Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Unskippable Intros

Last summer I visited a friend of mine in Sweden and happened to have Fallout 3 installed on my laptop. Since he shares my love for gaming and hadn’t seen the game yet, I let him try it out. Alas, he didn’t even finish the intro-sequence in Vault 101 because it is so long and boring. Me, I endured it the first time I played the game, but when I wanted to play again right after my first play-through it was the exact same intro sequence that stopped me dead in my tracks. There was no way to skip it.

Fallout 3 isn’t alone in this vice, especially role-playing games seem to fall into this trap a lot. My recent attempt to play Oblivion showed exactly the same thing – a boring, tedious, scripted intro that is intended to teach me how to play the game and to determine my character’s starting statistics. I already know how to play your game, I would even know it if I had never touched it before. It’s fine that there are tutorials for those who need to learn the game, but there has to be an option to skip them if you want me to actually play your game.

Mass Effect 2 tutorial mission. Good, but not more than once.

I’d be quite interested in trying out different classes in Mass Effect 2 and in playing at a higher difficulty level. The game was enjoyable and there surely is some stuff left that I didn’t yet see. It’s not going to happen very soon though, as the game requires me to sit through what feels like hours of exposition and tutorial gameplay before I actually get to do something interesting. I already know what a damn thermal clip is for, you could know that because I already finished the game just hours before! Sigh.

Re-playing parts of a game is fine, as long as those parts include actual gaming. Following simple instructions designed to teach me the game when I already know how it works isn’t gaming. Neither is subjecting me to exposition that I have already experienced. Cut scenes, dialogues, voice-overs, and all that fluff that makes for a good experience the first time around really isn’t all that interesting the second time.

This ties back into Friday’s topic of meaningful choices. Exposition contains no meaningful choices, and neither do tutorials. That makes them per definition not gaming, which explains why they are so uninteresting to revisit.  The problem with in-game exposition as opposed to say, a skippable introduction video, is that game designers try to interweave them with the real gameplay as much as possible. They do this to smoothen the transition between the intro and the real game, but at the same time they make it harder to make that part skippable. That said, why isn’t there an option in Fallout 3 to start right outside Vault 101 for those that know the story already, or in that Cerberus station that you first meet the Illusive Man in in Mass Effect 2? Then I might even be able to try out another character. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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