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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 27: What Compels You to Play?

Tim Spaeth's picture

What compels us to spend 25, 40, 50, even 70+ hours on a single game? We think we've figured it out. Join us for conversation about Dragon Age, Assassin's Creed 2, Way of the Samurai 3, Torchlight and Borderlands DLC. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Yes, I Like Borderlands Now" Spaeth.

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3   Nintendo DS  
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My thoughts

The game I have probably sunk the most time into has to be Fallout 3. And what kept me going was a combination of looting, level grinding, and story progression. If I was interested in the story itself, I could have been done rather quickly. If I didn't go do some side quests I never would have gained a pet dog or found an alien blaster (more ammo, please). If a game fails to draw me in with any of those elements then I will stop. In truth, I have stopped with Fallout. I also stopped with Fable. So close to finishing, but something in my brain is telling me since I am so close to finishing I have seen everything there is to see. Now I have no interest. I haven't seen the ending, true, but somehow the payoff doesn't seem worth the further investment. Also, other games come along to steal my time.

Me too on not always finishing great games

Vince wrote:

In truth, I have stopped with Fallout. I also stopped with Fable. So close to finishing, but something in my brain is telling me since I am so close to finishing I have seen everything there is to see. Now I have no interest. I haven't seen the ending, true, but somehow the payoff doesn't seem worth the further investment. Also, other games come along to steal my time.

Wow, I do the same thing as well. Although I made it to the end of Fallout 3, I never finished Oblivion and Ocarina of Time despite the end in sight. I've also stopped playing Demon's Souls before completion, but I want to finish that one.

Me too!

This is pretty common, apparently. I sat at the final areas of both Final Fantasy VI (III) and Ocarina of Time for about a decade before I finished them. I seem to recall being intimated by the perceived complexity of the final areas. FFVI splits your party into three groups and for some reason that scared me off. For ten years. Reality is, those levels weren't difficult at all.

That's so weird! I don't do

That's so weird! I don't do this all that much any more, but I used to stop playing games right before the final areas as well. Sometimes it was because the boss or whatever was too hard, but sometimes it was just for no apparent reason. Maybe I didn't want it to end? I dunno! Bizarre.

Personally, I love a game with interesting characters. A decent plot is also a plus but characterization and character development (not the stat-building kind) are what I love about my favorite games (particularly interaction between characters!). It drives me up a wall when people say that gameplay is all that matters and games shouldn't do story, since that's not universally true at all.

Once I start playing a

Once I start playing a longer game and I get engaged (or compelled I suppose), 99% of the time I will finish it. Right now Dragon Age has me hooked, and after 77 hours and one restart after not liking how my character was shaping up, I still plan on finishing it. I also love that they did away with the karma meter-that's something I've been wanting for a while.

Also, I can vouch for the PCs combat system-it isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it's workable enough and I haven't run into any glitches so far. Playing as a mage is probably the most enjoyable part for me, as the spells you learn can be pretty cool, but they did a good job on making all of the different classes useful in some way.

I would like to pick up on

I would like to pick up on Tim's turnaround on Borderlands after around the 10 hour mark.

There are games that simply by their very nature or maybe bad game design require a gamer to really invest a lot of time to really get the most out of it.

Right now i am trying (that's the correct word, trying)to play Solium Infernum but there is a very high barrier to entry. I am sure once (and if)i am over that then the game might take off. That's what i hear about Dwarf Fortress for example. That's my experience with Demon's Souls as i found the first 10hours to be a brutal, brutal tutorial.

My point is, is there a way that the game will allow you to go past that barrier whether it's in terms of difficuly, poor progression or something?

Although i did not play Alone in the Dark i thought it was very interesting that it allowed the player to skip a chapter if he got stuck as all chapters where available to play.

Unfortunately most games leave out their best stuff/levels last and a lot of people maybe missing out.

Once it's all been done, it's all been done

With few exceptions I always finish the games I start, especially games with a narrative because once I've put in X amount of time I'd just feel lazy/cheated/lame if I didn't see it through to the end. That said, I agree with the general sentiment that once you've seen all there is to see in a game, there's usually not much incentive to go back and play it again. In fact, over the last 10 years I think the only (lengthy) games I played through 3 times or more were Final Fantasy 7, Vagrant Story and Jade Empire. Those rpgs, in my view, had the quality story, drama and more than enough content in terms of gameplay and exploration, to warrant multiple playthroughs. I would include SMT Nocturne on that list as well if it wasn't so long and difficult. I wanted to replay it, but after sinking something like 120 hours into the first play, I felt I had gotten all I needed from that fantastic game. When it comes to games with 5 or 6 endings... well, that's what youtube is for.

Awesome job on the podcast! I wait patiently for each new release. Keep it up!

where's the music from at

where's the music from at 19:42?


It's from one of the Assassin's Creed soundtracks, not sure if it's 1 or 2 off the top of my head though...

I fucking hate it when a

I fucking hate it when a game is long (let's say 20+ hours) and it doesn't compel me to go through in one approach (without week or months of pause) and in worst, most unsatisfactory case not to finish at all.

Morrowind and Boiling Point are two examples were i wasted nearly 100 hours without finishing it. The fact that i never knew if i had advanced a bit or i'm still in the middle of the story drove me crazy. No feedback at all.
BP was also buggy and both had no particular good presented story. (TES3 may have got one, but i don't read complete books on screen) Looting and exploring were the force that kept me going for a "while" but i have to see the finish line. At least in a reasonable amount of time.

Spellforce on the other side (also around 100 hours) didn't repel me even if the base building was dull and slow. But i found it just entertaining to build up an army, plow through the enemies and then do the rpg questing and talking type of gameplay. It mixed up extremely well. It felt always fresh because you were playing two games not simultaneous but in turns. Some games integrate parts of others genres completely, sometimes without success, here they were loosely connected and for me this worked perfectly.

The only longer game i played through twice is Vampire Bloodlines. And i still have in mind to do another round. That game just sucked me in its world. Every corner had some quest. But not to much! (Unlike Morrowind where in the crappy logbook i got lost what could be done.) The story was interesting and characters reacted to the character class you played, not just minor changes in the dialogue, they really treated you in another way when you played a tremer or a malcavian.

Anno (1404, 1701) is also a game that as long as i were not done with the campaign i hardly couldn't stop.
It always gave you 3,4, sometimes more tasks which you should do simultaneously. Stressfull but rewarding. Even though mostly there is no time limit and you stress just yourself.

Almost all points you listed up in this podcast. I think "building and managing things" like in the aforementioned Anno or Sim City, Industry giant or the tycoon games weren't included? Pure creativity or taking care of complex economic cycles or something like that is also a compelling factor in some games.

The Music

The music this week (from memory since I'm at work):

Opening Theme: Silver Surfer NES
Assassin's Creed 2 (Chase Music?)
Seven Samurai (Music from the film)
Diablo I (Music from the town)
Borderlands (Intro song)
Closing Theme: Ultima IX Ending Credits

IIRC, the AC2 song from the

IIRC, the AC2 song from the podcast plays when you're doing an assassination side mission. No matter how you feel about the game, you gotta admit it has a great score!

Concerning Graphics

At the end of the show the point was brought up that none of you mentioned awesome graphics as a feature that will compel you to continue playing a game. I agree with the idea that graphics in and of themselves are not usually a big factor, but I want to go a bit further: I think graphics are very important insofar as they are a tool to communicate the game rules and events and thereby augment the other items on your list.

For example, during Tim's comments on Borderlands he mentioned that one compelling aspect of games for him was the ability to use small hand motions and to perform powerful actions. This is called "amplification of input" and Steven Poole talks about the concept in the book Trigger Happy:

These are both examples (one ancient, one modern) of how characters give us videogaming pleasure: through a joyously exaggerated sense of control, or amplification of input. All you do is hold down a button, and you get to see this wonderfully complex, rich behavior as a result. This is one very basic attraction of all types of interactivity, and it also seems to be a near-universal pleasure among humans in the modern industrialized world. Why do people enjoy driving cars? Amplification of input: you just lower your foot and suddenly you are moving at exhilarating speed.

In some instances, the graphics are integral to the feeling of amplification of input. A great example would be the one Tim mentioned about inFamous, where you could kill ten or so enemies with a single controller motion in a powerful blast of lightning. The graphics are absolutely necessary to communicate that feeling of power.

There are countless examples of how graphics can enhance the other items on your list, including such things as better storytelling so that you can make more informed decisions, and conveying the constant progress that your avatar is making. In the end, the graphics need to enhance the gameplay and not detract from it.

Amplification of Input - Nice!

Thanks for that Poole quote, Odofakyodo. Certainly he said it much more eloquently than I did. I plan to check out that book now. As for my graphics comment, it was more of an off-the-cuff joke than serious analysis, but you're absolutely right. Not that it matters, but I made the comment about Too Human; I haven't played Infamous yet. The concept applies either way.

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