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. V. Profane says:

    I’d say we already have a decent compromise: difficulty settings. In fact games like DX:HR already describe difficulty in these terms. Easy = concentrate on the plot, normal = balance of both, hard = for combat fans.

  2. President Weasel says:

    “believing that other people playing differently is an affront to you, is mystifying” – and yet I cannot help being deeply bothered when my friend reads one chapter of a book, skips to the last few pages to find out how it ends, and then goes back to fill in the middle bits. She’s reading it wrong!
    It’s not as though she’s giving me spoilers or stopping me from reading it the proper way, but somehow I cannot help but be affronted.

  3. deadly.by.design says:

    Press start.

    *skip*

    “I’m sorry, your princess is in another castle.”

    It just doesn’t seem the same.

  4. Jinnigan says:

    Jennifer Hepler’s desire to skip the combat part of the game (and the ability to skip dialogue, too) reflects a weird schism in the development of video games: that the gameplay and the writing are separate entities. Pretty much every game suffers from this, but for me it was particularly bad in Starcraft II and Dragon Age II. I’m a pretty good Starcraft II player so I would go through these missions losing very few units, playing very well, getting the achievements that make you go above and beyond the normal objectives… and then I’d be rewarded with a cutscene that’s all, “DAMMIT RAYNOR, YOU’RE A DRUNKARD AND A COWARD.” In Dragon Age II, even in the first boss fight you’re feeling awesome and mashing buttons and really enjoying the button-awesome connection… and then you’d be rewarded with a “sad” scene about how your sibling was killed during the ‘fight’ (but really just during a cutscene with the same setting)?? Sorry but the emotional demands of the cutscene were absolutely not the emotions I was feeling while actually playing the goddamn game.

    I haven’t played many games that combine the two well, Shadow of the Colossus is the first game off the top of my head in which the setting and tone of the game is sad and dramatic, and you feel that while you’re playing too. Killing a Colossus takes a lot of coordination and excitement, yes, but all against a backdrop of weird apocalypse and doomed worlds.

    I don’t think that dialogue should be skippable or gameplay skippable; I just wish the two would complement each other more than fight.

    • President Weasel says:

      This is a post I would +1, should such a system exist on RPS (I am glad it doesn’t), however I do often find myself wanting to skip dialogue. Perhaps I wouldn’t if it were better written, but I do quite often get bored partway through yet another generic cutscene and decide I’ll just follow the map marker and read the objective text instead of wasting more time watching clunky dialogue.

    • enobayram says:

      I agree completely, I have a point to make though. If they’ll make dialogue unskippable, they should make sure that I see it only once. Sometimes, unskippable dialogue in the beginning of a hard battle that you repeat many times is a fatal combo.

  5. Hakkesshu says:

    I agree in principle, but I feel like it could negatively impact game design in general. This might be a doomsaying scenario, but it has happened before.

    “Games are too long! People don’t finish them,” says the industry. “Make them shorter and more linear,” says the game developer.
    “Games are too hard and complex, unsuitable for a wide audience,” says the industry. “Make them easier and streamline every system,” says the game developer.
    “People should be able to skip combat,” says the industry. “Put less effort into combat design,” says the game developer.

    I generally think that games as a whole could benefit from less focus on gratuitous action, but game developers should be confident enough in their design that making parts of it skippable should be the absolute final solution. Note that, again, I’m not against giving players more choice, but I fear that some devs would take this as an indicator that they shouldn’t spend resources on combat design if people can just skip it. Where’s the incentive?

    That might be an overly cynical perspective, but I might also just be fearing that the wider audience don’t really want action or combat in their games and as such devs, in a typical wide appeal to the mass market, will collectively go “well, sod it then!”

    Though maybe a world full of adventure games wouldn’t be so bad after all…

    Eh, ultimately I am in favour of the option to skip, but I still think someone should come up with a better solution.

  6. Eukatheude says:

    Heck yeah! I’m playing Torment right now, i wish i could skip all the combat and focus on the dialogue.

    • Acorino says:

      Yeah…Torment was a great achievement in many ways, in terms of story and player choice, but as a game it was pretty broken in many ways. And the combat felt often more like an unnecessary hindrance than like an organic part of the story.

  7. Belmondo says:

    When people talk about skipping over dialog, they are talking about skipping past the voice acting or walls of text. They AREN’T talking about skipping over the moments where you have to make a dialog choice, the actual gameplay of dialog. Skipping combat would be the equivalent of skipping the dialog choices, and I don’t know of any game that allows you to do this. (Some games have dialog where you can choose to end the dialog early, without choosing the other options first. Technically, you aren’t skipping the dialog, just choosing to end it early. It would be the same as playing on easy difficulty in order to make the combat go by faster.)

  8. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Deciding how other people are allowed to play games (…) is mistifying

    But it’s also how videogame design is applied. Which is to say, yes, I’m aware the argument was made against gamers who try to dictate how other gamers should play, but we accept it just as well when designers do the same. It’s their game after all. We either play by their rules or don’t. Disregarding the whole treatment towards Hepler (in the sense I’d spit like a cursing gipsy at those that did it in person, but I’m not talking at lenght about it in this case), would we be more or less open to this if designers were just as vocal (but less preteen shitheads) than gamers determined to do the same?

    Regardless, skipping combat is a curious thing, because it’s been around for ages. The difference being it’s been applied in play mechanics, not ultra gigantor options SKIP THE SWORD CLANGING. Ultima Underworld, Deus Ex, SysShock and common day STALKER, Bioshock – rife with moments where you could not avoid combat. Even Bioware RPGs do this through stealth, the odd choice or dialogue option. And the Ys series, while jRPGs in nature with some PC ports, have used a system where combat is handled automatically – bump into an enemy in the overworld, and the victor is determined through hidden maths and probabilities.

    I guess the issue, while mined by the absolutely revulsive actions of these human caricatures, could be better seen as an affront to what they perceive is important in RPGs in general (and to that, we’d have to open another can o’worms about whether combat being really necessary or not), and Bio’s RPGs in particular. Personally, I don’t want to skip combat – what I want to skip are the cutscenes that predate combat. I stopped playing Dragon Age for several reasons, chief among them the same problem that was rampant in KotOR: no matter how much I plan, position and buff my party members, the game forces everyone into the same goddamn spots, the same goddamn poses, the same goddamn rooms for EXPOSITION. Whatever tactics I come up with are frustrated because the designers think it’s more important for me to have SERIOUS WORDS FACE TO FACE with hobgoblins or mummies or revenants or the sith that, by virtue of being sith, is obviously going to try and kill me. As politely as I can at this time of day, **** that. Take your teenage “cinematic” aspirations to the desert with a .48 in your pocket and a shovel in your trunk, please.

    EDIT: said Helen instead of Hepler, fixed.

  9. apocraphyn says:

    In many games, you can skip combat via cheat codes. In others you can activate an “Easy Mode” and have laughably easy combat challenges where you’d have to be mentally challenged in order to lose. In others, you can skip the challenging parts of the gameplay altogether.

    I’ve recently been playing the game “Catherine” on the PS3. I’ve noticed that, if one pauses during the puzzle levels, you get the option to “Skip” the puzzle, (though it’s greyed out for me – it’s a feature available only to those who play the game on Easy Mode). This defeats one of the major aspects of the game, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to me…but at the same time, some of the puzzles are infuriatingly difficult, so I can see why the option is there.

    I don’t tend to skip conversations in games, but then, you can’t truly “win” at a conversation unless you’re playing a truly good game. If there’s a chance of winning or losing, having an automatic “win” button is equivocal to cheating for me and seems fairly detrimental to the whole game experience. I would not want to be able to skip the conversation with The Master in Fallout 1 and instantly persuade him to kill himself, just as much as I would not want to skip the fight and instantly kill him if I couldn’t persuade him, either.

  10. SiHy_ says:

    Can’t say it bothered me in LA Noire. I chose not to skip the action bits but I can see why some people would. Plus, peaceful mode in Minecraft is always popular.
    When a games main mechanic isn’t based around combat then giving the option to skip it definitely works. However, with most mainstream games being so heavily reliant on their shooty-shooty-bang-bang or swordy-swordy-stab-stab, I’d argue that if a game was tieing it’s narrative into the gameplay properly then skipping the combat would leave massive gaps in the story. Like how did I get from the outside of this dungeon to a bar in this town half-a-mile away? These parts would need filling in somehow and I’m sure publishers would argue that there aren’t enough people who would use this feature to spend time warrant creating these filler bits.

  11. misterT0AST says:

    asking for the option to skip battles doesn’t mean just adding a command to give you some default amount of experience and just move on.
    It means wanting an entire game solely based on decision making. A whole new kind of game, where battles are solved in a new, unheard of way: “press 1 to keep shooting, 2 to charge head on, 3 to retreat”.
    Such a system would now be absolutely necessary, or else the battles don’t even have a reason to be there: my young cousin would play on “very hard” difficulty, try a challenging fight a couple times, then press Esc. It’s like asking for a God Mode button in every game. If you don’t press it, it wouldn’t affect you, but then again it is there teasing you with its presence. And most consumers, most gamers (young teenagers) don’t have the willpower, the patience to ignore it for 9 hours of gameplay. Then there’s the problem of important, fun new fights, with new mechanics introduced, for example boss battles. Would you be happy to see the cutscene with the final boss introducing himself, and then press Esc and see the credits? A bit anticlimactic. I know what you’re thinking, maybe the last boss could be defeated in another way, speaking to him, or making choices in a dialogue box. But even that has its problems: you finish in a way you didn’t want to, you load the game, you start the choices again. Trial and error can be fun in fights, but when it comes to pressing buttons it’s just boring. Maybe you’d want the player to be satisfied with whatever the outcome of his choices is. But then you’d have a game without death, without failure, branching over and over in a huge quantity of different situations. The pace of the game would be completely broken in FIGHT-no fight-FIGHT-no fight sequences.
    The idea of skippable fights is interesting, but it’s very very difficult to implment.
    It would interfere with the fluidity of the storytelling.
    It would interfere with the amount of content for the branching paths.
    It would interfere with the way death and failure are conceived in gaming.
    It would interfere with what gamers can and can’t endure, can and can’t wait for.
    It’s not a “simple additional feature”. You’re asking the developers to re-think the whole game.

  12. Kilometrik says:

    I believe games are not entertainment. I believe they are an experience. The stressful, annoying, horrorful, hateful or whatever other adjective you use to describe them are equally as important as the other parts. They are not pleasure machines. Yes, i can skip parts of a book and a movie, and a song. I cannot skip parts of a painting can i? Or parts of an installation. Or parts of a Theater Play. Or parts of an Opera. Or parts of a Concept art Piece. So why videogames should be like Movies, Songs or Books? If i had skipped the “unenjoyable parts” of X-Com, i would have skipped THE WHOLE GAME ALTOGETHER. The emotions the gameplay made me felt were so STRONG that none could be clasiffied as enjoyment or as pleasure.

    Yes, you have the right to demand skippable combat in your pleasure machines. The problem is that games that have skippable combat are made with an aesthetic design philosophy modelled around the concept of paying for pleasure. And that, sir, is what’s killing videogames. I don’t mostly play or even LIKE escapist videogames made to pleasure the audience. I do not believe in unearned rewards. So **** this article and all it’s unintelligent, marketing arguments. The more videogames are made with skippable combat, the more i will not like them.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      “If I had skipped”

      But you didn’t. And that was your prerogative, and it influenced your experience. Which doesn’t mean your experience is any less valid than someone who did, nor would your experience be ruined by a gamer who did it on his own version of the game.

    • Kilometrik says:

      Except that the experience of the people that skip parts of the games is not really an experience. It’s just pleasure. An experience is not something you live through. An experience, as it’s sister word experiment, is something in which the outcome isn’t certain. An event in which your self is subjected to forces beyond it’s control. You aren’t certain inf you will remain the same. Like it’s sister word, experiment, an experience isn’t one if you don’t come out different. More experienced. Also, you are forgetting the central part of my argument, in which it means that the more games with easily skippable content will mean more games made purely for enjoyment. Which means games i don’t like.

    • Berzee says:

      Ahh, so you’re against skippable dialogue and cutscenes.

    • Kilometrik says:

      YES, YES I AM!. If you find the dialogue and cutscenes so BAD you feel the need to SKIP THEM. Then, please, do have some standards. Don’t even buy the ****** piece of ***** game. I don’t like skippable content. It reduces games to what’s and what’s not FUNZ instead of what’s and what’s not meaningful. It creates an excuse for bad writing and bad game design. I lowers people’s standards. And four your information? BOOKS and MOVIES can completely lock you out of it’s content too. Try reading Gravity’s Rainbow skipping content or not really paying attention and you won’t get a THING. Try Watching Serial Experiments Lain without paying attention to everything. Try watching El Topo or Any David Lynch film without paying attention to detail and going beyond what’s happening, looking for themes. You will only get a bunch of good pictures.

      And yes, i’m worked up and angry because i don’t like this nihilist times in which we live in. Nietzche once said something like that the death of god (nihilism) is necessary, but we need to overcome that stage and create our own values. It seems mankind is currently stuck at the phase in which nothing matters beyond pleasure and FUNZ instead of creating new values. And in the end, it all boils down to the fact that the more stupid games made for pleasure and FUNZ the less games i’m going to get REALLY engaged in (notice how i said engaged, i didn’t said have fun or enjoy).

      EDIT: The for your information is directed towards the dude who wrote the article.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      You’re assuming skipping a part of a game means skipping all relative parts of a game. I can have pleasure in skipping combat but pleasure in not skipping dialogue, pleasure in skipping cutscenes and not in skipping inventory management, etc. All you’re doing is condescending towards those that don’t have the same experience as you – and it still very much is an experience, if the player, in the end, has actually played something.

      I’m not skipping the central part of your argument. It’s just that you are not the central part of the argument re: skipping combat. If you want to displace this into an argument about yourself, though, that’s something else entirely.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      “It creates an excuse for bad writing and bad game design. ”

      Oh trust me, the last thing the industry needs are excuses for that. Skippable content may or may not be such an excuse, but it isn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last.

    • Kilometrik says:

      See, you are still not getting it.

      “You’re assuming skipping a part of a game means skipping all relative parts of a game. I can have pleasure in skipping combat but pleasure in not skipping dialogue, pleasure in skipping cutscenes and not in skipping inventory management, etc.”

      First I’m not talking about skipping combat. I’m talking about skipping content in general. Second you are still using the word “pleasure” liberally, when i’m against the concept of games being about pleasure and FUNZ. You SHOULD have moments of intense pain, real grief, absolute boredom and complete suffering along thos pleasurable moments. I’ll cite a phrase form a gaming criticism website i usually read: “I can’t even tell you if I “like” this game or not. I’ve played it a lot. I played one finger style, two finger style. I’ve obliterated thousands of alien freaks. But do you “like” your Aikido sensei, even though he flattens your sorry ass, with perfect style, with perfect efficiency, utterly without visible effort? The idea that you must choose between loving a challenge and hating it is absurd. That’s what a challenge is, emotionally: narcissism and self-hatred, fear and courage, anger and calm.” (see, there’s a whole semiotic system at work in a good, CHALLENGING game. Oppsite meaningful units interacting together. More on that later)

      That is a statement about the nature of challenge. About the nature of good videogames. I might even be dared to say “art videogames” But i’m not feeling so pretentious today. Now, while challenge is only PART of what makes an experience such. Because once you have expreinced a good challenge in a videogame, you afterwards come more skilled, more thoughtful on the game mechanics. Removing all parts that are not pleasurable or fun in a videogame would ammount to removing “challenge” as a whole. Because there would be a lot of people who consider something as challenge not “fun”. I say **** them.

      A semiotic code. A system of signs and meanings, according to Umberto Eco and Groupe Miu, must have an opposite semanting unit to everyother one for it to make sense and be understandable. Games, as a whole, are a form of a semiotic code. A language, so to speak. THey have semanting units on the plane of Means and Meanings. Good game design comes when the code is complete. When it’s a well thought out code. When every action has a meaning and for every action that has a meaning, there is an opposite one that has an opposite meaning. Pleasure should be found along displeasure and along pain for a game’s semiotic system to make sense and, with time, to be meaningful in itself as a system. A game does not NEED to be meaninful. BUt that’s the way i like my games. Pleasure does not need to be meaningful either. BUt as this article is defining games as pleasure machines. Then it’s also about what it’s writer thinks games are (or should be).

      He is defending the abillity to skip content in games because those contents are not pleasurable to him. But there are other tipes of games. Games that don’t try to be pleasurable. Games that don’t work as an experience if you only feel pleasure while playing them. Like X-Com, like Dark Souls, like ANY Rougelike. Sure, there are pleasurable parts. But those are meaningless if they are the only parts experienced during gameplay. Well, i’m defending the fact that there are different aesthetic points of view toward what makes a game good and in my eyes a game with easily skippable content of any kind is a bad game. So yeah i hate what Jennifer Helper said, because she is advocating something i consider bad game design. A semiotic system that makes sense is not one with only one sign and one meaning. A game in which the only meaning of my actions is to have pleasure is not a good game. Skipping all the parts that are not fun or pleasurable is eliminating all semantic units from a system which need them in order to make sense. Also, remember, i’m arguing an article based around the writer’s opinion with my own opinion.

    • Skabooga says:

      Sometimes, experiencing less of a work means you gain more from it. It is no bad thing that people have options to approach a work in the manner in which they get the greatest experience from it. (By experience I do not mean what you would refer to as pleasure.)

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      @Kilometrik:

      That site is Action Button net, which I adore immensely, and the quote is Adam “Canabalt”‘s review of ZiGGURAT, by Tim Rogers, for iOS, which I helped translate to portuguese. Buy it the heck now at the official site! Disclaimer: I did it for free, so I’m not supporting myself with this message. Now that the pleasantries have been dispensed with…

      Empathically, I agree with you; if you look to a page or two back on this very article, I say so myself: personally, I don’t want to skip combat. At best I’d like to remove pre-combat cutscenes, which skew challenge by removing all of my carefully planned ambushes or tactical formations face to face with whatever it is I’m trying to fight. 10 minutes of planning reduced to a close-up of my party leader talking serious business with an ork, for me, isn’t pleasurable. It’s grueling, specially when poorly written and acted. In this case, I’d argue it’s a contrived sort of challenge, because at once the game is letting me (or giving me the illusion of being able to) plan my attack, then forcing me to disregard it for a “in your face” (almost literally) challenge. As I also said, or at least think it was implicit, I prefer “skipping” combat by more natural, insofar as in-game context, means: a dialogue choice, a stealth route, etc. The only thing these cutscenes add to my experience are frustration – a fine design goal on its own. But I’d accept and even welcome this frustration if it was part of a relationship between play mechanics and a challenge. As such, it’s artificial. It’s an anti-game construct, if you will, shoved into a game. X-Com is an example: frustration at losing highly trained soldiers at the hands of late game aliens is something I welcome. Because it’s a part of the game.

      On the other hand, I have no issue against, say, SMBWii’s “rescue” feature, insofar as I don’t use it. Yes, we can assume and/or detest what this might say re: the common or average gamer (whatever that means) and the beginner. SMB sold millions while not giving an inch to people new to games; SMGalaxy, on the other hand, is constantly reminding me to do the only thing I can do, and everything in the game is a sign post of this design preocupation. You can’t skip this molly coddling, which annoys me. To wit, I think presenting a body of work which allows its users to “skip” important parts of it is to lessen its value, somewhat akin to what Metacritic does – separating the critic from the criticism for the consumer’s benefit, “freeing” him or her from any appreciation beyond an arbitrary numerical value (in that sense, the site is a success).

      But in the grand scheme of things, if I’m to criticize an option to skip combat, I might as well criticize SMB for warp pipes, underground pipes that let me avoid parts of the main levels’ path, or even criticize X-Com for letting me fast forward time. While not the exact same core concept, these too allow me to circumvent “the semiotic code”, if not outright letting me bypass considerable portions. For what “meaning” is there when I jump from World 1 to World 4? What of the dread that lies in the wait for the next alien move in X-Com if I dispense with that very waiting?

      But I also disagree that “a game in which the only meaning of my actions is to have pleasure is not a good game”. Which is to say, I can’t disagree much with something that’s obviously ingrained into your being. I just don’t roll that way. Which is another way to say, I don’t have any issue whatsoever with how you want games to be, or the grounds on which you judge them. I could say how I judge them, but I’m not the topic, and besides, all that would accomplish would be to state the obvious re: different people looking at games in different ways. Besides, whatever stance I have on videogames is a work in progress. I don’t agree videogames are *nothing but* “pleasure machines”; but I agree some can certainly be.

      Another way to look at this is that Tetris is a game heavy with psychology – for what other reason a game people know they might never win is one of the most played ever? – and a game heavy with pleasure. I can play for five minutes and spend all of those counting the seconds to my doom, or I can spend an hour just enthralled with something as simple as the visual effects of a cleared line, the music, the score going up. All those contribute to what Tetris is. But you know, sometimes I have to turn the sound off. Sometimes I don’t even think about the score. Whatever I do in those moments, whatever I may be ignoring in its full semiotics, I still feel like I’m playing Tetris and not missing a thing. We could argue that the reason I feel I’m not missing a thing is because I already experienced the whole thing. Which may be true. But if I already did, I find myself free to re-experience it as I wish. Maybe this is the “pleasurable” aspect for me, just replaying parts of the experience. Sometimes these include both pleasure and pain (a common example would be the cycle of tension and release in a challenging boss encounter), but are still, in essence, more pleasurable. And ind a sense, it’s the meaning of these moments that I care about, that stick after the entire experience.

      Incidentally, you remind me of Alex Kierkegaard on Insomnia.ac, and I conclude this post with an emoticon based on that possibility :/

    • jrodman says:

      @Kilometrik: I view any significant sense of challenge from my games as a defect. I do not want that experience in my games.

      What now?

      The point is your view on how you want some games to work is valid, but it’s certainly not universal, nor can it be.

    • Kilometrik says:

      @ Diogo Ribeiro:

      I don’t own any iOS system. And as much as I’m interested in buying Ziggurat, I’m piss poor right now for an iOS :(

      And i see you’ve got what i was trying to say.

      We agree with a couple of points. And i admit that i’ve ceratinly had fun with games designed to be fun first and foremost (Most Clover Studio and Platinum games are like that). However, those games are fun in an incredibly twisted way, because usually they are hard as balls >_>. THey are fun, and the objective to them is to have fun, but they have a completely designed and complete “semiotic code”. Each and every action has a consecuence and an opposite action with an opposite consequence. I would admit i’d preffer thos games to be less about fun and escapism and being “badass”, but i love them. I also love the Metal Gear Series, because those games lack any structure and code. They are completely postmodern games that break all the design rules in the book without any care in the world. Like Naked lunch or the aforementioned Gravity Rainbow. That’s also a valuable experience. I’m not that uptight. It just infuriates me (as you can see) that people are able to say stuff like that without ANY real thought about game design and what makes a good game GOOD (to them, at least) beside something as instinctive and subjective as FUN.

      And now to answer THIS:
      “But in the grand scheme of things, if I’m to criticize an option to skip combat, I might as well criticize SMB for warp pipes, underground pipes that let me avoid parts of the main levels’ path, or even criticize X-Com for letting me fast forward time. While not the exact same core concept, these too allow me to circumvent “the semiotic code”, if not outright letting me bypass considerable portions. For what “meaning” is there when I jump from World 1 to World 4? What of the dread that lies in the wait for the next alien move in X-Com if I dispense with that very waiting?”

      I think that in certain points of my long and angry rant i said “easy skippable content”. I don’t doubt that I should have said that more consistently. There can be a hard skippable content. There can be an exchange. “I make the game harder/longer/stupide/shorter BUT i can skip this part” (Like making a full stealth build in an RPG can). X-Com is not a perfect game, for sure it has some flaws. THe default speed of time should have been something mor accurate to the flow of the game rather than choose your own speed, for example. An argument can be made that speeding up time can make catching UFOs on the run with interceptors harder, however it’s to strained out and contrived as an actual disadvantage.

      I hope you end up reading this. Also, until just recently (actually, until i read your post >_>) i didn’t even knew about Insomnia.ca. So i don’t know how to feel about your comparison.

    • Kilometrik says:

      @ jrodman:

      I have nothing against it. You gave no arguments for or against it. For all i know you can have a perfectly thought out response to that. CHallenge (there can be a bad challenge too) is just one of the many semiotic systems a game can have. THere are other ways to make a well thought out structure within a game Brah >_>

    • jrodman says:

      Well your central tenet is that games should be for depth of and varied experience, not for pleasure.

      That seems kind of … on its face obviously wrong to me. I’m not even sure how to deconstruct it. I think the kind of thing you are arguing for is valuable and I love games like that, but I see no reason at all that you present or that I can come up with that such a structure is preferred over lightweight “for funs” that drops all of that in favor of fluff.

      In short your “is killing videogames” rings entirely hollow to me, and I think it’s just wrong. I see no argument presented that supports the assertion, I just see a very well articulated and interesting assertion.

      —–

      I guess I had another response was that some of the ‘profound experiences’ that you’re shooting for here are likely to actually make the games inaccessible, or not work for significant percentages of the audience.

      For a painting, that seems fine. The audience is no poorer.

      For a game where people may pay in at 60 bucks, that seems pretty obnoxious, and I don’t really think I’d stand for it.

    • Kilometrik says:

      @ jrodman:

      Well, yes, it’s not an actual deductive argument. is more of a subjective argument. I present to you parts of the standards i use to judge games and how they clash with the arguments presented in that article (this is the important part, in which i think the writer is being, for the lack of a better word, kind of dumb) in which the writer is arguing he can’t understand why someone would feel offended at a game writer arguing what she thinks would be good,while i think it would be horrible as all **** because the games that are made with that design philosophy are the games i tend to enjoy less. I have many more arguments about how i THINK Videogames should be, but it all falls on what i think is engaging. I never said that all videogames should be like that, it’s just what i find engaging whithin the medium. As for how semiotic systems work. I point to you the books “Signs” by Umberto Eco and “Images Rhetoric” by Groupe Miu or even easiers “Semiotics Manual” by Jean Klinkenberg.

      I just find that semiotic studies can be applied easily to games as much as publicity and movies and the games i’ve often enjoyed the most have had strong systems or anarchic, rule free systems.

  13. Beelzebud says:

    I’m not in the Kool Kid’s Klub so I haven’t seen any of the recent nonsense going on reddit.

    However this topic resonates with me, because I recently played Alan Wake, and really wished I could have chosen to skip much of that “combat”. I liked the story, setting, and bits of the combat, but it got far too repetitive to hold my interest. I would love a Skip Combat option on certain games.

    • Acorino says:

      I read that a lot regarding Alan Wake and the combat.
      The question is why all the combat is there in the first place if no one is interested in it. The game is getting in the way of the game again…

  14. enobayram says:

    Since they’re both skippable by pressing ‘Esc’, you run the risk of finishing the game inadvertently by dropping an object on that key and going to take a leak… Seriously though, skippable combat is like a “cheat” button sitting in the middle of the screen. So the option should be to remove it completely while you’re installing the game. Besides, the easy game mode is usually easy enough if you just want to see the story. There is also always the youtube videos as the last resort to see the end of the game.

  15. DBones says:

    I think instead of offering skippable gameplay, game developers should be more focused on catering their gameplay to everyone. Some players skip story parts because they’re uninteresting or the player does not have time to go through the entire conversation, but the desire to skip gameplay os usually do to broken game mechanics, extreme difficulty, or repeated scenarios. The former complaint is due to personal preference while the latter complaint is due to bad game design.

  16. The Snee says:

    This might seem like an odd title to reference, (since the combat IS the majority of the game), but Supreme Commander: Forge Alliance does give you the options to skip missions. If you fail one, you can simply click next mission and continue, still getting all the story briefings and such.

    This isn’t exactly skipping combat and such, but I can certainly see the appeal. Dragon age is a great example, as I got stuck in a position where I couldn’t win fights easily without grinding for gold in sidemissions, and just wanted to continue with the main plot. Would I have skipped the combat though? Probably not. I would have felt like I had tainted it. This story of a band of heroes overcoming all obstacles to save the world wouldn’t really have worked so well if they didn’t, you know, overcome the obstacles.

    This is why I love adaptive difficulty. Die in one place? The game gives you a little more health for the next attempt, or weakens enemy attacks. I’ve seen few games do it as well as Sin Episodes.

  17. ScubaMonster says:

    I don’t think this bothers me. It’s not any different than Ninja Gaiden or God of War (*gasp* consoles!) asking if you want a lower difficulty after you die so many times. Just don’t do it.

    That being said, if you can’t be bothered to play a game, maybe games aren’t for you. Unless the game is so exclusively focused on story, I don’t see the point in skipping combat.

  18. InternetBatman says:

    I want to agree with this article. I put Dragon Age 2 on easy mode because the combat was so skippable. However, it seems like the argument to skip the combat is more creating an industry-wide failsafe for bad games or improperly designed games rather than it makes good games better.

    A game should let you skip combat by design. If you don’t want to fight, play a rogue, or weight your skills towards dialog. The problem in Deus Ex wasn’t that you couldn’t skip through combat with the bosses, it was that you had to fight them in the first place. Mass Effect had the same problem with its final boss. Alpha Protocol had this problem in spades.

    I don’t believe that a game should let you just skip playing it. Combat and dialog should be so interwoven that it doesn’t feel like they’re separate entities. They should be part of the same game. Arguing otherwise does run the risk of arguing that games should be more cinematic, and that we should be more passive consumers of content like filmgoers instead of creators of our own experience.

  19. Lotus says:

    Yeah, having the option to skip the game to the end its fine guys, implement that in your games bioware, maybe will expand to other devs.

    Kill me now.

  20. DickSocrates says:

    I attempted to play Mass Effect 1 but hated the combat (and what would be referred to in a better game as ‘evel design’) so much I felt like giving up. I then used a cheat to get infinite health, but after labouring through for a few more hours of utterly dull, boiler plate scifi, I stopped playing altogether.

    However, the point of a game is to play it. The point of a movie is to watch it. Skipping combat makes no sense at all in a game, it’s a foolish suggestion. It’s no longer a game if there’s no game.

  21. Very Real Talker says:

    I didn’t like alistair, morgan and gay elf at all, I can’t share the same enthusiasm for the dialogue.

    But I have to say that I think it’s pretty sad to play a videogame to enjoy intra-species gay flirting… but to each his own.

    Having said that I think it’s pathetic and worthy of all the mockery bioware is receiving to divert attention from gameplay to dialogue and romances. Skippable content makes sense if you focus so much on the game part of your game that you can play (and by play I mean play, not reading dialogue or flirting with gay elves) in any order and still have a blast.

    Of course bioware can do what the hell they want with their products (not calling them games…) but the mockery they are receiving is just

  22. WarpRattler says:

    I play a lot of games that are nothing but gameplay—no story, or one that’s not contained within the game, or at most one that’s a few lines of dialogue before a boss fight—so the option of skipping combat in a lot of that is basically “don’t play the game.”

    Case in point: the last two games I played (both on console-toys, but in this case, they’re things that aren’t on PC), BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend and Eschatos, are a fighting game and a shmup, respectively. Games of those genres live or die entirely on their gameplay, and to try to suggest otherwise would get you laughed out of the room (or get you sent over to sit with the indies in the corner, being ignored by the people who actually play games of those genres).

    While Eschatos is pure gameplay, BlazBlue does contain an extensive (though not entirely good) story mode with only a few fights. While you can’t skip the combat entirely, the game does offer a beginner mode with simplified controls, and (aside from Hazama’s route, as well as a couple of fights during the true ending) it’s not too difficult regardless. Furthermore, the fights themselves tie into the story paths, with many of them taking the place of traditional visual novel decision points. A lot of characters have alternate routes that can only be accessed if you lose a fight, and one character has a bad ending that’s viewed by performing her Astral Heat (instant-kill finishing move) too many times.

    However, that story mode in that game could reasonably be redesigned to not require the fights at all. And fans wouldn’t have a problem with that; much like the infamous Touhou series, BlazBlue gathers a lot of fans who don’t care about the gameplay but like the characters and music, so I imagine there are people who would just read the script without wanting to deal with the fights. (Hell, that’s what the light novel series and drama CDs are for!) And the people who really care about the gameplay aren’t even going to touch the story mode (or single-player modes in general, though Continuum Shift Extend has things that make single-player worthwhile), so they’re not going to miss it.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Catherine, where a lot of people can’t get to the story (which should be the biggest draw of a visual novel, which Catherine really is) because the puzzle gameplay is too difficult. Most people wouldn’t be opposed to skipping the gameplay in that.

  23. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I think it depends on what the game is trying to do. L.A. Noire, for example, allows you to skip any action sequence–shootouts, driving, etc.–but not the actual investigation. The entire point of the game is to solve crimes, and by God you will solve them. Shooting people in the face, however, isn’t an essential part of that, so it’ll let you move right on by should you fail enough.

    That it only allows you to do so after failing a few times–which will tend to happen quick if it’s going to happen at all–at least means the game isn’t assuming that you are totally uninterested in it’s combat and gives you the chance to try it. That’s better than skippable dialogue usually is, where one errant key press causes you to miss out on what you want to hear.

    This setup really only works because the non-combat portion of the game is developed to the point that it actually holds your interest. It wouldn’t work if the non-combat portions were mostly non-interactive or otherwise dull–interactivity is the key to “game” for me, and that should apply to areas other than combat, when possible.

  24. Jnx says:

    Well I know my wife would appreciate the option to skip combat. She’s played more of Dragon Age: Origins than I have and liked it very much. But she did keep saying “why can’t I just skip the combat and play the interesting parts.”

    • Kolchak says:

      And that’s because the major portions of Dragon Age Origins are horribly tedious. Especially on the higher difficulty levels. So clearly the game failed both of you.

      Skipping the combat of a AAA game is like going to a 5 Star Restaurant and being served a charred steak. And instead of making you a new steak they tell you to eat around the burnt areas. Only in the field of video games are we tolerant of mediocrity.

  25. JumbocactuarX27 says:

    If a developer wants to put that option in their games, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to. There are already common options out there to either sidestep the sort of things you’re talking about entirely or make them trivial. Difficulty levels can be adjusted down, youtube is rife with cutscenes and Let’s Plays, forums can be found discussing the story and sometimes even reproducing the text. Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, didn’t one of the Tales games on Xbox 360 release level up DLC that fills almost the same purpose. I don’t think we’ll see this very frequently though because it’s more work for someone to buy a game and then skip all the non-story bits than it is for them to watch TV or read a book.

  26. newprince says:

    I don’t think FPSs and RPGs are this huge conspiracy making us like mass murder, or whatever silly argument is being constructed here. Rather, we have certain models that were insanely popular and still are. Mario, DOOM, just about every Japanese RPG, Diablo… these weren’t fun just because the characters were cool, although sometimes that was a large factor, but the gameplay was highly enjoyable, and sometimes revolutionary. What are games? Well, sometimes a game involves one person beating another. An easy way to represent this is defeating another entity in the game. It’s not hard to see how defeat can be analogized easily to death.

    I’m not saying we can’t have a bit of a backlash against the mass murder norm of action games, I’m just saying there’s rather good reasons why it’s the norm, and it doesn’t have anything to do with us liking murder; it’s more abstract than that I’m afraid.

  27. DevilSShadoW says:

    I’m really starting to wonder if there’s any way we can get John a proper Journo Trophy/Award for all the amazing pieces he’s been laying before our feet for all these years. I feel terribly guilty when I read on a subject that was clearly analyzed instead of just filler bullshit that other “gaming journalism” websites feed us these days. I genuinely feel smarter after I’m done reading one of John’s pieces.

    Thank you.

  28. Petethegoat says:

    I stopped playing Mass Effect 2 because the combat was boring.
    I was really enjoying the world, but it just wasn’t worth grinding through the combat to get to the good bits.

  29. alexheretic says:

    Skippable combat, or indeed content in general, is an idea that has suited some games and not others. It will continue to suit some games and not others.
    Games where this boundary is blurred by personal preference, one could add a difficulty level of “Off” – when selected this would render challenge elements skippable or auto-skipped.

  30. DrGonzo says:

    I like the idea in principle. But I’ve learned, that which is skippable was also cheap. If they make the game bits skippable, then chances are they didn’t spend much money on it or they would force you to play it.

    Ultimately the argument is wrong though. As really there should be no difference between gameplay and dialogue or story. They should all be the game. None of this Mass Effect balls where you’re simply picking a slightly different answer from a list while you are watching a cut scene. It should all be one and the same and then maybe people wouldn’t want to skip any of it.

    People argue it should be like films, so give us a fast forward button and allow morons to use it. Honestly imagine this argument about films and someone trying to defend that they want to fast forward all the dialogue and story and just leave in the action.

    • jrodman says:

      I’m not sure what we’d have to imagine. In films, you can already skip past all the dialogue to the action. That’s all that’s being discussed here. Maybe you might think it’s ridiculous that someone thinks that’s a valid way to watch a film, but people do think that. And I think it is indeed valid. Especially for *some* films!

    • Acorino says:

      It certainly is very valid for TV series! I skipped a lot through Supernatural and some of the weaker Doctor Who episodes…

    • mckertis says:

      Or you can just watch something completely different. I’ve watched several Dr.Who episodes of various generations, and thought that all of them were complete rubbish. Thats why i watch better shows.

  31. Infinitron says:

    The problem with designing games that allow anything to be skipped, is that they become a series of discrete, prefabricated sections, instead of one flowing holistic experience.

    Want to delve into a dungeon with randomly spawning wandering monsters, where at any moment a wandering monster might randomly barge into the room you’re hiding in, in a simulated, non-scripted manner?
    Nope, can’t have that anymore. Discrete, scripted set-piece battles only!

  32. T4ffer says:

    I wouldn’t mind skippable wombat, dingbat or mudflat much, but your insistence that there should be *no reaction at all* to such a suggestion is a bit bizarre. Listening to dialogue isn’t a challenge, if you skip all of it, the structure of the playthrough doesn’t change (unless it caused you to miss crucial clues to something). But if the designers make it possible to skip something that is a challenge, that just might change everything.

    Actually, now that I think of it, skipping most dialogue can also change everything about the experience of the game. The skipping is there for the times when you replay or are just annoyed. And it could be the same for combat.

    Still, I think it changes the game experience in more ways than you maybe thought of when writing that article. I think for some games this would be similar to skipping puzzles in adventure games.

    But the idea of being able to jump into any “chapter” (if there are such) sounds good.

  33. dragonfliet says:

    Here’s the bigger problem: people are conflating the ideas surrounding the argument. This isn’t an instance where you’re skipping the gameplay to get to the dialog. You’re skipping this particular instance because you’re sick of it. Because it doesn’t work, because it’s annoying or tedious, etc. Some people want to get to more story, but we don’t even need a story to want to skip tedious combat sections, or to get past a ridiculous, obtuse puzzle.

    When I read a book, I don’t skim through a paragraph because I want to get to the combat, I do it because the writing has stalled, it isn’t interesting, it has gone off the rails, but the book itself is still interesting and I would like to finish it. When I want to skip ahead in a videogame it’s because I want to KEEP PLAYING, but I really want to be done with the tedious, boring bits, because that isn’t why I’m there, I’m there for the game as a whole, which is more interesting than its worst pieces.

    This works especially well for games like DX:HR, with its horrible boss fights, but it also works in something like DA:O. Let’s say I’m enjoying the game, but then I get to friggin’ Orzammar, which takes for friggin’ ever to get through, even if I’m crazy powerful. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to deal with the stupid city ambushes? Yes, it would be. They aren’t hard, they aren’t interesting, they don’t add anything, I hate them and I have lots of other things to do, thank you very much.

    This is beneficial for replaying and wanting to get past something I hated. It is beneficial for wanting to play a certain section that I don’t have a quicksave already set up for (maybe I just reinstalled, maybe I forgot to quicksave, maybe it’s one of the batman games that says screw you and your desire for quicksaves), and I just want to get to a certain place (how many times have I popped in a movie to watch a particular scene when I don’t have the time or desire to watch the whole thing, or how many times have I picked up a book to read a particular passage? The answer is: Many, many times). Who knows. Skipping sections is simply beneficial, it hurts nothing, it helps in so many situations and it is something that needs to get done. It isn’t about watching a story, it is about controlling what you want to do.

    • equatorian says:

      +1 to all of this.

      I always keep a gigantic library of save files just because I want to go back to a part I really like. If the game runs out of save slots—as is sometimes the case with old ones—I’d just make a new directory and shuffle the old saves in there for archival purposes, digging them out every now and again.

      It probably depends on whether you find games to be an experience to savor or a challenge to overcome, though. It’s not mutually exclusive, but if you favor one over the other, I’d say that it has a significant effect on where your sense of accomplishment comes from.

  34. Ironclad says:

    Allow me to pull an old classic out of my hat and draw your attention to System Shock (1). System Shock came out in 1994 and had a total of 4 difficulty settings. Not 4 difficulty modes like easy medium hard nightmare, but 4 different variables that affected the main game.

    The first one was combat: how many enemies you faced and how strong they were. The second was the Cyberspace difficulty which was more of a game (flightsim) within a game than you might think. The third was the difficulty level of the other minigames. The last one was Mission – the easier you set it, the less objectives you had to fulfill but therefore you got less story. For example, on the highest difficulty level you have a (very hard) time limit. On lower difficulty levels are not required to disable the mining laser that’s aimed at Earth, etc…

    This model was worked out 18 years ago and apparently forgotten. It’s time to bring it back.

    • Skabooga says:

      It was indeed a genius system. I did not go for the time limit option, because that tends to ruin games for me – removing that feature from my play made the game so much more enjoyable.

  35. Eddy9000 says:

    For me the analogy with literature would be that when we are playing a games combat sections we are engaged in dialogue wit hthe game, we are writing a story that says “the brave dwarf was hit by a burning blast of dragon breath, stoically he swallowed a health potion and charged forward, bringing the axe used to slay so many lesser foes upon the head of the great beast”

    Combat in a game *is* dialogue.

    Why should we skip one kind of dialogue and not the other is still a question though. And I would probably say that in the main written game dialogue has more potential to be the same or similar on each playthrough, and is part of a narrative that is broadly unchanging. For all the dialogue that can be different in say Mass Effect, much is the same and you might not want to hear it again as it is part of a larger story that you know inside out. Combat is often (not always!) more involved, the dialogue you have with the game during combat is written anew every time within a broader set of rules. And then (and this is me) there is that some people like the written dialogue but don’t give a rat’s arse for the voice acting, so want to read the words but not have to sit through the performance of them; it is more difficult to find an analogy between this and the combat experience.

    My solution would be an ‘auto’ button that someone could hold down, letting a basic AI take over the player character and the combat play out without them having to interact with it, possibly weakening the enemies to make this quicker. Although this is essentially done with the emerging ‘story modes’ in games like bastion that make death almost impossible but allow you to see the games combat- dialogue.

    For me a more interesting question is not whether we should or should not have skippable combat, but why is it that we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t?

  36. awa64 says:

    I’ve been replaying Mass Effect 2 and I’ve basically been doing that–every time I need more resources from the space-mining minigame, I open a savegame editor and bump all my iridium, palladium and platinum totals back up to 60,000.

    I’m not offended by the idea of being able to skip parts of a game I don’t particularly enjoy, or skip to the parts I loved, especially for subsequent playthroughs. I’ll admit, though, I was offended by the Hepler comment that was dug up–somebody working for writing in games shouldn’t be looking at combat as something that can be completely divorced from writing/dialog. Ideally the two elements should be at least complementary, if not inseparable. The ability to skip parts of games would be great, but viewing those components of a game as so distinctly separate from one another makes it seriously sound like Hepler isn’t interested in exploring how writing in games can function differently from prose or screenwriting.

  37. Strontium Mike says:

    Skipping dialogue is not the samething at all, just because you don’t listen to the virtual chatter doesn’t mean you don’t still have to act upon it. Once there was a game type to suit everyone, now gaming is becoming very homogenized. If you start skipping combat then you kill gaming, why bother to make all the different types of games when you can make one supergame with different modes?

    Look back on every Bioware game you’ve ever played, how much is the combat to non combat ratio? Seems like hours of combat and minutes of conversation to me, if you add a skip combat button that ratio will have to change. Sounds like a good thing but it’s not, dialogue has to be written, voice acting recorded, conversations animated. That will all reduce the budget and disc space available to the combat section, games will get shorter more emphasis will be put on multiplayer and dlc. You might not ever use the button but the fact it’s there will affect ever aspect of the game.

    Publishers and investors will want to maximize profits (not that I begrudge anyone the right to make money) they won’t want to take risks on niche games they won’t want to make games that don’t appeal to the widest possible denominator. We would never get something like Portal from a mainstream developer again, a skip combat button would lead to more focus group driven gaming. It’d be the autotune of the gaming industry, next it’ll be skip driving in NFS, skip jumping in Tomb Raider.

  38. Wetworks says:

    “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.”

    The last thing we need is developers taking time from their schedule to design and balance a system where you can play the game and have fun by stripping away all the challenge and combat from the game.

    Game developers already have to strip out ideas and crunch 80 hr weeks just to get out something that still requires day 1 patches and community mods to fix.

    I’d rather they spend all their time bug fixing and implementing challenging content for their customers who actually like to “play” their game.

    If someone wants to take out all the challenge they can just use,

    1. Cheat codes
    2. Walk throughs
    3. Use the easy difficulty setting

    And best of all, just watch the bazillion let’s play videos on Youtube. You get to see the entire story of the game and can skip past all the combat sections. Problem solved, and you didn’t even have to spend the $60 to experience the story.

    • Casimir Effect says:

      1. Cheat codes barely exist these days (thanks to achievements)

      2. Knowing exactly how to do something is no help if you can’t do it because technique xyz is too hard for you.

      3. Not all games have an Easy mode, or it may be easy only in name, or have sections where difficulty doesn’t matter (platforming/jumping puzzles)

    • Wetworks says:

      The majority of games nowadays are already designed to be completed by casuals. Asking for games to be made completable by non gaming mothers who have no interest in games is just being silly. (This is what Jennifer Hepler wants)

    • Eddy9000 says:

      The point of you referring to her being a mother was what?

    • Wetworks says:

      “The point of you referring to her being a mother was what? ”

      This was in reference to her interview that we are all talking about,

      “the biggest objection is usually that skipping the fight scenes would make the game so much shorter, but to me, that’s the biggest perk. If you’re a woman, especially a mother, with dinner to prepare, kids’ homework to help with, and a lot of other demands on your time, you don’t need a game to be 100 hours long to hold your interest — especially if those 100 hours are primarily doing things you don’t enjoy. A fast forward button would give all players — not just women — the same options that we have with books or DVDs — to skim past the parts we don’t like and savor the ones we do. Over and over, women complain that they don’t like violence, or they don’t enjoy difficult and vertigo-inducing gameplay, yet this simple feature hasn’t been tried on any game I know of. ”

      Like I said, designing a video game to cater to mothers who don’t like gaming is a terrible idea.

    • iucounu says:

      Your argument has little merit. The insidious ‘design’ innovation you are talking about is a single feature which amounts to a fast-forward button and has no effect on the design of rest of the game. People who choose not to use it will not experience any difference in the underlying game any more than people who choose not to skip scenes on a DVD would experience a different film. It’s not going to be written to cater for anomalous behaviour.

    • Wetworks says:

      Your missing the point, time and manpower devoted to this feature will take away from squashing bugs and implementing other content into the game.

      Since most games are fps nowadays lets take the standard 8 hr fps. Strip away all the combat and challenging sections, now you’re left with around 30 minutes of cut scenes. Who is going to spend $60 for 30 minutes of cut scenes? It’s a waste of resources to cater to this anamalous behavior.

      My point is, the people who just want to watch the cut scenes can already watch them for free on Youtube.

    • iucounu says:

      I think you’re seriously overestimating the amount of work that anyone wants to put in to something like this. They’re asking for a button that lets you skip a boss fight. I don’t think that’d appreciably affect game development; and I think if they thought it was going to in any given case, they wouldn’t argue for it.

    • Wetworks says:

      I have no objection to skippable boss fights. What Jennifer Hapler wants is an option to skip all the combat and challenging sections of the game. That means catering the game to the style of player that does not like violence, does not like combat, and does not like “vertigo inducing” game play.

      If they put in that option than they have to make sure the players who like this style will have a good time, that could entail a lot of balance and man hours to justify the full purchase price.

    • HothMonster says:

      You keep saying “wants” like she has a campaign to make this happen. She just said what would make video games better for her. Since she just wants to review the narrative, because she is the games writer. She probably wouldn’t be playing games at all if she didn’t work on them. Be glad she is actually taking the time to experience the dialog in game rather than pass on a giant manuscript to the programmers.

      Her opinion on what would make games more enjoyable and more accessible to her is just as valid as anyone else. If a developer wants to cater to women, casual players or people without much free time they may want to look into this. If devs don’t they don’t have to. If you don’t want to play games that have this feature, you don’t have to.

      She hasn’t started a movement to make this a required feature on all games. So if it is such a hassle no one has to do it. If its a relatively easy fix, were they can just jump you to the next talky bit or skip a action sequence without much hassle I don’t see why they shouldn’t consider this and decide if it makes sense for their game and their audience.

    • jrodman says:

      You’re willing to state that someone doesn’t like gaming, when it’s quite clear that they do. This seriously casts doubt on your ability to form and communicate useful observations in this area.

    • Wetworks says:

      “You’re willing to state that someone doesn’t like gaming, when it’s quite clear that they do.”

      Explain to me how Jennifer Hepler clearly likes games when she makes statements like this?

      ” Question: What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

      Answer: Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn’t have a good story, it’s very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I’m really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don’t like tactics, I don’t like fighting, I don’t like keeping track of inventory, and I can’t read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.”

      To me it’s quite clear that Jennifer does not like playing games and only plays them because her current job requires her to. She wishes there was a skip combat button because she has to play her competitor’s games and she absolutely loathes to do so.

      The idea of skipping combat just doesn’t make sense in a lot of games. How do you “skip” combat in Skyrim? Do you just press a button and every enemy around you automatically dies?

      How do you skip combat in an fps? Do you just press a button and automatically finish the level?

      What about all the loot, gold, experience, skill-ups, power-ups that you would have collected had you actually done the combat?

  39. Casimir Effect says:

    Thanks John, this is exactly how I feel on the subject only presented far more loquaciously. Some people have the strange idea that their enjoyment of a game is directly affected by how other people play the it. Because they like/can afford to waste hours grinding to beat a boss (or even trying to beat a boss in a linear game) they feel everyone should.

    No one says that skipping the gameplay will automatically mean you dislike it. It’s possible to love how a game plays most of the time but vehemently dislike a certain section or hit a difficulty wall you cannot get past. This is especially true in games which are the same 90% of the time but then turn into a platformer or take away abilities or are Nier.
    I’d love to play the God of War games with a game-skippper. I’ve only played the first but climbing those spikey pillars out of hades ensures I never want to try another on in case they pull that shit again.

  40. bit_crusherrr says:

    Whats the point in buying a game if you’re just going to watch the cutscenes. Might as well just watch a lets play on youtube.

    • Hematite says:

      Well, some people DO just watch the video on youtube, so there is empirical evidence that it’s a feature people are interested in having.

      But what we’re talking about is the ability selectively skip any arbitrary part of the game. It seems strange that its widely accepted that you can skip dialogue, but if you only want to play 90% of the combat scenes you’re out of luck – it’s 100% or nothing.

  41. frenz0rz says:

    I cant help but think this completionist/achievement attitude toward games is a leftover from the darkest depths of gaming’s past, and is something that will take a lot of time and effort (on the part of both gamers and developers) to evolve past.

    Think back to particularly difficult games of old, such as Contra. Completing a level was an achievement, and your reward was to see and experience the next level. Very few people ever made it to the end of such a game, and the ones who did probably considered it a genuine accomplishment. Fast forward to present day and this mindset remains, despite the general changes in difficulty and skill. Even if a game is easy to the point of tedium, but the story is interesting enough to keep you going, you MUST play the tedious parts to continue.

    On the other hand, some games might be too hard. However, if a game has a well written story I want to experience it to the end. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines was too hard to complete with my shoddily made Malkavian, so I cheated my way to the end and enjoyed the final cutscenes. Years later, I went back with a different character and completed it without cheating, so that I could experience the enjoyment of having genuinely beaten it.

    Ultimately I think it boils down to whether you play to win or to enjoy the story. Either way, you should be allowed to play it your way, and we should aim to drop this archaic attitude toward completing games.

    • Mman says:

      Bringing up Contra as a game that forced you to earn your victory is kind of funny considering it’s the most iconic example of the “Konami Code” that allowed players who weren’t up to playing it “normally” to finish it anyway.

  42. craigdolphin says:

    John Walker: you weren’t a kiwi commonwealth games runner in a past life were you?

    Anyways, good article is good. And true. And righteous. The whole point of games is that they are an interactive medium. The experience is co-created by the developers and the player. Skippable combat is just as valid a choice for players as skippable cutscenes. Screw the combat-required nazis!

  43. pilouuuu says:

    I think that the more options you have the better and as has been mentioned before L.A. Noire has such an option and it’s valid in case the player lacks the skill for beating a certain sequence of the game.

    But an even better option would be including alternatives. For example you could try to beat a boss, but after you failed the first time a friendly NPC would arrive and tell you “Hey, I’ve been looking for you. It seems you need my help now!” and then you could try to beat the boss with help. If you fail another time maybe the boss could say: “You’re not match for me! I will meet you again when you’re a worthy opponent.” and then he would leave, appearing later in the game, when you’re stronger or with better skill.

    If the game is an RPG you should have options to talk to the boss and convince him to let you go or complete a quest where you can give him an object and befriend him.

    The thing is that narrative and combat need to be entwined and both should make sense, so then there would not be much need to skip anything.

    • Berzee says:

      all of those things would be cool

      and then it would also be cool if you wanted to skip those things =P

      I doubt I would skip anything, but it would be…cool.

      (I like the idea of the game just changing the situation for you if you’re having trouble though…for certain games. I don’t like it when villains leave the scrappy hero alive for no reason and would prefer a “game over” to that, but the possibility of unexpected reinforcements and such could be fun if it wasn’t seeming too convenient to believe.)

  44. Laurentius says:

    People are against skip-able combat because it would bring to full light how much time they uselessly spent wasting their lives on this thing.

  45. NothingFunny says:

    Gamedev saying she dosen’t like games and thinks gameplay should be skipable. You don’t see a problem here?
    When people like her start ‘tuning’ games to appeal to the tastes and preferences of like-minded publics(who supposedly don’t even like – if play at all – games either) the result is pure degradation.

    If you want to focus on narrative, fine. Make an interactive movie like Heavy Rain.
    But don’t even touch games that people play for gameplay in the first place.

    • Berzee says:

      I like games and I think I should be allowed to skip parts too though.
      NOW WHAT DO YOU SAY?????

    • Unaco says:

      She’s a writer, not a developer involved in the design etc. If she was a 3D artist who said she never played games at all, would you have a problem? What about someone who wrote networking code, but never played multiplayer games?

      Everything she suggested was also optional. Are you railing against more options in games?

    • HothMonster says:

      A writer focused on narrative? The nerve of some people! She should write more explosions, which I will now do for her. BOOM, BLAMMO, KERPLOSION, KA-BANG, POOT. Ok that last one was just a fart.

    • NothingFunny says:

      “She’s a writer, not a developer involved in the design etc. If she was a 3D artist who said she never played games at all, would you have a problem? What about someone who wrote networking code, but never played multiplayer games? ”

      Yes there is a problem if you don’t understand the specifics of the job because you don’t even play games, even worse if you don’t like them. And it always affect the end result in a negative way. Even worse if you start to change the game to your preferences.

      “Everything she suggested was also optional. Are you railing against more options in games?”
      I’m against suggestions from the people who don’t play or dislike games. I’m against such people at key positions in the gamedev ( and who would really care about her comments if she was not a gamedev?)

      And yeah there are cheatcodes already, like been said few times. Use them and skip all you want, You have this option in most games.

    • Fumarole says:

      I just want to point out how amusing I find it that this is posted by a person with Vault Boy from Fallout as their avatar. You know, the game in which all combat can be avoided and the final boss brought low with conversation. It is also a game in which you can murder every last person in the game. Such a great thing to have both extremes and everything in between available, innit? One reason why Fallout is a great game.

  46. Scabmastah says:

    I think people who are skeptic towards the idea of skippable combat are more afraid of how it will adversely affect the quality of said skippable combat than the fact that people will be skipping combat. DLC and console ports don’t sound bad on paper either but we all know how these concepts have adversely affected games.

  47. LennyLeonardo says:

    There really is no possible argument against being able to skip any part of a game. The only negative ramifications I can think of is the possibility of accidentally skipping something. That’s it.

    Therefore I agree with everything in this article, apart from the jab at boss fights. Couterpoint: Vanquish.

    • D3xter says:

      I don’t really see much of an argument FOR skipping large parts of a game, I remember a time where you actually had to play it and learn things and get better at them to complete any game, sometimes requiring you to make use of that brainpower or quick reflexes you got and/or memorization and that was CONSIDERED the game, you know… the thing people bought that cartridge or disk for.

      Nowadays most games are already in such a dumbed-down state that you can finish most of them while sleeping, even if you haven’t really played any before and what’s being asked for here is turning games into movies entirely. I already found it insulting that the new Mass Effect is supposed to have an “Action” mode where the game skips through conversations for you and a “Story” mode where combat can be overcome by a three year old… I mean… REALLY? Some people couldn’t be arsed to move their controller up or down and make a choice, and others had problems with the combat on Easy even though they bought and wanted to play an Action-game, REALLY? At some point if you don’t really want to play a game… you know get a movie or a book instead.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      It’s not that people don’t want to play the games, it’s that there are people who play games for different reasons from you. Telling them to read a book or watch a film instead is just condescending.

      There’s also a school of thought that says making combat/challenges skippable actually allows games to be more difficult, as those without the skills can skip just whatever parts frustrate them.

      Looking back to a time when games were all challenge and we were all “real” gamers, is similarly condescending to those who see merit in the other things games offer but don’t want the challenge.

      There are still plenty of difficult games around, by the way. Again: Vanquish.

  48. Skusey says:

    I’ve absolutely no interest in the combat of the recent Fallouts, but the world is fascinating so I just turn God Mode on. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’ll do.

  49. Shooop says:

    A game is entertainment, meant to be enjoyed by the player. If you can skip to scenes in movies why shouldn’t anyone be able to do the same with games? The only restrictions should be in multiplayer where the goal is an even playing field for everyone.

  50. Gunre says:

    I pretty much never post on stuff here, but for whatever reason this story nearly made my head explode. I don’t really care to articulate an argument, but I do want to say you are wrong, you’re a bad person, and you should feel bad about being such a bad, horrible person.

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