Zelda: Breath Of The Wild – hand-holding ruins the fun (Picture: Nintendo)
A reader talks about how much better it is when game don’t hold your hand too much, and how difficult it must be for developers to balance the issue.
One of my favourite quotes about the ocean is that the sea isn’t trying to kill you, but it is aggressively ambivalent as to whether you live or die. Another, more general saying, is that we learn a whole lot more in life from the stuff we mess up than the things we do correctly, first time.
And the same thing can be said about some games. The ones that let you fail on your own, with little or no direction. Everyone’s enjoyment of games will be somewhere on the spectrum of wanting strong direction at all times, all the way to needing to learn everything yourself. And your point on this imaginary line will rarely be fixed, it’s more likely to vary over time, by title and even by mood.
Personally, at the moment, I’m certainly not all the way to the right but am put off by numerous waypoint markers and overt pointers of what to do or where to go next. I like the breadcrumb approach, where the game gives a vague hint of something I may need to do.
An example of this were the memories in Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, where you knew you had to find a point on the map that mirrored the picture you were given, and sometimes you spoke to a stranger who would give you more information as to where certain places were, but it was down to you to study the picture and explore areas based on clues to get to the exact point you needed to trigger the cut scene.
My appetite for opaque guidance does vary by game, time availability and to some extent how I’m feeling at that point in time; sometimes I just want to get through the story with minimum fuss and on other occasions I enjoy taking my time, trying to piece together complex puzzles that make me feel like Stephen Hawking when I semi-accidently stumble on the solution.
Also, some titles lend themselves naturally to this slow burn of uncovering layers of features and the one that immediately comes to mind is SnowRunner. This is certainly not a hand-holding title, but this is fine as it fits in with the nature of the game being a literal slow grind around the map doing various tasks, as you learn its depths from the inevitable failures; repairing your vehicle, recovering your van out of the mud with another vehicle, doing smaller tasks first to get money for more powerful parts and exploring the area beyond the purposeful map fog to open up more possibilities.
You get the feeling that this is all by design by the developers, rather than a happy coincidence. And it was SnowRunner that made me think of the quote about the sea at the start of this feature; it’s almost relentless and unapologetic in its approach and I applaud them for it. It’s like an old-school PE teacher making you do press-ups in the rain until you learnt the particular skill you need to progress.
The more skilful developers are very good at making the uncovering of new skills, and the depths of their various systems, fit organically into the game; so much so that you may not notice it happening, and I definitely appreciate the extra time this must take to integrate into the title.
So what have we learned? Probably not a lot. Respect the sea, maybe.
By TheThruthSoul (PSN ID)
The reader’s features do not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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A reader talks about how much better it is when game don’t hold your hand, and how difficult it must be for developers to keep the balance.