Saturday, March 18, 2006

Play it again ?

Amazingly, I seem to be in a creative mood, which just might have something to do with the recent changes in weather. Anyway, expect me to write more than usual. Or maybe not... these things come and go. Prelude over, on to the actual post.

I was playing DOOM tonight for what is likely the 100th+ time. And if you are starting to wonder why, don't worry, you'll get your answer. Or at least, you'll be less confused. (Or, failing that, at least you'll have read something new.)

Amazingly rata de raspuns la mailul pe care l-ati primit probabil cu totii (daca cititi acest blog, nu ati primit mail, and (VERY IMPORTANT !) you are a gamer, please let me know) a fost rather low, dar replyurile primite combinate cu informatiile pe care le aveam deja au fost suficiente ca sa-mi fac o idee destul de buna despre raspunsul la spinoasa intrebare care da titlul acestui post (thanks to everyone that answered BTW). Cu aceasta ocazie trebuie sa va spun ca voi scrie mult mai mult decat ar trebui, if only to rise to the expectations. Ah si pentru cei care n-au inteles nimic din cele spuse pana acum, this is a post about game replayability.

Ce ne face sa jucam un joc pentru a doua oara ? (Assuming you don't have a "double run" policy like what I was doing with some recent games) (Or the third, fourth, ... ,n-th time) (Yeah, double and triple parentheses are cool) (Quadruple ones, too) (Okay, this is getting silly :D)
Well, if you've already played everything you wanted to play and are forced to return to old titles, the answer is probably "duh". But outside of such special circumstances (which, sadly, happen to me all the time), let's see what we can dig out.

Although most reviews comment on and sometimes give marks to a game's replay value, each person's opinion on the matter is different. This is truly the one area of gaming where there are no absolutes. But let's just see if there is some form of intrinsic replay value a game might have regardless of who's playing it.
Any game that has a singleplayer mode that can be finished (ie. "campaign" mode for TBS, as opposed to "single scenario" mode) is more or less linear (usually more). Yet within the boundaries of this linearity, there must still be room for the player to do at least some things in more than one way (otherwise you might as well watch a movie instead). This freedom of movement is implemented diferently in each game, typically according to genre. For most games, this is done through gameplay (Thief: the objectives changed with each difficulty level; Deus Ex: you'd usually take the path to best complement your choice of skills; Arcanum: the choice between magic and technology greatly affected the course of the game; Jedi Academy: the simple change in lightsaber style was enough to make you play it again). A few games use the story to that end (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: there were three paths you had to choose from). There may be yet other ways, but I'm at a loss as to what they might be.
Also, some games include optional content: secret levels, extra objectives or sub-quests. Since most of the time players rush to the finish the first time they play a game, they will sometimes play it again in order to find/achieve/finish the bonus stuff.
Besides all this, many games also offer extra content for the specific purpose of increasing that game's replayability: "single scenarios" for TBS, "skirmish mode" for RTS or bots for shooters. This typically works as long as it does something even slightly different from the usual "campaign" singleplayer. Not to mention the games that are simply MEANT to be played again and again (and again, and again), games such as NFS, Mortal Kombat, or Chicken Invaders.
So overall, it would seem that a game's replay value is given by: gameplay freedom plus story freedom over total play time plus bonus/replayable content, multiply everything by nostalgia factor (thanks to Eugen for reminding me that very important element). This should sum it up pretty nicely.

Now use the above to explain the following facts:

- I've played DOOM and DOOM 2 (probably) more than 100 times
- I've played Thief 1 and 2 five times or more, always on the hardest difficutly setting (it had the most objectives)
- I've played Loom, Monkey Island 1 through 4 and Grim Fandango more than 3 times each
- I've played Final Fantasy 7 and 8 more than 4 times each
- Should I go on ? 'Cause I could :D

Well ? While the correct answer is "Because you're freakin' nuts !!!", you might indeed be surprised to find out that the previous theory, beautiful as it may be, is almost totally pointless.
The one main, big, HUGE reason to why you'd play a game again is as simple as this:


That's what really matters, and will answer the question "should I play it again ?" for about 91.76% of the time (as a sidenote, did you know that 54.32% of all statistics are made up on the spot ?), with only the remaining small percentage being covered by objective factors.
And if you don't believe me, I can only quote the most famous bad guy of all times (erm, except Hitler): "Search your feelings... you know it to be true !"

You know, after reaching that conclusion I was rather afraid I wouldn't have that much to say on the matter after all. Hopefully this was long enough to satisfy you all. Whether you agree with me or not, feel free to comment. Feedback is always appreciated.

- Chiller