Monday, 2 June 2014

Game Things That Make Me Rage: Story, And When NOT To Use It.

Okay, so recently, I've been playing a few "Casual" games. Things like Tales of the Orient: The Rising Sun, that sort of thing. And it's pissing me off. Why is it pissing me off? Because they don't think the game is good enough. That is, of course, a subjective opinion, but it's hard to get rid of when there's a lot of unnecessary shite around what is, essentially, a Match-3-Or-More game (the -Or-More comes from one of its mechanics).

This is the game...

The game itself is, as mentioned, a Match-3 game. Or rather, three different styles of Match-3 in one game, because you can pick to play any level with one of the main three types of match-gaming mechanics: Click a cluster to get rid of tiles, click two clusters, swap 'em, and maybe get rid of two sets of tiles in one go, and drawing a line from one matching tile to another through matching tiles to get rid of tiles. It's a game about getting rid of tiles, and our lizard brain is fine with that.

What our lizard brain is not fine with, however, is annoying pop-ups with story that I don't care about, and my hindbrain definitely doesn't give a shit about (no boobs, no compulsive behaviour, no fine asses... Nope, moving on!)

...And this is your reward (sans annoying pop-ups), as shown to you by a player who is better than you will ever be.

Essentially, there is this city that got destroyed, and a bunch of refugees, including three chucklefucks who are going to be giving you annoying popups for most of the game, want to rebuild elsewhere and be safe and yada-yada-yada. No really, all I hear past that point is a combination of endless chatter and "YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS", because that's essentially all the story boils down to. You click tiles to build up the refugee city, and you are going to be faced with a screen that shows how your village is progressing, complete with stylised people, with the occasional pop-up saying "Oh my, this thing is important for our village because reasons, you have to build it [which will take a longer number of harder levels the further you are in the game]"

It's a waste of good art resources. Why?

Because nobody wants to be told to continue the game. And while it may seem to the developers that they were rewarding the player, they really aren't. Because it's the wrong damn game for it. And because it's not actually a story, it's a framework that's been shoved into the role of story. Fuck. That.

See, even most of the nerds are happy!

Now let's look at Girls Like Robots. Surprise surprise, it's a casual-ish puzzle game. But the story isn't based on telling you what reward you have to get next, it is the reward. And it's pretty gosh-darned cute, too. I won't spoil it for you, but it's silly, it's romantic, and good fun. And guess what, it doesn't tell you you have to continue. I mean, look at that screenshot, and tell me you don't want to see more smiles (or angry faces, if that's your thing!)

Battle mode never looked so CUUUUUUUTE!

Or why don't we go the other way, and look at, say, Circuits, or Clickr? Neither of those have a story, and I love them both. Not because of their nonexistent story, but because their art styles work, they have fair to good mechanics, and there's no damn popups telling you you *have* to finish this level or the people you don't care about won't thrive. Oh, and the music helps too.

And guess what, Green Sauce? One's cheaper, one's the same price, and one's only a quid more expensive.

I've found exactly the same thing with racing games. Blur wanted me to care about a plot from some random Need For Speed game, while having substandard netcode, a flawed matchmaking system, and track design that allowed one player to DNF everyone else if he was halfway good and got to a nitro first on at least three of the tracks. Pyroblazer wanted me to care about its Post-Human Space Opera, but neglected the fact that a game where a mechanic becomes mandatory isn't nearly as fun as a mechanic that lets you be a pro if you learn it. Meanwhile, Wipeout let the backstory be there for anyone who wanted to find it, and Burnout Paradise largely didn't give a fuck about story, preferring that you just roam around a city blowing shit up.

So here's some protips for devs:

- Story is a reward, a spice. It isn't something you try to shovel.
- Story can be ignored if you have everything else right, in most varieties of games.
- Make sure everything else works, and if you're going to have a story, that it fits somehow. That last one really trips a lot of people up, and is the core of what I'm bitching about here.

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