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This obsession with game length

Game design

The Internet is both an astonishing thing and a complete waste of time. It provides information to millions but also gives every plonker and his canine equal footing on opinion; myself included. Read online comments in relation to gaming and it’s a real concern that game developers admit to using these ill informed, frothing-at-the-mouth slurs for feedback.

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Like a rabid dog chewing on a wooden chair leg, the commentary doesn’t give up. They’re constantly arguing and being dismissive for argument’s sake; a blaze of quick-fire poorly written commentary to try and outwit someone they don’t even know nor will ever meet, all topped off with an added drizzle of underage users providing woefully inaccurate tantrums.

Accurate 360 degrees feedback is fine, but we really are becoming our own worst enemy. Having grown up with video games – and never having diminished expectations – it can all be rather depressing.

There are useful times when comments show that the majority of an audience wholeheartedly disagrees with the general critic response, but when these views are pinned to scores of 1 or 10 out of 10 it’s borderline impossible to take them seriously. Making a valid point is fine, but doing it screaming whilst in your y-fronts and guzzling fizzy gasoline is counteractive.

The most recent trend that has reared its deformed head is the faux significance of game length. Suddenly a game’s quality is embodied foremost in its quantity. If short it’s merrily disregarded. Twenty hours does not equate to a good experience. If the game is crap that’s twenty hours of disposable income consuming turd.

A worry recently glazed the news following crowd as rumours of Dishonored being completed in four hours appeared. The response should have been: Who gives a crap as long as it’s a wonderful four hours. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t.

Speed running an alleged open-world game in a minimal time doesn’t mean there’s a quality issue. It’s actually the opposite. The shorter the time the more open and free the experience is. If you can’t speed run it than it’ll be due to forced cutscenes, a linear path, frustrating design or QTEs built to break the immersion. Speed running a long game in a very short time is a good thing.

The attitude of bigger equals better can also be found currently running through the green veins of Hollywood. For a film to be ‘epic’ it now has to be at least 140 minutes. It is a notion utterly without fact or merit, and the consequential disregard for editing out boring pap is ensuring a conveyor belt of bloated corpses and numb arses. As is the continued fetishised slathering for the trilogy formula.

If you can’t tell a story in 90 minutes then you need to pack it in and try something new. There will be times when a tale demands a longer or shorter time, sure, but this should happen naturally and not be forced. In regards to videogames, there have been plenty of occasions when a campaign has dragged a few hours too long or the side-missions are clearly time extenders.

How often do you play a game and honestly wish it was longer because you wanted to stay in that world and with its characters? Rarely, at most. Yet this is exactly what you should be doing. The connection with an imaginary world can be extremely powerful.

The catalyst for this behaviour is based in why we play games. I play them for sheer enjoyment, for experiences that only this format can provide. Others appear to play games as a means to pass the time. Finishing work and pouring my few remaining hours of the day into a sub-par game that leaves me brain dead is not acceptable. I’d rather pay £35 for four hours of bliss than a forty hour journey of derivative and perfectly average standards.

But then it would be unfair to make a sweeping statement that that’s okay solely because I do so. At the same time, I don’t buy a lot of games. Not because of review copies – they’re not as frequent as you’d expect – but because I can’t afford to buy several games a month. Neither do I have a hundred spare hours to dump into something that really shouldn’t be getting my attention. Time is a much more important commodity.

A lazy counter argument would be that of someone only being able to afford one game a month. Well then let’s give them something to remember rather than an excuse to stay in for hours on end with the curtains closed. Completed and loved it in five hours? Then play through it again and soak in everything you loved the first time round. Alternatively, get out the bloody house and go for a jog. Stay over at friend’s house. Visit a grandparent. This is a hobby, not a lifestyle.

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It’d be boring to sit on the fence and say I want quality and quantity. For me it’d be quality every time. To feel something after the credits have rolled, not just to be left wondering ‘oh what’s out next’. How many games do we remember a year later? Very few. Maybe none. So let’s not pressure developers into bloating what could be a short and sublime experience into something average that outstays its welcome. Because quality is what’s important.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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