Monday, April 24, 2006


I used to be a patient person.

Hey now, stop that laughing. That was a heartfelt admission.

All right, that last sentence was bullshit. I can't even type the word "heartfelt" with a straight face.

There was a time, though, when I could watch an hour of commercials during a football or basketball game. No problem. I watched regular season basketball and hockey. I could replay the same level in a game--fifty times--and it never crossed my mind to stop.

Here's how tolerant I was when I was in my twenties. I played TV Sports: Football constantly (on the Amiga 500, one of the greatest gaming platforms ever). As originally released, the game had a bug where it would occasionally lock up during the cut scenes after a touchdown. When that happened, the Amiga rebooted and you had no choice but to start the game over.

I kept playing.

When the Amiga rebooted, I'd curse and start the game again. Eventually, Cinemaware fixed that, but I played well over a hundred games (and probably rebooted during twenty of them, at least) before they did.

Boy, things are different today.

Yesterday, I watched pro basketball and pro hockey for the first time this season, because the playoffs had started. I don't watch any regular season games anymore, unless it's football. I almost never watch a sporting event anymore without using the TIVO, because I can't stand to watch the commercials. This time, though, I flipped back and forth, because hockey doesn't have many television timeouts.

If you've never seen the NHL playoffs, by the way, there's nothing better in sports. And with the rule changes this year, and the officials enforcing those changes, the game is so much more fluid and exciting than it was before.

So the hockey game ends and I flip back over to the Pacers-Nets game. There's a minute left in the game, and the parade of timeouts begin. Finally with 0.9 seconds left, Indiana takes a two-point lead, and there's a timeout (I'm not sure which team called it). After the timeout, the teams come back on to the court--and the other team calls timeout.

At which point I turn off the television. I've been watching the game for over an hour (I started about halftime), and I've got quite a bit of time invested, but there were so many delays that at some point I just stopped caring.

So last night I was playing Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, which is a phenomenal game, and I spent about ten minutes very slowly and meticulously working my way through part of a level. I've almost reached the next checkpoint.

Then I get shot and killed.

I get taken back--way back. Nearly ten minutes in game time. It may not have been ten minutes for everyone, but I play the game pretty slowly.

So when I realize that I've lost ten minutes, and might well lose ten minutes again, I do the only sensible thing I can think of--I turn off the game.

Back in my twenties, I would have kept playing--and playing--because there was nothing else better to do. Now, though, if a game pisses me off, there's always something better to do. I could make lists of things that are better to do.

I don't know if it's just me that's changed, or if the world around me has--probably both--but it's very different now. And I'm not sure that game mechanics that make you go backwards work anymore.

In the old days, that was part of the challenge. Games were much harder--sometimes, brutally so--and repetition was a key ingredient. Now, though, punitive save systems just seem like a waste of time.

Even worse, checkpoint save systems, which ostensibly increase tension, are just a bad gameplay mechanic. They discourage experimentation. Can you imagine a worse gameplay mechanic than one that actively discourages experimentation?

MMO's are usually the same way, which is why I don't play online games very often. Want to battle something that cons above your level, just for the thrill? Sorry--get killed and you lose experience. Do that two or three times, and you might lose a level that took you hours to reach. So online games, which should encourage all kinds of experimentation to keep the experience fresh, actually do the opposite--they penalize creativity.

That doesn't make any sense.

I don't mind not making progress, but I'll be damned if I'm giving any back.

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