By ahoodedfigure 9 Comments
Knights of the Old Republic is one of those games that either demands more playthroughs than most could ever handle, or it requires some comparing of notes. There are enough alternate decisions that there's at least an illusion of non-linearity, so some measure of FAQ-ness is required to figure out what you missed the first time through. This illusion of depth is great when you play it the first time, because you feel like you're wading through important options, but on repeat playthroughs (again, if you can stand it) you start to find redundancies, with dialog options that look different in text but elicit pretty much the same result.
We depend upon people with a lot more time and obsession than we do to know the ins and outs of a game. Star Raiders monster is about as close as I've ever gotten to writing something on this scale, and the more complicated that games get, the more you need to be detail-oriented and (this is key) scientific in how you approach solutions.
Way too often in these FAQs I've run into solutions that merely repeat what the player had done to beat the game. That in itself isn't bad, but it's how it's framed that's a problem. The way things are written, it's suggested that THIS is THE solution to the problem.
Take Dynasty Warriors 4, for example. It has some rather arcane and weird prerequisites for unlocking weapons and special items, so it almost demands you get a FAQ or interpret the old stories in the same way as the game designers did in order to figure things out. Yet the way many FAQ solutions are written suggest authority with HOW to perform a task, rather than simply saying "this is what I happened to do to get it done." If you have a FAQ that demands you run to area A, kill X, Y, and Z, then run back to area B in time to receive the message, you may be able to get the item, but you may find, in the course of making errors, that killing X, Y, and Z wasn't even necessary!
It reminds me of a general tendency in human superstition, where we happened to be doing the laundry when a relative died, so we refuse to do laundry anymore (then, as clothes get stinky, we figure out alternate ways to do it, still trying to avoid the exact conditions of that day, even though it had nothing to do with the relative's death). Same here, where you happened to do all these things and it brought about a result, never mind that you may have even missed what was actually required. At least these solutions will often bring about the desired result regardless, but it may not always.
The problem lies in the assumptions made by the FAQ creator as to what objectives are necessary to achieve the ultimate goals (in the abstract example above, maybe all you needed to do was run from area A to area B after an event, but because the player assumed the event had nothing to do with it, a player following the FAQ may get repeated failures because they never waited for the event to occur).
In Knights of the Old Republic, one of the coolest parts is the planet of Manaan, where you are asked to take part in a murder trial. Trials themselves are a bit of a tedious cliche in a lot of games, and Bioware seems to enjoy plopping trials into their RPGs, but they wind up being riveting if they're done well. The Manaan trial provides an excellent example of how the "what I experienced is the solution" attitude can ruin the experience, if you can stand spoilers:
I'll assume most of you read the spoilers there, since it's an old game and most who were interested have either played it or read about it to some degree, but the FAQs I've read pretend that their particular solutions were The Way to Do It, either not understanding all the detail inherent in this unusually nonlinear side mission, or not caring.
So, What Do You Expect from a FAQ?
It comes down to what you want to use a FAQ for. If you want to speed through a game and just complete it, to check it off on your to-do list, then FAQs that just give you rote solutions and don't give you any idea of the inner workings should fit fine; you wind up missing out, though, whenever the game designers do more than just have a linear story to tell, and you may not even know this is the case depending upon how the FAQ is written. If you want to understand the totality of a game situation, the more detailed and honest the FAQ writer is about their own limitations in data and ability, the better.
So, I guess my proposal to FAQ writers is simply this: if you're going to write a FAQ about a game, make damned sure you tell the reader the limits of your experience. Try to take into account what you did to bring about a result as much as you can, so that other players later might be able to compare their experiences to this. Also, don't imply that your solution is the only one unless you've actually experimented with alternate paths. Some Gladius FAQs I've read, and they are few, assume universal solutions based on incomplete experimentation (some side quests never reward you with anything if you wait too long to complete them, and some side quest triggers are buried under strange prerequisites, some of which I honestly don't expect a FAQ writer to know because they're just too arbitrary).
It's not just on the FAQ writers, though. I think game designers are sometimes guilty of obscuring things a bit too much at times. A hidden clue might be subtle in the Manaan trial can often come off as deliberately obscure in a Dynasty Warriors item unlock. If a designer wants to obscure their team's hard work, that's their business, but I'm pretty sure that designers want their work to be seen as much as players want to see it. It might help if there was still an interest in maintaining authoritative FAQs on the websites of the game designers themselves, either through moderated forums or file postings. To me it just makes sense because if you're going to make something complicated without making it easy for the player to try all the options, why not show off your own genius by making sure everyone knows all the work you put into it? That is, unless the complexity was illusory.
Any disappointing or tremendously useful FAQ experiences?