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Vol. 2, Issue 5
December 9, 1999
Pad Happy:

Size Matters

by Nick Ferguson

Who wants to spend 100 hours on a single game? Not Nick F, anyway...
A  month ago I finally bought Final Fantasy VIII. I’ve played it for a good few hours but in the last week or so I really haven’t been able to bring myself to place the disc in my Playstation. The problem is, the game’s just too damn long! Ye gads - I can remember a time when no game was long enough, but now it seems that most new releases stretch for miles and miles. Call me an attention-span-stunted gamer (of the console breed, natch) but I see no joy whatsoever in these 100 hour treks. Its got to the point now where a potential purchase won’t make the cut because it’s going to take too long to beat; for instance, Tomb Raider 4 looks like a remarkable return to form for Ms. Croft, but I’m having second thoughts about buying it because I’m still mentally scarred from the ridiculous length of the previous TR game (which was just incredibly boring to play, so I stopped). Roll on Resident Evil Nemesis, I say.

I suspect that a lot of developers feel under pressure to make their games as long as possible, under the (likely publisher-led) delusion that a long, long game represents better value for money. There are certainly people out there who would heavily advocate that one game being longer than another makes it “better”, but the truth is it just makes that game longer. The reason the other game is “better” is more than likely because it has more ideas in it. Ultimately, a game contains only a finite number of ideas and if you try and stretch a game by limiting the frequency with which a player encounters your cool ideas , you’ll find that it’s not interesting enough to play. Think about the best games you’ve played recently and you’ll find that in a lot of cases something pretty interesting happens every five to ten minutes of gameplay. Conversely, think about the number of games you’ve played where all the best stuff happens in the first hour of play and from then on it seem like developers were looking to fill up space because they used all their cool ideas way too early (and then you didn’t bother finishing the game).

The real problem is that it takes a lot of talent to create a game entertaining enough to merit a play length of over ten hours, both in terms of game design and (if appropriate) the plot. I played about halfway through Final Fantasy VII before giving up (partially through boredom, mainly because someone managed to erase my save game) but the plot was already flagging – and don’t even talk to me about the tedious, repetitive battles. Final Fantasy VIII seems more gripping from the start, but word seems to be that the story isn’t quite as good as its prequel and the characters aren’t as engaging (uh oh). And those bloody Guardian Force animations go on for sooooo long – is there honestly no way to skip them? Life really is too short - how much “play time” in total do you think gratuitous battle animations add to the FF series, anyway?

  So maybe we don’t want longer games after all. Maybe what we want is a higher ideas-to-length ratio (now there’s a scientific measurement). Alas, matters aren’t helped by those whiners on the newsgroups who start complaining as soon as they finish a highly anticipated game. Worst of all was the release of N64 Zelda last year, when people came online a few days after it came out complaining that they had already completely finished it! What’s wrong with these people? How can you finish Zelda that quickly without the aid of a FAQ? More importantly, how enjoyable is it to play through a game that fast? Surely you just spend your time sitting there, thinking with a steely determination “Must... finish... the... game...”. Sounds like a punishment rather than recreation to me. Fact is, if you finished Zelda in two days, you never took the time to just wander and find things yourself – you raced through largely (or completely) neglecting the little touches that made the game so special. To all those “true gamerz” out there who pride themselves on whipping through the latest game, trusty FAQ in hand, I can only say: “Loser. If you don’t give yourself the time to get stuck, to find new things yourself, to revel in the puzzles, then you might as well be watching a video or playing a barely-interactive FMV-fest like Voyeur”. Eugh.

Of course, as soon as Rare’s Jet Force Gemini came out people were moaning about it being too long: looks like there’s no pleasing some people! In something approaching a conclusion, let me quickly summarise by listing a few games that I think are either “too long” or, alternately, about right in their ideas-to-length ratio...

Games that are too long:

Soul Reaver Final Fantasy VIII Body Harvest Turok 2 Driver

Games that are “about right”

Metal Gear Solid Mario 64 Resident Evil 2 Silent Hill System Shock 2

I was trying to think of “Games that are too short”, but I couldn’t come up with many. I was tempted to put down Zelda: A Link to the Past (on SNES) but only because it’s perfection (and I can always do with more gaming perfection, thanks). Another candidate would be Terminator 2 on the original Gameboy (which was ridiculously short - less than 5 minutes if you knew what you were doing), but seeing as the end came as a welcome relief rather than a bitter disappointment it probably doesn’t count either. There’s also a fair few games where the concept of “length” doesn’t really figure – Tetris and other puzzlers come to mind, as well as a number of deathmatch titles.

Maybe I’m just crap at games. Or maybe I’m coming from the point of view of someone who has always played a lot of games and has less time to play them (damn full-time job etc). There is cetainly a small part of me that always wants to get through the latest hot title and move onto the next one, but thankfully I’m able to stop it from taking over me and ruining the game experience. A certain amount of wanderlust is, after all, perfectly natural in the gaming world – it fuels our demand for (bigger, faster, stronger) consoles that run, er, beat-em ups with ever-increasing polygon counts and racers with increasingly pretty screenshots (GT 2000 – mmmm). But while I think that we see a large number of interesting new games arrive every week, I’m also finding it increasingly difficult to give most titles the time they deserve – or at least, the time they think they deserve. Anyone want to buy a (barely) used copy of Final Fantasy VIII?

- Nick Ferguson uses “I” more times per column inch than any other loonygames correspondant


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