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Challenges in game play

Games are becoming less challenging as they are streamlined to bigger audiences and as big production companies steer clear from risk taking. Here I mumble a bit about those games, and games with challenges that rewards your effort on more than one layer.

The last couple of months I have been playing various Facebook games, including some of
Zynga’s, in order to get a better understanding of the genre... and I must say, I still get a very bad taste when playing them.

These games praise me for completing the simplest tasks, saluting how fantastic I am at
clicking repeatingly on crop tiles and telling me how I can get more bonus if I tell my friends how good I am at growing carrots. But I won’t, because I would find it intrusive and I would be too embarrassed wasting their time.

I understand the business model behind the games and how they encourage repetitive play and reward me for purchasing virtual content. Even though I do not like this model, it is not my main gripe against it. No, what makes it unbearable to play is that I am being praised and rewarded for doing stuff that is not even remotely challenging. As I cannot make mistakes in the game (poor choices only slow down my progress a tiny bit), I cannot even call this a game. It is like a prostitute taking my money and telling me how I am the greatest lover in the world, or a mother praising her 8 months old child for not spilling milk.

But I am not 8 months old, nor do I pay for sex (or virtual content in these so-called games, for that matter); I would never recommend this type of games to anyone, or even dare to call them games. Instead, play something with real challenge, like Farm Frenzy and Diner Dash clones, or WOW if you like grinding and long term game commitment. The other thing? Well, that is just simple simulators eager to be your virtual whore :-)

For now, I am done with these demeaning games. I do not find the time to play WOW, nor the interest – but that’s just me, I know. Instead, for the second time around I am playing through Red Faction: Guerrilla, a great console game which challenges you in a unique and different way: If you fail a mission, you can reload an earlier saved game, or retry the mission immediately, without reloading. It saves time but will cost you both some credits and lower population morale, which influences your overall progression – now that is how
I like my game play challenges served: I get a fun and challenging game play experience, and when I fail because it is damn hard, I can choose between two setbacks (playing time or resources).

IO Interactive’s older Freedom Fighters had an alternative model, which I also find highly appealing (no, I did not work on that title, it is from way before I joined the company): In Freedom Fighters, before embarking on a key mission you could choose to spend time completing a side mission, which would make the key mission less difficult: For instance, you could set off to destroy a helipad or a bridge, which would deny enemy reinforcements once you started on the key mission. This gave you a choice that, if executed with success, would influence the game on a larger scale.

These days the game market is flooded with social games and 3D shooter sequels that appeal to the mass market, streamlining content and lowering difficulties. I hope to see more alternative approaches to challenges in game play in the future – but they need to be correctly executed.

In the highly-praised Red Dead Redemption, for instance, you can choose from different ways to earn money – but whether you choose to become a Bounty hunter, a wildlife hunter or a treasure hunter, it all becomes meaningless after a few hours of play, as you get filthy rich and 90 % of what you can buy you can also find for free elsewhere in abundance. For example, why would you pay for a coach ride or multiple safe houses, when you can teleport anywhere on the map for free? Why would you buy ammunition when you always find more bullets after a firefight than you spent killing the bastards in the first place? Why would
you buy a horse when you can just whistle for a new one, for free?

Don’t get me wrong, I think RDR is otherwise a beautiful, great game. But just as much as I
love the diversity in this game, I hate it for being completely without meaning, gameplay-wise.

I encourage you to pick up those older games (Red Faction: Guerrilla and Freedom Fighters) if you want some good examples on how to challenge the player on more layers than just the difficulty of the confrontation directly at hand. The list of games with challenges and rewards/penalties on several layers is surely longer than that – If you think of some worth mentioning here, please do so...

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