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 »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Rid says:

    It’s an area where the developers can both improve the experience AND imprint their personal “touches”.

    > If it’s a boss fight, most player won’t want to skip it just have an easier time – Why not start by providing visual/audio cues that points to environmental traps you can use to defeat it? Or show some ghost trailing that make it is easier to deduct the attack patterns? And if the player still fails, allow some cannon fodder that attract the attention of the enemy for some time, or some comic relief that both entertains, and make the fight easier, etc..

    > If the problem is while fighting common grunts, then you can add a temporal power by showing the character going on “rage” due to continual failures, and to make it fair, trade a bit of his health for added damage power, etc. It’s just a matter of making sure the extra help flows with the “mythos” of the game.

    > If it’s an RPG with “tech tree”, then making fights easier or skip whole sections is something that none will want at all, because it’s an indication you have made wrong “choices”.

    But what if that’s what you aimed for (for example, took the “seductive/non-lethal” path?)? The game then should be balanced to make sure there are always alternative ways to tackle those tasks.

    But can also offer to bring some of your named allies (which usually you have in spades at that point) to fight as well… but with the added risk of dieing.

    > Finally, the classic “difficult slider” should be a most.
    How many time you have started a new FPS where you are unsure if HARDEST will make the AI behave in a more exciting ways (improving the experience), or just will add more hitpoints, thus dragging the fights?

    Overall, I’m more interested on seeing ways to allow the player advance in the 1st try. Because once you reload-revive, you are already cheating because already know what awaits you. And once the 1st experience is passed, is gone for good.

  2. pilouuuu says:

    We need better AI that suits the game difficulty automatically. So if the game realises that there’s some part that you can surpass, then it would automatically make the enemy take less hits, an ally appear and help you, give you more energy, make the enemy more dumb, etc.

    I’m so annoyed that after so much time of making graphics better, developers and hardware industry can’t work toward better AI.

    But if you really can’t overcome some enemy then maybe some allies should come and take you back to your HQ or something and then you would have the chance to choose another mission, skiping that difficult one.

  3. EyeMessiah says:

    As a teenager I hacked my younger brother’s doom2 executable and changed the cheat codes. I believed I was doing him a good turn because I was preventing him from giving into temptation and “ruining it for himself”.

    As an adult I think that this particular rationalisation is one of the most absurd puritanisms I have ever been guilty of.

    IMO, people who cheat and skip their way through games weren’t enjoying it in the same way as purists to begin with, so purists needn’t worry about them spoiling it for themselves. Chances are they instead of struggling their way past a tough obstacle and subsequently achieving a state of enlightened purist-fun they would just quit the game and not revisit it, which doesn’t seem like much of an improvement over skipping to me.

  4. EyeMessiah says:

    Also, I strongly agree that Completing games seems less and less relevant somehow. Are there just lots more games now and less games get finished? Is the multiplayer “endgame” where all the best players expend their energy these days, leaving the obtuse SP campaigns unfinished? Was it ever really the be-all?

    I spend a lot of time playing games and rarely Complete any, and I find this maximises my funs/hour.

  5. reaper47 says:

    I might have missed something incredibly meaningful not reading the past 200 paragraphs of text, but isn’t that ominous “skip” button called… a cheat? And has existed pretty much since the beginning of gaming as we know it?

    Example: “sv_unlockedchapters 15″ for Half-Life 2…

  6. Radicand says:

    I can see the rational for this; if you want to skip ahead in a film or book then you can. My counter-point to this would be that if you did, you wouldn’t really be watching a film or reading a book per se, you’d just be consuming fragments of them which isn’t really the same. Also, distinct from ‘passive’ forms of entertainment, games have rules that govern whether or not you succeed. Thats why they’re called games. Without the effort-reward structure I don’t think they’d be as entertaining.

    So, I’m not in favor of letting people just skip ahead whenever they feel like it, but I do think games could do more to help people get past regions where they’re stuck, provided these err on the side of ‘cheaty’ rather than ‘game-ruining’. For example, if you’ve died three times in a row in one level, the game could give you a little health boost for your next try or make the enemies a bit less bad-ass etc.

  7. Sunjammer says:

    Nintendo are adding an option to future games where you can basically just hand the controller off to the game itself and let it autoplay through the tough bit for you.

    This is a semantic shift, but i find it more preferable to the notion of just skipping ahead. When i was a kid, me and my friends would regularly pass controllers around when we got stuck.

    I suppose the technical problem for me is specifically RPGs. If you’ve gone and fucked up your character to the point where you literally have no possibility of survival, then the whole rest of the game is going to be you just hitting the skip button over and over again

    It’s a deeper problem than just skipping ahead to the next level. The more choice the player has, the less sense that functionality makes.

    Personally i much prefer the challenge of having to deal with the consequences of my own actions. I wouldn’t be much interested in a skipping feature.

  8. Web Cole says:

    Well, to transfer this to another medium (and I’m not sure this entirely works, but bear with me) what if during a scene in a film, despite all the fancy camera work, the subtle emotional by-play of the actors and all that, what if we had a nice pleasant voice over informing us what was going on.

    “She’s in love with him but she can’t tell him, because her father wants her to marry someone better.”

    If you take away the challenge of interpretation, it ceases to hold any interest for us.

    If you take away the challenge from a game, you remove the value also.

  9. Bib Fortuna says:

    When I watch a movie, and it moves towards a point that I dislike (it happens every time), I ask to myself: where is the wheel to steer it to a better show?

  10. Buemba says:

    Crimson Skies let you skip a mission if you failed it (I think) 3 times. If it didn’t have that I’d never have finished the game.

  11. Nerd Rage says:

    For the RPG example, I’d imagine skipping boss fights or other sections would make the game feel fairly disjointed. Either they stick you with a default choice for whatever option you might have had during that segment, or you skip straight to the moment of choice, read some words, and (unless the game was structured so these things are not irritating to the skip-ahead people) you may have to immediately skip to the next player-decision required whatever, still in the same encounter. For most other genres, however, I expect it would be perfectly acceptable with a skip-ahead feature. Even with something like Half-Life 2, I wouldn’t mind skipping certain levels, *cough* obligatory vehicle sequence *cough*

    While scanning the comments I saw someone mention AI that adjusts to you. I’ve been really big on that since the AI director from L4D. Arguably it may not be everything they said it was, but as a concept it’s brilliant. An AI that considers dozens of performance metrics to determine how easily you’re finding the game, and adjusts the difficulty accordingly, in order to provide a more consistent level of challenge. This is something that would be an excellent addition to the RPG genre, as a rule for all games.

    If I’m low on health, and the designers intended the upcoming encounter to be very hard, the AI should know that even a moderate resistance from the enemy would be hard for me to get past considering I have 2 HP. They don’t have to send a mini-boss and his 4 elite bodyguards after me, that’s for the guy who breezed through the rest of the level and still has full hp.

  12. Nerd Rage says:

    To finish my last thought, maybe a post or two up by now, it should be noted that some players might be confused if they get to the end with low health one time, and get to the end with high health the next – expecting an easy fight and getting a very hard one instead.

  13. Earl_of_Josh says:

    I would agree that for the most part, including codes that allow you to progress the game could very easily enhance *some* games. The problem comes up with games which progress in a manner where skills you learn in earlier challenges, become the building blocks for later challenges. If you can’t be bothered to learn how to wall jump 3 times, what happens when you reach a later puzzle that makes you wall jump 5 times, WITH SPIKES??? Skip that one too… alright, but at what point do you simply put the game down because some of the challenges are simply impossible without the previously derived skills? I think in a situation like this, it becomes similar to “treating the symptoms” kind of approach. I think some games are all about challenging yourself and increasing your skill level to eventually complete the game. I think a “level skip” button in something like that would essentially be game breaking. It’d be like taking calculus without knowing algebra. You’d end up completely lost, alone and confused wondering why everyone thought calculus was so great crying and sobbing and slobbering over anyone that would listen. Like I was when I took it. But that was just because I’m a bit slow.
    Note: My point also the same as other’s point. I think.

  14. Dominic White says:

    I think a lot of the issues with games at the moment can be solved by cleverly gauged difficulty settings. The Metal Gear Solid games spring to mind. On the easiest settings in that series, you’re an invincible superman in a world full of blind, deaf, dumb and crippled enemies. It’s basically Sandbox mode, allowing you do do whatever the hell you please, with almost no chance of dying, even if it’s hilariously dumb.

    On the highest setting, the game is far more constrained. Enemies behave like professional soldiers, going out in full-formation searches the moment they think they saw or heard something. You need to mold yourself into how the game ‘should’ be played, as there’s much less freedom now that you’re dealing with a much higher grade of opposition. Most of Kojima games have that level of variation between difficulties, and it changes tons of things, like how much gear you can carry, how aggressive bosses are, enemy equipment and more.

    One FANTASTIC idea I heard for difficulty settings is the upcoming Bayonetta (due on consoles) – it’s by the crew who made the original Devil May Cry, and it’s more of that kinda thing. Hyperkinetic ratbastard hard arcade action. Only… they’ve added difficulty settings that go down as far as ‘total non-gamer’.

    On the easiest setting, the game is basically controlled by a high-level bot. The player gets DDR-styled timed button prompts on nearby enemies, and hitting them triggers the AI controlling the character to launch into spectacular, elaborate combos that would normally require a ton of effort and precision from the player. While you need the stick to move around between combats, you can play the thing entirely one-handed, with just four buttons.

    You still get the full game, and see every fancy move, every cool weapon, every huge boss – you just don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy it. Conversely, on the highest setting, there are no training wheels at all, and enemies are faster, tougher and smarter than normal. Apparently it’s up there with Ninja Gaiden 2’s hardest levels.

    That’s so much better than the ‘you do less damage, enemies do more’ that most games settle on.

  15. Immortal says:

    Since I was a kid, I always remember going to web sites to look up cheat codes. Maybe it was a section of the game I couldn’t beat. Or, maybe it was just to destroy everything in God Mode.

    I don’t see why games can’t still include cheat codes. I think as a gaming community, we’ve grown more competitive. In fact, most games I’m interested in are developed specifically for competitive play. However, there are more than just competitive consumers in the video game market.

    In addition, programming cheat codes into a game could create jobs…or at least web sites that have millions of ads and viruses.

  16. Azradesh says:

    Games on average have been getting easier and easier over the years, these days I think if you’re truly stuck then you just shouldn’t be playing, because you suck.

    I mean, go back and look at Star Control 2, or the X-Com games, they are hard. A lot of games these days just give you “magic-super-hide-behind-a-wall-healing.”

  17. Dominic White says:

    Passive healing doesn’t mean the game is easy. Anyone who has tried to beat Call of Duty 4 on the highest difficulty can attest to that. It’s just a simple way of making each fight a self-contained encounter, rather than have the player counting hits taken and relying on quicksaving/quickloading when things turn sour.

  18. Y3k-Bug says:

    Because it would allow players to skip parts of the game that will be important in teaching new game mechanics.

    Because it would belittle the work of the designers who put the skipped over parts together.

    Because you miss important plot devices, and you would receive new abilities that there would be no explanation for due to you skipping the parts that explained why/how you acquired them, and how to use them.

    I think Carolla’s comment is more of a comment on the inaccessibility of many games more than anything else.

  19. Y3k-Bug says:

    Just to make my point clearer: I think Carolla’s comment is pointing at the fact that the game he was playing wasn’t well designed in that section. Or he’s not very experienced with videogames. Either way a skip ahead button is going in completely the wrong direction.

  20. Dave says:

    In response to Azradesh’s comments, I will admit that there are many types of games that I “suck” at, according to the designers, but which I still love to play. The notion that I should just go away and not play games because I don’t “deserve” them is preposterous. Should I, perhaps, confiscate your DVD collection because you lack 20/20 uncorrected vision, or an inability to hear a certain frequency of sound? Of course, that’s ridiculous, but so is your assertion that there should be some minimum bar set to play games – which, after all, are another form of entertainment.

    Simply put, when a developer puts a game on the market, they put it up for sale to anyone who has the cash – and, therefore, anyone who purchases the game should be able to play through the entire thing, regardless of their particular skill level. Until there are bright, prominent warnings on all games sold that state “you must be this badass to buy this game,” developers need to operate under the expectation that a wide variety of people will be playing their games, and design accordingly.

    More directly on topic, I agree that a simple skip mechanic is probably not the best way to go about solving the problem. A game design that adapts to how you play and changes things accordingly seems like it should be the standard going forward, at least in linear types of games. Plenty of games manage to strike a balance between challenge and frustration for gamers of multiple skill levels, and for those that don’t, it is my opinion that the fault falls not on the skills of the gamer, but on the developers who fail to take into account all the potential buyers for their games.

  21. Tony M says:

    Heres a related issue. I once wrote in a forum that I wished the Dawn of War 2 single player campaign allowed you to savegame anytime during a level. The save-between-levels game design does not suit my lifestyle (husband, father, on-call work). Half the respondents agreed, the other half felt that the ability to savegame mid-level would ‘ruin’ the game because you could just cheat your way through.

  22. Vinraith says:

    @Tony M

    Some portable games (Etrian Odyssey 2 on DS comes to mind) allow you to create a save on exit that is deleted when you reload it. That way you can’t just iteratively save/load your way through a level that you aren’t approaching well, but you can still stop whenever life gets in the way and start back up where you were. More games that aren’t designed with a “save anywhere” mentality should have a feature like that.

  23. TooNu says:

    Good question.

  24. Vae Victus says:

    IDDQD

  25. Flopsy says:

    So much seems to depend on the quality of the game design. I remember never getting too frustrated with the original Half-Life 2 because the difficulty curve ramped-up slowly, and although things got tougher towards the end, there was a logic and method usually involved in getting to grips with the bigger, tougher enemies towards the end.

    And that’s the thing. Lots of lesser-quality games might rely on cheap tactics: the super crazy-hard boss right at the end of the game after the build-up has been so straightforward, or a boss that appears mid-way through the game that upsets the balance of the game play thus far and kind of spoils what you’ve been enjoying.

    I thought Bioshock also did a good job with making opponents tougher, but never throwing the crazy fifty-times your size super boss at you in the “final battle that will save the world” or some such crap.

    So, it all comes down to design and story. If they do a good job and grab your attention, I’m more likely to seek ways of getting past a tough spot, but if the game seems to be merely playing cheap tricks on me or not holding my interest much, I’m more likely to just try and ‘cheat’ my way past.

    Thinking of recent games, even Call of Jaurez: Bound in Blood just threw the one-on-one duels at you, even after some tough fire-fights, and that was kind of neat… at least there wasn’t some absurd 50-story hombre you had to kill that emerged out of a giant cactus to ‘win’ the game. Didn’t think the game was that special, but appreciated it didn’t throw a crazy powerful Wolfenstein-type boss on me.

  26. Clippit says:

    Just like the web was never designed to handle business transactions, video games as a medium were never intended (originally) to be anything other than an amusement in the form of a linear challenge.

    The fact that they’ve now got compelling stories attached, or offer an “immersive” experience and that this usually works (to some degree) is a product of compromise (e.g. Dreamfall gets this slightly wrong) and bending the rules a bit (e.g. eBay – it’s pretty dodgy really, but somehow it works).

    I understand what John is getting at, but for me, not being able to skip bits is intrinsic to the medium. It doesn’t follow that because the game is supposed to be enjoyable, you should be able to skip bits you don’t like. The game is a test. It’s an obstacle course, it doesn’t make sense if you can bypass bits. You have to “earn” your passage through the story, or your experience of the game world. There are workarounds – like ‘non-linear’ design, where there may be a few ways to do things – but this doesn’t mean there has to be a “bypass” option in every case.

    I think the important thing, for a sophisticated game, is to get the balance right. Part of creating a good player experience is designing challenges that aren’t too hard, but aren’t so easy that the player feels they are being patronisingly made to “go through the motions”. Enough challenge and context must be provided to give the player the impression that 1) what they just did wasn’t trivial, and 2) it was a reasonable thing to do (it made sense in the context).

    A well balanced game shouldn’t feel like a test, it should feel like playing an active role in a story, or some sort of open-ended ‘experience’ (i’m thinking about GTA here). John’s right though; no matter how good the balancing is, there’ll still be some sense of exclusivity. Certain people (i.e. your mum) will not be able to take part, won’t satisfy the “minimum requirements”. For example, my mum can’t play Portal, the whole first-person thing is just too foreign to her, although i’m sure she’d get something out of it if she could.

    This brings me back to my main point again: it’s just something intrinsic to the medium. Books and films have certain requirements too; you have to be able to read to engage with a book, and tiny children won’t understand what’s going on in an adult film.

    (there’s my grand theory, what do you think?)

  27. Melf_Himself says:

    An auto-skip feature means that you didn’t learn whatever lesson the game was trying to teach you. The subsequent lessons will be harder still/take the lesson further, so you’ll then have to skip everything after that too.

    There IS a skip button. It’s called, throw the game in the bin.

  28. undead dolphin hacker says:

    I fun I get out of playing games comes from overcoming the challenges they put in front of me.

    A skip button breaks the immersion produced by the illusion that these challenges matter.

    When the immersion goes away, you blink and realize you’re a 20-40 year old man sitting alone in front of a glowing screen.

  29. undead dolphin hacker says:

    The* fun. Blody lack of edit.

  30. Nick says:

    Yeah, but noone is forcing you to press it. S’why I liked it when games had cheat codes, I used them a lot when younger, as I got older I stopped and took to enjoying the challenges of the game, but its not for me to dictate my preferential playstyle on others, otherwise we’d all be playing lots of Baldur’s Gate 2-esque games.

  31. Jake says:

    In a word: Agreed.

  32. Spacegirl says:

    I think the Appropriate Internet Response to this whole discussion is :

    L2P

  33. geoff says:

    totally agree with this.

  34. Wooly says:

    Dracko says:

    “Solution: Better designed games.”

    ^This. And cheats.

  35. Hodge says:

    Resisting the urge to go all ranty-ranty, I will just say that I too agree with John.

  36. UK_John says:

    With no pressure coming from gamers or the media, I don;t know why we are not surprised! Have you ever play Oblivion, for example, and wondered why you have to move the cursor out of the way, because it doesn’t automatically disappear until the conversation is over, to allow for better immersion? What about Empire Total War, to name but one of many, where you have to move the cursor out of the way when a movie plays! If games companies and game reviewers don;t even bother with THAT, how can we expect all the rest?!

  37. UK_John says:

    With no pressure coming from gamers or the media, I don;t know why we are not surprised! Have you ever play Oblivion, for example, and wondered why you have to move the cursor out of the way, because it doesn’t automatically disappear until the conversation is over, to allow for better immersion? What about Empire Total War, to name but one of many, where you have to move the cursor out of the way when a movie plays! If games companies and game reviewers don;t even bother with THAT, how can we expect all the rest?!

  38. Katastrophe66 says:

    I will admit, I didn’t read all the other comments first…

    I’ve wanted a similar feature in World of Warcraft for a while now. I don’t have the time or schedule to commit to “raids,” but I would still like to see all the content. I really think that raids and dungeons should have a “visitor” feature unlocked at some point (I dunno, like six months later/next major patch/next expansion) that allows someone who meets the level requirement to simply wander around inside. No mobs would be able to be activated or fought but all doors would be open. This would let the casual gamer, such as myself, to experience the whole game that I paid for. I mean, I bought the silly thing just like everyone else, and I pay the same subscription fee, so why must these features always be blocked?
    (Note: I do know once you hit, say, 80 you can go into 60 dungeons with little fear of aggroing everything, but if there are guarded doors or event-triggered doors you still can’t see all of them.)

  39. atr says:

    Nintendo is including this feature in the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. They call it “demo play”:

    Now, in an effort to make its games for accessible to all stripes of gamers, Nintendo has introduced ‘demo play,’ which will take over the controls of a game during a difficult part and then let the players jump back into the action once they’re ready to take control again.