I learned through Quarter to Three that yesterday was Size Doesn’t Matter day where, organised by Jamie Cheng of Klei (Shank, Sugar Rush), a series of developers
apologises to their partners for their ineffectual genitalia share their thoughts on the issue of what is “too small”, in terms of games. It’s been a theme in games discussion for a few years now, and seems to have been brought to a head by the few shadows cast on Limbo‘s generally triumphant reviews by people complaining it was “too short”. Which is silly. They should have complained it was just trial-and-error-nonsense with pretty graphics. Anyway, this lead to over 15 essays on the topic, which seem determined to precipitate the issue. Sample quotes plus links to all the ones I could find follow…
Saying Too Short is like using words like Should, Good, Bad, etc. These are lazy words. Socially acceptable shortcuts that allow people to speak superficially about what they really think and feel. Using lazy words is not a big deal in casual conversation, or if you’re speaking with someone who knows you well enough to understand what’s behind the shortcut. But if you write about games for a living you should not take these shortcuts you do your readers an injustice by seeding their mind with a negative predisposition that reflects your laziness instead of helping the reader learn about your experience of the game.
The typical analogy made by defenders of game pricing and value is to the cost of eating out at a restaurant. When the price being discussed is $15, the food being discussed is usually fast. And, while it’s true you will pay more for a pizza these days than you will for a “AAA Indie Game”—or you will if your pizza is any good—and, yes, a $15 game will give you more direct hours of content than a $15 movie will, I claim if you’re even engaging at this level, you’ve already lost the argument.
Gamers seem to praise games for being addicting, but doesn’t that feel a bit like Stockholm syndrome? If you spend 20 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 3, then didn’t you just waste 17 hours? If you waste 17 hours a month for the rest of your life, what is the cost of that, socially, quality-of-life-wise, economically, or however else you want to measure?
As an ‘older’ gamer, I recall a time when the whole idea of game length was silly. How long is pacman? how long is space invaders? As long as you have time for, clearly. Now you may argue (and some do) that the only reason that early games worked this way was the artificial constraints caused by a lack of processing power and file storage. These days we can have games with hand-crafted, bump mapped worlds made in incredible detail, and this is clearly better and more immersive and thus games should be measured in this way.
Now I’m not vaguely going to suggest that more-detailed, more immersive worlds are not a good thing. They clearly are. What I’m against is the weighing up of a games value (both artistically and in monetary terms) by sheer length and content.
And a list of most of the ones I can find, in the order Jonathan Blow put them in…
Ron Carmel of 2DBoy (World of Goo)
Chris DeLeon (Kerzillion of things)
Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games (Shivah, Emerald City Confidential)
Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games (retro/grade)
Michael Todd (Go Go Dream Samurai)
Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games (Slam Bolt Scrappers)
Cliff Harris of Positech Games (Kudos, Gratuitous Space Battles)
Chris Hecker (Spy Party)
Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games
Noel Llopis (Flower Garden, Lorax Garden)
Peter Jones of Retro Affect (Depict1)
Lau Korsgaard (Copenhagen Game Collective – and this one’s cheerily NSFW, but worth clicking through to see the splendid webgame that’s found. It’s discussed a serious debate about the rendering of spunk in the RPS chat room)
Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules (And Yet It Moves)
Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games (Hundreds)
Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire (Lugaru, Overgrowth)
Steve Swink (Enemy Airship)
…But there’s probably a few I’ve missed if you scour the links at the bottom of all of them.
And to open it to the floor… what do you think?