Doubling up this week, since neither of the topics I want to discuss seem substantial enough for their own blogs. That's such a reassuring statement to start with. I'm totally getting better at this whole blogging thing, you guys!
Though a germane talking point for even more prattle about the super-long RPG Xenoblade, the inspiration for this discussion actually came about from playing Super Mario 3D Land and discovering what awaited in the post-game content. Like Return of the King, Super Mario 3D Land isn't content to simply "end" after two or three instances that suspiciously look like endings. I hope you'll indulge me a few spoilers (oh hey, the Princess gets rescued) as I discuss, exactly, what the game expects you to accomplish to fully complete it:
- Reach World 8 and defeat Bowser, once and for all. By which I mean a few months, maybe.
- Complete all the Special Worlds, which are another octet of worlds that are tougher remixes of previous stages, laid out in a random order. Often these stages are heavily reworked to the point of being unrecognisable.
- Complete the final regular level again.
- Find every medal (there are three per stage, just like in New Super Mario Bros Wii) and get a golden flag (hitting the top of the flagpole) for each stage.
- Beat every stage with Luigi (who is unlocked shortly after starting the Special Worlds).
Now the Special Worlds are an awesome feature, partly because the levels feel as new as the originals thus almost doubling the content, but also because there are a lot of systems going on in SM3DL that end up underutilized. Take one particular example: A stage where three platforms will phase in and out of existence in rhythm with the music - there is only one area that uses this feature and because they have to introduce how it works, it's a fairly simple stage. There are at least two Special stages that revisit that gimmick with a tougher variation, allowing the designers to get the full use out of it. Subsequently, the lengthened longevity doesn't feel artificial: These stages look different, play different and therefore feel like additional content with some thought behind them.
The two collectible-based goals, that of the medals and flags, also provide additional challenge, though to a lesser extent than the Special Worlds. They may not necessarily count as longevity enhancements as they can be found during the player's first foray into each stage. I know Patrick is in the same camp I am about getting a stage "right" the first time from what I was hearing about his experiences with the game on the Bombcast, and I'm sure there are many of you out there who have a similar perfectionist nature when it comes to this sort of thing. There were definitely times where I missed a medal or didn't have the means to nail the flagpole jump just right and immediately restarted that stage to remedy my discontentment. I'm very much aware this sort of scavenger hunting/perfectionism isn't for everyone, though, so I'll mark this down as a "feh" for ways a game can satisfactorily add to the total playtime.
The final goal is where I take issue. Luigi's missions in Super Mario Galaxy, where the whole "Luigi's Time To Shine (tm)" post-game feature really started, had the same effect as the Special Worlds did here: The stages weren't so much identical as remixed to be slightly tougher, even given Luigi's slightly different style. However, the stages for Luigi this time actually are identical: He has to successfully beat every single regular and Special World you just spent several hours playing through as Mario. The slight differences in how Luigi controls don't really provide for a particularly novel experience, rendering the whole exercise as pointless busywork. I suppose one could view it as a "new game plus" model, a system I generally don't take issue with as it tends to be a fun and breezy way to revisit a game for nostalgia's sake, or for quickly powering through the game and sweeping up items or quests or alternate paths you missed the first time for a much-treasured 100% save file. It just feels so spectacularly inconsequential in this particular case.
Whatever, I made a comic about it so I guess I'm about done talking about this. I'll open the floor to you guys: In what way has a game, specifically, introduced a late-game goal that made you think "Oh, nuh-uh!"? Clearly higher difficulty settings, new game plus and alternate storylines are acceptable longevity-boosters, even if they aren't always implemented particularly well. I'm looking for the outliers that don't fit any of those categories. Like Diddy Kong Racing's (and other racing games) Mirror World. Who bothers to memorize the direction of every turn? Oh right, racing game people. Okay, I guess that works. Others?
The Value of Ideas
Patrick's recent interview with Squidi, aka Sean Howard, and his long-running illustrated guide blog thing for new game concepts had me thinking back to five years ago when I myself had an ideas blog, and what I thought the value of a game idea had. In essence, a video game idea is like a seed: Something small and useless by all practical metrics yet nevertheless has an intrinsic value measured in future potential. Something that, with enough sunlight (money) and nutrients (a talented team of developers) could turn into something exceptional. Provided, of course, that the seed grows into a fruit tree or a beautiful flower and not some military shooter bush. That was a terrible analogy. But hopefully you see where I was going with it.
While I wouldn't say Mr Howard was a hero of mine or anything (a similarly tortured peer might be closer, though possibly giving myself a little too much credit), I was inspired when his 300 Ideas started up to
ape copy rip-off try my hand at a similar feat, popping out 100 game ideas within ten weeks of updates. The full fiasco can be found here, for anyone curious. While clearly padded out with vaguely humorous ringers, I sometimes wonder how many of those games would've turned out amazing with the right group behind it. Obviously a game idea will mutate and improve as its being worked on by actual professionals, as more features are planned out for coding and certain necessary changes are made either for the sake of reality (accursed reality!), time or because an even better idea came along as a result of peer discussion and the old "art through adversity" axiom. I know I deliberately stuck with concepts for games I would have absolutely no idea where to begin coding, largely because I wanted to avoid the same puzzle games, physics-based platformers and tower defense that populate the Indie market, presumably because they all have handy programming guides for game developer newbies (to be fair to them, there's also the larger problem of genericness in the mainstream games industry too). Of course, that raises some unrealistic expectations, such as being able to bring any of these games to the world of the corporeal on my lonesome. So that's why I've always preferred ideas, ultimately. Because I enjoy imagining the impossible (or improbable, at least) and because I appear to be completely averse to success.
But man, was I oddly prescient with some of those ideas. Spooky stuff.
Super Mario 3D Land