Resumeability and Complexity

Quick post about a made up word. When I talk about resumeability I’m talking about the ability for a gamer to sit down and start playing the game immediately after an absence. This is mostly a strike against complicated games with a million things going on. Some games that leap to mind that have poor resumeability are “The Witcher”, and “Shogun 2: Total War”. Try playing those games for a while, then taking a few days off and coming back to them. You practically need to create a journal for your future self to come back to if you want any chance at knowing what you were doing within a few minutes. I say this knowing that “The Witcher” actually has an in-game journal, it’s not enough.

Resumeability is basically a measure of the shortest amount of time that the player can play a game and have it be worth his while. Another way to say the same thing would be how “Pick up and Play”-ish a game is. It’s more than simple complexity though, as loading times are one of the biggest obstacles to playing a game. One of the reasons I like Halo:CE so much is that I can click the Halo icon on my desktop, and then be in the game playing where I last left off in 16 seconds or less. For comparisons sake I tried Crysis: Warhead, it took me exactly 2 minutes, and it only had one brief unskippable cutscene, the rest of the time being loading. In addition it takes a while to figure out where you are on the map and what your objective is in Crysis: Warhead, although it’s nothing compared to a complicated RPG or Strategy game such as mentioned above. Still, if both games were equally fun, I would play Halo a hell of a lot more than C:W just because of its resumeability.

I really have to find a better one-word term than resumeability. Pick-up-and-play works but one word would be better.

Anyway, forgetting technical details, from a pure design standpoint some games are just more complex then others. I measure complexity as the amount of stuff that the player needs to learn and think about in order to play the game. Complexity is always bad, although complexity may provide greater depth then a simple game. As an example, tic-tac-toe is a very simple game, but pretty much without depth. Checkers is a more complicated game, and has some depth. Chess is a very complicated game, and has the most depth of all. We could create a game on the chess board that had only pawns, and it would be a great deal simpler, but it would probably have a lot less strategy. What I’m saying is that complexity must “earn” its existence through the creation of additional tactics and strategies, or pattern recognition. In other words, additional complexity absolutely must bring additional depth, or it isn’t worth it.

It’s fitting to talk about this here because the games that have poor resumeability almost always are very complicated. The Witcher gives the player a ton of stuff to keep track of in the form of side quests. Shogun 2 gives the player a huge amount of factions and relationships, as well as, in the later game, a bunch of different areas that must be constantly tweaked for maximum efficiency for your armies, as well as a bunch of different armies with their own problems and strategies that must work towards the long term strategy of the clan. It’s funny how the above sentence makes Shogun 2 seem a million times harder than The Witcher complexity wise, and it is a bit harder, but the bottom line is that you’ll be totally lost when you come back to either. Worst case scenario you come back, think you know where you left off, and do something irreversible that you wouldn’t have done if you only knew what was actually going on in the game.

If it seems like I’m picking on The Witcher or Shogun 2, it’s only because I like those games enough to be familiar with them. Still, I don’t play them nearly enough as I would like simply because of all the loading times in those games, as well as the steep price time-wise of getting back up to speed every time I play.

Long story short: Don’t make games that ask the player to keep track of a lot of different things. If you do make a game as such, it had better have a lot of depth to make up for it.

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