Why Can’t I… Skip Ahead In Games?

By John Walker on September 10th, 2009 at 11:11 am.

The future, my friends.

There was a comment made by comedian Adam Carolla, many years ago, during an episode of the American late-night radio programme Loveline. He had been given an Xbox 360, because celebrities get given stuff like that, and decided he’d buy a game for it. One which involved fighting in the Second World War in some capacity. It interested him as a fan of History Channel documentaries on the subject, and he liked the idea of recreating classic battles. But when he tried to play he couldn’t get out of the opening area.

This isn’t a comment on gaming inaccessibility, or how cackhanded Carolla must be, but rather it’s about something he said after this. He said, “Where’s the button that lets me just skip to the next level?”

This thought has stuck with me for ages. It’s a thought that comes back to me every time I encounter a section of a game that’s extremely difficult. Especially when it’s a stupid stinking boss fight. With the recent announcement of all three Metroid Prime games getting remade for the Wii it reminded me that I’ve finished neither of the first two because I couldn’t get past bosses. In the first one it’s the final fight, but worse, so much worse, in the second it was a fight midway through the game. (Everyone I’ve asked about it says, “Yeah, you need to use a guide to get past that, and then be very lucky.”)

Which leads me to think: why isn’t there that button?

Oh Samus, I've never been all the way with you. NO NOT LIKE THAT.

Clearly there have been cheat codes for as long as there have been games, and very often there’s a level skip in there. But these are fewer and farther between these days, games very often offering no such ability. Which is another interesting angle on this all. What changed where developers decided their games should be exclusively for those capable of beating them?

So let’s say you’re playing a vast RPG. It’s forty, fifty hours long, and you’re absolutely loving it. You’re halfway through, you completely adore your character and companions, and then you reach a sequence you can’t get past. You go off and do some side quests, try to level up a bit, and return to find it equally impossible. Perhaps you specced your character poorly. Perhaps the game’s difficulty is screwed up. Perhaps you’re just not good enough at the game to successfully complete this section of it. Whatever the reason, whoever’s fault, I’m not convinced it makes a difference. Right now, across all gaming, that’s you done. Game over, move on.

Which strikes me as madness.

My primary purpose for writing this is to hear the counter-arguments. I’m certain there are positions to ridicule what I’m saying, or people who would state that this exclusivity is important. I can’t see that this is the case. If I’m not good enough/levelled up correctly/meeting some really poor design, why should that mean I don’t get to see what’s on the other side of it? Why can’t I press the button that skips it, moves me on to the next bit?

You could argue that it’s cheating. Well yes, clearly it is. So it was when I put on God mode in that bit of Doom II I couldn’t do. Or when I used the level skip commands I’d found for whichever platformer. Sure it’s cheating. It’s cheating your way to having more fun.

No one minded when you cheated at Doom!

You might say that it would ruin the game – that once you knew you could skip ahead, you’d lazily do it before you were genuinely stuck. I think there’s a wealth of truth to that. I know for sure that if I’m playing an adventure game and get totally stuck, once I’ve looked up that first hint I’m going to be tempted to return to the guide far too quickly. It’s a real discipline not to. (An aside: this reminds me of how I’d get past bits I was stuck on playing adventure games in the early 90s. My dad’s friend Ted. Somehow he’d always played all adventure games and finished them before I got them, and I’d nervously phone this smart, sensible man I’d only met a couple of times, and squeak my question to him. He’d give me splendidly cryptic clues to push me in the right direction. It’s far easier to resist phoning your dad’s slightly scary friend Ted than looking at GameFAQs.)

But you know what? So what? So what if it means someone could cheat their way through the game to the end, possibly losing out on a lot of the fun on the way? They paid for the game! It’s theirs! If you buy a murder mystery film on DVD and immediately fast forward to the end to find out who did it, you’re an idiot, but it’s in your right to be!

People seem to get very cross at the idea that someone else is taking a shortcut when they worked extremely hard to walk the long way around. I think instead this should be converted to pride. Rather than being cross with the other guy, be pleased with yourself. From your perspective they lost out.

So what’s the good reason why there shouldn’t be a button to skip to the next level/next area/other side of the boss fight?

Perhaps it’s something to do with loot/XP in my RPG example. When you kill the Terrible Giant he drops an amazing sword. If you press the SKIP button (which will be on all keyboards), you’d have to get that amazing sword automatically. But again, that’s fine! No, it wasn’t earned. But to hell with that – it’s important for enjoying the game, and it’s a damn sight better to have a sword you didn’t earn than turn the game off and never play it again because the bastard giant kept killing you no matter what you did!

So let’s have that button. What harm would it do? Let people enjoy a game some more?

, , .

189 Comments »

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  1. Mungrul says:

    Rather ironically, Ninja Gaiden, acknowledged as one of the hardest games recently released, asks you if you want to lower the difficulty if you’re dying a lot. But here it acts like a slap in the face; “Do you want to abandon the way of the Ninja?”, it politely asks you.
    But here it’s like a slap in the face, and I can never swallow my pride enough to take up its offer. So I stubbornly battle on, resenting the game’s subtle sleight on my skills.

  2. Dante says:

    @ Phil

    Have you heard of the Baldur’s Gate 2 mod, ‘Dungeon Be Gone?’. It takes the starting Dungeon of BG2, which is fun enough the first time, but rapidly becomes annoying on replays, and skips you right through it, giving you an appropriate amount of xp, gold and the important items you would have found.

    It’s wildly popular, because it skips a dull part of the game and gets you right to the meat of it. I sometimes wonder how many people might have given up in Irenicus’s dungeon and written the game off entirely, people that could have enjoyed it if the mod was standard.

  3. Bhazor says:

    Re NWN Dragon

    Not sure if theres another dragon but I’m pretty certain you can just kill it by feeding him a bad soul. Now the dragon’s in BG2 on the other hand were quite literally bastards. But they were still beatable with a lower resistance spell and a half dozen of Yoshimoto’s special traps.

  4. Rinox says:

    I can’t remember the NWN dragon. Either my mind is Swiss cheese or I must have done something right for a change.

  5. Psychopomp says:

    “Didn’t the new Alone in the Dark allow you to skip levels? I recall it was pretty generally smirked upon by reviewers too…”

    Correlation does not imply causation

  6. Dante says:

    @ Mungrul

    It’s not a subtle as you think, I’m told those who abandon the way of the Ninja are forced to wear a pink armband and not shown the final cutscene.

  7. Dante says:

    @ Bhazor

    In fact all the Dragons in BG2 were optional bosses, the difficulty curve of the game would have taken a sharp turn upwards if you were forced to fight them.

  8. Psychopomp says:

    I like how I Wanna Be The Guy handled its easy mode

  9. Gap Gen says:

    “@Gap Gen: Good point about Yahtzee.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/892-2-5D-Hoedown

    Skip ahead and watch 1:46-2:00″

    Arf.

  10. JKjoker says:

    i think some cheating features should be in every game by law:
    -a way to unlock every unlockable feature without having to replay the game (ppl reinstall games but they often delete savegames and there is the always dreaded corrupted savegame problem, and this is needed even more in those that unlock multiplayer features, its just ballbreaking to invite a friend to play some fighting game only to find out all the cool characters need to be unlocked by some extremely time consuming, boring and retarded task)
    -a god mode (sometimes you just want to let off some steam)
    -a level choosing feature

    these 3 “cheats” are crucial to ensure the replayability of the game, ive given up on several games i would have replayed if i had these

  11. The Innocent says:

    The reason I don’t want cheats in my game is because I’d use them, most likely. Games that require me to unlock the console or that don’t allow me to easily cheat force me to play better, and as someone who god-moded through Quake II back in the day, that’s a good thing. For instance, I got Alone in the Dark and was so appalled by the controls that I just skipped around through the game to see different cutscenes, to my eternal shame.

    I can see the point, however. Perhaps they should have a version for me and a version for everyone else. That would solve everything. Yes.

  12. Matt says:

    The presence of a “Skip Level” button was directly responsible for my fiancee not giving up on World of Goo. She likes to play games to relax after work, and she was beating her head against the “Tower of Goo” level – near the end of the first section. She could get the tower up to the pipe, but she was always 3-5 goo balls short. It was driving her crazy and making her stop playing, because it was making her angry rather than relaxed. Once she broke down and just skipped the level, she got back to having fun again.

    The true solution is to stop developers from making unreasonable difficulty spikes in their games, but I think we all know what kind of chances of that happening are. The next best thing is to let people sidestep unreasonable bits. People play games for more than just the challange.

  13. Bozzley says:

    ‘Splosion Man on the 360 recognises when you’ve died at a particular section too many times, and offers you a level skip. Although this is on the inferior consoles, and so it doesn’t count. Naturally.

  14. schwerpunk says:

    I think [b]Yargh[/b] said it first: Bring back difficulty levels. And let us switch them mid-game. For those that wish, there is still the allure of beating The Entire Game on Hard Mode. But for some of us, that one part of HL2, in the prison, where you have to set up the turrets to fend off waves of combine, is just too frustrating. Let us notch down the difficulty to ‘wimpy’ then ramp it back up again when we’re ready.

    (Not me, though, I’m too proud – spent a week on that damned level.)

  15. Rinox says:

    @ Psychopomp:

    I don’t know if I got your point re: correlation does not imply causation? I was just saying what I remember about the critical reaction, not my personal pov.

  16. Tei says:

    I have to admit, that I read the wikipedia page of some animes that I don’t want to watch, to see how things ends. I love these wikipedia articles full of background, subtext and context about these animes.

    I know some games that have this feature to skip “levels”, and that work for these games. But I fear it may ruin other games.

    There are games where If you are allowed to fly, you will see that everything is a illusion. What is seens, can’t be unseen. So It may make some sense to protect peoplep from that. I understand that you must have the freedom. But for convenience, and because is the best way, such trick must be hidden, a console command, a particular key combo, etc… or It may trivialize the game.

  17. ulix says:

    I was also wondering why there wasn’t any mention of Nintendo’s patent. Seeing that picture of Samus I thought: Now he must mention it.

    But nope.

    Nintendo’s patent adresses all these issues.

  18. ego says:

    Game Developers aren’t going to do this for the same reason many games STILL won’t let you skip cutscenes, even if its your 100th time playing it.

    The game developers are so sure the sequence is great, that they don’t want anyone to miss all the hard work they put into it.

    Of course it doesn’t take much thinking to realize this is a dick move but its not going to stop a huge swath of developers do it.

  19. AtkinsSJ says:

    I’m of the ‘cheating will ruin it for you’ mindset. But still, getting stuck is no fun. There are a couple of games I can think of right now where a section I’m stuck on has stopped me playing – one even with a walkthrough.

    An interesting example is ‘The Way’, an RPG Maker game, that lets you switch puzzles and battles on and off at will, with no consequences. If you don’t want to fight, fine. I think it’s an interesting case, though it probably couldn’t work in a lot of genres. Link: http://www.crestfallen.us/

  20. Broklynite says:

    Mario had a warp zone. Nobody complains about that.

    Still, I think to myself of once or twice when I was so stuck I looked up the answer, only to find myself outraged by the answer. Not because the answer was simple but because what I’m told to do to get past a particular spot is so ridiculous I ask myself how on earth anyone was supposed to know that. There was a puzzle game some years ago called Shivers. One of the puzzles was to go press a button and listen to a song, then go to another area and play the song on an organ. You had to figure out that you had to do this, plus you had to remember the sequence of notes through long load times, and many of the organ notes sounded the same. It was a ridiculous puzzle. Why shouldn’t I look up the answer?

  21. Theory says:

    But for some of us, that one part of HL2, in the prison, where you have to set up the turrets to fend off waves of combine, is just too frustrating. Let us notch down the difficulty to ‘wimpy’ then ramp it back up again when we’re ready.

    Er, you can do that in HL2.

  22. CDust says:

    Level skip? No thx.
    I’d rather have a way to make easier(Make-it-so button anyone?), after the second or third time I fail at a extreemly annoying place in a game.

  23. Max says:

    I want to agree with you since I’m a textbook “hardcore gamer”, but at the same time I know (thanks to Valve’s stats) that only 50.2% of the people who own HL2:Episode 2 have actually finished the game – and I find that practically criminal.

  24. JKjoker says:

    i dont get it guys, you know that you DONT have to use the cheat right ? its “optional”, your weakness against the lazy side does not make them any less useful, refusing to have cheats for those that need them because “im weak, i have no will, i would use them” sounds really stupid, if you can resist the need to put your fingers in the power outlet “to see how it feels like” you can resist using cheats

  25. JuJuCam says:

    I think any skip mechanism must include some punishment to avoid abuse or reward slogging through it the traditional way, pride notwithstanding.

    Many examples I’d throw in the ring have already been covered, except for Wing Commander – ahead of it’s time in so many ways, it was almost over designed in this respect. A branching mission structure that allowed you to continue on with an appropriate admonition from your Admiral if you happened to hit the eject button in a panic or otherwise fail. And promotions and awards for good play, including all the pomp and ceremony of such occasions. Losing a wingman in this game was devastating – a funeral scene and fighting remaining battles without that extra gunner.

    I’d also like to note Chrono Trigger, a game that after a certain point allowed you to challenge the end boss at basically your leisure, and crucially had a number of different endings depending on when you… well… ended it.

    On the other hand Roguelikes (including Dwarf Fortress) are remarkably entertaining and popular considering they’re basically fantasy deathsims. I’ve never ever come close to completing a roguelike with any sort of satisfactory ending but the quick-drop into the action nature of the purest of this form makes death and failure a learning experience that helps with future playthroughs. But then again who plays a roguelike for the scintillating storyline?

  26. medwards says:

    Worth noting that games are already ‘easing up.’ I’ve pointed it out before in time-based damage starting with Call of Duty, moving to things like ‘incapacitation’ in DoW II. More visible access to things like difficult settings would be better, but hell half the time we miss it is because we assume that you can’t change it like in the old days.

    I think we’re more likely to see things like Left 4 Dead’s director which doesn’t fix hard boss fights, but it does modulate the play experience. And sometimes it throws a tank at you as soon as you leave the saferoom.

    Anyways, generally I agree with you. In the meantime most games have been moving towards scenarios where you don’t dead-end yourself into impossible situations (like 1 health just prior to a boss fight… now, just wait 10s!). People who argue it won’t have meaning without challenge don’t realize that the entire intent is to challenge ‘appropriately’ and that some people simply aren’t as good as us.

    Lastly, there will still be room for the ‘no-you-must-do-this’ type games. In particular the art-games could benefit from there being more variety in methods of progression in games. Then the progression style can be an artistic decision as well rather something which is just assumed.

  27. Ryan says:

    Many, many xposts to Soylent Robot: you’re talking about the mission in Prototype where you have to protect the Bloodtox rig, yes? Trust me, there”s nothing stopping you from eating a soldier or two for their rocket launchers or disguising yourself and surreptitiously taking the driver’s seat in a tank. If I remember correctly, the military doesn’t even care if you go all monstery in plain sight and start throwing their guys around- the alarm will go up, but they have bigger things to worry about and won’t bother you. Though it’s much easier if you do it in disguise, as that way you can’t get knocked off a tank mid-hijack by a bastard Hunter.

  28. Ryan says:

    And speaking of bits in RPGs that are difficult or impossible without the right character setup: do you have Air Critical Pain yet? If not, you’ll want to pick it up before you complete this mission.

    Really.

    Trust me on this.

  29. NoahApples says:

    I loved the way Resident Evil 4 handled this: Once you’ve played the game for long enough, you can buy a single-use rocket launcher that can kill any enemy in the game. Including bosses. Of course, there were tricky portions of the game where this was inapplicable, but for the most part I think it works splendidly. You get one “get out of boss fight free” card in a way that is justified and validated within the game. It doesn’t feel like cheating, the plot remains contiguous, and it adds an extra choice into the game (who do I shoot with my rocket launcher?), rather than taking any away.

    Also, @Max re: Steam Stats and HL2:Ep2
    The ~52% quote is misleading, because it includes people like me who own the Orange Box, but are too bust playing TF2 to have even started playing Episode 2 yet.

  30. shiggz says:

    Not gonna happen anytime soon. For many basement dwelling, mall working, overgrown boys their game-accomplishments are pseudo-life accomplishments. Like having hiked Everest or creating a fulfilling and healthy relationship. Instead their version is beating a game on “insane mode” or finding all 100 blah’s blah’s.

  31. Chris says:

    I think I wouldn’t trust myself with a skip-to-next-level button, because the moment I’d get stuck I’d be extremely tempted to just move on.

    For me, it’s the same reason I won’t buy a book of crossword puzzles. If I’m doing a single crossword in a newspaper, I’ll give it my all, working at the clues over and over again until I get as far as I absolutely can. If I have a book of crosswords and I get stuck on one, I’m very likely to just give up on the puzzle altogether, turn the page, and start a new one. By the end of the book, I’ve just got a book full of partially completed puzzles. I just don’t much care for being stuck in one place, going over and over the same ground, I guess, if there’s an option to try something else. I’m sure some gamers would never use that skip-ahead button, but I just couldn’t be trusted with it.

  32. Eric says:

    It’s as if you want games to be like movies: a start-to-finish experience that everybody is guaranteed.

    For your Corolla example I would argue that he is much better off sticking with documentaries and film since he does not have the patience and/or skill to persevere.

    Now go play a roguelike and man up!

  33. Vinraith says:

    Games are getting easier and easier as it is. I’m fine with cheat codes to get around situations like this, but really the need to “skip ahead” should only be present in the case where game design causes a given section of game to be impossible or feel “cheap” and frustrating. Genuine challenge should always be the goal, and I pity anyone that wants to skirt their way around that.

  34. kaibren says:

    i remember in Driver i played first only with first city open map, because i couldn’t get pass the garage mission, where you had to do all the cool tricks just to start missions. and in Mafia there were mission where you had to race some nasty car, also couldn’t win that any way. finally solved both problems with downloading savegames where these missions were just done. A lot of games could use skip mission.

  35. Mman says:

    Since it’s mentioned several times in this thread, I find developers current obsession with completion statistics ridiculous. It’s one thing if they had some context (and stuff like “what levels did significantly more people stop on?” make far more sensible research material) , but it seems like most are “of started game sessions, how many were completed?”. Treating stuff like “”only” 50% of players finished Episode 2″ as a bad thing is ridiculous; when you factor in people who would never like the game in the first place, people who only played it at a friends house for ten minutes and didn’t get around to purchasing it, people who don’t finish games even if they enjoy them (for whatever reasons) and probably various others, in realistic terms “50%” probably accounts for 90% or more.

    I’d agree with people here that stuff like cheats, enhanced difficulty settings and stuff like Nintendo’s “play that part for you” patent thing are a better bet than outright skipping things, since it’s far easy to balance into the game than being able to just skip through things, although that’s not so much of an issue in strictly linear games.

  36. bigblackjesus says:

    Anyone remember the old system of getting a code when you reached a level so if you wanted to continue later you could just plug it in and start back up where you left off? I know we have the ability to save now but if they just included that, problem solved?

  37. shiggz says:

    Also i like the old Onimusha option, where if you died 3 times in a row “easy” mode would open up.

  38. Baris says:

    I agree with you fully John. What you’re talking about actually happened to me recently in the Witcher. There was a part in the game I just couldn’t get past and after 4 tries and looking for a command menu which didn’t exist, I just had to give up unless I wanted to do those 10 hours again.

  39. bill says:

    I wouldn’t want it too easy, cos i know i’d be tempted to click it too soon… and i would have missed all the fun/reward in something like Ninja gaiden.

    but i thought the Alone In The Dark style DVD menu was a great idea.
    Or games like X-Wing Alliance allowed you to skip 3(?) missions if you failed them.
    Or even Dark Forces where you could select the difficulty for each level (but it annoyed me to have those two “easy”s listed in the menu, so i went back and did them again on hard.

    But even I managed to complete Metroid Prime, and i suck at that kind of game… ;-)

  40. Metroid48 says:

    I think ‘Splosion Man is an excellent example of this – after dying a lot you can take the way of the coward and skip the problematic section. While you can finish the game through doing this, the game constantly reminds everyone that you cheated by making your time 99:99:99 and by having your character wear a tutu! It’s a great way to do this as it removes some of the pride of beating the game and motivates players to immediately try again.

  41. antonymous says:

    He should have tried Oblivions “difficulty” slider or any other of the certified idiot rated games. Of course with WoW it’s also idiot prime time, but the grind is rather the purpose so there he’d have to buy gold with real money.

    And I bet some moronic console maker exec will soon have the idea to sell trainers as addons…

  42. Rohit says:

    Just implement cheat codes.

    Because blasting enemies with a BFG9000 with YELLOW EYES is more satisfying than skipping the entire level.

  43. Clueless says:

    I think the main reason (or one of the main reasons) is the explosive popularity of “Achievements” on the Xbox 360 and similar structures elsewhere. These instantly lose their value if you let people skip over parts of the game or use god mode. Sure, clever designs like World of Goo can get around this, but the basic fact is that gaming achievement has become a public badge now, and developers can’t let just anyone get past those achievements without effort without destroying this concept.

  44. archonsod says:

    In order for a skip level button to work, it would force developers to come up with actual decent content/story/widgets in order to make players *want* to play through a level.
    It’s like murder mystery novels. Most start when the investigator arrives, because there’s an inherent desire for people to keep reading to find out whodunnit. Writers with rare talent however sometimes take the opposite approach, the book starts with the murder so the player is aware of precisely who the murderer is. The desire to continue reading is driven by the cat and mouse game between the protagonist and antagonist; which tends to be a lot harder to build sufficient suspense to keep people reading.
    It’s like the part in Bond movies where the charismatic spy manages to get himself cornered by the villain. We already know he’s going to escape, the compelling part is precisely how he’s going to beat this years improbably death trap.
    With a skip button, unless the level can be made compelling enough for the player to want to play it then there is no reason for them to not skip past it. In effect it demands the developer heighten their game; no more dodgy filler content as an excuse to prolong play time, no more bland fedex questing or mob grinding.

  45. pkt-zer0 says:

    “And I bet some moronic console maker exec will soon have the idea to sell trainers as addons…”

    Will? Namco has already done that, I think.

  46. LionsPhil says:

    The other advantage of cheat codes being that you don’t miss any narrative. Of course, you need one that matches the type of fail encountered—god mode and allammo won’t help you a damn thing across jumping puzzles. (Noclip/fly usually bypass script triggers, which can either get you stuck again, or again bypass narrative lumps.)

  47. brog says:

    Clueless: Achievements could provide an incentive to actually play through the levels, if they were only earned if you don’t skip. The whole world would be able to tell you’d skipped the middle level if you only have early- and late-game achievements!

  48. Yghrt says:

    Re: “If I bought the game, I should be able to be in godmode / skip to whatever part I want” / “Why don’t you want to let people do what they want ?”

    But… You can already do that. It’s called the console, or cheat codes. The option is already there, making it easier and possibly letting a significant part of the playerbase ruining their own experience doesn’t make any sense.

  49. perilisk says:

    Rather than a skip button, why not add an autopilot that lets a cheatingly brilliant AI bot take over the character? It isn’t so much “skipping” as letting someone really awesome play through the hard part while you watch over their shoulder.

    Is that similar to what Nintendo was proposing?

  50. WJonathan says:

    I actually remember listening to that show. I think the AceMan was actually talking about Medal of Honor Rising Sun on Xbox, which actually did have a fairly confusing opening level. The correct question he should have asked: “Where’s the button to skip the entire game.” Rising Sun kind of sucked.