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Every Time I Fail, A Game Fails At Telling A Story

This blog post primarily centers around Battlefield Hardline and how it's fantastic production values and challenging single-player design, even on easy difficulty, are at odds with one another.

It's the opening, tutorial-like mission of Battlefield Hardline's story mode. I'm playing on easy difficulty. I've just caught some suspects, engaged in a tight shootout and am headed for a car to chase the one criminal who escaped. Shortly after the chase begins he makes a tight turn. While I'm trying to follow him I get caught up in traffic and hit a few stop signs in an effort to make up for lost time but it's too late, the criminal especaped. I have to restart that part of the mission. My immersion and investment in the cops and robbers story ends here.

I try again. Only this time I'm not playing the game out of emotional interest, I'm playing for the sake of beating a challenge. This time I hit a pole, crashing my car and, again, failing the mission. At this point I wonder why I'm wasting my time with a story mode when I could be playing a mode designed for challenges, aka online multiplayer.

It's also at this point that my girlfriend, a casual gamer at most, has drifted to her phone and looked elsewhere for something to occupy her interest. I erase the game (which I'm playing on my Xbox One as a subscriber to EA Access) and am frustrated by another wasted opportunity to play a game with my girlfriend in place of a movie.

Fast forward a few months, Battlefield Hardline is now free to play in its entirety on EA Access. I give the game one more shot. I beat the first mission then my girlfriend again jumps in to watch. My cop and his partner are driving through a ghetto. Lots of characterization is given to this place, residents are having conversations and there's loud pop/hip-hop music playing in spots. Some resnidents are upset a trash can lid won't fit on right, others are playing chess and, of course, a few others look suspicious. My partner and I get out of the car to gather intel or possible make an arrest (which was our assignment). I'm briefly taught to throw shell casings to grab the attention of enemies and am then expected to use it in practice. I throw a shell, two enemies respond (not just one, as was my expectation) and my partner is spotted. Mission failed. I attempt this part of the mission again and try throwing the shells to a different spot... same result; I'm spotted and fail the mission. Again, my girlfriend is done with the game and has moved on to other things and, as a person working in the game industry, I'm frustrated.

My biggest question is this: WHY are story modes - not just Battlefield Hardline's but many other action games - given all this love and attention to detail only to derail the experience with immersion-shattering challenges? Why, even on easy, am I challenged to finish a story?

If there's an opportunity to fail, then that failure should result in a different story outcome, not a restart of a mission. No one appreciates a broken record that keeps repeating the same thing over and over. Similarly, no one appreciates replaying the same section of a game over and over. Can you imagine if The Walking Dead had an episode where there were 6 minutes of content; but the first 5 minutes were looped over and over as Rick Grimes gets killed by the same walker, in the same place, with the same camera cuts and the same dialog 8 straight times? Then, on the 9th time, Rick survives. You'd be releived of your annoyance and frustration, not rewarded for spending your hard-earned free time watching the show.

I like playing games. I liked being involved in what I do and actively thinking about the content I'm engaging with. But games still miss a large demographic of people. People who don't have enough free time to deal with the frustrations these story-mode challenges bring. If, on easy difficulty, a $60 game's story mode takes 5 hours to finish, that is a great value! That's 3 times the price of a movie and is about 3 times as long. Plus, most games spend the majority of their budget on multiplayer; which just sweetens the deal.

My point is this: stories should not be challenging. I should not have to be a member of a professional gaming team to experience a story as it is meant to be experienced. If this industry wants to include more people, it needs to lower the barrier to entry to action games by a very large margin. I can't help but think Battlefield Hardline's single-player budget was very well spent on the aesthetics and production but poorly spent on the difficulty design.

Yes, I'm frustrated. But more importantly. I see an untapped market. I see potential to make high-production games - not just mobile match-three puzzlers - something everyone want to experience. Meaning safer bets for investors, publishers, developers and, most importantly, consumers.

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