outcome of an encounter, I’m a happy camper. Of course, my Pavlovian response to experience gain is fine-tuned to perfection, so I actually do tend to pick fights; that is, if you’re a level designer, you can be confident that if you stick a small encounter in a corner far off the main road, I’ll be one of the people who would greatly appreciate your efforts.

World exploration – I’m not that big of a fan. It has to be worth my while to drive / walk / ride, etc. long distances (I’m not a patient woman), but if you give me interesting encounters, hostile or not, (even if their randomness is merely a disguise), I’ll probably forget about how long it took me to get there. On the note of distances and time to traverse them while playing a game – I don’t mind a little bouncing between locations to complete quests. But please consider the emphasis to be on “a little” – if you ask me to run back and forth between villages a gazillion times doing errands for random people just so that I can progress through the story… well, where I come from, that’s an actual occupation, and a pretty lousy one at that. Please leave these out of my games. I have no immersion issues related to not having to deal with the drab of real life in my games. I’d rather have to press a “go to point A” button than having to deal with the realism of a five minute driving my character through an already explored (read, empty) area. On the flipside… Please do not assume that if event A has happened, I want to be whisked away directly to the location where event B will now happen, unless, of course, it makes sense (my character has been captured, knocked out, charmed, etc., etc.). Give me a choice.

Which leads into what I think is the one unique feature of roleplaying games. Choices. Not only choices of how to approach an encounter, but choices that relate to the character and the world through which they move, that will ultimately influence the storyline. I’m actually fairly easy-going about storyline. I think a game can be interesting whether you’re a caravan guard trying to get admitted to a city past lockdown, or a hero on a quest to save the world from the evil invading hippies from space. What I am ultra-sensitive to, however, are choices. In a D&D adventure, if you’ve given me the choice of a chaotic character in the beginning, don’t punish me by never allowing chaotic options… or, worse yet, giving me chaotic options that make no sense whatsoever for the goals of my character. And, while I understand how much development is involved in fattening a storyline, if you do give me choices… please have these choice actually affect (or notably and reasonably fail to affect, of course) the course of events. And I understand there will be spots in the storyline where it’d be so convenient for game development issues to railroad the character. And that’s where the craft of game-making must step in. Railroad us, sure. But don’t stick it down the player’s throat. Disguise. Justify. Smoke and mirror the hell out of it… Put a fresh coat of paint on it and serve with strawberries and chocolate. If we still end up noticing, we’d be more willing to forgive. Especially if it’s high quality chocolate (feel free to equate it to mind-blowing cinematic… yes, yes: Mass Effect, or a super-generous elephant-sized shot of testosterone… hi, Mr. Witcher).

Anyway. Since I’ve started picking on particular games… I’ll follow this up with my first game review!!

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