Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Frustating moments

I am very proud of myself this week. I have proven that I have surprisingly little on at university at the moment, and that I spend far too much time playing games. I just unlocked the 'little rocket man' achievement in Halflife 2: Episode 2. For those of you that do not know what this means, you will probably think that I am an idiot in need of being committed for what the challenge involves. Put simply, to gain this award you must drag a garden gnome with you throughout the entire game. This means that you need to use the gravity gun to pull around a garden ornament, rendering you defenceless and looking silly.

It was not an easy feat as you can imagine. Freeing up my valuable gun hand to hold the happy little guy whilst being pursued by an army of aliens with guns and sharp claws is not the recommended way to play the game. Add to that his inability to stay in a doorless car, causing you to stop every ten seconds whilst being chased by a helicopter gunship, and you have a really frustrating challenge. It caused a lot of reloads of previous saves and a fair bit of cursing, but in the end I made it and the little pixelated note in the corner told me of my achievement. The only thing I achieved with this was bragging rights (only 1.4% of the player base has done what I did!). This was not compulsory, but it was a torturous, irritating challenge that had me hooked. It made me stop and think about other games though, where the challenges are unfair, difficult and infuriating, but also compulsory.

The first sequence that sprang into my mind was a little section from the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This is a masterpiece of a game, that can be gotten through at a steady pace with no major obstacles. There was one section though that had me screaming into pillows and filling my mind with hatred. It was a climbing wall that had only certain areas that Link (the main character) could hold on to. At each side of the wall were spikes all lined up and ready to perforate the hero. To top it all off, the climbable section on the wall shifted from side to side only giving a very small window of opportunity for the player to make it from panel to panel. If you missed out on one of these wall transfer opportunities, you had the choice whether to be killed by spikes or fall damage, and then see if you have the mental capacity to try it all again. If Nintendo include sections like this in their games, it does make me wonder why they are surprised that Wiimotes get thrown/stabbed through television screens.

Dawn of War, a great series of real time strategy games based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe has developed a few annoying bits. The story driven campaign mode was replaced in Dark Crusade with a Total War style domination map, where your chosen faction would fight for different territories on a planet. When fighting defensive battles or attacking heavily fortified areas, the computer would not turn on the super AI that can rival a human's brain and out strategy you, but instead resort to cheating. The attacking AI, instead of being the equivalent of one player, would instead be two, and both would start with a base and units built. This resulted in a massive violation force heading straight to your base which had twice as many infantry and armour units than you would be able to build due to the game's strict unit caps. Battling an AI army that can send two super tanks (normally you would only be able to have one per player) to annihilate everything inside your once secured base is not fun. These seemingly impossible skirmishes become real grinds of building units to go and fight the force outside which can often turn into a micro management stale mate.

Frustration and Eve Online go hand in had. One minute, you can have a nice shiny super ship that you spent months training and saving for, only for some ravenous space jerk to pull up along side you, turn the hull into Swiss cheese and scoop your corpse for the 'after party'. Eve is full of these little moments, when someone else in the game will very happily ruin you hundreds of man hours worth of work, for five minutes of their joy. At the moment, there are a group of players on a campaign to destroy every mining ship they come across, calling it 'Jihadswarm'. Losing stuff that took you so long to acquire, even in a game, is very frustrating, especially if you can not reload a checkpoint to fix the damage.

Frustrating parts occur in the vast majority of good games. I am convinced that it is video game law, that levels which have a water theme are the harder more irritating sections (thinking of the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time specifically). It's these little bits that can disrupt the flow of a game which stop players from breezing through and completing it fast. If steadily paced throughout a game and not too impossible, then they can work to great affect, and hopefully not make you go and look up what the best knot to tie a noose is.

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