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May 27, 2008

A Triumph of Sheer Will and Determination

Not terribly related to adventure gaming, I realize, but it's something I feel needs to be said. I don't do a lot of game playing these days, preferring to spend my spare time on developing, but recently I had some extra time and I thought I'd spend it trying to catch up on some old, unfinished business. That business, unfortunately for me, was Doom 3.

Okay, all snickering aside -- yes, it's an unabashedly vapid action FPS game, and a relatively aged one at that -- I had purchased it some time ago, played it for a few hours, and shelved it, not entirely because I wasn't enjoying it but because of other games and commitments. And since I have the tendency these days to stop playing games before finishing them, I decided this was one I was actually going to return to, and finish. And finish it I did.

But only through a prolonged and maniacal act of sheer will and determination.

I was reading through an article on Gamasutra today on designing happiness, and came across a portion particularly relevant to this experience for me:

For example, we all know friends who play a certain game constantly while complaining about its every flaw, like my wife when she plays World of Warcraft. She gets no happiness, having played the game to death, alone and guildless. But she gets a visceral pleasure in continuing to kill mobs, farm items, and level new characters.

Conversely, playing Dragon's Lair for me was a happy but pleasure-less affair (the play mechanics are merely rote memorization), but the participation in (and completion of) such a challenge, and getting rewarded with a beautiful animated movie satisfied my dedication, even if I hated every unfair death I had to die to get there. The idea of unhappy pleasure versus pleasure-less happiness is a bit extreme, but can be an enlightening distinction.



Clearly, the experience and completion of Doom 3 for me was an unhappy pleasure. Actually, I'm not even that sure how much pleasure I got from it -- after a while, the only reason I kept playing is not because killing wave after freaking wave of the same mutated aliens gave me any pleasure, but only because, damn it, I was going to finish that !@#$% game or collapse trying. It was like it was taunting me with level after painful level of worthless PDA stories, key fetching, ammo collections, storage containers, and "surprise!" enemy spawns behind me, all of which was designed purely and entirely for the purpose of prolonging the inevitable end just a little bit longer.

I remember at multiple points during the game thinking, "Finally, I've reached this level. Please tell me I'm near the end," only to realize that I was, in fact, nowhere near the end. I thought reaching the Delta labs was an achievement, until I found that the labs had levels 1, 2A, 2B, 3, 4, and 5. Ugh. Then I reached Hell, which of course could have any number of areas it wanted. Close to the end? Nope. Next it was back to Mars, and finally confronting Sarge, which certainly had to be near the end. Wrong again! After that it was down into the caverns, with area after area of the same minions, same fights, same slow aching progression. By that point, I had lost most interest in the game, and just wanted desperately for it to end.

Then, finally, it did. Strangely, I almost didn't know how to react -- I think I was convinced there would still be another level afterward. Was I happy? No, I'd say just relieved that I didn't have to play it anymore, satisfied that it was, at last, finished.

Doom 3 is now something like 4 years old, and even though that's not a long time, I'd like to think we've learned something about gameplay and design in the time since. To me, this game is the paradigm of the formulaic big budget FPS genre. Beautiful graphics, some clever level design, and clearly professional, but it has nothing beyond the first couple of hours of play. This was, without a doubt, a game with maybe 6 hours of gameplay stretched out to 15 or 20 hours. Beautiful, empty, filler. Like it was trying to somehow justify its production values and price tag.

Would people have really been upset if the game ended in half the time?

Now that Doom is out of the way, I can turn whatever extra play time I may find toward other games. Given the amount of effort I spend thinking and writing about concepts like story in games, I figure I really need to experience first-hand the one everybody has talked about: Bioshock. I picked up a copy recently. But maybe because I overdosed on the FPS genre, I'm finding it difficult to get into. I'm finding a lot of the same things -- beautiful scenery, nice level designs, tedious recordings, wave upon wave of bad guys to plow through, ammo collections and containers, trivial fetching tasks. I've only played a little bit, so maybe it will get better. Maybe not. I have the sense it will be one of those games I set down and come back to some time later when I regenerate my determination.

In the meantime, I think maybe I'll start playing some IF classics, and perhaps concentrate on how the characters were implemented and developed. That sounds much more appealing.

2 comments:

Atul said...

I totally agree about Doom 3, and most games in general--they definitely go on way too long for their own good. It's also a problem I have with many game reviewers who complain that a game is "too short"; a game reviewer's "too short" is usually just the right length for me.

Have you played Half-Life 2? This game came out around the same time as Doom 3, and while it was relatively long, the great thing is that gameplay was always quite varied, so I was always interested in it. It's a big difference from Half-Life 1, which I felt dragged on and on.

Rubes said...

I haven't played Half-Life 2, although that's one I'd like to take a look at. I haven't heard many bad things about it.

As a Mac user, I haven't had the chance to try out a number of big games in the past, but now that I have an Intel Mac, I have XP running on a separate partition and I can try some of them out. I've already started to take a look at Bioshock, Dreamfall, and Jade Empire, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Plus, there are just too many good IF games that I still want to play.