Escape! Escape! Embracing Skippable Combat

By John Walker on February 23rd, 2012 at 4:41 pm.

Thanks Craig!

The argument was made by Jennifer Hepler six years ago. Back then the BioWare writer argued that if dialogue can be skipped in games, then why not combat?

Ignoring the hideous treatment Hepler has received this week, and we will be*, the argument remains a truly excellent one, and one I want to explore.

I enjoy combat in games. I play lots of games just for the combat, and if there’s a story attached then that’s a bonus. Clearly, being a right-thinking individual, I can’t stand boss fights, but otherwise rolling in the ruckus is lots of fun, and a huge reason to be playing games.

I’m also someone who adores narrative in games. That’s my first love in this pursuit and always has been. Growing up on text adventures, when the closest you got to combat was reading that it had happened, being told a tale is a massive motivation for my time spent playing games. Not an exclusive one by a long stretch – my fondness for action-RPGs, third-person combat, and Burnout Paradise ensures that I’m just as likely as any to shout “BLAH BLAH BLAH!” at talking characters as I search for which key skips their blather. Just let me hit stuff! Look at me – I’m varied.

If I’m not reviewing something, I’ll exercise that ability to skip past dreary, pointless dialogue. If it’s proved to add nothing to the game, or actively made me want to not like it, then it makes far more sense to Esc Esc Esc my way through and get to the next bit I enjoy playing.

So why can’t the same apply to combat?

What’s interesting is the primary response seems to be extraordinarily defensive. “But that’s not the point of the game!” they cry. “You may as well watch a film if all you want is a story!” And it’s not even the poorness of those arguments that’s the issue here. What’s so strange is that people are arguing at all. Because to say, “I would like it if combat could be skipped” is not the same as saying, “You HAVE TO skip all the combat in a game or we’ll kill your parents.” But the only rationale I can find for why people are so incredibly angry or upset by the possibility of Escape’s powers working elsewhere is because they’re perceiving it as an infringement of their own potential enjoyment of a game.

Which it is not.

The idea that someone would play the utterly brilliant Dragon Age and skip the conversations feels monstrous to me. Miss out on all the amazing jokes with Alistair? Skip over the scathing sarcasm of Morrigan? Fail to outrageously flirt with Zevran? Let alone not reading the Codex, and learning of the thousands of years of history that precede the events in which you’re taking part? But… but… BUT! That would ruin the game!

But then, just possibly, there might be one or two people who didn’t enjoy Dragon Age’s dialogue. No, really, there may. And for them, their time in Thedas is much better spent with the pause-based RPG combat, intricately controlling their band of characters with carefully balanced tactics, each member refined to the precise AI responses they desire, while improvising techniques amidst the frantic Hard difficulty battles. They couldn’t give a flying dragon plop if your influence on Alistair is causing him to have a crisis of faith, nor does their mind get filled with the consequences of Qunari invasion of Kirkwall. They don’t let it concern them, and they click straight through it.

So why can’t the person who just cares whether Morrigan will get one over on her mother, or if a dwarf can make it as a mage, have the same ability to hop past the parts that don’t interest them as much?

Yes, of course, if we were talking about Dragon Age specifically, it’s rife with reasons why missing combat would be problematic. But we’re not. We’re talking about games that haven’t been developed yet. Games that could throw out approximated amounts of XP for skipped battles, or whatever the particular shortfall might be, for the player who opts to jump forward to the next conversation-based quest. And we’ve not even considered the practical motivations – replaying a game to see what other narrative options were there would be much easier, and certainly more convenient, if you could just focus on the dialogue and make different choices.

To argue that removing the requirement to play all the combat in a game is to render the experience to being equivalent to that of a film is to completely miss the nuance of gaming. Beyond the sheer obviousness that try as you might, it’s awfully difficult to have an influence on a film’s ending, the simple act of clicking a mouse changes the way you experience the media. What about Visual Novels then? Aren’t they narratives you read and occasionally influence? Yes, yes they are, which is why I fully argue that they’re games. But let’s not get sidetracked there – that’s not the concern here. The point is, if my skipping a shitty boss fight, or hopping over a particularly frustrating combat sequence, to you means I’m making a game the same as a VN, um, so what?

That’s what’s so very mystifying about the argument. We don’t need to be having an argument! Because no one anywhere is suggesting that combat should be removed from games, and certainly not that anyone should be under any obligation to skip combat, why is there even a reaction at all? It’s like someone wanting to ban people from visiting Burger King because they pick the tomato out of their Whopper. They’re not forcing you to miss out on your tomatoey goodness – they’re just eating the burger differently than you do. Your burger stays just the same.

Deciding how other people are allowed to play games, or believing that other people playing differently is an affront to you, is mystifying. Such a solipsistic view of the gaming world is utterly without merit or value to you or anyone else. If people want to skip combat, you should get on with not caring at all.

Everyone pays for the game, and while we have no stinking rights of ownership, we do still at least cling to the right to play it how we choose. If I want to play Skyrim with a no-clip cheat on and walk through every wall in the game, I can. It would be a strange thing to do, certainly, but it wouldn’t be a problem for you. And if I want to skip all the combat in Torchlight and just read the quest descriptions, you’d rightly think me insane, but it wouldn’t make your enjoyment of the game change in any way.

I think skippable combat is a fantastic idea. I doubt I’d use it very often. I can imagine Deus Ex: Human Revolution being a lot more fun if I could exercise the right to skip its awful boss fights, and I certainly might consider it if I’m playing an action game with a frustrating difficulty spike I’d like to see the other side of. In fact, I find it utterly bizarre that we’re not allowed to jump to any chapter of a game when we first install it. We’re allowed to with films, and no one can stop you turning to the last chapter of a book. Goodness knows why you’d want to, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t.

Getting to the end of a game doesn’t need to be a privilege, earned through hard labour and toil. It’s something anyone can be allowed to do, however they wish. Sure, this “achievement” culture has broken some people’s understanding, and heck, take them away from me if I skip something – I’ll somehow cope. But I don’t see why anyone should be restricted from seeing any part of a game they’ve bought for any reason. And if skipping combat is a way to do that, then skip away.

PS. Massive thanks to @caterwail for linking me to this:

*We am not interested at all in discussion of the despicable campaign of hate directed toward Hepler in the last few days, and any comments about her will be deleted, and we’ll ban anyone we choose. It is NOT being tolerated. If we need to, we’ll just switch off the comments.

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510 Comments »

  1. AMonkey says:

    Video games rarely have the writing to sustain themselves so if you can’t manage the gameplay, I don’t know why you would bother watching them (since you aren’t playing them).

    • Apples says:

      You’re mixing up “gameplay” with combat, or action. Gameplay can be part of the writing and reliant on the writing, e.g. ‘conversation battles’ or just plain character interaction. And saying “well, games have crap writing so why bother” is absolutely nonsense since it’s not something inherent to the medium.

    • Urthman says:

      You might as well say, “Video games suck completely so I don’t know why anyone would bother playing them at all.”

      Sure, some people have that opinion, but it’s pretty irrelevant to this topic.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Combat in Fallout: New Vegas was terrible. I mean truly awful. Even using modded combat settings and styles it was pretty rough.
      .
      I played the game for 280hrs.
      .
      I did it for the writing. The characters. The decisions that mattered. I played it so I could find out about that story Chief Hanlon tells about his early days – the one I missed out on the first time because of something that happened to him during a quest. I really wanted to find out about him, and I am glad I did.
      .
      I played FONV for an an entire Saturday afternoon once. I sat down in the mood for an action game. I wanted to blast shit. Then I stumbled onto a quest in Freeside to help someone. Totally speech based. I completed it and found more such. Before I knew it, I’d spent 5 hours gaming and never fired a weapon, drawn a knife or thrown a single explosive. Not. Even. Once.
      .
      Perhaps if we were able to skip combat now and then. Developers would gather data on the other aspects of game play we do enjoy. Perhaps they would focus more on narrative and choice and consequence.
      .
      Though I am still modding Skyrim and watching the modding scene for a potential return to it one day soon, I am mostly playing Kingdoms of Amalur right now. It has choices I need to make, with consequences, and some intriguing bits of story now and then. Little cartoony, sure, but at least it has an unpredictable narrative and some real consequences. Nice change of pace, that.

    • Shuck says:

      @AMonkey: Questioning the idea that “gameplay” equals “combat” is one of the benefits of the suggestion under discussion here. It may be true that games have traditionally tended to pad out their gameplay with (tedious, repetitive, often frustrating) combat, but there’s no reason for it to be so.
      I’ve always thought that the game industry could really benefit from hiring people who don’t like games (normally “being passionate” about games is a requirement), and this shows why – people who are indoctrinated into the traditional way of doing things are less likely to question the basic assumptions that are keeping out potential players.

    • wastelanderone says:

      Inquiring minds would like to know what you think of adventure games as you appear to believe that combat = gameplay.

    • Craig Stern says:

      There is a growing trend in RPGs of including a “Story Mode,” where battles are either trivially fast and easy or are simply skipped altogether. It’s not the same as being able to skip battles on a case-by-case basis, but I think it addresses similar player desires.

    • povu says:

      I wouldn’t mind if Planescape: Torment came with a skip combat option. The dialogue in that game is basically what the game is about, the combat is crap.

    • fooga44 says:

      @apple

      “You’re mixing up “gameplay” with combat, or action.”

      No, interactivity = gameplay, story is not interactive by definition since you just watch and wait for npc’s to execute their highly scripted sequences. The real issue is that many games have BAD GAMEPLAY (interactivity, combat, action) and tried to cover this up with story and narrative.

      Story is NOT gameplay and people who say it is are morons. Games are about your character interacting with the world and in most games it’s highly combat or skill based. i.e. driving a car, being a soldier (call of duty), being Kratos (god of war), being War (darksiders).

      Almost all the best games are action games for a reason – they put interactivity front and center. The real issue is many game developers suck at making the participation section of games fun. If you have to skip combat that means there is _something wrong_ with the game.

      Imagine a driving game where you “skipped driving”. You story folks are completely bonkers and have been the ones who’ve pushed us into cinematic games where gameplay has stopped advancing to cater to people who really don’t like videogames. Like that chick from bioware.

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      jrodman says:

      @Fooga; your post is charging a straw man not here. In Apples post, she or he referred to conversation battles and character interaction. Those are both means of interaction and means of conveying story. The story itself is not interaction, but can be created via interaction.

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      Hereticus says:

      I’m actually reminded of System Shock being ahead of it’s time again. While not skippable it had individual settings for difficulty for Combat (0 being where enemies wouldn’t attack!), Puzzles, Plot and Cyber. It gave you an index at the end based on your settings but I definitely liked the idea of being able to customise the difficulty at a bit more of a granular level.

    • MasterDex says:

      @jrodman: What the hell is a conversation battle? What game has conversation battles? For a conversation to be some kind of battle, there’d have to be a way to lose but if you consider multiple choice dialogue trees to be conversation battles then you may as well start calling coin-flips battles too. They’re not battles, by any stretch of the imagination. Fooga is dead right. The people clamouring for skippable combat are asking for movies, not games. If you don’t like PLAYING then just don’t play games. Simples.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Human Revolution had conversation battles. You had an interactive conversation that it was possible to mess up and lose, with the consequences that entails.

      Fallout had conversation battles. There were conversations where if you did them poorly you would lose and suffer consequences. They were tied to your speech skill, but still required player decisions, much like the combat in that game.

      Dragon Age had conversation battles, conversations that could go poorly for you if you choose incorrectly, and thus could lose and face the consequences of that loss.

      All sorts of games have conversation battles, any game with multiple choice dialogue where there are better and worse outcomes has conversation battles that are directly analgous to combat gameplay. You make decisions with a goal in mind, and suffer the consequences of those decisions.

      Hell, if you’re looking at “lose” as meaning “player death” I’m sure there are some classic adventure games that would fit your bill. Probably some Sierra joints.

    • aerozol says:

      @MasterDex did you even READ the article? In any case, a GAME is generally defined as performing actions in a defined ‘game space’ with rules (or even just ‘a’ rule). That’s it. Combat = games is just effin stupid. And wrong.

    • MasterDex says:

      @Hidden_7: How are any of those examples battles? They’re multiple choice dialogue trees with varying outcomes. You can’t call them conversation battles when there’s no battling being done. You’re choosing a dialogue and seeing the outcome, good or bad. Even if the outcome of your choice is negative, it still isn’t in any way, shape or form a battle. Unless of course you also consider, as I said previously, coin-flips to be battles. It’s the same idea. You have two options (I know multiple choice dialogue in games often has more but same concept -options), head or tails. If you choose tails and it comes up heads, you haven’t just fought a battle. You made a choice, that’s it. It’s not a battle. At all.

      @aerozol: Perhaps you should read my comment before replying. I never said that combat=gameplay. However, the fact of the matter is that in many, many games, the combat is the game, or a major portion of that. Take that away or change your design to allow it to be skipped and you either damage the overall quality of the game or you lose the actual game part of the game. But of course, you’re welcome to dismiss me and continue clamouring for the ability to skip things like combat in games where combat plays a central role…..Or you could, you know, play games that don’t focus on combat and leave the rest of us to enjoy playing.

    • misavcxzb says:

      Developers do not need to build “skip” buttons into their own games to evaluate if it’s fun or not… that’s why games have cheat codes and command line input. http://oua.be/die

    • aerozol says:

      @MasterDex, “Fooga is dead right. The people clamouring for skippable combat are asking for movies, not games.” implies that skipping combat automatically stops something from being a game. That is WRONG. Although it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to wrap your head around it, the definition of a game in no way or form implies combat. I could repeat the definition, but what’s the point? You didn’t read it the first time…
      “clamouring for the ability to skip things like combat in games where combat plays a central role” that’s a joke right? Because my post contained none of that. However the article does contain this: what do you care? Do you feel so threatened by the thought of other people playing the same game in a different way that you feel you have to defend yourself from it? And have to start spouting alien inferences like “where combat plays a central role”, when the article in no way is recommending that combat should be skippable in a game like CoD? The examples given were perfectly reasonable.

    • MasterDex says:

      @aerozol: Wrong. It implies that those looking to skip combat are the same ones who’d rather skip the gameplay altogether just so they can have the story. As I said, combat in many games is the central piece of gameplay. In many games, it’s the only piece of gameplay.

      And please, leave the ad hominems and hyperbole out of this. I understand the argument. And I’m in no way insulted by those who make it or by the argument itself. However, the argument has a flaw and that is that for skippable combat or similar, developers would have to change how they design their games to cater to people that aren’t really gamers and that’s going to have a negative effect on game design.

      I have no problem with games catering to people who wouldn’t mind an easy ride on a rollercoaster rather than a trip through a gauntlet but there are other ways and much better ways to do it than to implement things like skippable combat.

      Let me ask you this. Would you like skippable combat in God of War? Final Fantasy? Bioshock?

    • aerozol says:

      @MasterDex Your first statement again misunderstands the meaning of ‘gameplay’ and ‘game’. There are many more games that don’t involve combat, than those that do. This ranges from tic-tac-toe, scrabble, school yard games, all the way through to casual and AA video games. Again, skipping combat =/= skipping gameplay. In the sense of ‘combat’ being able to take place in more than just a aggressive physical sense (and digital representation thereof), then yes, most games do involve it, whether between players, or just between the players and the rules of play. But in your earlier definition of a coin toss not being a battle I see you’ve assigned it a very specific meaning, which most (by far) games don’t fit.

      My hyperbole is mild compared to you taking a comment where I simply correct a (key) mistake you make in the classification of a ‘game’, and expanding it to creatively assign me an agenda. I like combat, and don’t like story-heavy focus in games, by the way.

      Final Fantasy could use skippable combat, definitely. Leveling up, traveling, playing mini-games and equipping characters was way more fun than the slow grind of watching summons do their thing or watching attack animations take place (I only played up to 8, so those are the ones I’m talking about). That would be skipping elements of gameplay yes, but in no way or form would it stop FF VII from being a game, and turn it into a movie.
      I’ve already covered that nobody is saying a FPS (or completely combat-based game like GoW) should have skippable combat. And the article doesn’t either. That’s your inference.

      Just stating that it would hurt game design is quite an assumption. It obviously wouldn’t hurt it for people that want to skip combat, would it? Of course if you just mean whoever your very personal definition of “real gamers” covers, which I can only assume means people who only play games where fighting (in a specific sense) plays the central role, you could be right.

    • MasterDex says:

      @aerozol: I’m too tired for this. You’re confusing and misunderstanding my comments and I’m not going to keep this going.

      The idea of skippable combat could and does work for some games but it wouldn’t work or would negatively affect a lot of other games. We can say that this is due to the bad habit of developers relying on combat as the central interactive device in games or whatever but regardless, as many games stand now, skippable combat would only make sense for a few games.

      The greatest fear I think I and others have is that all these cries for change this and let me skip that and so on will make the bigwigs in the industry perk up their ears and say “Well, 60% of our audience hates combat/puzzles/platforming, so rather than make the effort to change our design plan to fit skippable “c/p/p”, let’s just make an interactive movie.” While that premise is somewhat absurd, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, certainly not in a generation where we’ve seen many games that treat the game portion (and ALL that entails) as second fiddle to the plot. There are also a bunch of other possible downsides to skippable gameplay (And by gameplay I mean combat, puzzles, platforming, etc, etc) but I think other RPS commentors have covered a good amount of them. Yes, right now it’s let’s make combat skippable but then it’ll be let’s make platforming skippable, etc

      I guess my ultimate point (if you’ll give me that little bit of respect to hear me out) is that we have to be very careful what we wish for because what we wish for and what we get could well be two very different things.

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      jrodman says:

      @MasterDex: When you jump from “I don’t know what apples means by conversation battles” to “you are asking for movies”, you’re really not thinking anything through.

      If you want to know what Apples meant, ask Apples. If you want to assert that ability to skip content == movie, then please don’t, because it’s obviously false and useless.

    • aerozol says:

      @MasterDex I agree with you there, it’s not right for every case (probably not right for most games where combat plays an important role). But in the examples given in the article (eg games where both combat and story play a role, and where you often can skip story) I think it could definitely be beneficial.

      But the statements you made in your first post (skippable combat = movie), and have really stuck with in essence, remain what I take issue with. I don’t blame you for wanting to move away from this very circular argument, but if you ever want to understand where I’m coming from (I studied interactivity and game design) I would recommend: The Game design reader : a rules of play anthology, edited by Katie Salen and Eric Zimerman

    • MasterDex says:

      @aerozol: I never asserted that skippable combat=movie but rather that skippable gameplay (which would include combat) = movie. I guess I didn’t word it very well though. I just feel that allowing players to skip over any gameplay, be it puzzles, combat or whatever defeats the purpose of playing a game. I know the argument here is why shouldn’t combat, in particular, be skippable but that’s just now. Do we really want to reach a point where we appease everyone with skippable everything? Call me paranoid but I think the question of whether combat should be skippable has us teetering on the brink of a rabbit hole with no way out. Thanks for the reading suggestion, btw.

      @Jrodman: It wasn’t a jump. They were two unrelated comments, one directed towards yourself and the other at Fooga’s comment and the thread as a whole. I guess I should have formatted better.

      In relation to the second half of your comment, I don’t think the ability to skip content=movie but rather that skipping the interactive portions of a game = movie. Think Uncharted 3 with the option to skip the platforming and shooting. It becomes a movie, with some QTEs thrown in if someone decides to skip all of that and then what was the point in paying premium bucks for it?

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      kavika says:

      @MasterDex

      The ability to skip everything is the whole point. Call it combat, call it whatever.

      > Do we really want to reach a point where we appease everyone with skippable everything? Call me paranoid but I think the question of whether combat should be skippable has us teetering on the brink of a rabbit hole with no way out.

      You’re paranoid. Stop fear mongering. There is no impact to you at all when someone else can <do action you don’t like>. Whether it be gay marriage, or skipping content in some piece of entertainment. The art-as-a-whole will not be harmed, and the End Times won’t be upon us any sooner.

      Cutscene achievements are a troll against this way of thinking.

    • CaptainMcSmash says:

      @MasterDex

      I was thinking it the entire time while reading your comments but you just outright said it. “skipping the interactive portions of a game = movie”. What an absurd notion, simply adding the option to skip a portion of gameplay immediately turns it into a movie, this is literally what you said.

      Having the option to skip gameplay would not detract from a game in any way. It would simply be an option there, just as much as turning the sound up or down, you don’t have to use it at all unless your unhappy with how things are.

      You say if gameplay is skippable, game designers will just focus on making an interactive movie. You seem to think that there is only a negative outcome to this, I only can imagine a positive outcome. If gameplay becomes skippable, the only time it would be used would be for good reason because otherwise, it would hurt no one but the person playing the game. Personally, I’d only use it to take the road not taken, to skip bad boss battles or endless corridors of enemies, ultimately, I’d use it to skip bad gameplay, if gamers were to find themselves using this option often, they’d realize it was a bad game and say so. This would force developers to not only improve the gameplay but the story elements as well.

      It may only just be my opinion but I can only see skippable gameplay as having a positive outcome.

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      ffordesoon says:

      @MasterDex:

      ” However, the argument has a flaw and that is that for skippable combat or similar, developers would have to change how they design their games”

      They have to change how they design their games anyway to keep up with shifts in thinking, technology, taste, pricing, etc. I don’t see how they can’t cope with this if they can cope with all of that.

    • mckertis says:

      “There is no impact to you at all when someone else can . Whether it be gay marriage, or skipping content in some piece of entertainment.”

      Yes, it does. Gay marriage affects you. Reduced standards of quality in game developing affects you. Not immediately, but they do. Do we really need to argue what is absolutely obvious ?

    • Lowbrow says:

      I doubt this will even be read at this point, but:

      1. Conversation battles- literal example would be the insult fencing in Monkey Island. If you’re already stretching the definition of “battle” to include selecting auto-attack in some games, I don’t see how a conversation wouldn’t fit the mold. There’s an applicable quote about playing fields somewhere…

      2.I have had the option to flip to the end of a book for all my life. How rotten would it be to have to read all of East of Eden to get to my favorite passages. Do people that skip to the end screw themselves? Yes, but it doesn’t affect my life. If you can want to keep your nerd-friends pure, you can insist on achievements for not skimming portions of the game. You can then socially ostracize anyone who doesn’t enjoy the product on the same terms you do. This reminds me of my dad’s insistence that we read a chapter of the bible every day at dinner, and spent what seems like weeks reading through the Begats. Let us “skim” through things we don’t like. Games, more so even then books, are supposed to be fun.

      3. I can’t believe that people have played a Final Fantasy game and not wanted to skip combat. My god, an autoresolve option would make that game a million times better. I can skip battles in TOTAL WAR if I can’t be bothered to kill 2 units of peasants, but I have to go through that annoying battle process in every RPG (where battles are rarely individually challenging)?

      Personally, I see this as a challenge to game developers to make more interesting stories and characters who will hold up for those playing in “story” mode. That would benefit those whose skipped and those who didn’t.

    • skittles says:

      A bit late to the party, but I will say this. If someone just wants to skip all gameplay, who are you to gainsay their preference. A strongly held attitude seems that of, if you don’t want to play, **** off and go see a movie. However that is just juvenile whining to put it plainly. If someone is interested in a story of a game, then they are perfectly entitled to seeing it just as you are, if the developer doesn’t want to let them then that is fine. But if you are not a developer and are just whining here because you feel entitled to a medium that is not yours, please just go away.

  2. Captain Hijinx says:

    That’s a nicely formulated piece John, and i find myself agreeing completely. Though my first knee jerk reaction upon seeing the headline was to disagree.

    • Jumwa says:

      Likewise.

      Though judging by the reaction I get when I just mention that I wish more games had a realistic casual difficulty setting, or that I’m not interested in “hard” games (usually something about how “insert-slur-here” like me are ruining the industry, “dumbing” it down, and how I am totally “lazy”), I doubt it’ll be a popular sentiment among gaming communities.

      • Mr Gimp says:

        Skippable combat would also help disabled gamers like me enjoy more of the games we buy. Sometimes the control schemes are so complicated that even with rebind-able keys that somethings are just impossible.
        And it would benefit the game makers too, instead of being upset that i bought say Assassins creed 1 and couldn’t use the controls well enough to play the game and therefor not buying any of the AC sequels or DLC they would get my money because I could actually enjoy what I spent cash on. The way things are now at best i’d watch a “let’s play” and they get zero return from that!

    • Matt-R says:

      Aye, can’t help but agree with this piece, I’d never use it myself at all, I verge more on the lets set everything to hardest and grind my face off whilst learning to master it instead sort of thing, but if someone would want to play this way then there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to given that combat (especially in RPGs) rarely if ever actually adds to the game in anything other than arbitrary hurdles, I can think of Redcliff in DA:O as a singular example from the DA series wherein combat actually has any tangible effect or meaning (oh wait the Arishok in 2 aswell).

      But meh, a lot of folks seem to be treating combat/action as the sacred cow of gameplay which disappoints me a lot.

    • Phantoon says:

      I don’t know if I agree. I skipped the article.

    • grundus says:

      I think this is one of those things that, if put forward properly, is impossible to disagree with. One excellent example of gaming I wish I could skip more than any other is near the end of Metal Gear Solid 2. I spent hours and hours on that game collecting all the dog tags on every difficulty, starting at the bottom and working my way up, but I only had one save. I started Hard, did very well indeed, and then… (I knew it was coming, of course)… I get strangled by my ‘Dad’ and have to press triangle faster than a Hummingbird could if it grasped the urgency of the situation.

      Can’t skip it, can’t get past it, so that’s it, then. Hours (admittedly small amounts of hours compared to, say, a Fallout 3 playthrough, but still enough to finish the game a large number of times over) and hours of sneaking around and dealing with some fairly tough bosses and for what? Oh, I can’t press a button fast enough, now I’ve died, I can’t start a new game with the stuff I’d already unlocked and I can’t finish this one, I have no other saves… Fuck it. I stopped playing MGS2 after that, and for that reason it’s my least favourite game of the lot. I so could’ve had Solidus in that final fight, too, probably.

    • noom says:

      The issue for me with the option to skip combat in games would I think be similar to the issue I’d have with playing roguelikes without permadeath. I feel it might rob me of my incentive to play well or try and improve. You can perhaps say that’s just a problem with me and my weak will-power, and you’d probably be right, but I think it remains a valid issue.

      With that said, I do think this is a perfectly decent option to have in a game. The solution for me would be to have the ability to skip combat parts of a game settable as an option at the start, without the option to turn it on for the duration of that particular playthrough. Kinda like the inverse of traditional Ironman modes I guess.

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      Luringen says:

      Maybe enabling skipping combat only on easy difficulty?

    • Zerrick says:

      @Phantoon
      What are you doing here then? You know you can’t post unless you have read the article.

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      jrodman says:

      @noom; I think there a number of real issues with the idea of making the core components of a game skippable, which vary a lot on the type of game, and the goals of the designer, and so on. I agree with your comparison of skippable bosses to defeatable permadeath as changint the framing of the game.

      I also think the way people will approach challenges which have a “turn me off?” button will be different than those that do not. It will have advantages (this thread is full of people talking about that) and disadvantages.

      I view it as a new and different set of challenges to the game designer. I personally would like to try out games built this way. Lord knows I skipped my way through the starcraft 2 single player, and I god moded my way through the majority of the original Unreal. In both cases the challenge aspects had ceased to appeal but other things retained my interest.

      —–

      Separately, I think the fact that we’re focused on saying so loudly that “NOTHING IS TAKEN AWAY!” is because gaming discourse is at such an incredibly base level. What I mean is the dialogue is stuck in some rut surrounding thought processes like skipping any content means skipping all content, or skipping any content means no content will be good, or optional skipping means mandatory skipping. With such obvious fallacies being the norm, its very tempting to charge in with “NO SHUT UP SHUT UP NOTHING IS TAKEN AWAY YOU ARE ALL STUPID!” I can really get behind this sentiment, but it does tend to drown out what *is* taken away.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      My immediate kneejerk reaction was to agree, but as I read the article I found myself firmly in opposition.

      The thing to remember is that given the opportunity, players will almost always ruin the game for themselves. The reason Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup doesn’t allow item selling at all is that because if it did, a significant proportion of players would haul around every last stone and stick they find, spend half their time juggling inventory, then stop playing because it wasn’t fun.

      Of course, it’s possible for there to be a game where combat is unnecessary. In this case, combat should be left out in the first place.

    • 2late2die says:

      Ditto. I didn’t necessarily disagreed outright but I thought, why not instead implement combat that’s more adjustable to player’s skill. So if you fail an encounter it drops the difficulty and if you fail again it drops it again until you can finish it. But as I read I found myself pretty much agreeing with where you’re coming from – why the heck shouldn’t we be able to skip the combat, it only affects the people that do it and if that’s how they better enjoy the game the more power to them. And I also agree with skipping to chapters. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been able to fire up DX:HR and go to the last section right away. Yes I would’ve skipped a lot of awesome story and gameplay but that’s my problem, ain’t it?

      Anyway, the short of it is, I agree 100%. Moving on.

    • Gozuu says:

      Do we have another guy running gaming, right here? Or let me rephrase “is the cancer of gaming”.

      The idea of skippable combat will lead to people continuously as today crave for more content without any hassle. It will be a backfire for the developers as people will crave a sequel after no-clipping their way through content.

      There are all sorts of doomsday saying that I would agree to and seeing someone from a PC magazine write this, just further demonstrates the lack of professionalism in todays “news” and journalism, if I can even call this piece that exactly.

      I thougth DLC & Achievements were something horrible – Now we have skippable gameplay as well, just to further exploit the possibility of putting out rushed content to cover for the short length of games as they were cheated through?

      I really don’t get it, I really don’t. Rockpapershotgun makes me lose faith in almost every one of their “this is my point of view”-articles which either dumbs something down, shortens something or give further explanation why DLC ain’t such a bad thing after all.

      Horrible article, really. You’re gonna be ashamed when you wake up tomorrow and read this shit.

  3. Kdansky says:

    If the combat wasn’t mostly filler in many games, I wouldn’t need a skip function. I actually skipped Dragon Age 1 completely, because it’s filled with 60 hours of boring combat between the good bits.

    Why can’t we try to make more games without combat? I do (see signature blog), but it’s bloody hard and nobody cares about it except me, it seems. Is murder and violence really the only thing that makes games work?

    • Unaco says:

      There are plenty of games without combat, and they sell more than 1 copy each… so I don’t think it’s just you that cares about this. Unless you really, really, really care and are singlehandedly supporting Zynga, or the Sports game genre.

    • Kdansky says:

      Well, Zynga games are not about combat, but many are not really games either. They are just a well-done amalgamation of all that triggers our brain to compulsively continue playing them.

      But why are there no RPGs without combat? No Action games without murder? No Strategy games without killing? The only other genre are puzzle games, and boy, do I hate puzzle games.

      Yes, there are exceptions like Prom Night but they are not numerous.

    • Apples says:

      Part of it is that combat and strategy are easy to simulate, human interaction is very difficult to simulate. I can’t remember where this comes from but I read an article/book once that posited that the easiest film to make is two people talking, and the hardest is a bunch of expensive CG spaceships and laserbeams. The opposite is true for games.

      Non-combat games are usually puzzle games, which is fair enough but many people find them not immediately as engaging and exciting so they don’t tend to get as big an audience.

    • Serge says:

      Sims.
      Or pretty much every sport game.

    • nearly says:

      I believe there was a strategy game a while ago that was entirely resource management. You had to balance the wants/needs of the Earth’s population with what nature could sustain, or something like that. It was very environmentally aware, drew a lot of praise. The issue is that these sorts of games tend to be more often than not just niche pursuits, never really posited as something masses of people want.

    • Unaco says:

      Alec Meer, when he was actually writing the Ian Manager series, likened that to an RPG game… so that’s an RPG without combat. Amnesia is an ‘adventure’ game without murder. Then there are things like the Sherlock Holmes games… adventures you don’t engage in any violence. 4 X Strategy games also tend to have ‘pacifist’ options. And there are plenty of business based strategy games.

      Hell, one of the biggest games of last year was entirely non-violent… Portal 2.

      So, really, there are plenty of games without violence/combat/murder.

    • Apples says:

      Portal 2 and Portal may not have had much blood in them but they were not particularly non-violent. You were constantly getting shot at, the narrative focus was on two robots who want to kill you and you want to kill them… at its heart it was a violent conflict, nevermind that the antagonists were inorganic.

    • Kdansky says:

      Unaco: Our definition of “plenty” seems to diverge widely. Sure, there are some games without combat. But some genres (FPS and RPG) are chock-full of murder and violence despite that not being a requirement. First Person games could be about pretty much anything, yet besides Portal, there isn’t much that’s not about killing a dude every ten seconds. The same holds true for RPGs. I played P&P RPGs for nearly a decade, and we only had some fight once every twenty to thirty hours. And again, other media (books and films) are not combat after combat either.

      It’s not actually the existence of violence that I abhor. Imagine you would play a 50-hour RPG, and have five fights. Suddenly, every combat has meaning, and every fight is special. But Anders complaining about accidentally killing a mage in DA2, when the party brutally murders about a hundred bandits every single night in Kirkwall?

      It’s hard to take a character seriously who is by all counts the worst mass-murderer in all of history.

      But it’s so easy to write a combat engine, and when you have an engine that does something well, you might as well put a lot of that into your game.

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      Thermal Ions says:

      Destruction of robots != non-violent

    • BobbyKotickIsTheAntichrist says:

      @nearly: I think you’re talking about “Fate of the World”. That reminds, that i’ve yet to play that one. It’s sitting all pretty and lonesome on my harddisk since i bought it in an Indie Royale Bundle. xD

    • acheron says:

      As far as an RPG without combat, there was one a few years ago called “Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!” which had non-combat gameplay to resolve situations. (Think playing card games to win an encounter.) Now maybe you’d say that’s still combat, just with different graphics, which: yeah, kind of. So it depends on what you mean by “combat”.

    • Unaco says:

      Hmmm… Yeah, funny that. The genre of “First Person Shooter” is full of shooting.

      There are plenty of non-combat games, as I and others have said… Any sports game, management games, the Sims, SimCity and other city builders, some garnd strategy/empire building games, Portal and the other First Person Puzzlers coming about, adventure games, InMomentum, Simulators, rhythm games. Then you have games where it’s possible to play a pacifist… things like the X series for example, or 4X games.

      Also, I don’t remember wanting to kill (or indeed killing) any robots in Portal 2. Avoiding automatic turret fire, sure… shutting computers down… sure. But no killing. And besides, it’s what the OP asked for… games without combat, not violence.

    • Kdansky says:

      Oh, I totally count Portal as a game without violence. I also count sports games, though to be honest, I find them utterly boring. If I want to play foot-to-ball, I will go outside and do that.

      As for FPS: Yes, Shooters are full of shooting, well done at finding a straw-man. But we could do First Person not-shooter games too. Call them FPPs. First Person Perspective games. Like, erm, … the better half of Mirror’s Edge? Or Façade? Or Portal? Possibly Thief? Oh, look, four games in and I’m running out of examples and none of these is a clear hit anyway (but no coincidence: All of these are actually way more important games than CoD will ever be). Façade is so niche and unusual, it’s more of an art project than a game in the usual sense, the other three do have significant gunplay (and in the case of Mirror’s Edge really suffer for it).

      But what bothers me is that a huge number of games has a lot of meaningless combat. Not the interesting encounters, or fights where something is at stake, or where you could die. But instead complete filler.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Why can’t we try to make more games without combat?

      They’re called adventure games. They were quite popular in the ’80s and ’90s, in the land before Quake.

    • Fumarole says:

      The variously themed management games (Themepark Manager, etc.) are all strategy and have no combat as far as I know. It seems awfully shortsighted to ignore all the games that are not AAA titles.

    • Eversor says:

      That sounds somewhat in tune with what I thought about the combat in Dragon Age Origins. First time, yeah, I soldiered through. I was frustrated at times, I was bored out of my skull at times because I had to kill yet ANOTHER room full of darkspawn (damn you, Deep Roads, damn you to hell), but I soldiered through it to get the ending. I was done, I was satisfied.

      When I was exploring the idea of playing DA:O again to try some different type of character, I always caught myself thinking: “Oh, but that would involve pulling myself through those 40+ hours of that combat…”. When I finally got around to playing the game a different way, I went out of my way to make the combat as trivial and swift as possible – I modded the most OP weapons I could find, modded the toughest and best looking armor and set the combat on Easy. There, the combat no longer intervened with what I wanted out of the game the most – the story bits, the dialogue, the decision making.

      Honestly, I’m okay with a choice. There are times when the combat just doesn’t feel rewarding, when it feels like it’s in the way of the actual draw to the game. I sometimes watch my brother playing video games. When he plays GTA games, he goes all out hardcore about it, going for all side missions and everything, embracing in combat to the full. When he plays games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, he simply clicks the tilde key, types in “tgm” and effortlessly hacks his way through the enemies that are now useless. Maybe he just enjoys one type of combat more than the other. Maybe he simply likes adventuring casually in a fantasy world on one day, while taking on he weight of a thug-life firefights the other day. Thinking about it, I see no actual reason why developers shouldn’t let him to play the game the way he wants. It’s a singleplayer game, it’s his copy, it’s his fun in doing what he wishes with the game.

      So yeah, maybe we should realize that we have moved past the games of old where draconian difficulty was there only to prolong the gameplay time or pull quarters out of our pockets, and realize that they have expanded and become much more varied than that. One might hope that people would eventually realize and accept that there are more than one true way of doing things, alas, we still have a long, hard road infront of us before that happens.

      • Ymarsakar says:

        Eversor, do what I do, check out the SRPGs made from Japan and with English subtitles by fans. Two games that had a smooth blend of Story and gameplay were Utawarerumono and Planescape Torment, one a SRPG VN and the other a Black Isle productions CRPG.

        The Japanese market have somehow hit upon the specialization and gold mine of making games that have 90 or even 99% story content and the only gameplay is like skipping through it. To be fair, Fallout 3′s combat and Skyrim’s combat are rather different and often times boring or tedious. While it may be an issue of competition and bragging to say that you completed a console game with X million points, there’s no need to do that when it’s only the NPC’s head in Fallout 3 blowing up due to bloody perk. The Japanese producers have specialized. Those that want combat, they integrate that into SRPGs. Those that just want the story, they produce visual novels like Fate Stay Night, which to be honest, had better “battle” scenes than most games I’ve played.

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      jrodman says:

      I think portal (1, i didn’t play 2) is on the edge of the question posed. It’s certainly violent, but it’s not particularly combat oriented. There is combat, but usually fairly indirect. Or at least, it’s automated static opponents with you just avoiding damage. A funny sort of combat.

      Certainly the end of the game felt much more combat-ey. Or at least it looked like it.

      I personally hit SKIP from the conveyor belt into the fire until the end of the boss battle. I watched it on youtube.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Portal 1 is still fairly twitch; the mechanics toward the end of the game make demands comparable to a firefight—fast, precise aiming and careful movement control.

      Portal 2 played that down an awful lot. It was mostly for the better IMO, but they didn’t really push the puzzle complexity up to completely compensate, just lots of talking. Competently delivered Valve talking, but still not gameplay.

  4. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    I hate games being games. I hope we will attain a hamfisted dialogue/slow walking singularity soon

  5. Phantoon says:

    If you skip the gameplay, and skip the story, what is left?

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      Indie games.

    • Jams O'Donnell says:

      Zyng!

    • ScottTFrazer says:

      I see what you did there, Jams. And I approve.

    • 2late2die says:

      But you can do the same with books, movies, music and any other art form with an element of time. So why not games? I mean, you don’t care if I buy a book and read only the last page, right? Yeah it’s silly, maybe even crazy, but it has absolutely no affect on you. The author might take offense if they knew but they still got their money and there are plenty other people who didn’t skip to the end so they’ll live. So I mean, why the heck not??

  6. Brun says:

    My philosophy is that, in a properly designed game, the narrative and combat should be intertwined well enough that the player should not want to skip either one.

    Put another way – ideally, the combat and narrative should be indistinguishable to the player. That is, there shouldn’t be clear “narrative” segments and clear “combat” segments.

    • Drac40k says:

      This.

    • Xocrates says:

      This is part of the reason why I called the subject “slightly muddier” bellow. However the issue here is that “should not want to skip” and “should not be allowed to skip” isn’t the same thing.

    • Apples says:

      Yeah I think this comes closest to what I think. Sorry to bring up films, but most films (outside of blatent action films) do not have ten-minute sequences where the protagonist beats up three waves of same-faces enemies for no reason before entering each room. The only reason we find that engaging is because we’re doing it; it does not serve the story, setting, atmosphere, characters, anything. On the other hand, climactic battles, or combat that in some way demonstrates something (think of the obvious sexual overtones in the fights in whichever Terminator film had the female Terminator) are likely to be tolerated and useful.

      I can’t help but think that most of it comes down to clearly defined segments of narrative/gameplay being just easier to make. Lazy game-making and a lazy, blinkered view of what a game and what gameplay ‘should be’ – gameplay = shooty bits right?? gotta have lots of those then!

    • weaselsoup says:

      What if the choice of whether or not to skip the combat were also part of the narrative you’re building as you play?

    • Brun says:

      However the issue here is that “should not want to skip” and “should not be allowed to skip” isn’t the same thing.

      My point was that we shouldn’t even really be having this debate in the first place. Developing game systems to the point at which combat/gameplay and narrative are inseparable would render the entire debate moot.

      That said, I think that it will be a long time before game systems are developed to that point, especially since the industry seems to be heading in the opposite direction).

    • Maldomel says:

      Yes! Sadly, many games are missing this point by a thousand miles.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Brun’s view agrees with my own here. If you want to skip EITHER the dialogue or the combat, there’s probably something wrong with your storytelling/narrative. But as Xocrates says, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be an option for both.

      Also, I wouldn’t quite go as far to say that there’s isn’t ever a case for a sort of story-action-story structure. For example I’m working on a retro style action game at the moment which is mostly just action, but we’ve put little story moments between each of the four ‘missions’. Because of the nature of the action, it’d be very tricky to insert them into the action and get the same effect we’re going for, so we’re keeping them separate, in the form of brief, skippable cutscenes.

      Then again, that gives me pause. If you skipped the action in the game, all you’d be doing is watching about 5 minutes worth of dialogue cutscenes, then the credits. It’s very much gameplay heavy and story light, even though we love the little bit of story we included. So I suspect it probably depends what sort of game you’re making as to whether it makes sense to make the action skippable.

    • Xocrates says:

      @Brun: There are reasons to wanting to skip part of a game irrelevant to how well designed it is, so yes, the debate is relevant regardless. A good example is the amount of arachnophobes who mentioned being unable to complete a game because there’s a big fricking spider somewhere on it.

    • Brun says:

      I can’t help but think that most of it comes down to clearly defined segments of narrative/gameplay being just easier to make.

      Of course they’re easier to make. I think the kind of ideal situation that I’m describing would be impossible with current game design standards and likely impossible with current technology. We would need some major advances in procedural content generation to accomplish it.

      What if the choice of whether or not to skip the combat were also part of the narrative you’re building as you play?

      I think in the ideal game I’m describing this would be true by definition.

    • diamondmx says:

      Many films do actually have story sections you could reasonably call ‘combat’ and ‘story progression’. Especially those in the generally-more-shallow action genre.

      Let’s take a martial arts film, for example: Story bit, fighting, story bit, fighting, fighting with story bit, fighting, story bit, fighting, story end bit.

      That isn’t as true as with films which aren’t as action-oriented. There are few films that have ‘story bit, investigation bit, story bit’ as the parts are basically difficult to seperate, with the investigation bit being a story bit too.

      Maybe the solution is to interweave the story through combat as you see in some action films. Shouting at each other in between volleys of gunfire, or punch-punch-talk as you’d see in a martial arts film. Hey, monkey island combat but less random!

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      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      That is, there shouldn’t be clear “narrative” segments and clear “combat” segments.

      So you momentarily pause the thrust of your rapier to throw some repartee? Like Monkey Island then :)

      Edit: Ninja’d with the Monkey Island comparison! Great minds…, eh?

      Jokes aside—and leaving aside the obvious interaction, temporal, and mechanical reasons why combat and story are usually segregated, I just want to point out that in most RPGs, combat is, narratively, useless filler.

      For the most part, there are two possible outcomes to a combat encounter: you win, and continue the game (and story), or you die, and reload/respawn/otherwise and have to try it again. Some games will let you flee mid-battle as a softer failure state, but in very few is that choice or the choice to avoid starting the combat in the first place actually recognised by the story.

      For this reason, the combat only functions to increase your XP and supply you with some loot—just as listening to NPC dialogue only supplies you with information (which you may not care about, or may already know from a previous playthrough).

      Moreover, because the combat is designed to be irrelevant to the story, and partly because it is traditional, and partly because it is designed to be an enjoyable game element in itself (if designed well), combat encounters are heavily used throughout RPGs. They give the game a feeling of substance, but they aren’t particularly meaningful.

    • Brun says:

      @Xocrates:

      Continuing with your example of the huge spider, in the ideal game avoiding the spider would not only be an option, but the narrative would change seamlessly to account for the fact that the player avoided it and for the manner in which it was avoided.

    • Jimbo says:

      Absolutely agree. That we even consider skipping one whole aspect of the game is a failure of game design in the first place. We have become too accustomed to games feeling like two (or multiple) seperate products -one passive, one interactive- that just happen to come packaged in the same box and run alongside each other. The different aspects should impact and resonate with each other to create a game which is more than the sum of its parts.

      Deciding you want to skip the combat or skip the narrative should seem as absurd as deciding you’d really rather watch The Godfather without the dialogue, or deciding you want to listen to a piece of music with half the chords removed. That’s great that people know what they like and don’t like, but at some point I believe we have to allow the artist to decide what’s best for us in order for gaming to fulfill its potential. You might pick a tomato out of a Whopper in Burger King -and that’s fine for some games too- but you might be a little more hesitant to tell a top chef to leave a main ingredient out of his signature dish. I believe a certain level of respect from consumer to creator is required if you want gaming to aspire to being more than Burger King is to food. If you don’t like the ingredients, order a different meal – we have many to choose from.

      It’s also inaccurate to say that how others play the game doesn’t affect you. When they’re gathering stats about how everybody uses their product and base their future designs on it then it very much affects me. This may seem a democratic method for establishing how games should be designed in future and therefore it’s fair enough if 60% of people skip the gameplay that their next game should be a movie, or 60% skip the dialogue so their next game is going to be a straight shooter. The problem with this is it that rather than end up with the entire market being effectively supplied with a variety of games for different tastes, you end up with the lowest common denominator (for want of a less loaded term) being oversupplied by everybody. You will end up with either ‘Most people don’t like tomatoes, so let’s never use tomatoes in anything’ or ‘Most people do like tomatoes, so we’re going to put them in everything’.

    • Kolchak says:

      I completely agree. If you want to skip the story the story needs editing, if you want to skip combat the combat needs a major overhaul.

      Look Bioware games can be great, they’re the closest thing we have to a choose your own adventure novel in game form. But let’s not lie to ourselves those games at their best could still use script doctors. Characters will blabber on about things the player already knows, many of the dialogue wheel choices are superfluous just to give the player added illusion of freedom. And some characters are just crap, in Mass Effect 1 you have to choose between saving Kaiden or Ashley. What should have been an aggravating decision just didn’t matter to me, they were the two characters that I cared the LEAST about.

      Skipping combat is basically giving a pass on poor game design. If gamers like Hepler are asking “Why do I have to play this?” then the game developers need to ask “Why don’t they WANT to play this?” Not making you fight through countless fodder again and again to extend the length of the game would be a good start.

    • Brun says:

      @Jimbo:

      Excellent points. It comes down to what people think they want vs. what they actually want. People think they want to skip combat (or skip narrative), and they demand it, so developers give it to them. But players don’t really want to skip combat or narrative – they only want to skip it because it isn’t engaging for them. What they really want is to be engaged and entertained, and if users are asking to skip your content it means that you’re doing something wrong, and that you aren’t giving them what they really want.

    • Xocrates says:

      @Brun: The concept of an “ideal” game is so subjective as to be meaningless. There are perfectly reasonable design choices for why you couldn’t avoid it, and that’s assuming it’s one spider as opposed to a recurring enemy type.

      What’s more, you’re assuming you can predict every reason why someone would want to skip something and code appropriately, which is simply not viable. You cannot design a game while having in consideration every player phobias, peeves, and just plain suckiness at the game without allowing them to skip parts of it.

    • Brun says:

      You simply cannot design a game while having in consideration every players phobias, peeves, and just plain suckiness at the game without allowing them to skip parts of it.

      You can’t design it currently. I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t believe the technology exists yet to implement these ideas or philosophies.

    • Xocrates says:

      This is not a technology issue.

    • Brun says:

      You’re correct that this is a design issue more than a pure technology issue. However, design is constrained by the limits of technology.

    • Xocrates says:

      Design can be constrained by technology, yes, but that’s not my problem with your argument.
      From my view, your point can be interpreted in one of two ways:

      1) Any game that isn’t at least as complex as Deus Ex shouldn’t be made, which means killing a lot of perfectly viable games, including the likes of Portal which merge gameplay and narrative quite well, but doesn’t allow for a justification to going off rails.

      2) Players CAN skip content, but the game justifies their decision to do so, meaning that instead of a player skipping ahead with the notion that they missed content, completing the game without doing anything isn’t just possible, it’s completely ok.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      person 1: I really like that film Moon.
      person 2: I wish Moon had more kung fu in it.

      At what point would technology allow more kung fu in Moon without drastically altering the concept of the film?

      I don’t think films are a good thing to bring into this (given that they are not interactive), but there is at least an idea that you can only convey one thing at a time, whether it’s action, philosophy, candyland fun, horror, etc. In fact, a number of these are directly opposing ideas.

    • Archonsod says:

      One of the reasons it would be incredibly useful is for the developers to use it. Try skipping all the combat and only going through the dialogue while asking “is this fun?”, then do the same, skipping the dialogue and only going through the combat. If at any point the answer is “no”, then go back to the drawing board and change it.

      Perhaps then we wouldn’t need skippable sequences at all.

    • Brun says:

      I’ll address both of those points.

      1) I should have pointed out that there are a few specific genres toward which this idea is geared – primarily RPGs, story-driven action games, and nonlinear open world games. I guess a better word for them would be “choice-driven” games. So yes, there are some genres to which you’d likely be unable to apply such a design. And that’s fine. Those games can still exist.

      Your reference to DXHR is interesting as I would argue that such a game is not complex enough to be the kind of baseline I’m thinking of. Skyrim comes a little closer but even it is inadequate as its story system, AI, and consequences for player actions are still too primitive.

      2) I’m actually okay with this. Everything I’ve said is based on the notion of a narrative (and indeed, a broader gameplay experience) that changes in response to player action, down to the very fine details of those actions (to include things like how you approach combat, for example). Those player actions would, necessarily, include doing nothing at all. A decision to do nothing would, obviously, lead to a pretty dull gameplay experience. However, I’m assuming (and I believe this assumption to be valid) that most players will not buy a game and then do nothing in that game, which means it wouldn’t really be a problem.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Developers do not need to build “skip” buttons into their own games to evaluate if it’s fun or not… that’s why games have cheat codes and command line input.

    • Phydaux says:

      My philosophy is that, in a properly designed game, the narrative and combat should be intertwined well enough that the player should not want to skip either one.

      That we even consider skipping one whole aspect of the game is a failure of game design in the first place.

      If you want to skip EITHER the dialogue or the combat, there’s probably something wrong with your storytelling/narrative

      What if I played your excellent game 100 times already and I just want to play the bits I like best?

      I’ve read Dune many times. Sometimes I like to pick up the book and just read some of my favourite chapters, I’m not forced to read from start to end. I’m not forced to read the forward or preface. Likewise with Lord of The Rings. If I want to look at some of the appendices, I don’t have to read through the 6 books first. Why then do games force this on us? I should be able to skip all the bits I’ve seen a hundred times before, regardless of their quality or integration. Regardless whether they fall into “combat” or “narrative” or any other mechanic.

    • LintMan says:

      The problem with saying that a well done game shouldn’t ever have story or gameplay bits you want to skip is that is an unreachable ideal. Some gamers will never see the story as something more than filler between battles. Some gamers will discover they hate or find tedious the combat mechanics of a particular game but still want to see the story through. There is no such thing as the perfect story or gameplay that no one will dislike or find boring. And certainly there is no such game that contains both universally acclaimed story AND gameplay.

      Yes, it’s a nice ideal that game devs should strive for, but it really has no place in a discussion whether certain gameplay bits should be skippable. This is like going into a discussion of installing handicap ramps and saying that, really, medical science just needs to do a better job making the handicapped walk again, so why bother with the ramps?

      And I really hate the “consumers must respect the game devs as Master Chefs who will decide what’s best for them to eat” analogy. It’s a completely bogus argument generally used to tell people who want some change or improvement in a game to suck it up and be quiet by people protecting the status quo. Most restaurants (even fancy/expensive ones) are happy to accomodate small requests/substitutions and in any case, a meal lasts an hour or so, while games can last 10, 50, or 100+ hours.

      Anywya, I heartily support the idea of “skip combat” button. And even more so: a “SKIP QUICK TIME EVENT” button.. Oh god yes! Die QTE’s! Die! Umm, sorry about that. Cheat codes like god mode go a long way towards helping with this, but don’t really relieve the tedium (if that’s what your complaint is) and often don’t help in the face of “Press X not to die!” scripted deaths which happily ignore god mode.

      Even for games that I thoroughly enjoyed, like Dragon’s Age, I see the value in skippable combat: After 3 playthroughs as all the classes, I wanted to play through all the other origins, but by then all the battles had gotten to be a slog. I’d have loved to be able to skip many of those battles after the 3rd/4th/5th time playing them. Same with doing the alternate quest line in The Witcher 2.

    • equatorian says:

      @Lintman

      I once went into a very fancy sushi restaurant and ordered a set. The set happens to have a really super high-class sushi in it that everybody who likes sushi simply ADORES.

      I can’t eat that thing. I vomit when I do. It’s not an allergic reaction, I just can’t stand it.

      So I asked them to change that one for a saltwater eel, which is so much inferior in terms of class but is something I actually enjoy. The staff looked at me weirdly for a moment, asked me if I’m sure because THIS PIECE OF SUPER SUSHI, but was completely all right with it when I said yes. Some people looked at me oddly because we love sushi and we don’t do this, dammit, but it’s my throat and my tongue and my gut vomit reaction, not theirs.

      I reckon this is kind of like ‘skipping the gameplay bits to get to the bad story because a game’s story is always inferior to the gameplay’, in a way.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I agree with this post 100%, but I would take it further. The artificial division between story, dialog, and the way you play hurts games more than combat you can’t skip.

      Why do we need cutscenes? Why can’t we talk to mobs? Why can’t we skip most combat by going around them, sneaking around them, bribing them off, talking them down? Why doesn’t sneaking past an enemy give equal experience as fighting them? Why do all npcs, who we’re supposed to pretend are intelligent actors, keep on attacking after seeing most of their group killed?

      These are all problems with game design. Games have let you skip combat while still playing the game for decades, they’ve just forgotten how to do it well. The desire to skip combat is just a sign of a broken system. Bioware games have become a broken system. They’ve been fairly linear in game level and combat design for a while, and that’s started to bleed over to linearity in dialog choices and narrative decisions. It’s no wonder people want to skip combat in their games, they have no choice about how it’ll play out, and it’s filled with constant trash mobs that are just grinding.

      And I don’t think is impossible with current technology, far from it. It just requires that you give your mobs behaviors and think about them as actors instead of challenges.

  7. Premium User Badge

    JonWood says:

    I feel the need to comment that I skipped over most of that.

    Not because it was a poor article, I’ll probably come back to it, but I’m not in the mood right now.

  8. Icyicy9999 says:

    I don’t care about the option existing, as long as it remains an option and isn’t forced on me.

    Also for it to work the game would need to have a very well written story and dialogue, BioWare’s recent games (DA2, SWTOR) are cringe worthy in those departments, so I don’t see much point.

    • Mordsung says:

      I actually enjoyed DA2s story immensely.

      Yes, the repeated areas were a huge let down, and many other aspects of the game irked me, but I REALLY liked the story.

      It wasn’t an archetypal “hero’s journey” story like DA1, it was a much more twisting and intertwined narrative that was more about the characters and the city than necessarily the world or a big bad evil.

      Not every game has to follow the same archetypal story arcs.

    • Gpig says:

      I think that’s what is so weird about this discussion to me. This article mentions Human Revolution, but most of the people asking for this are explicitly talking about Bioware games. The idea of wanting to skip ahead to read the writing sounds terrible. It’s asking for Bioware games to be streamlined to their worst part.

      That said, it doesn’t seem like it would be much work for them to add and it doesn’t sound like it would hurt anything so they might as well include it. I imagine the only reason for not doing so is for all of the troll posts that would include mentions that they started skipping the boring action to get to the cutscenes about halfway through, and then eventually they started skipping both.

    • nearly says:

      I don’t see why a game needs to have strong writing to have skippable combat. People skip well-written dialogue every day. As an option, it’s not just cutting something out of the game regardless of whether anyone wants it, it’s allowing the choice: allowing the gamer to say “I don’t want to do this” and not have to do it to experience more of the game, at their own discretion.

    • Cal says:

      There are a number of non-BioWare games where I’d like to skip the combat or have a super easy mode without needing to use any subterfuge. Persona 3 is one, I loved the life sim part but the combat just because a massive chore I wanted no part of. And Alpha Protocol’s combat wasn’t so much a pain as just not fun. For a non-RPG example, I feel the same way about King Arthur II. Along the same vein, I still want a Mirror’s Edge with no enemies in it.

      Funnily enough, Mass Effect is probably the game at the bottom of the list as I grew up with shooters and it’s a pretty competent one.

    • Kdansky says:

      I second Mordsung. DA2 has a great story. It’s not a Hero’s Journey, and the protagonist you’re playing (Hawke) isn’t actually a major protagonist of the story (those would be Isabela, the Arishok and Anders). It is actually an example of a game where less combat would have made for a superior product: Without the needless fighting of mooks at every corner, many areas would not need so much recycling.

      @Cal: Yes, both Persona (4 in my case) and Alpha Protocol are good games filled with bad combat.

    • Skabooga says:

      @Cal: I would like to add to that list parts of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. My next playthrough, I am totally going to no-clip and god-mode through the sewers section, the Sabat section, and the boss fight of the Kue-jin (especially the later, in all its unfair frustration). My stupid, misguided principles just barely stopped me from doing it the first time through. If someone feels during all combat parts like I felt during my fight with the Kue-jin boss, then they have every damn right to skip those parts, and more power to them.

  9. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    “The idea that someone would play the utterly brilliant Dragon Age.”

    You could have at least put some kind of qualification there.

    • xephyris says:

      I agree – I think it got really draggy near the end.

    • Jumwa says:

      I’d join in on the Dragon Age trashing, but I was too distracted with the horrible (and misadvertized) combat, which did not appeal to me at all. Never did finish the game because of it, and my memories all consist of tedious fight scenes that ended with frustration and button-lint as loot rewards.

      If only there had been a skip-combat feature, I could join in!

    • westyfield says:

      I would have skipped the heck out of Dragon Age’s combat. I’d have abused a teleporter as well, so much tedious backtracking in that game.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      I stopped reading when I got to that point in the article.

      I’m on of “those” people who think the dialogue in DA is bad. It’s laughably derivative and poorly written, and I thank god there is at least an option to fast-forward through it all. Otherwise, I would never have slogged through the eight or so hours of the game that I did.

      Actually, now that I think about it, an option in DA to skip the combat would have been a plus too. Though I suppose uninstalling the game counts for that.

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      ffordesoon says:

      The combat in the Dragon Age games is, with rare exceptions, terrible. There are so, so, so many trash mobs in those games, and they’re either too easy or way too hard. It’s the laziest sort of difficulty, too: the hard characters are hard because their life bars are bigger, not because they’re any different from most of the mobs mechanically. I mean, the series has “dragon” in the name, but I can think of nothing more boring and frustrating than actually fighting a dragon in those games. I ended up turning both games down to Easy by the end just to get the combat out of the way; that, to me, signifies a fundamental failure of combat design.

      Would I have paid extra for a combat-skip button? You bet your ass.

  10. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    Everything in any game should be random access – right we’re not even able to fast forward never mind skip stuff, it comes from an old world ego centric and copy paste design that still permeates the games industry

  11. mompkin says:

    Not exactly the same as in an RPG, but I was always thankful in the Total War series for the autoresolve option. Yes, I do enjoy micromanaging my armies tremendously, but there’s only so many times you can steamroll pesky piles of insolent peasant rebels before you’re relieved you can just click a button to dispose of them. I never felt it diminished the appeal of the combat for me – rather, I felt it increased my enjoyment immensely, because it made real battles more exciting and less repetitive feeling.

    • Grygus says:

      You know, this whole subject seemed uninteresting to me (in the sense that I would not use the option even if it did exist) but this is a pretty great example of a similar mechanic that I do indeed enjoy. I suppose I will need to reconsider my position.

      Not now. I mean after lunch, probably.

    • Boosterh says:

      I am going to have to echo this sentiment. Regardless of whether I would use this feature or not, the fact that it does, essentially, exist as a standard feature of an entire genre of games already, kind of steals the wind from anyone claiming that it will result in horrible, dumbed down drek.

  12. 2PartReturn says:

    I totally agree.
    I have a rotting heap of far too many unfinished games where I’ve become stuck at a certain point. I know what I have to do, hell I usually even know how I have to do it, but generally whatever it is relies on too much accuracy, repeated attempts or luck.
    Same on boss fights. An interruption to the game. Super Meat Boy was the latest to get me here, first boss, can’t do it, rest of game rendered inaccessible.
    After a few hours not getting anywhere I’ve usually lost interest and don’t bother to try again for a couple of years, which is a shame because I wanted to play the game.

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      Zephro says:

      Reminded me of this:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG3aHvPG6H8

      There are plenty of long grinding levels in games or just impossible/crap boss fights that I’d have happily skipped. So i think it’s a good idea.

    • 2PartReturn says:

      Thank you for that link

    • Blackcompany says:

      2Part, I can relate to this. I was forced to halt the Witcher 2 because I simply cannot get through a Chapter 1 boss fight. Its too hard, insufficient room to maneuver and the boss himself is just a damage spunge. His tactics are stupid, his swings too weighty and he throws himself off balance all the time. But it only takes two, maybe three hits, and I am dead. However, I hit him multiple times and his health bar barely moved. At all.
      .
      Which sucks, because the game and story both intrigue me. I want to play more – I just can’t.

    • LintMan says:

      @Zephro: awesome link. That guy is spot on.

  13. Xocrates says:

    I’ve seen people honestly defend that only a minority should be able to complete any given game. That people find the idea of skipping the “game” part of the game objectionable is therefore not even remotely surprising.

    That said, while I believe the issue to be slightly muddier than what John presents, I agree that most games should, at least, include an invincibility mode.

    • westyfield says:

      It depends on the game. I haven’t played VVVVVV but from what I hear it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is if you were able to skip levels. I may be getting this wrong but it seems that in some games the challenge to improve is the game.

    • nearly says:

      I think that it realistically comes down to why you game in the first place. To experience whatever the game is presenting, or to accomplish something? I do, somehow, get the feeling that an invincibility mode would take away from the people that want a challenge, even if it’s an option that they would have to specifically turn on.

    • Xocrates says:

      @westyfield: hence “most games”. However one should note that VVVVVV can be completed non-linearly, which helps a lot in that you can “skip” sections and come back later.

    • Grygus says:

      I have yet to cheat at a game and not have it negatively color my feelings about that game later on; all my favorite games are ones I did not have to cheat to complete. I do not think an invincibility mode would be in the interest of a game’s long-term legacy, if that’s something that devs even think about.

    • Xocrates says:

      @Grygus: I would expect 99.99% of gamers never to use it. I don’t see how this would affect a game’s legacy any more than up up down down left right left right B A START did.

    • Nate says:

      One does wonder what WoW would be like with skippable combat…

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Re: Wow and skipping. The implied assumption here is that we’re discussing linear games, with a start and an end and things you traverse along the way. Wow is not like that. There’s a personal start, but the world was there before you started. And your only end is when you no longer feel like playing (or when the game shuts down, I suppose).

      So I’m not sure the idea of “skipping” really fits exactly into the MMORPG mold (mould?).

      Certainly there are certain activities that some players would like to prune parts out of. Perhaps players would prefer to skip trash and kill only bosses? Of course they would just more quickly tire of those bosses. The “endless” nature of wow changes many of the dynamics here.

    • Premium User Badge

      kavika says:

      Not true at all. I would adore a “skip” in wow.

      Going straight to the end-game dungeon content would absolutely make me want to play it again. I absolutely detest leveling up in the game at this point, whether it gets me accustomed to my abilities or not. But the end 5 mans are great.

      I’d also love to be able to play all the different classes, but I refuse to level up to … what’s the cap now? 85? On each of them. leveling up to 70 on 3 different chars, and through a chunk (not even to the end) of lich king on 1 char was enough grind for me, thanks.

      Plus, letting brand new players dungeon with me, or being able to actually *play with* the dozens of strangers (potential new friends) I met who played WoW over the years would have been wonderful. Not a single one I met ever played on the same server+faction as me, so I never talked to any of them except one couple (now great friends of mine) again.

  14. Mordsung says:

    Personally, I’d love to be able to do a run of DA or ME and just skip the combat and do a pure story run. It would allow me to set up a new save for ME2 or DA2 without having to slug through the fights again.

    DA was actually a game I commonly dropped the difficulty on because I was more interested in the story than the fights.

    • nearly says:

      While I think that’s probably valid for ME2, I think the first Mass Effect set up each story fight pretty appropriately, except maybe that bit on Ferros (was it) with the infected colonists. They were particular scenarios that seemed to arise organically from whatever situation you were entering into.

      In Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, it felt a little more generic and scripted in a different way: like missions in an older Rainbow 6 games, but you get to act out/watch the story instead of read about it in briefings.

  15. impeus says:

    There are too many games that I haven’t completed because I stumbled too often on a particular part then couldn’t get back into it. I don’t get much time to play games, and thus really don’t want to spend it all rehashing the same bit of a game I’ve almost forgotten to play (since it then gets even harder).

    I’d love to be able to skip bits. I’d like to think I wouldn’t do it very often.

    I think it’s similar to hints etc. in puzzle or adventure games. I wouldn’t even mind if it was hard to skip (or auto resolve?) sections of combat (think of the unlockable hint book in Machinarium). In fact I think I’d prefer to have to jump through a few hoops to skip (so I’m not tempted to do so after merely the first failure!)

    I’d get more life out of the games I have, and potentially then buy more sequels/derivatives etc. as I managed to finish the previous incarnation.

  16. Suits says:

    Vote space bar for skip button.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      At least an on-screen prompt showing which button is for skipping.

  17. Vagrant says:

    My preferred solution would be to integrate story into the gameplay. I like story, but I don’t like to be able to put the controller down. QTEs do not count.

  18. Drac40k says:

    You could fast forward in Alone in the Dark 5 (was it 5? the awful one).

    • Premium User Badge

      kavika says:

      I fast-foward in emulators all the time. Not the same as a skip, but lets me get past the waiting parts, especially in RPGs.

  19. AbyssUK says:

    Doesn’t LA Noire allow you to do this very thing ?

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      Yes, but I believe you have to have tried (and failed) the action part at least once. This surprised me greatly when I was playing and found this option pop up. It’s the first (and only AFAIK) AAA title that deliberately lets you skip the shooting/driving action bits in order to focus on dialog / narrative. I think it’s a great concept that lets people enjoy the game they want to, hopefully more developers pick up on the idea like Mass Effect 3′s “action only” mode in reverse.

  20. Brun says:

    But the only rationale I can find for why people are so incredibly angry or upset by the possibility of Escape’s powers working elsewhere is because they’re perceiving it as an infringement of their own potential enjoyment of a game.

    I think that some of the harder-core of the “core” gamer demographic consider narrative or story to be rewards for having the “skill” to pass the combat stages in games. Allowing people to skip the combat and go straight to the narrative devalues the reward (and therefore the game as a whole). It’s stupid I know but I think that it’s an important thing to consider.

    Like I said earlier though, in an ideal game, combat and narrative would be indistinguishable from each other.

    • Nim says:

      Kind of attending a university course where you work your ass off doing assignments and attending lectures and then there’s some douché skipping lectures, handing in late assignments or not at all and still get the same grade as you despite the fact that that person would fail if the proper rules had been followed. I can definitively see some people feeling this way, I myself for instance although I cannot really pinpoint why. Maybe it’s a question of perceived fairness. It is unfair to you that you have to slog through all the bad bits when some other person (somewhere out there on the internet, a target easy to hate) goes straight to the best bits. Such a mentality is definitively there.

      Maybe disable achievements for the person skipping a game mechanic?

    • Premium User Badge

      Lamb Chop says:

      One thing that often gets glossed over in debates such as this is that the presence of choice changes your experience, even if you make all the same choices. Say you go to the store and grab the generic chip brand they offer. Great, some chips. If you go back next week, and there are thirty brands of chips, and you grab the same chip brand, you do not have the same relationship to those chips. Those are now the chips you have chosen. The act of choosing itself alters the experience.

      Similarly, having skippable content of any sort, be it dialogue or combat alters the experience of the user, even if no content is skipped (note I haven’t made any kind of value judgment on that altered experience). In fact, I go through the mental exercise of placing myself in a mindset where such options do not exist. I’m metaphorically removing the escape key from my keyboard in order to experience the narrative.

      Now for the value judgment. As it stands, I think the presence or absence of skippable content should be one of the marks of how seriously a game takes itself as artistic. There’s a specific mechanical and narrative vision that designers are trying to get across. Giving the user freedom to skip as they see fit is prioritizing the individual end-user experience over the vision of the designer. For some games, that might be fine. It’s light-hearted and the purpose is to have fun, so giving the end-user control of the story and the narrative makes sense. For other, more serious works, much of the point is that the designer is giving you their vision to experience and that becomes ‘more important’ than the fun of the end-user. I read David Foster Wallace precisely because he was so much smarter and more perceptive, and my personally editing his stories to my preference would only reduce my experience. For works that want to take seriously the integrity of their vision, I think that keeping control away from the user ultimately is better for the user. Should we be offering readers the option to skip over all the bits about fishing in Moby Dick?

      tl;dr skippable content has its place but can be at odds with the vision of game designers which sometimes ought to take priority over end-user control in order to give the best experience.

    • Cryo says:

      I think that some of the harder-core of the “core” gamer demographic are pillocks.

    • Skabooga says:

      @Lamb-Chops: Should I ever read Moby Dick again, I’m skipping over the chapter where the Ishmael talks about why whales should be classified as fish and not mammals. Also, I’m skipping over the racist midnight cook scene. Am I infringing on Melville’s original artistic vision? Sure. But screw him. He’s dead, and I’m alive, and I’m not going to waste my time putting up with his unpleasantness. And if that attitude doesn’t fit within the major theme of Moby Dick, then I don’t know what does.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      @Skabooga: Are there people who seriously don’t skip parts of moby dick? First time through I read the first 2 pages of the pre-launch sermon and skipped to the end.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Err, the end of the sermon, I meant. Most of that one chapter, which is almost entirely inconsequential to the rest of the text.

    • Premium User Badge

      kavika says:

      I see no problem with making it a rule to be allowed to skip whatever you want, and making a pseudo-genre of games that would deliberately break that rule.

      Demon’s Souls and the newer Megaman games cater to a crowd like this. So do games like multiplayer starcraft, fighting games, and League of Legends. S&M and true Kung Fu aren’t for everyone.

  21. Mihkel says:

    The article should be named skippable gameplay not combat, because that what’s being talked about in the interview you linked.

  22. Jockie says:

    Couple of points that immediately spring to mind (which is my way of saying I probably haven’t considered them thoroughly yet).

    In the past we’ve heard developers saying (I will cite specific examples later if anyone is discussing this) they don’t like using branching paths in narrative games, because of the idea that it means gamers don’t play through all of the content and therefore they lose efficiency – creating content that only x% of the gamers actually see.

    Therefore they can’t make this content a priority, it becomes secondary to making sure the content that everyone sees is the stellar part of the game. Obviously, you make combat skippable, they lose incentive to actually make this part of the game the best it can be, instead focusing, time and money and manpower elsewhere. This kind of logic might be part of the reason for the backlash John’s comments have received, people don’t want to see the combat become a periphal underdeveloped part of the game – (LA Noire is a decent example of this).

    5PM means I don’t have time for my second point!

    • Urthman says:

      Yes. I think this is the real problem with this idea, that developers will use it as a crutch or excuse instead of fixing the parts of their game that aren’t fun.

      In a lot of games, I get the impression that the developers didn’t really care about the dialogue or try very hard to make it good. I’m guessing the attitude was often, “most people are gonna skip this anyway, so who cares.” I’d hate for developers to have that attitude about combat or boss fights (or anything).

      “This section of our game is too hard / annoying / tedious / sucks.”

      “We’re behind schedule anyway, players can just always just skip it…”

      If you say, “I wish I could skip this section of the game,” shouldn’t you be saying instead, “I wish this section of the game were better.” There’s already plenty of bad gameplay I successfully skip by not buying games that suck. I want games that don’t suck.

  23. Dervish says:

    Let’s call it the un-game button.

    “Can’t get past this tricky bit… let me just un-game for a sec. There. Sorted.”

  24. Ba5 says:

    Walking in Dear Esther was a bit slow, thechineseroom should make a button that teleports you to the radio mast.

  25. woodsey says:

    It’s an interesting point, and I think much of the backlash comes from the perception that a) The combat is the MAIN section of the gameplay, conversations are secondary, and b) That games are being dumbed down/made too easy.

    I can understand the view of the latter the most and, whilst I know that logically it makes sense to allow people to skip it, I also can’t quite get past the idea that allowing people to pick and choose parts of the game they interact with to such an extent is somewhat defeating the point.

    Still, I’m inclined to agree that it’s not a bad idea (in theory), and it’s ultimately your choice, so why not? I can’t really see it working all that well in practice though, I must say. Nor do I really want to see development time devoted to making it more than just the cutscenes all stuck together.

    And if it IS just all the cutscenes stuck together, they’d be much better of playing an interactive story majig (Masq), so… yeah.

  26. Auspex says:

    But I have no willpower and if I got really stuck I might be tempted to skip and then I’d hate myself. (Can’t remember the last time I was really stuck at a particular point in a game but that’s beside the point!)

    • Premium User Badge

      blind_boy_grunt says:

      Haha, exactly. My usual adventure game playthrough goes like this: play for an hour, get really stuck, try everything with everything, nothing works, so i look in a walkthrough. Play for half an hour, get stuck, try everything with everything, look in the walkhtrough. Play for 10 minutes, get kinda stuck, look in the walkthrough. In the end as soon as i feel i don’t know exactly what to do, i look in the walkthrough.

      edit: i think what i’d like is a “let’s stick a pin in it and move on for now” button.

    • Acorino says:

      Yeah, it took me many years to move past this behaviour of playing adventure games. Now when I’m stuck I often just take a break from the game. That can be hard to do of course when you want to know how the story continues.

  27. moarage says:

    The problem, imo, is that games doesn’t have the rewarding feeling of accomplishment anymore… I remember cutscenes used to a “reward” for beating a boss, I would just sit back and enjoy. This feeling just isn’t there anymore in most games.

  28. The Kins says:

    This has already been added to games, and has been around for decades. They’re called cheat codes. But hey, you can’t fill your daily required word count writing about those, now can you?

    (That’s a challenge. Write an article on cheat codes, their history and interesting/amusing effects etc… Odds are it would actually be interesting instead of passive-aggressive filler.)

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      Maybe it used to be like that, but nowadays very few games go out of their way to give the player game-breaking cheat codes. When’s the last time you had to enter a specific button combination to unlock a certain item or skill? Console commands don’t count, mind you; those are in the game mainly for the developers’ benefit.

    • John Walker says:

      I’m fairly sure I could fill this mysterious daily word count writing about that. I haven’t today though. I wrote about something else! Could you let me know what my word count is, by the way?

  29. Zippy says:

    Dialogue is skippable because you can’t lose at dialogue. A combat that can’t be lost should be skippable – but then the combat wouldn’t be terribly interesting to play through, either.

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      DemonicFerret says:

      You SHOULD be able to lose at dialogue, though. Another way in which PS:T was ahead of its time.

    • Kaira- says:

      You can’t really “lose” in combat most of the time. It’s non-canon, an error that didn’t really happen. You just replay until you win.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Thermal Ions says:

    Given the story in a game has the potential to set it apart from the crowd, thus making it the unique aspect, it’s suitably valid that one may want to experience it without the interruption of extended interaction. One could argue that it’s no longer a game in such context, but does that really matter if the “player” enjoys their time with it?

    I’d agree with John that I’d rarely (if ever) use it, but it would be interesting to see a developer trust in their story enough to go out there and build the functionality into their game.

    Actually the way I play Shogun 2 just came to mind. I almost always auto resolve battles. So while not story driven I do effectively skip the RTS combat and only play the turn based setting. Hmmm.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      People playing Shogun 2 the wrong way make me sick.

    • Blackcompany says:

      I could very easily have just explored Bastion’s world without the combat. Walked the slowly assembling pieces of scenery as they came together around me, listened to Stranger narrate. Located lost items. Just…watched. Easily would have worked for me.
      .
      In fact the girlfriend loved the tale of Bastion. Said she was glad she watched me play it and listened in, because she enjoyed hearing the story but could never abide the combat. Too fast twitch for her taste.

  31. Slaktus says:

    Soooooo, you want choose your own adventure books read out loud for ya. With animation.

    Cool. I’m not gonna complain about it, I just think it’s a baffling idea, considering dialogue trees are essentially QTE’s without any of the visceral thrill. I haven’t played a game where dialogue choices had proper meaning since Planescape: Torment, and it’s not like even that Sacred Cow is so well-written I’d have wandered through it again.

    I don’t see this as being very different from the complaints raised against social games: That they’re not really games at all, just interfaces with counters that require minuscule engagement rather than actual, meaningful interaction.

    It also reduces games to expensive, real-time rendered, inexpressive and stilted soap opera. It kills the whole purpose of games, namely the exploration and manipulation of a system and waters them down into something less than both film and literature. Look at Heavy Rain for an example of precisely how pointless this approach to interactivity really is.

    It’s not going to open any wider audiences either. Frankly, I don’t see the point whatsoever. Games will reach large audiences when enough people are system and game literate, and cheap, powerful fixed-spec computers (like the iPad) are completely standard and there’s no more fragmentation across various proprietary platforms and any game you buy will work on any computer without any tedious maintenance work or technical understanding required.

    Of course, I understand that John is not suggesting every game should be like this or that it’s a great ideal everyone should strive for. I just think it’s a slightly poorly considered piece of opinionating from someone who maybe, deep inside, expects games to be something that they are not and will never be.

    • Apples says:

      You’re trying to depict narrative-based games as ‘lesser’ than gameplay-based ones purely through being derogatory about them, though. Do you know that human interaction is also a ‘system’ that can be explored and experienced? Exploring consequences of choice in a narrative is a perfectly valid thing to do. You seem to view that as something pointless or lesser but I view repeatedly clicking mobs that way, so, you know… different tastes? Why do you want ‘visceral thrill’ from your games? I don’t. Again we want different things here!

      And bringing up one bad game as an example of why the entire idea is flawed is very silly. Heavy Rain, by the way, was mostly linear except that sometimes characters dropped out of the story if you got them killed. It was all the visceral thrill QTEs you say you like and none of the branching story or character interaction that would actually be required for a good pure narrative game.

    • Slaktus says:

      I’d like to see you abstract human interaction into a coherent, mappable system that can easily be abstracted into algorithms and code. People have tried that before, and it has resulted in intellectual abortions like Game Theory, which is a grotesque simulacrum of what people would behave like if the world was perfectly Malthusian. Chris Crawford, one of the great thinkers in computer game design, spent over a decade attempting to create a simulation system that would enable non-linear human interaction. He failed. I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate.

      Besides, I didn’t call Heavy Rain “a bad game” — I brought it up as an example of a game shorn of mechanics, built around the notion that storytelling and interpersonal interaction can be made into a gripping game experience. I called it pointless because that’s precisely what it is.

      The game could have been a sequence of YouTube videos with embedded links and might actually have been improved by that. Can you come up with any examples from the last 30 years of games that successfully model a varied, non-linear system for conversation and interpersonal interaction where the options are not rigidly defined not only by the game design but also by its script?

      You’re also putting words in my mouth — I never idealized viscerality, I suggested that at least QTEs have that going for them, unlike conversation trees which generally have little more than foldback schemes and false choices. How much have conversation trees really evolved since the Lucasart days?

      Fahrenheit, Deus Ex and Mass Effect introduce streamlining and attempt to make the convention less uninteresting, but end up making the player feel like their agency has been hobbled. They also give me the uncomfortable feeling that no matter what I say, I’m just delivering a variation on the same line, allowing my conversational partner to deliver the very same response as he would otherwise.

      Games like Dear Esther provide non-combat oriented thrills. The same goes for Myst, most point’n'clickers and many modern role-playing games feature stealth classes or character builds that allows the player to avoid combat, by substituting the challenge of combat for another.

  32. Thaewyn says:

    I had a very similar thought when I read that quote.

    At the time, I was playing the original Uncharted. A game with many fine cinematic qualities, and some interesting puzzles and conversations, but the shooting sequences were boring, which quickly turned into irritating.

    Here’s the scene: “Oh hey, I’ve got to go save the girl who jumped out of the plane before I did. Oh! There are people on this island who want to shoot me just because I’m the player character… ok. *shooting happens* Ok, now lets go find *bang* what the crap? I just killed everyone in front of me and wasted most of my ammo doing it. You’re telling me that more random people just climbed out of the bushes behind me and started shooting? I already killed all of the people from the last area, what the hell?”

    I felt like it was less Indiana Jones and more ‘Stand Behind Cover in Black and White: The Game’. Note that I was on Easy because this game was a rental and my hope was to just play through and understand the story so I could get into the later games in the series.

    I would have absolutely adored a ‘skip combat’ button about 2/3rds through the game. Here’s what I’m envisioning (specific to Uncharted 1, other games would have to do it a little differently of course): if you get so frustrated with a combat sequence that you just don’t want to deal with it anymore, you get the ‘Cinematic Combat’ option. Press a button, and the scene changes somewhat. No additional waves of enemies beyond the first. The game does not go into any kind of pre-rendered scene, but uses the game engine, and guides you through the fight. Nathan Drake uses the regular combat mechanics in a scripted sequence and shoots all the bad guys (and looks cool doing it). End scene.

    I mean, this is a game that already takes control out of your hands to make you do certain things in an especially cinematic way (“Press Circle to Not Die!”), so why not some of the irritating shooting sequences as well?

    • Lemming says:

      I agree, I found the combat the worst the thing about Uncharted, but I’d argue that the solution wouldn’t be to make it skippable, it’d be to have different and better combat.

      I’ve long thought Uncharted should have had Batman:AA-style brawling by way of bar fights in Indiana Jones rather than gunplay. The wave of after wave of enemies to be shot aspect was appalling compared to the cinematic blockbuster adventure aspect of the game.

    • Thaewyn says:

      True enough, having a better combat system would alleviate a lot of the problems. But I think that having the skippable scenes is still a valid option.

      I’m not saying it should be required! I think this is something a lot of people get hung up on. I’m not saying that combat should be removed from the game: conflict is crucial to a good story! But I think if a player wants to get through the story and doesn’t feel like dealing with insta-kill headshots on the easiest difficulty (can you tell I’m still sore about some of Uncharted’s bullcrap? =p), they should at least be presented with that option, instead of being pushed into rage-quit mode.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Tried Uncharted. Love the narrative and the concept.
      .
      The implementation, however…too much combat. If the other treasure hunters could hire an entire national military to help them out, why couldn’t we do the same thing?
      .
      Also…to much “Press X to win; Press O to not die” type stuff, I agree with this. Boy do i agree.

    • Lemming says:

      @Blackcompany:

      Not only that bit didn’t find it really weird how Drake and pals are all prime-time tv wise-cracking yet doing past-watershed style mass-murdering? It made me quite uncomfortable.

  33. deanb says:

    I would suggest my arguments were poor as they were over the limited form of twitter. The problem with the skipping outlook is that it works on the assumption that a game is cutscene – combat- cutscene -combat-town area-boss fight-cutscene and so on. Thus it’s easy to cut out certain segments. But many times the dialogue and story will be provided through the combat and the boss fights. Meaning either the games format is to be worked into the previously mentioned structured format to make it simple to disable combat for those that want story line only. Or adding in systems that auto-play the combat for you. Both of these taking away development time for other aspects of the game. Dialogue on a mechanical level is not always free from the combat either. Normally you have “charisma” or “speech”, filled up with the XP gained through combat. In the case of DXHR I have suggested in the past the true boss fights are those with Darrow, Tong, and to a lesser extend the police officer. And normally to “win” these requires the development of praxis points to spend upon earning the augments.

    There are already many alternatives for those that do not like the combat. Many games come with an easy setting, making combat trivial, while still allowing in-combat dialogue and story advancement to take place. Many gamers also record their playthroguhs providing millions of hours of LPs on youtube. I don’t much care for them, but I’ve many friends who will choose to opt to watch a game and get its story instead of purchasing it.

    I just feel it’s a bit like saying “Well I want to shoot at stuff in my games”, so we end up shooting at stuff in most of our games. The video industry has bestowed us with the wonderful gift of thousands of genres, some with combat, some without, some with puzzles, some with platforming. It’s a case of choosing the titles you like than making just one mega-genre to rule over them all and make everything androgynous. I love me some RPG, but it’s grating to get RPG levlelling up and stats progression in nearly every game now.

    • John Walker says:

      To be clear, I wasn’t just picking on you! Lots of people said lots of things.

    • deanb says:

      You called me selfish :( Then not long later you RTed about skipping idiots on the net. I took it all personally. D:

      Shall we agree to disagree? I would challenge you to a duel of fisticuffs, settle the issue like men. But you’d only go and skip it :D

    • John Walker says:

      Hehe.

      Skipping idiots on the internet wasn’t aimed at you! It was at that which we’re not discussing in this thread. And while I thought your argument was selfish, I’m sure *you* are lovely.

  34. Anders Wrist says:

    Imagine skipping the combat in Dragon Age, it would basicly be a poorly written Visual novel, set in a bland, boring fantasy world of clichés upon clichés, with lots of walking around being the only actual gameplay you’d experience. They’d have to include a suicide option in the “game” then, because that would be the only “esc” action worthy of use.

    • John Walker says:

      You told me, with your differing opinion!

    • Anders Wrist says:

      Not so much a critique of you, as of Dragon Age. I find myself often wanting to skip combat, when it’s of the horribly repetitive kind in games such as Dragon Age 2, as others have pointed out here as well.

  35. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    It’s all well and good to have an option to skip combat, but frankly, if there was a game of which the story held 100% of my interest, and the gameplay 0%, I’m gonna watch a youtube vid of it being played instead of paying for the bits that require my active participation.

    Say, if I experienced a game’s entire story without paying, but none of the gameplay, does that make me a pirate? I think everyone will agree that a person who experiences all the gameplay without paying, but skips the story, is definitely a pirate. So how about the other way around?

  36. JackDandy says:

    I don’t agree with this article at all.

    I can’t even explain why.

    Taking GAMEPLAY out of a GAME seems heretical to me, as the very basis of it all.

  37. Blackcompany says:

    If I could skip those idiotic “boss” fights in Chapter 1 of the Witcher 2 I would do so readily enough. One takes every game mechanic Geralt uses except dodge roll and tosses it out the bloody window so I can have a scripted, God-of-War like battle with a giant octopus. I can’t kill, though – not until I hack off its damned limbs. Because heaven forbid I am able to run up one and feed the thing a bomb BEFORE I dismember it.
    .
    The other…with a main villain…happens to early, and their idea of difficulty is neither a complex AI with strategic moves, nor the use of various tactics. Nope – he’s just a pure damage sponge who soaks up hits like a sponge with water. News flash – step away from the fracking console boxes and please, remember your roots, CDProjekt, before its too late.
    .
    I literally was forced to stop playing the Witcher 2 because of the early boss battles and their difficulty spikes. Just not a good fast-twitch gamer. Complete waste of $30 and I am now left with the fact that I cannot buy their games ever again despite their amazing support of PC gamers.
    .
    So yeah…if I could pay a slight penalty to skip combat now and then, I would happily do so, at least in my RPG/Narrative based games.

  38. Lemming says:

    The Total War games have something akin to this don’t they? The ‘auto resolve’ combat option? Granted it’s not skipping gameplay for story, but it’s certainly avoiding one form of the gameplay in preference to another.

    • Jimbo says:

      The Total War games are more akin to a toybox though. You’re deciding you like one toy better than another, not taking a delicately handcrafted experience and deciding you know best so you’re gonna just throw half of it away.

  39. sockpuppetclock says:

    I don’t like the idea of skipping combat OR dialogue at all, because that makes it seem more like the developers recognize that there is an intrinsic flaw that should be allowed to be skipped because it should not be there in the first place, rather than some form of a consumer’s right to pick and choose what they want out of their experience. It speaks more as bad design and flow than a smartly implemented option.

    The problem can also divide people’s opinion of it, cause being able to have a shared experience that you can talk about among the community can infact be (surprise, surprise) important to the appreciation of it.

    Opinions et al. If the idea ever becomes a trend there will of course be games designed with it in mind, but a game designed with that in mind. seems paradoxical, since the idea of skipping segments would be cause they’re not vital to experiencing the game, so a game filled with things designed not to be experienced completely is just… odd.

  40. 4026 says:

    While I’d normally refrain from plugging my own writing on other people’s sites, you did ask, and it has been deliberately omitted from discussion here, so… I wrote it up over here.

    EDIT: Oh! I just remembered that I saw a great write-up of this over on Forbes.com earlier as well. That link might restore some karmic balance for my shameless plug.

  41. engion3 says:

    alan wake

  42. Unaco says:

    Destructoid have had a couple decent pieces on it over the last few days. Google ‘destructoid’ ‘Hepler’, and you should get them, or just her name for other articles. Probably all we should say here though. If you reply & let me know you’ve read this and we can edit both our posts so this conversation never happened.

  43. wccrawford says:

    What’s even funnier is that we’ve been skipping the combat for YEARS already. With cheat codes. There are a lot of games that I’ve cheated on to get strong and not have to grind ad nauseum just to continue the story. And there are plenty of games that I kept playing JUST for the story.

    I suspect this is why so many people get their panties in a wad about cheats, too. Not that I understand it, mind. It’s purely optional, yet they take it as a personal affront.

    • Thaewyn says:

      Well said, sir!

      To be honest, I hadn’t considered this angle when writing my comment, but it is a very valid point. I would definitely like to have this kind of option return (because it was purely optional, nobody was forcing your hand in either direction).

  44. Gadriel says:

    My issue isn’t with people having the option to skip combat. My problem is with what that option would do to game design. Game budgets get tighter and tighter with every step forward in technology, if there’s a standard of “allow skippable dialogue AND skippable combat” (You can’t say one or the other, that wouldn’t satisfy everyone.) that will mean less budget will be put toward those things. As it is narrative in video games suffers because it’s an aspect of games that not every customer cares about. Lots of people DO already skip dialogue and developers/publishers have data on just how many and just how much they can cut corners on it and get away with it. What happens when both are skippable? What isn’t skippable? Are you left with a series of cinematics after mashing escape a bunch of times?

    Even if you don’t accept that level of tinfoil-hattery, having the option will force designers to more harshly partition story and action. Right now, they can smatter a little story into action sequences. If those action sequences are skippable, it makes more sense to keep all the story to the skippable dialogue sequences. You end up with every game being unexplained, nonsensical action or a virtual novel or both if you’re the lunatic who doesn’t skip anything.

    Even for us lunatics, what sort of game would we have? It would be nigh impossible to make it even as much of a unified experience as DA. Stuff happened in dungeons. Your decisions in combat situations influenced story. The only way this could continue in a combat-skippable world is if they designed games with all sorts of redundancy, and we know that wouldn’t fly with publishers.

    I think the better thing to ask for is more varied games. More narrative-heavy games to satisfy those with a taste for it. More narrative-less games of all genres to satisfy those who only want action. More games that seamlessly blend the two. Trying to turn every game into some generalised mess to please every single possible customer is already what’s turning this industry to shit.

    • Blackcompany says:

      This individual has a valid point. Devs are skimping on quality enough as is these days. No sense encouraging the practice further. What we need is better combat in games where combat makes sense and better story and dialogue in, well…everything.

    • enobayram says:

      I’m not pro-skippable combat, but I don’t agree with this argument. You could have story in the combat, but when you skip it, it turns into a cutscene that tells the story, taking place during the combat. My problem with it, is that it will make the games even more linear. It can’t get any worse than how most of them are today, but it sure clogs the way back.

  45. Doctor Professor says:

    This reminds me of the response when Alone in the Dark 2008 was revealed to have chapter skip. It also reminds me of the response when it was announced that Mega Man 10 would have an easy mode.

    To me, the only way it makes sense is if it’s all about signaling status. The only reason I see to care about other people having the choice to experience your medium in a different way than you is if you’re concerned about what the existence of the choice does for your cred. Combat is seen as the difficult part of many games (at least compared to dialog), so allowing players to skip it means you don’t have to be as skilled or elite to beat the game. And that means you can’t just point to a list of conquered games to prove you’re hardcore. So to people for whom this is an important part of their identity, the presence of such a choice is a threat.

    (I wrote a full essay on this subject here if you’re interested.)

  46. Marinetastic says:

    I agree with the sentiment that it’s up to the player to skip what they don’t enjoy, but I’d think it’s more indicative of there not being the right kind of games for those like Hepler. Why not give us a game based on Game of Thrones (just because series two soon :D ) but you have to bribe, intimidate and seduce your way up through the court instead of killing ten rats to save them?

  47. Ultra-Humanite says:

    There has always been a significant subset of the human population that derives some amount of pleasure or satisfaction from making other people miserable, even though it has little effect on them or isn’t even really their business anyway. Gay marriage is still largely illegal is it not? Drug control laws are in every country, the population of people who mind their own business is far smaller than the population of people who want to impose their morality on you.

  48. JauntyAngle says:

    Lots of strategy games let you skip combat: The Total War series and Master of Orion II come to mind. I think Master of Magic had an auto combat button, but I don’t remember if it worked well or not. I bet skipping combat would work just fine in RPGs with repetitive or easy battles.

    Final Fantasy XIII had a button that let you skip the entire game (the eject button.). I used it and that improved the experience immensely.

  49. Gpig says:

    “To argue that removing the requirement to play all the combat in a game is to render the experience to being equivalent to that of a film is to completely miss the nuance of gaming. ”

    You’re the one missing the nuance of gaming here. I’d be very surprised if you enjoyed a Bioware game by simply skipping the combat. It’s one of those things like saving all of those salty, brown gardettos for last or “wouldn’t it be great if we just fucked all day?” It sounds terrific, I only eat the gardettos for those salty, brown pieces and I only see the world as a brittle shell over a twitching mass of sexual longings. Until I try it. Without the pacing of the shitty part of the gardettos I realize that the salty, brown pieces are too salty and only work as a counterpoint to the rest of the bag. I don’t know what fucking all day would be like but it sounds awesome.

    You’re missing the nuance of pacing, contrast, and balance. Asking for the game to be completely balanced in one direction is silly. Yes, you can skip cut scenes, but that is only because Bioware views it as unimportant. They should have more confidence in their dialogue and make it unskippable, not the other way around. Games, especially console games, are about restriction more than they are about openness. You can’t noclip in a console game and you can’t skip the combat, because the developer is interested in you experiencing a game in the way they think is optimal. They are exercising their authorial control.

    As a counterpoint to your article I point you to this one: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/14/embrace-the-dark-gamma-screen-gratitude/

    • John Walker says:

      Since I never at any point suggest that I’d want to skip all the combat in a game, your reply is confusing me.

  50. Premium User Badge

    DemonicFerret says:

    This seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Obviously, it would only work for some types of games – Dragon Age is certainly a good example, but imagine if someone wanted to skip the combat in something like Dark Souls? There’s no game left.

    I question how much entertainment even the most devoted narrative fanatic would actually get out of such an arrangement, though. Combat (and more importantly, failing at combat and having to reload) serves an important function in spacing out the story segments in games like Dragon Age. If you skipped all the combat, would there really be enough story left to feel like a full game? You’d render a 50+ hour extravaganza down into a 5 hour cutscene. Doesn’t seem worth the $60.

    Of course, if that’s what people want, more power to them – but for me at least, a lot of my enjoyment of the story comes from having EARNED it somehow, typically through combat. I remember the segment of Dragon Age 1 where you’re supposed to get your butt kicked and be arrested, but if you actually manage to defeat the overwhelming odds against you, you can avoid jail. That was an excellent experience when I pulled it off, because I had WORKED for it. Someone who skipped the combat would miss out on that, and I think their enjoyment of the story would suffer for it.