For Our Consideration

DuckTales Remastered

You’ve Seen Everything

DuckTales Remastered breaks the magic of the original by forcing you to see it all.

By Anthony John Agnello • September 25, 2013

DuckTales Remastered managed to make me angry not once but twice—first while I was playing and then again while I was filling out a survey about it at Club Nintendo. The very last section of the questionnaire added that delectable layer of injury on top of the game’s insult. “Why did you purchase DuckTales Remastered on Wii U?” asks Nintendo. “To explore the game’s world,” was my multiple-choice answer. Scrooge McDuck’s an adventurer, and I want to quest alongside him. What’s so galling about Remastered, though, is that exploration isn’t an option. Seeing every inch of the game is a directive, not a reward for explorers. Who cares if I don’t want to miss a thing? I don’t have a say in the matter anyway.

The original DuckTales game was unusual by 1989 standards. Capcom’s NES action games were brilliant, but almost all of them were about pairing great art with killer reflex tests. Mega Man 2, Ghosts & Goblins, and the rest of their ilk weren’t about deep exploration. Scrooge’s globe-hopping treasure hunt on the NES is different, though. The route to the game’s bosses and their riches aren’t always direct. In Transylvania, an invisible passage leads straight to the throne room of the witch-duck Magica, but you have to find it first. Plumbing beneath the surface of the Moon and its sweet secret cheese involves first finding a remote control for Scrooge’s friend Gizmoduck so he can knock down a wall.

DuckTales NES

On your first run through the game, DuckTales invites you to explore, while repeat plays let you alternately perfect your fastest route to the end or look around for all the things you may have missed. Secret rooms full of treasure and extra lives and inessential but lovely corners of the tiny stages are hidden all over the place, and they make the world feel alive and strange. DuckTales is full of things that are easy to accidentally skip but worth seeking out when you revisit the game.

DuckTales Remastered, meanwhile, insists you search through every nook and cranny. The paths to the bosses are each blocked by some kind of barrier. Rather than just a remote, you have to find all of Gizmoduck’s components. The invisible passage is still there in Transylvania, but now you have to visit every part of the castle for pieces of spell to get to Magica. The alluring striptease of DuckTales’ world is reduced to a bare-all anatomical study. By the end, you’ve seen everything. The illusion of a living place is broken.

I can see where game makers are coming from. Crafting a game is difficult and time consuming, so if you’re going to put the time, effort, and cash into making something, the audience damn well better take advantage of it. That’s the impulse, at least. But by forcing the completionist impulse on players, developers betray a lack of confidence in the game’s design and allure. Shouldn’t I want to play DuckTales Remastered a second time? Shouldn’t I be trusted to suss out where to go and what to do in the game without it constantly nagging me with tips and littering the levels with knickknacks that are just pieces of a key?

That mixture of designer insecurity and distrust in the player isn’t unique to Remastered. The Legend Of Zelda has transformed from an explorer’s delight to a rigidly controlled theme-park ride over the past 25 years. Fire up 2011’s Skyward Sword and you can play through a Hyrule that hides some treats, to be sure, but the story will drag you over every sand dune and forest glade first before letting you snoop around. Meanwhile, go to the southwest-most corner of the first Legend Of Zelda, and you’ll find nothing but an empty copse of trees. And you never have to visit the ghost-infested graveyard at all unless you choose to pick up the game’s most powerful sword. These skippable, sometimes useless places add a layer of color and mystery to Hyrule.

Released the same week as DuckTales Remastered, the Fullbright Company’s Gone Home demonstrates just how powerful a game can be if it’s rich with things players may never see. It’s possible to work your way through the story of Samantha Greenbriar’s disappearance without even going through the entire house. While you’ll still get most of Sam’s story if you miss the game’s kitchen and greenhouse, you’ll miss portions of her parents’ arc. Hidden notes, receipts, and letters detail Terry and Jan Greenbriar’s 20-year marriage, and they paint either a depressing portrait or a sweetly optimistic one depending on how many of them you see. Both takes make for a beautifully told story. The Fullbright Company trusts its game to be fulfilling no matter how it’s played while also giving players beautiful reasons to come back.

DuckTales and Gone Home aren’t outwardly similar games. Bipedal fowl in waistcoats and haunting tales of adolescence don’t have a whole lot in common. (Not yet at least. Someone get a Kickstarter going for a game about Webbigail Vanderquack’s Peace Corps experience!) As different as they are, both demonstrate how a game thrives based on how it cultivates a sense of place. I may not have seen everything Gone Home has to offer on my first time through, but I felt like an explorer in the Greenbriar’s lives because it was practically impossible to see them in totality. In DuckTales, a game about an explorer, I walked away disappointed because “discovery” was inevitable. Guess which one I’ll play a second time.

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  • 2StoryOuthouse

    I think this sums up why, as many problems as Bethesda has with telling stories through their games, I will continue to buy every single open-world RPG they put out. And I will continue to simply walk around and ignore the main story line for the first few weeks. I know I’ll see most of what that world has to offer if I follow the path laid before me, but I’d rather have no idea what’s around the next corner.

    It also explains why I frequently abandon high-level characters in favor of starting over with another. I don’t want to be the Dragonborn and the Archmage and the world’s greatest assassin just to check off achievements off a list. I also want to explore being a different person.

    • SamPlays

      Much to my chagrin, I spent a great deal of time playing the side quests and exploring in Fallout 3 well before hitting the main story. My rationale was to boost my character so that I could pronounce “I AM A GOD (HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANT!)” to the super mutants and psychopaths throughout the campaign (Note: I have no interest in achievements, just mass destruction). Anyways, I spent so much time on those side bits that I completely missed the Three Dog segment of the game. When I tried to get to the radio station it was blocked off. 

      • Jackbert

        Croissants, actually. He’s treating little North to one.

        • SamPlays

          But if God is three entities (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), wouldn’t the waiter assume to bring three croissants given the consubstantial nature of the customer making the request? I think if God ordered three croissants, the expectation would be for nine to be served. Regardless, they (He) should probably share them with North because the Holy Ghost has really packed on the pounds over the last few years.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

      I absolutely agree with you in RPGs.  I also like to try to imagine all my characters living in the same universe.  Which means I try my best to not repeat quests (the exception is if I do quest and afterward decide a different character would have appreciated it more), and only one of them gets to be The Hero.  The rest are thieves and ruffians and picaresque and sometimes even downright cowards just trying to make a buck.

      • CrabNaga

        Now I’m just imagining Skyrim with the character-switching mechanic from GTAV. Someone get on modding that in ASAP!

        • GaryX

          They mentioned that on The Besties, I think, and I thought it was a pretty incredible idea.

          It’d be a good way to do the Bethesda-style RPG but with an actual “party” of people who could be more specialized thus allowing you to have characters that weren’t basically gods.

        • JamesJournal

          Seeing how well that worked in GTA5, it’s only a matter of time before a fantasy style open world does the same thing with a mage/warrior/rogue trio

      • light

        My Uncle Jace got a nearly new Mercedes-Benz S-Class Diesel only from working part-time off a home computer… his response 

        w­w­w.Y­A­D­7.c­o­m

    • DrFlimFlam

      My thoughts exactly. I’m over 60 hours into Skyrim and still just enjoying the world. Sometimes it’s fast-travel and boom boom boom, and sometimes I hop onto Shadowmere’s back and just go some place, and it’s thrilling.

      It’s almost funny because I put my FemShep ME trilogy run on hold to play more Skyrim because the tight, controlled experience I had loved so much was wearing on me some. So I find myself back, galloping through the snowy peaks and evergreen valleys, just enjoying the life of the unmoored.

      • Fluka

        Actually, I’m often the other way around.  I love the unfettered freedom of Skyrim’s exploration, but if I play for too long I actually find myself antsy and in need of a little more structure.

        On another note, I find it very charming that Portal 2, an exceedingly (and delightfully) structured and directed game, still goes out of its way to provide little hidden rooms and bits of artwork here and there, which can only be found with a sharp eye and some ingenuity.  (Minor spoilers here?) Mind you, discovering many of these – the Ratman dens, the Borealis – gets rewarded with an achievement, and thus they aren’t *just* exploration for exploration’s sake.  But the turret serenade room is its own delightful little reward.  

    • TheMostPopularCommenter

      I stopped playing Skyrim when I looked at that giant ass quest lists and freaked out one time.

    • Uthor

      I dunno, I found Fallout 3 and Nev Vegas had a pretty ncie balance.  Well, maybe less so in New Vegas.  The main storyline has you hit all the high notes, but there is plenty to be discovered on your own.  In Fallout 3, you can pretty much skip everything north of DC if you wanted to, but there are some cool things to be found up there.  And even in the city, there is a lot you aren’t forced to go to.  You only hit up a few of the buildings on The Mall, but making my way up to and inside the Capital Building wasn’t required and kinda of breath taking.

      I didn’t mind that Skyrim directed you toward the big cities, but making you become basically a badass warrior/theif/mage before progressing was annoying.  Have me interact with each of the guilds breifly, sure, but don’t send me on the path of joining them unless I feel like it.

  • aklab

    This article was good. I liked this article. 

    How much of this forced-exploration do you think is attributable to more complex game mechanics and graphics? Thinking back to my NES/SNES heyday, it was possible, if not practical, to literally scour every inch/screen of the game world. Now that the worlds are so much bigger and more detailed, though, you can’t really do that.
    I think Gone Home is an exception (haven’t played it yet but want to). To compare apples to apples, can you imagine if the next Zelda iteration played like the original, just dropped you off and let you go anywhere? The map is no longer 8 screens in each direction; it would take hours to figure out where to go. It would be different and perhaps truer in spirit to the first LoZ but it wouldn’t be much fun.

    • needlehacksaw

       In a way, you could say that this is what Dark Souls did. While there is a “natural” route most players will follow, guided along by challenges that are upon first encounter all but unbeatable, the game is remarkably generous in how it lets you explore the world. I have finished it, and there were whole regions I never even visited.
      I’m pretty sure that I am not the first person to consider Dark Souls actually a true heir to much  that made the Zelda-games so wonderful back in the day, but that was lost along the way: A sense of wonder, of adventure, of exploring. And I am really not sure that this kind of game is less well-loved today than it was back in the 80s. Just think of Minecraft, another game that for all its other treats is by a lot of people (myself included) mostly played for that magical feeling of exploring a world where I am not guided along on a leash.

      • fieldafar

        Speaking of Minecraft and exploration, how about this: The UK’s Ordinance Survey has adapted their GB terrain data into a Minecraft map, all 86,000 square miles of it.

        And you can try it out for yourself.

        • PhilWal0

          “Hey! I was on that OS Minecraft map and it had diamonds under Billy’s house! Grab a shovel!”

      • CrabNaga

        I was going to mention Dark Souls. It is remarkably easy to miss entire areas, quests, and NPCs your first time through. It rewards exploration quite well, since a lot of good items are hidden away in nooks and crannies. However, it also gives you the freedom to skip entire segments on future playthroughs, assuming you’re up to the challenge of sending your level 10 knight against a demonic hybrid topless lava-spewing spider-woman.

        In most other games, even the optional stuff feels like it’s something the game designers wanted to lead me through. The discovery begins and ends with the decision to take the optional path. Dark Souls defies that feeling.

        Also, Dark Souls is on sale on Steam right now, so everyone reading this should pick it up (assuming you have a computer that can run it and a 360 gamepad).

        • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

          And like to mod. :)  DSFix makes Dark Souls even more gloriously, darkly BOOO-tiful.

        • Rick Joyce

          Fascinating! She’s topless, you say?

    • boardgameguy

      I also think that Zelda’s designers don’t necessarily need to make the game world that big if they want to leave it for open exploration. With the space they have, think of the detail they could provide instead.

    • GaryX

      The Zelda game you described is basically how Morrowind starts.

      I would love it especially since Zelda games have increasingly lengthy tutorials.

  • PaganPoet

    I loved Ducktales Remastered, but I can’t say I disagree with your point.

    The series that comes to my mind is Tomb Raider. The original game in that series, as badly as it’s aged, was the first game that made me want to explore every nook and cranny possible. Most of the time, there was nothing of interest there. But sometimes, it was a skeleton. Or a statue. Or a plant. Or a carving on the wall. Even though exploring those sections of the game offered no new guns, no ammo, no medipacks, and nothing of significance to the game as a whole, they were special to me. Somebody took the time to render a (now crappy looking) skeleton and put it in this remote corner of this cave that most gamers would probably never see.

    These days, most games have such tight narratives that really hamper the sense of exploration and they don’t give you the room to just take in your surroundings. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing in itself, but it has been harder to recapture that feeling I had when I first played Tomb Raider.

    • PaganPoet

      Side note, the remixed soundtrack of Ducktales Remastered is almost worth the ticket by itself. The Himalayas theme and that guitar lick at 0:18!

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I agree, and I like thinking about worrying over these bits of non-essential game elements like a monkey flexing a femur bone under the shadow of an onyx monolith.
        My version of your anecdote is the sculptural face on the surface of the moon in Final Fantasy IV. As a kid, I was convinced that by the simple virtue of someone taking the time to create this thing, it must have significance. I don’t know how much time I spent circling that thing like a jackal, trying to open up some inevitably awesome secret that never actually existed.
        And of course, by the time the remastered PSP or 3D DS version came out, that face became the location of one of the impossibly-high level bosses that has become a boilerplate addition to any JRPG re-release.
       So that one game, that one instance becomes kind of a microcosm of this evolution in game design philosophy.

    • DJDeluxeSupreme

      @PaganPoet:disqus I’m right there with you.  Weirdly enough, I feel like Tomb Raiders greatest exploration segments were the Laura’s Mansion levels.  Completely unnecessary to the plot, and didn’t get you anything useful in the game, but it was so much fun to run through all the different rooms just to see her kitchen, living room, attic, gym, library, and everything else.  And it never held your hand through it.  You’d just be running along and you suddenly discover you can pull a secret book in the wall, which puts out the fire in the chimney allowing you to climb into the attic, where you find a puzzle which leads you to a door that just opened up that leads to a hidden library underground submerged in a fucking aquarium.  And you can swim in the aquarium!  And theres a key!  Hours and hours of fun, plus you could lock your creepy butler in the freezer.  

      • TaumpyTearrs

        I had completely forgotten Laura’s mansion, but I totally did all of that stuff, including locking the butler in the freezer!
        I even enjoyed running her training course while exploring the grounds.

      • GaryX

        Her mansion levels were actually the only parts of the game I ever played.

      • JamesJournal

        Laura’s Mansion is always somehow the best level of the game. It always ticks me off with they remove that. Most recently with the Reboot and Underworld. Slowly messing around and figuring out what the secrets of the mansion are is always so satisfying

    • boardgameguy

      I thought Portal 2 did a nice job of encouraging exploration with the Rat Man rooms, or whatever they are referred to.

      • PaganPoet

        I agree. Plus the part where you can find yourself in Cave Johnson’s office. Not that significant to the game, but still a cool little touch.

    • 2StoryOuthouse

      I’ve been playing the Tomb Raider reboot lately and, while I’ve mostly enjoyed it for satisfying combat and being really, really pretty to look at, the strictly linear format is a big disappointment. I have no idea why the developers sought to develop survivalism mechanics in the beginning (hunting for food, making camp) but not reuse any of that after the first hour, other shooting people with arrows.

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch

         The skill-trees in the TR Reboot were largely useless, I found.  Some of the early perks were nice, but at the higher levels, I found that they didn’t make much of a difference, because I needed to use some new button-combo to pull the tricks off, and I had gotten good with quick shots to the forehead.

  • rvb1023

    I find exploration to be one of the key parts to making games work, in spite of me liking quite a few linear ones. But the ability to walk outside the designated path almost feels like a necessity to truly lose yourself in a world.

    I have recently been playing Dragon’s Dogma and when I got to this forest I got lost. And while I did eventually remember I had a map and found my way through (The map is a few button pushes away instead of one and this practically works in the game’s favor), I honestly can’t remember the last time I was lost in a game. Outside of this and my recent purchase of La-Mulana, even the most open-world of games let’s me know exactly where I am. Most of the time I don’t mind this, but being lost forced me to go explore (in the best way possible) and also made me consider level design. In a mostly open-world game.

    If I think back to my fluctuating Top 10 list, most of the games end up involving exploration as not only a feature but a clear game play element. Shadow of the Colossus, Metroid Prime, Metal Gear Solid 3, Silent Hill 2, Planescape: Torment, etc.

    • needlehacksaw

      That is a wonderful list of games. I share your love for exploration (and for most of the games mentioned), and I realized once more that I should really give La-Mulana finally a play, after having purchased it months ago.

      There are a few games I would add to your list, I guess… Castlevania: Symphony of The Night, the aformentioned Dark Souls, Spelunky, the vastly underrated early Realms of Arkania-RPGs (no games did exploring better), and maybe even Fez… all games that know the difference between a secret and a mystery. (The latter not being something you tell anybody you meet that You Actually Know Something But You Wont Say What It Is Unless They Ask.)

      • caspiancomic

         Castlevania: SOTN is basically the mother of all exploration games. If you make a beeline for Dracula you miss like three quarters of the game’s content. It’s amazing how much faith that game and its developers had in its players.

        • TheKingandIRobot

           Check out the somewhat awful SNES shooter Faceball 2000 sometime.  40 levels of shooting at vaguely 3D smiley faces.  Or load the secret game instead, which is 75 levels of better shooting at vaguely 3D smiley faces.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          The best thing about it is that game still tells you you got about 96% completion. It reserves 110% on top of that for those who look for 4.

        • CrabNaga

          Also, since SOTN is completely broken (in terms of game mechanics that can be abused to your benefit), you can skip entire segments of the game that you’d normally be forced into doing had you not known about said exploits.

        • Yuri Petrovitch

          SOTN is the gold standard for making the whole thing open-ended. You can spend hours after you finish the game collecting rare weapons or trying to get outside the castle.

    • DJDeluxeSupreme

       As soon as I read this article, I immediately thought of Shadow of the Colossus.  But I’m evaluating it in my head, and it’s a bit of a weird case.  If you choose to roam, you roam simply for the sake of it, because other than a few things like the big tree or the big bridge, the world is almost completely empty apart from the colossi.  Which isn’t necessarily a negative, the emptiness and loneliness of that world is a large part of the appeal of it.  But because the sword always guides you to the next colossus, there’s rarely a feeling where you feel lost or feel compelled to explore.  The one genius element was the fact that the sword doesn’t work in the shadows, and you could lose your path in a dark forest or canyon, at which point you did have to explore.  I feel like Shadow may have been better without the guiding light entirely.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        And without dishing out the colossi in a one-at-a-time, linear fashion. It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, if the colossi were all just out there roaming around, and you could happen upon them in any order by exploring (maybe the sword would still point you to the ‘next’ one, though…).

        • SamPlays

          I like this thought and wonder what the game would have been like if you could actually see the colossi or major arenas far in the distance. 

        • GaryX

          @SamPlays:disqus ”It would have been” not on PS2.

        • SamPlays

          @GaryX:disqus Draw distance was actually pretty impressive in the first Jak and Daxter, which was released fairly early on the PS2. Naughty Dog seem to have a knack for pushing technical limits on the PS consoles. 

      • rvb1023

         I’d agree that there isn’t much too explore but I would argue exploration in and of itself is half of that game’s content. Some of the colossi are not straight paths but require a lot of workaround. I’ve beaten that game many times and still don’t know all the ins and outs of world map. And if you want the berries and lizards its practically required that you hunt down every little corner.

        • DJDeluxeSupreme

           Yes, this is why I thought Shadow was a weird case.  Staying on the path to the next colossus feels like exploration. 

    • caspiancomic

       That’s a solid list, but I don’t know if I’d say that any of them feature exploration as a core mechanic. I find that when games make a concept like ‘exploration’ (or ‘creativity’) into a central part of the intended experience, it actually tends to inhibit my enjoyment of that activity. It’s one of the reasons I never really got into sandbox games- when the game explicitly frontlines exploring as something I’m supposed to be doing, it ends up just feeling like an Easter Egg Hunt in which I haven’t been told what I’m looking for.

      In games like Shadow of the Colossus, MGS3, and Silent Hill 2 your progression through the plot is almost totally linear and where you’re supposed to be going at any one time is always very clear. Hell, in Shadow of the Colossus your sword will point you directly at your next target. It’s my opinion, at least, that the exploration in those titles is so rewarding because it’s so completely optional. It’s so optional, in fact, that it sometimes feels like you’re not even supposed to be doing it. The fact that Snake Eater never, anywhere, ever gives you any indication that hunting down and shooting Kerotans will do anything (and doesn’t keep track of how many you shoot), or that carrying the Tsuchinoko to the end of the game will unlock something, makes it even more rewarding when you discover weird crap like that on your own. Plus, one of Silent Hill 2′s most iconic mysteries, regarding HOLES and where they were, is totally missable.

      Anyway I think I’m basically saying the same thing you are, the more I think about it. I think that exploration is a big part of these games, but I don’t think I would call them central gameplay elements the way that “jumping” is in Mario or “shooting” is in Call of Duty. I think central gameplay elements are more or less mandatory- things that any player would have to do just to finish the game. A goal-oriented player could beat any of the games you listed without deviating from the main story one inch, so the fact that there’s stuff in the game that it’s possible to never see makes those secrets all the more precious.

      • rvb1023

         Maybe “central gameplay element” was the wrong term to use, but you are correct and essentially clarified my point for me.

        For me it comes down to knowing your destination but the journey is up to you. I spent about 4 hours in Minecraft (Arguably the most open game ever made) before I got bored because the world gave me no direction and absolutely nothing to do unless I wanted to build a castle or something, at which point I would have a castle and nothing to do.

        Great game design, in regards to exploration, should be less about how open it is (Though this is an important element) and more about how I get there, if I even bother getting there at all.

        • caspiancomic

           Excellently put. I kind of don’t know why I took such contention with your earlier phrasing, it’s clear we’re talking about the exact same thing.

          I’m also glad you brought up Minecraft, since it’s another ultra success story that I would never be able to play because it deliberately frontlines “exploration” without giving you a real goal to work towards (or ignore in favour of doing something else.) I think your thesis that exploration is most rewarding when your destination is clear but your path there is your responsibility to figure out is right on the money.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I tend to get lost easily in games, so I need a fair to decent map system. So while I really enjoy the outdoors in, say, Skyrim, the indoors, where the maps are practically topographical, drive me nuts.

  • NakedSnake

    “Immersion” is a word that’s thrown around a lot in gaming, and there’s a good reason for that. Part of the reason why people play games is to escape to fantastical dream worlds or play out fantasies that they have about the real world. But it’s hard for a grown adult to play make-believe like they did as a child. In fact, as players we will often test the limits of a game, searching for bugs or logical gaps that will prove the falsehood of an experience, like a dreamer who asks too many questions, and is then frustrated to find out they woke themselves up. That’s why it is essential that game designers maintain a focus on immersion: the player will try to break it, even if they don’t really want to. This forces them to make decisions about the freedom that they offer the player and the limits that they will impose on them.

    There are downsides to both freedom and structure. Giving a player unlimited freedom almost begs them to find ways to break the game. Indeed, this becomes an activity in and of itself. Games like the Elder Scrolls or GTA are that much more remarkable because while they give the player a lot of freedom, they can also maintain immersion in the face of constant testing by the player. Even so, youtube seems to be lousy with videos of “look at this crazy shit that happened in Skyrim!” On the other hand you can actually maintain immersion fairly well if you provide a lot of structure for the player. The player understands that there are limits to what they can do, and they don’t push back as hard. There is almost no temptation to test the limits of strategy games because it is so clear that you are playing within a rule-based system.

    The best games, I think, strike a balance between the two extremes by offering an expansive world to explore but then setting limits on how and when the player can actually experience parts of that world. In essence, these games channel a players instinct to “break the game” creatively, by offering opportunities to explore, but making it extremely difficult to do so. The Zelda games are a great example, as the Dead Rising games and Bully. They give you freedom, then put limits on that freedom. It’s an open expectation that you’ll spend the rest of the game trying to get that freedom back.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      That’s interesting, because I don’t think of game goals that way.  I think of them like the journey (satisfaction through using a skill), the destination (content tourism), and the meaning (artistic themes based on context).

      I believe a weakness of games requiring significant staff investment is that they often address only 1 aspect at a time.  Some people get enjoyment from only using 1 field, but I like the middle of the Venn diagram.

      Journey: rewarded expertise.  Achievements or secret stages/bosses/items/unlockables are often solely this.  The game’s creators acknowledge your skill, whether or not the 3rd costume, trophy, or points are worthwhile or not.  Arcade hardware-centric genres do this often.

      Destination: yours and Anthony’s creativity and exploration.  The creators put special spots that offer satisfaction in and of themselves, sometimes separate from what constitutes the main game.  Consumer hardware-centric genres do this often.

      Meaning: artistically derived themes.  Creators offer you something outside of the game world and ruleset.  Gone Home is 1 example of a game solely in this category, since there are no skills taught and the interaction spots are as plain as can be.

      People require 1, 2, or 3 of the 3, and I don’t think any answer is wrong.  Anthony appears not to like EVERY game requiring the combination of 1 and 2.  You like the push-and-pull of 1 and 2.  Ico’s a 1 and 3.  Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure, my favorite game, is arguably 2 and 3.  Most of my favorite games, though, are all 3.  Final Fantasy IX has systems with interlocking reward mechanisms that allow you to complete the main game and get pointless reach rewards OR explore numerous sidequests that are not achievable without mastering the systems, and it contextualizes most of what you do and most of the locations you discover with thoughtful artistic sincerity.  Psychonauts is 1 of only 2 Tim Schafer games I really love because it requires all 3.

      Edit: This has been Insomniac Game Design For Imbeciles. I think it makes sense, though.

      • NakedSnake

        Haha, it’s a big topic: why do we play games? I guess I should note that in my response above, I’m specifically responding to the topic AJA introduced. That said, I do specifically favor games that emphasize immersion. I have trouble with super-hexagon or canabalt or whatever where it’s 100% skill.

        But to respond to your broader point: I think your “three things games offer” theory is pretty sound. I can’t think of any other category of game satisfaction. But I would argue that all three can and do contribute towards immersion. Exploration is probably the most important factor, but providing challenge (or Journey, in your parlance), is probably of underrated importance in that regard. If a game provides a lot of exploration but the difficulty is not engaging, the emotional investment by the player is limited. It’s fun to explore in Binding of Isaac, but how engrossing would it really be if you weren’t dying all the time? 

        I certainly think themes and meaning can be immersive, too. If a game’s themes or arcs grab you emotionally, then you can get deeply immersed (like a novel). Red Dead Redemption was a great game just based on gameplay, but the story of John Marston is what turns it into a transcendent experience. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Well put.  I should clarify, too, that I’m definitely contextualizing it through Anthony’s piece.  People will try to break the immersion, correct, but if they try breaking it through manipulating 1 of the above 3, the skilled designer can use 1 of the other 2 to dissuade them from doing so.

          Make the story quests so interesting that getting stuck on a track isn’t a curse or make the themes so compelling that gamers want to make “the right choice” (like in Mass Effect 2 or Bioshock 1, to pick mainstream examples).  Your Binding Of Isaac example tries to use #1 to avoid players breaking #2 .

          So, that’s the reason I’d say why the Ducktales remake doesn’t work so well.  (The Gameological Society: Where For Your Considerations actually make you consider things.)

        • NakedSnake

          @GhaleonQ:disqus Dammit! Bioshock would have been the perfect example of a game that maintains immersion by confining the player, rather than giving them freedom. I wasn’t happy with my example of strategy games in my original comment above, but it was late and Snake no function well sleep without. 

    • stepped_pyramids

      I have always most loved games which are rich, functional, and broken in interesting ways. If I had to rely on some kind of crude psychoanalytic approach, I’d say that the dual experiences of falling through the geometry in Daggerfall and being terrified of the game for years afterward and messing around with noclip mode in Dark Forces made me fascinated with the parts of games where the realism is worn and the underlying logic peeks through.

      • NakedSnake

        There was definitely a weird Shadowrun/SnowCrash vibe to noclipping your way through those early shooter games. Like you were a God or Ghost peeking in on mortal affairs, intervening for good or evil (mostly evil) at your whim. 

  • TheKingandIRobot

    We can all agree that the moon theme is the best, right?  I mean just goddamn.  That moon theme.  Seriously.  On a NES?  Get out of town.  Maybe the best NES song?  Maybe eclipsed by the title screen music for Megaman 3?  Hard to say.  Both so good.

    Here have some beardo’s acapella of it that’s amazing too:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nhy2aNEPshw

    • needlehacksaw

      Without wanting to turn this comment-section into one of those “best NES chiptunes EVAR”-lists that the internet is already pretty stuffed with, I’d like to confirm: It certainly is one of the best tunes the NES ever churned out. Beaten, IMHO, maybe only by whatever Naoki Kodaka came up with for Sunsoft.
      Personally, I’m particularly fond of the music to “Journey to Silius”, maybe because it’s a little less known than most of the other classics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPb6kDJ-owY

    • SamPlays

      Moon theme is great but I think the Transylvania theme is a strong contender, too. I clicked on the link from @PaganPoet:disqus near the top of this thread and it was great to hear that music, again. Over 20 years later and it’s still awesome.

    • PaganPoet

      On the NES, the Moon theme is the best, yeah. But on the Remastered version? I just don’t know, they’re all so good. I think I’ll have to go with Amazon and its samba remix. Too damn catchy to ignore.

    • Uncle Roundy

      Ehh, I’m kind of a wet blanket about this song. Ludicrously overplayed. Amazon and Himalayas are better, and Amazon is by far the song on the Remastered soundtrack.

      I’m also far more irritated by Smooth McGroove (the “beardo”) than entertained by him. I give him a lot of credit for his superb arrangement skills and the fact that he takes requests, but his vocals sound like the musical equivalent of Velveeta to me, the way he plays with his cat is just eye-rolling hit bait, and he does WAAAAAY WAY WAY WAY too many loops of every song he does.

      (all IMO of course)

      • TheKingandIRobot

         I actually also enjoy the Amazon theme tremendously, it has a killer bassline for a NES track.

  • EmperorNortonI

    I have an almost perverse desire in games to wander as far as I possibly can away from where I’m supposed to go – so long as the game is linear and telling me where I’m supposed to go!  So often it turns out that there was, in fact, nothing to see, but nonetheless I feel obliged to try.  In Dark Souls, I discovered the underground city long before I made the ascent to the Parish, just because it was obvious where I was supposed to go, and I didn’t want to go there.

    This ties into my desire to walk places as much as possible.  Fast travel is something I really and truly hate, but which is nonetheless irresistible.  I also think it makes game designers lazy.  They KNOW a player will just fast-travel back and forth, and so it makes “go here and do this” sort of quests utterly meaningless, so that they might as well be in the same building. 

    Fast travel also kills the tension of travel.  Travel is meaningful if it’s hard, and surviving a difficult journey is a rare sort of gameplay reward.  Managing resources, knowing that you can’t go back and have a long ways still to go, and gauging encounters accordingly is an incredibly fun thing that designers seem to have almost entirely written out of modern games – either by putting resources everywhere, making the player so powerful that it doesn’t matter, or allowing one to always zip back to a safe zone in an instant.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Agreed.  I won’t say Fast Travel is bad in and of itself, but it certainly does encourage lazy game design, since you can just randomly sprinkle your quest objectives about the map.  If your game world is worth exploring and not a constant pain to traverse across (Hello, Oblivion!), Fast Travel can be useful for avoiding tedium as you near the end of the game.  I do still submit that Morrowind probably had the best implemented example of a Fast Travel system I’ve ever seen, a perfect blend of utility and accessibility:
      –Silt Strider:  allowed fast travel between select cities.  It cost a moderate amount of money, so the PC isn’t going to be using it a lot in the early game when money is tight.
      –Mark and Recall:  This pair of spells allowed you to “mark” a spot on the map (that you currently were at) that you could teleport back to later using the “recall” spell. You could never have more than one “mark” at a time, so it was always a one-way trip.  
      –Divine/Almsivi Intervention:  These spells would teleport you instantly to the nearest temple (Imperial Cult for the former, Tribunal for the latter).  They were kind of the “Oh shit, I’m in trouble!” emergency contingencies.
      –Mage’s Guild Guides:  Most Mage’s Guild outposts will have a member that will teleport you to any other outpost for a cost.  The PC doesn’t have to be a guild member to use this service, but it did make it much cheaper.

      Between all those options, it was possible to make to a lot of places on the map instantly, but it takes more effort than simply opening up the map and clicking on a location.  Once you managed to get some equipment enchanted with a heavy dose of Levitate, getting to the more out-of-the-way areas becomes easier. 

      • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

        Morrowind’s world felt huge in a way Oblivion completely failed to, between what you describe above in the way fast travel works, and how the environment varied from region to region.  I’d love another Bethsoft game to revisit Vvardenfell.

    • O Superman

      Tying in with your first paragraph, I’ll frequently try to determine which way is the “wrong way” to go a game, especially in a dungeon or something like that, so that I don’t miss anything.

    • GaryX

      I basically played the entirety of Bioshock: Infinite by seeing which way that arrow told me to go and then going everywhere but.

    • signsofrain

      One of my absolute favourite things about Wind Waker was that sailing from place to place actually took some time. Point yourself the right way and just enjoy the music and visuals. Go grab a snack, roll yourself a doobie, or just kick back and enjoy. That relaxed pace I so enjoyed set me up for a bit of a disappointment when I played Phantom Hourglass because a) You had to set a course rather than steering the boat yourself and b) Sailing required constant supervision to avoid obstacles and blast enemies. 

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    I remember in the early 00s, when I was trying to analyze my disenchantment with games in general, I hit upon the idea that games at that point were too preoccupied with “resolution” in every sense of the word – games were designed to be highly “resolved,” not leaving much for the player to resolve her or himself.

    High visual resolution tended to abandon the more abstracted, interpretive aesthetics of earlier games which leveraged player imagination to interpret what was going on. High narrative resolution did likewise for story (The early Nintendo games, when adapted to higher-resolution media like film, TV, and comic books were all so weirdly varied and strange and imaginative as a result of this – it’s a weird thing to say, but there’s something sad about the fact that the Mario Bros. movie just couldn’t happen today. Non one could ever look at a contemporary Mario game and have it conjure something that fucked up in their mind).

    The issue discussed in this piece also hits upon that idea, I think. Call it too high “world resolution.” In games like the first Zelda, or Marios 1-3, where there were huge chunks of the game world that were completely optional, the world wasn’t presented as a solved puzzle you were just traversing, but as a landscape worth navigating in its own right, with weird little loose ends and cul de sacs. Tim Rogers suspects that the first worrying steps toward the over-resolution of game worlds – and the subsequent minimizing of their mystery – started with the percentage reading in Super Mario World, which gave you a world full of secrets, but assured you that, yes, the world could be “100%”ed. The world was resolved, a closed book which you were just leafing through.

    Anyway, around that time Wind Waker came out, and it sidestepped the problem of high visual resolution with its amazing, simplified style, and it sidestepped the problem of high world resolution by having an expansive map to explore with several quadrants left completely optional. It managed to get me excited about contemporary video games at a time when I was pretty disenchanted with them.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Wind Waker EXACTLY. I know some people say it’s boring, but for me, cutting through the open seas on that beautiful dragon boat is just so relaxing.

      I like the idea of the ocean, but living on the west coast my first 20 years, the reality was dirty, salty, and often cold. In Wind Waker, it’s just blue and beautiful.

    • GaryX

      I actually think this is something that GTA V does as while and is particularly unique for such a high profile game. There are incredibly detailed and realized locations in the game that exist outside of the main narrative and for no other reason than to populate the game world and add texture. Further, there are missions and arcs that serve characters rather than an overall narrative. 

      I feel like most games, and generally all AAA games, streamline narrative into a single resolution–ie, it all has to do with the one, major plot (even if its a subplot, it’s in order to resolve something to carry the major plot forward). Even Red Dead Redemption had this issue with the way it treated Mexico and often unsuccessfully tried to tie it into the overall plot. There are some other games that avoid this trap as well, but GTA V feels borderline postmodern with its use of missions for the world and characters rather than for narrative.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      My point here is going to be specific to Super Mario World, but dagnabbit I’m gonna make it anyway. The game itself makes no fuss about where its “secrets” are, which works against the kind of exploration that Agnello is talking about, but I think it’s something that works perfectly for it. It’s only nominally a world; I’d liken it more to a puzzle book than Skyrim, and I don’t think it gains anything by having the pages stick together. I can see why most games don’t, or shouldn’t, emulate that, but if Mario games can be “an interesting collection of levels for running and jumping” it certainly doesn’t hurt.

      As an aside, I think any game that takes the puzzle book approach should also consider increasing the difficulty to match, but as a kid, I considered “Tubular” the height of difficulty.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I get stuck in that foggy forest and my wife has to come help me.

        It’s kind of sad, really.

  • Tim Kraemer

    When I played games a kid, exploration was often the goal, not even the means to an end. It’s not hyperbole but a pretty freakin’ good estimate to say that around the ages of 6-8 or so I spend 100+ hours wandering around my brother’s copy of the EGA version of Quest for Glory 1 (or, as it was called then, Hero’s Quest). Never even beat until I came back several years later and was like “Oh, huh, this game does have an ending.” But I never considered my prepubescent experience with it to be an unfulfilling one.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    I get what you are saying, but I really didn’t mind.  Making Ducktales Remastered didn’t in way make the original game less available than it already was.   It opened up a version of the game to a new generation.  Is the “forced exploration” an improvement?  No.  But it doesn’t break the game.  The original game was ostensibly “about” exploring, but that wasn’t what gave it its lasting fame.  It is ultimately a platformer.  It was not a huge game for the time and it is tiny for an even a PSN/XBA title now.  If you want exploring, you want Zelda 1, Zelda 2, or a ton of other contemporary games that had much bigger worlds.  If you want satisfying play-die-repeat platforming, Ducktales still stands up… both the original and the remastered.  By forcing us to go through every square inch of the levels, they have sacrificed a little exploring for a longer linear game.  I’m ok with that.  You still get to choose which order to tackle the lands in (and yes, there is strategy behind which are better to tackle first) and its not as if they took some huge section of the game out.  You might feel less of a desire to replay it, but your initial play-through is longer and when you win it feels like more of an accomplishment.  Yes it is a trade-off, but I feel it is one that doubles down on the best part of the game and ultimately sacrifices only the option to skip things.  Forcing you to play through every piece of real estate doesn’t seem like such a bad thing when the gameplay itself is so perfect.

  • Chris Hansen

    “I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen it all.”

  • DrFlimFlam

    I’m back into FTL hardcore again, honing my skills and getting more comfortable with transporting and cloaking and shipboard combat, and that’s one thing about the game that’s so interesting. Each play-through of the game is the same mix of exploration and flight, but each encounter has the potential to be unique, even if the setup appears to be the same. you make choices about what to explore, who to encounter, and how to respond to each encounter.

    What a great topic, Mr. Agnello. Really stokes the imaginative fires of what the best games have to offer: a world to explore and live in, even just for a little while.

    • boardgameguy

      Someone above also referenced Spelunky. I think the rogue-like genre is fun since I have the sense that if I don’t explore everything, it is something that I’ll never see again. It captures something ephemeral and unique and, in my mind, worth seeking out.

  • Anonymoose

    All fowl are bipedal.

  • CrabNaga

    There’s a couple points I’d like to bring up regarding this topic.

    First, it seems that a lot of game devs have one philosophy for how a game is played. They want players to experience everything they created in the game, so they sort of force players to see it by shoehorning every bit of content into the critical path of the “story mode” or what have you. This works well enough, until the player catches on that every objective, every blip on your radar or compass, is just pointing to some unique setpiece in the game world. I don’t think this is an inherently bad way to present a game, but I do feel like it presents a fundamental disrespect for the player and their abilities/preferences.

    Second, developers tend to view any unintended skips, sequence breaks, glitch exploits, etc. as an affront to their One Intended Way to play the game, and will rush to patch these things out. For instance, there was an exploit in Metroid Prime that allowed you to make long jumps by sidestepping while locked on to something. This allowed players with skill and/or savvy to get the double jump powerup right at the beginning of the game, when normally you have explored half the game world by the time you get it. This allowed players to access certain areas and get certain things earlier than they were intended to, and as a result, in future releases of the game (even future discs on the Gamecube), they patched it out so you can’t make long jumps with the sidestep. That closed off that avenue to every gamer who owns that version simply because it wasn’t intended. This particular exploit didn’t break the game, or potentially leave games in an unwinnable state, but they felt the need to close off that avenue because it interfered with their One Intended Way.

    • DrFlimFlam

      That’s one of the things that bugs me about Metroid games, and others as well – that sometimes the “exploration” aspect is fake, just part of the design to hit the right things in the right order. Instead of feeling organic, what seems open and inviting is really surprisingly structured.

      • GaryX

        I think–and this is actually something I argue in my own architectural theory–is that games (and architecture) need partial structure. It needs to have the structure so as to create the narrative but intentionally leave it open or unfinished so as to require the active participation of a person or persons to complete it. There needs to be definition to both strengthen and contrast against the interstitial space where a multitude of possibilities occur (I think Bethesda games lend themselves well to this).

        There’s a whole pretentious essay I have where this ties into Borges, Pynchon, and Lynch.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          You should, uh, probably just C+P that whole essay into a comment box and hit ‘post.’ Like, right now.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus It really needs another draft or two (and I’m waiting on hearing back on another game/architecture essay first), but when I do finish it, I’ll let you know.

      • The_Misanthrope

        I would say it *could* come off contrived or fake if it is done unsubtly.  I think the key is structuring the levels so it is immediately obvious how you are going to get to some accessible area, but when you finally get the upgrade/tool necessary, the player gets this “aha!” moment and goes back to those previous inaccessible area.  The problem that the Metroid (and Zelda) franchises face is that, apart from one or two new wrinkles, any player familiar with the series can predict the sequence of upgrades.

        I would really like to see this kind of tiered exploration applied to open-world RPGs, apart from the usual “You must be this proficient/leveled/equipped to survive this area” bit.  As it stands, there is often a kind of disconnect with what you do on your quest and how it impacts the world.  There are exceptions like Oblivion’s “Shit just got real!” moment when the portals open up over the countryside, but in general, you are doing something for some NPC to move the story gradually forward. 

        I suppose my definition of this is kind of vague, but I suppose the closest game to come close to this notion is Minecraft.  Many of the materials and crafted items in the game result in an expansion of your abilities to survive and explore the world (both underground and the surface) more fully.

  • dmikester

    Great article.  I’m an obsessive player when it comes to exploration; I need to get 100% in games where that applies and I need to see everything that I possibly can.  Oddly though, I actually like getting guided towards things and following a linear path; I love the advent of trophies and achievements, as the best lists (like, say, Fallout 3) provide tangible goals that help you get the most out of your game and guide you towards seeing everything.  I can’t explain it, since I also love exploring off the beaten path in games and finding bizarre secrets and easter eggs on my own, or even just beautiful but empty areas.  

    But this is interesting with DuckTales Remastered; if I was actually forced to explore everything with no autonomy, would I feel the same way?  I think the answer is probably not, or at least, I would think of the game as just another game I got through rather than as a game I felt like I had been given the opportunity to make my own experience.  

    Gone Home is another interesting example.  While there’s been I think pretty solid criticism here that the game does more or less force you down a linear path (though it’s mostly masked as well as it could possibly be), there is also a sense of autonomy given that you can miss things and you can find information in a different order than other players.  But, is that really autonomy in the same way?  For example, I didn’t miss a journal entry in my first play through of Gone Home not because I wasn’t very thorough.  It was because it was extremely well hidden and in an obscure place (you had to pick up magazines you would never think to pick up).  Also, I never would have known that I had missed it if it hadn’t been for going online and looked at a guide, which somewhat frustrates me.  I love the game, but I never felt the same kind of autonomy that I would in say a GTA game or a similar open world.

  • long_dong_donkey_kong

    I don’t think it’s the forced exploration that ruined DuckTales Remastered, I think that it’s the lack of cleverness. In a Mario game, if you jump on an enemy, it might lead you to jump on a slew of other enemies to potentially give you extra lives or perhaps it allows you to reach an otherwise unreachable area where there is a secret exit, a coin room, etc. Sometimes jumping on a koopa in Mario and kicking the shell can lead to mass chaos. In the new Ducktales, jumping on an enemy might allow me to reach an otherwise hidden rope to pull me to a hidden area, but it’s not really hidden if I can pause the game, look at the map, and know there is a way to get up there. There are areas on the Amazon level in Ducktales where there are spikes on the ceiling, spikes on the floor, and spiders hanging from a web. I’m sure there is a way to position that jump perfectly where I pogo around the spikes and jump on the spider, but I also know that I can just walk across the spikes, take a little damage, and find an ice cream cone to heal my health in the next screen or two over. There is no rewarding cleverness to trying to figure out that jump and there is no real punishment for saying “fuck it” and walking over the spikes.

    Also, the new Ducktales needs to shut up already. In old licensed NES games, character cameos occurred so that somebody could throw you some health-restoring items. In this one, it’s like, “Oh, there’s Launchpad. Hey, before giving me a ride on the rope under the helicopter, why don’t you give me 60 seconds of dialogue that does not help me with the game.” If you find one of the coins you need to advance, the game cannot just give you a bell or jingle, Scrooge has to stand there and talk about some ancient civilization that sounds just like our human civilization, but they add the words duck or quack to the name.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

       I guess I could recheck but I really didn’t think the map opened up an area until you had been there.  I suppose I could be remembering that wrong.  And I really like the voice-work, but I’m a hardcore fan of the show so it was fun to hear new stuff from (mostly) the original actors. Anyway, those scenes can be skipped.

      • long_dong_donkey_kong

        On the Wii U, there is a map on the game pad that shows coin locations. It might not draw the room for you, but if you’re missing a coin, you know to head in that direction.  The cut-scenes can be skipped, but years of video game instinct tells you to at least watch it the first time in case it offers something of value, only it never does. Plus, to skip it you have to pause the game and select skip on a menu. You can’t just mash the A button.

        In my opinion, the original Ducktales game would have worked fine without a license. They could have just thrown in a new character like a Mega Man-type with a pogo stick and the game would have played just fine. The license just gave them the ability to use recognizable avatars and music, but the game itself wasn’t in-your-face about it being Ducktales, it was just a good platformer with anthropomorphic ducks. This version seems very intent on letting you know it is Ducktales by shoving the characters in your face, and in doing so, it takes away from the action of the game.

  • Unexpected Dave

    I love it when a game rewards me for taking an optional detour, but I hate when I’m penalized for following the straight path through.

    Some of my favourite games like Final Fantasy V and Mass Effect 2 are chock full of missable items that have a huge impact on the game. Even worse is when a key story item or event can easily be missed (such as the titular element from Chrono Cross.)

    I think Link to the Past has the best balance. Straying from the beaten path may net you an optional item like the 1/2 magic, or it may net you a necessary item like the Quake medallion. Either way, the path is never closed off completely.

    • DrFlimFlam

      The entire endgame in Chrono Cross is shockingly optional. Since it is what really completes the experience it’s kind of baffling the developers left it to chance like that.

      • PaganPoet

        Not to mention unlocking the “real” ending is rather difficult when the last boss keeps interrupting the order of your spells!

        • DrFlimFlam

          I’ve only done it twice to save myself the hassle. It’s probably the worst part of the game, no matter how clever it is.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

          But man oh man, when you actually get the sequence perfect and that final song plays, it’s such a wonderful rush. 

          I found that the best way to maintain some narrative integrity in Chrono Cross is to just pick a trio of characters and stick with them start to finish. My crew’s almost always just Serge/Lynx, Kid/Harle, and Glenn. That keeps the story a little tighter when it’s not a roving band of weirdoes like a giant pink dog.

        • signsofrain

          Oh man… gag me with a heckran bone. I hate Poshul.

      • Drinking_with_Skeletons

         I replayed CC this summer (after playing Trigger for the first time on DS).  Even though I played CC to death when it was released, it hadn’t occurred to me just how unfinished the ending is.  The…ghosts?…of Crono, Marle, and Lucca are just exposition dumps that give you pages of backstory that either should have been cut or directly integrated into the story.

        Given how barely intelligible the ending ultimately is, and how it only really has meaning if you’ve played Chrono Trigger yet doesn’t really resolve anything from that game*, it’s hard to get worked up.  Well, except to be disappointed that such an otherwise excellent game falls almost completely flat in the end.

        *Magus is the only character who would really care about Schala’s fate in more than an abstract “do the right thing” capacity, and I think he’s mentioned in passing one time.  If you haven’t played CT, then you are saving some girl in order to save all the timelines.  If you have played CT, you’ve saved a relatively minor character without seeing how this affects the one character whose entire motivation was to avenge/save her.

        • PaganPoet

          I remember reading that Guile was supposed to be Magus in disguise, and he was supposed to have more to do with the main plot in general, but the writers had too hard of a time making that fit with the story of CT, so they dropped it and made him into a different character altogether.

        • Drinking_with_Skeletons

           @PaganPoet:disqus Yeah, I’ve heard that too.  I would say the game’s insistence on having so many characters probably had an adverse effect on a strong narrative.

        • Unexpected Dave

          @PaganPoet:disqus : The Viper Manor sequence in Chrono Cross is based on an earlier Japan-only visual novel called Radical Dreamers, where it is revealed that the Guile-equivalent is in fact Magus in disguise. When expanding the story into a full RPG, Kato couldn’t incorporate Magus in the same way.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I found out the other day that apparently I missed the vast majority of the actual (end)game in my playthrough of Chrono Trigger 10 years ago. Those blasted Chrono games!

  • MarloweSpade

    Excellent article.

    I think exploring in a game is, as what somebody noted above, a key factor in obtaining “immersion”. The act of discovering new places, people, and things is pretty much the closest analogue a game can create to actual, y’know, human life. It’s a key ingredient in world-building, and gives some indication that you’re actually building a world, not a Potemkin village.

    One of the reasons games like Deus Ex, Thief, and even Anachronox are among my favorites of all time is the wealth of optional, waiting-to-be-found stories and details in their worlds; the fact that I may never even see parts of it makes the game feel a lot bigger to me, even if the hidden parts are relatively insignificant gameplay-wise.

    (That said, there’s no way in hell I’d replay Gone Home a second time, even if I did like it the first time through; it’s one of those games that’s so confined that I’m pretty sure I actually did see everything the first time out.)

  • DJDeluxeSupreme

    This article got me thinking about which games or genres wouldn’t work with increased exploration.  I’m the same as EmperorNortonl above, that I feel a compulsion to explore especially when I know the game doesn’t want me to.  I remember playing Max Payne 3, and after I cleared a room full of bad guys I would always stop and look around the room for items or hidden secrets, but I’d get yelled at by Max every 20 seconds to move on.  “They’re taking your girlfriend!  Move!”.  Of course I wouldn’t, because I knew I could take 3 hours in a room and that bad-guy dragging away my girlfriend would never get any further.  So I essentially broke the game, and the tension of the experience, by wandering around at my own leisurely pace.  And I want to feel the drama and the excitement the plot wants me to feel, so when playing shooters, I’ll sometimes ignore that nagging feeling to explore and just pretend the chase really matters, and I’ll explore more the second time through.  It’s completely ridiculous. 

    So I feel like exploration often breaks those high drama scenarios found in games like Max Payne or Modern Warfare, and I can understand the idea that making them linear would be a solution.  But tight linearity just increases the compulsion to explore and break the rules.  I feel like first person shooters and other action games, where its necessary to maintain the drama, would benefit more not from linearity, but from giving the player a destination and allowing them to choose their path instead.  Say, hypothetically, you have to reach the top floor of a building, but now you have an entire building with multiple paths and their own challenges to reach that destination.

  • JamesJournal

    I actually never played the OG Ducktales as a kid, the IP of the show was the only thing that mad me recognize this and play the demo (I get the feeling those cut scenes were going to grate me. And why not just do them like the cartoon?) I was more of a Darkwing Duck person in the early 90s anyway.

    And skippable stuff is one of favorite things in games. You could do an inventory on that crap. Like in Dragon Age I didn’t pick up Leliana and Sten until my second playthrough, COMPLETELY changing the experience.

    I also in KOTOR 2, I had no idea I could make nearly everyone a Jedi and not just Atton and the Disciple. 

    Majora’s Mask was a small world packed with optional side stories. 

  • http://whatistheexcel.com/ Excel-2013

    What I hate is the internet’s tendency to show everything a game has to offer well before it’s released. Certain game websites dedicate multiple stories to a single game with headline titles that reveal a feature of the game that would have been more special if the player could have discovered it themselves. By the time it’s out, there’s little left to discover other than the ending, and said game sites continue to cover it with too much depth, such as which characters “you get” to play as and what things “you get” to kill/use/be shocked by. Is it really too much to ask to leave anything as a surprise anymore?

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Oh, it’s the worst with MMOs. Everything is laid bare all the time. It’s all over the world chat: Anyone wanna fight the boss you didn’t know is a boss? How I do get the thing you didn’t know exists? It’s in the dungeons: Everyone here’s a first timer, so let’s look up the walkthrough, naturally. It’s even in the notes from the devs: Here’s the new mounts you’ll get in the next patch and also we’ll introduce a harder version of boss fight you didn’t know is a boss fight. There’s zero spoiler etiquette with regards to anything and nobody seems to care.

  • TheLivingTribunal

    “And you never have to visit the ghost-infested graveyard at all unless you choose to pick up the game’s most powerful sword.”

    Um, isn’t the graveyard where Level 6 is?

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