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Ridicolous notions: "100% complete"
Posted on Wednesday, July 23 2008 @ 19:52:33 Eastern

OK, so another tiny little series of articles. With this one, I will be focusing on notions in gaming that is, frankly, ridicolous, but that's not the only criteria, because if it was, I'd just put up a link to bad games. No, it has to be ridicolous, but nevertheless well-established phenomena that are quite unlikely to change as an industry standard! That should narrow things a bit down... or maybe not?

Anyway, my first ridicolous notion is a bit of a complex one. Basically, it has to do with the factor of most single-player games having dual goals these days: You can either just finish it (getting to the ending scene as soon as you can), or you can also pick up a lot of extras and complete it. And sometimes that gives you rewards in form of different/extra ending scenes and whatnot.

And the industry standard of doing this is that you have a percentage number somewhere in the menu, and that you need to get all 100% of the game's goals in order to get the bonus. It sounds sensible, doesn't it? 100%, a very easy number to remember, especially if the game shows you the progress. But the fact is, it can get pretty ridicolous when one takes a closer look.

Well, not always, of course. Getting 120 stars in Super Mario Galaxy consists of playing the main game, you just have to play the main game on more difficult stages (some slightly too difficult, and this is coming from someone who -has- all 120 stars. As Luigi.) And  Metroid Prime 3 has a pretty good implementation on how to get 100%, because here, 100% simply translates to finding all the suit upgrades, almost half of which are mandatory, and quite a few as good as mandatory (i.e. you'd be a fool to miss them). Add to that a wonderful searching system that you get a little over halfway into the game, and also the fact that you'll be using the main game abilities to get all of them. This means that the 100% mark is something that is achievable to quite a fair amount of gamers, not just the precious few "hardcore" gamers. It also means you spend less time searching for where the hell the the upgrades are, and instead more times figuring out how to get them, which I will claim is a more fun way of gaming, as that involves less frustration.

If you wonder how MP3 could have done it wrong, they could f.ex. have made it so you'd need a complete list of scanned creatures; something that is completely optional to start with. (It's a damn useful feature, to be sure, but it's still optional from the get-go.)

Anyway, it's time to show how things can absolutely get horribly wrong when you let "100% complete" get into your game in a careless manner. Enter Kingdom Hearts 2, a game with an extra ending scene that is possibly one of the coolest scenes in the entire game, despite only being a rather vague prelude to KH3. To get this scene, you must "complete" the game, and this is where things get really weird.

See, on Proud mode, this isn't at all difficult to achieve (assuming you can beat it... But the difficulty difference between Normal and Proud mode is small enough that if you can beat normal, you can beat Proud). Basically, to get a complete game, all you need is to close all the keyholes. Most are mandatory, but a few are optional, and those that are optional are not specifially difficult to do. Closing keyholes is, in fact, part of the game, and thus, it feels natural that you get something extra for doing all of them and not just some. So far, so good.

But if you play the game on Normal Mode... Poor, poor, creature. If you want that extra scene here, you must not only close all keyholes, but you must also play every single minigame, participate in all the Hades tournaments (which requires a lot of extra leveling), defeat Sephiroth, etc; and that's not all. No, in addition to this, in most of the games (and all the Hades tournaments), you must also beat a certain score that can be anything from doable to fiendishly difficult. You must, in fact, get a -real- 100% game, and achieving this is far, far more difficult than simply beating the game on Proud Mode.

And if you play through the game on easy mode, you can't even get the extra cut scene no matter what you do.

The word for this is obviously "ridicolous". The sensible approach would be to have "lock all keyholes" as the requirement for all three levels of difficulty, and anyone saying otherwise are arguing from an elitist gaming point of view. The extra cut-scene, despite being short, is part of the -experience- of the game, and to tell someone they're not allowed this experience because of someone else's preconceived notions of "worthiness" is just arrogant. Especially when "worthiness" translates to spending a hell of a lot of extra time level-grinding for optional tournaments, and playing minigames that are... Well, mostly boring, to be honest.

LEGO Star Wars: The complete Saga is another game that's taken the whole "collecting" part to a clearly ridicolous level. If you want the reward for a complete game here, you will have to go through such a long and tedious collection run that I'm getting mentally exhausted just remembering it. I mean, first you go through a level in the story mode, in which you have your characters pre-picked, and can usually only get a few of the collectible ten items. This part is fair enough. And then, if you want the rest of the ten items, you also need to go through the level in Free Play Mode (and only after having collected enough characters so that you can get to all the different parts of the level, which takes some time). And -then- you have to go through the level -again-, this time to collect ten different items, only this time with a time limit!

It sounds repetitive just on paper, and believe me, there are lots and lots more to do if you want it all, and it's all so very, very tedious collecting. I had played through roughly the first three movies in the game, and yet only amassed roughly 13% of all the collectibles. And trust me, I'd done quite a bit of the extras, I just couldn't bring myself to do all of it. The task felt completely insurmountable, and so I knew that the only thing I could do - helped by the fact that it was also a buggy and generally not that good game - was to quit it all.

Heck, even games that make an excellent point in being original and different can fall prey to the "100%" curse. At least it's usually fairly easy to track which level you need to go to spend two hours trying to find that last, hidden semi-transparent floating Figment that sometimes appear in backgrounds with similar colours... But a highly more favourable approach would be to give that extra ending scene at, say 90%. Or even 80%. Sounds insane, doesn't it?? (Of course, if it sounds insane, then it definitely belongs in Psychonauts.)

But frankly, it's what should be done. Remember, those extra bonus scenes are supposed to be rewards. But the problem is, by insisting on keeping the bar at 100% and not care an inch whether or not it's a relevant 100%, it becomes a reward for the wrong reasons. It is not a reward for exploring the game and collect an appropriate amount of extras, it is a reward for turning into an obsessive-compulsive kind of gamer, who reads up on guides and lose sight of everything but the elusive "completeness". Is that really the kind of behaviour one wants to encourage? Is it really what we want gamers to brag about (although they won't put it in those terms, of course)? I personally don't think so.

A good reward system is to be found in the Jak&Daxter games. Well, not the first one, it suffered from this curse. But the second (and third) one, now we're getting somewhere. In the second game, you get all the possible rewards you want by collecting 200 red orbs. The difference between this game and the other games I've talked about, is that the game has a total of 275 such orbs hidden around. So if getting one of them proves to be difficult - and quite a few of them are next to impossible to get - just skip it and go for another one. Hey, that's actually less than 75% of all red orbs, which means that the guys in Naughty Dog must obviously have read this article and traveled back in time to implement this radical and new principle of not needing to give up your life to get a "complete" game.

So, to summarise: If you have some neat ending rewards in your single-player games, make sure you have -reasonable- standards for getting there. This should generally only include variables found to be part of the main game. If minigames are getting included as part of the variables, then the bar for the biggest reward should lower accordingly, because for one thing, you never know if everyone will enjoy the minigames, especially if the minigame mechanics are distinctly different from the main game mechanics.
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