Escape! Escape! Embracing Skippable Combat

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.


  1. pilouuuu says:

    Maybe they can let you skip the whole game straight to the ending… But then they’d have to make good quality endings…

  2. O-2-L says:

    Love the Ó Briain clip.
    His one about Gears of War and MGS4 were excellent as well

  3. crizzyeyes says:

    This article seems to imply that each game should be made for everyone, and skip buttons will somehow make one game appeal to the entire market. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and you really, really shouldn’t try to make a game that appeals to everyone at once.

    The thought that somebody would skip part of a game that they just bought with their own money honestly sickens me. It’s just fucking wasteful, and as an American I can say it’s as American as it gets. Instead of having skip buttons to appeal to everyone, you should have actually good dialogue and/or gameplay to appeal to… well… a lot of people. Not everyone. Because that’s impossible.

    Consumers should be smart enough to do a little research on the product they’re eyeing if it costs fifty or sixty dollars. To spend sixty dollars on a graphic novel by skipping the entire combat part of Dragon Age… I can’t see that as being anything than ridiculous. Not because the person can’t possibly enjoy the wonderful combat, but because the person just SKIPPED A HUGE PART OF A GAME THEY PAID MONEY FOR! That shows you’re not really putting forth enough effort in finding a game that you would actually enjoy playing. Or perhaps you should just stick to books.

    The same goes the other way around. If you love hack-and-slash or fast-paced gameplay and you bought a dialogue-filled JRPG with turn-based combat, you’re an idiot, and the developer shouldn’t have to cater to you by letting you skip all the dialogue at once.

    Games will only appeal to a portion of the market at a time, and you can only appeal to a larger portion by making your game better. It’s really that simple. Obviously there will always be niche games that a smaller number of people find very good, but if you’re looking to make a game that sells (those developers obviously were not), the rule I stated above applies.

    • jrodman says:

      That’s not implied, it’s your own (false) read.

      The statement is: in some situations this option would be welcome for some people. And moreover, it would not take away from almost anyone in almost any situation. So it makes sense.

      This does not in any way imply that all games should be made for all people.

    • Hematite says:

      The thought that people would peel the skin off an apple that they bought with their own money honestly sickens me.

    • mckertis says:

      Visual novel industry is quite large today, and for the life of me i cant understand why. If you like romance – read books !!! If you want porn – get porn !!! If you want pretty characters – google images !!! Why would anyone suffer through a combination of cyclic dialogue trees, still images, and bad writing ? And yet they do, they totally do !

  4. necrosis says:

    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.

    You forget. They monitor these things and choices take time to program.

    How long before Burger King starts taking stats of how many people remove the tomato and decide to save money by not offering tomato as a option at all?

    It is the same thing with games. Look how dumbed down the console generation has made PC gaming. Specifically FPS games. Where are my options to play Rainbow Six: Vegas like I played Rainbow Six: Ravens Shield? Where is our choice now?

    You start giving people options. The gaming companies start taking metrics and adjust accordingly. You really think EA is not keeping track of who picks what option in Mass Effect 3? Oh they are. Soon “gaming” will mean “animated story books”.

    Oh and what crizzyeyes just said before me. Could not have hit the nail on the head any better.

    Reminds me of a friends wife. Refuses to play games without the strategy guide. I mean outright refuses. Won’t even do a single play-through without it. It makes me bash my head against the wall wondering why she even plays games.

    • Skabooga says:

      If skippable-combat games cannot coexist with combat-non-skippable games in an industry as large as this one, well then, tough luck, I suppose, but I really have no sympathy, because your favored type of game kept my favored type down for 30 years, and now that my favored type is the more popular, there is no reason it shouldn’t destroy your favored type.

      But I fully believe the industry is large enough to accommodate both types of games, so there is no reason to worry.

  5. Daniel Klein says:

    Question to the collective commentariat: which game had the least shit story? Because I may just be asking too much, but I can hardly remember the last game where the story made me go “oooh, this is quite good, don’t you know.”

    Deus Ex Human Revolution made me not entirely want to skip the story. That was quite good. But in the end it was a super forgettable story, and I stopped reading coincidental texts half-way through.

    The last game that made me want to grab a passer by and say, hey, you, PLAY THIS GAME BECAUSE THE STORY DOES THINGS TO YOU? This is going to sound samey, and depressing if you realize it’s 12 years old now, but yeah, Planescape Torment. And fuck, I was 19 when I played it. Chances are these days I’d go “meh, what changes the nature of a man? I guess booze does.”

    I do seek out other art for the story explicitly. Films and books, yes, those are the obvious once, but less obviously I play story games (aka narrative roleplaying games, aka not Dungeons and Dragons thank you very much), and I LOVE a good story, or even a rubbish story that is entertaining and made up on the spot. But as much as I love gaming, I’ve not had a single game where the story made me want to do anything other than skip it in a dozen years.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Red Dead Redemption did a number on me. The ending was really special.

      Another was Okami. Not the story, as such, but the writing and characterisation. The whole thing was totally unique, despite borrowing a lot from Zelda games.

      Also, the Portal games were mostly superb, both script and performance-wise. Though the story was very one-note, there were so many great moments. It also highlighted the way in which “writing” in games is not just about dialogue and exposition: the sequence with the turret programming machine in Portal 2 was like an exquisite bit of old-fashioned slapstick but had little to do with the narrative.

      There are still some great stories, and some great writing, around, I think.

    • jrodman says:

      I played Dear Esther last week.

    • Daniel Klein says:

      Did they port Red Dead to PC? Cause I do not own a console box :/

      Dear Esther was great indeed, I bought and played it yesterday, and while it didn’t have a story that I could retell to anyone (so there’s this dude, only maybe you’re not a dude? and he’s on an island, or I guess he’s on an island, but maybe also he’s a ghost, but probably not and anyway just look at the 300 screenshots I took) it used its storytelling, vague and contradictive as it was, to create an AMAZING experience.

      So that was definitely good.

      Portal is really, really good, but I loved Portal because it was so funny. Yes it had genuinely touching moments, but they only stood out because of the contrast to the uber-silliness of the rest. I loved both Portal games and they’re rare examples of single player games I played all the way through (Portal 1 more than once, too).

  6. LockjawNightvision says:

    It’s funny, I think your sneery dismissal of the “you might as well be watching a film” argument is the biggest hole in your own argument. If you accept that a game is — let’s avoid using the term “art” — an expressive vehicle for meaning, then you are tacitly accepting that experiencing the whole of the game is necessary to have a valid interpretation of the piece. Skipping parts of the game invalidates your interpretation of it because you’re willfully skipping huge portions of the meaning devised by the creator(s). Put another way: Would Bioshock’s meditations on the nature of free will and player artifice have been any more than post-grad waffle without the long, long bits of trudging mindlessly from one objective to another?

    It’s not that you might as well be watching a film if you skip the combat, it’s that you might as well be watching a film and fast forwarding to the bits you like. Which, sure, is something that some people do. But I sure wouldn’t trust their review.

    • HothMonster says:

      Sure, but should we limit how people enjoy their purchased “art” because we are purists? I don’t understand why some paintings sell for millions and some for single dollars, i don’t understand the different methods and can not tell you about paint strokes. Does that mean I am looking at them wrong or I don’t have the right to own or look at them? Are my emotional responses and enjoyment of a painting less valid?

      I can however discuss any aspect of videogames for hours on end. Should I get to restrict how other people play because I think that is the truest way to play? Because that is the “complete” experience? Or should we allow these options to let others experience the parts of the game they connect strongest to” Or maybe just so I can replay ME again without having to trudge through all the combat.

      I don’t have to take art method and history classes to enter the Louve so I can look at the pictures properly. My books don’t unlock the pages for the next chapter only after I have finished the first.

    • Gpig says:

      @Hothmonster Do you actually skip around from chapter to chapter in a book on your first reading? If so you’re the first person I’ve met who does that. I may be biased because I was an English major, but if someone told me they don’t read straight through a book I would think they were crazy (and I’ve never encountered someone who does) (unless it was something that specifically isn’t strictly chronological and may not be organized properly in the first placed such as The Pale King).

      I don’t think skipping the gameplay is even like skipping ahead to another chapter. It’s more akin to buying the cliffnotes with how it shows a disdain for the beauty/joy of the text in search of some compressed information. A game isn’t simply completion of the story in the same way that reading a book isn’t simply knowing what happens. I’m not opposed to unlocking the ability to skip from chapter to chapter after having first played it, which is comparable to getting a dvd after having sat through the film in theaters, but I do think people who wish to skip the gameplay should consider why they are playing the game in the first place. The story is rarely excellent in action games and they would be better suited to the adventure games, interactive visual novels, and interactive fiction, where interesting things are being done in stories.

      As for the Louvre example, at least you are appreciating the art in person and not simply looking at a picture in an art book or in a google search. I similarly don’t think it’s required that someone understands all concepts a game is employing, but that they should appreciate the art first hand. All of it.

      (oh and I’m happy I caught the typo where I spelled your name hotmonster before hitting submit)

    • HothMonster says:

      I have certainly skipped or skimmed through boring bits for books I have to read for school or work. My mother is one of those people that reads the last chapter first, a habit I have never understood. A few particularly suspenseful books I have jumped ahead just to make sure so-and-so wasn’t dead or what have you if I knew I couldn’t read it soon and didn’t want that worry floating in my brain. But generally I do read them front to back.

      I am just saying if people pay the money to enjoy it they should get to enjoy it how they please. Maybe there is a bit they are bad at or a bit they find boring, I am not opposed to them skipping that. I remember some developer, and I’m pissed I can’t think of the game, talking about how the ending video on youtube had millions of hits and only a small fraction of owners of the game had the ending achievement. They had pinpointed the section of the game that people stopped playing at and said, “next time we will make this easier.” I think giving these people the option to skip the shitty(relative) bit so they can finish their game should not be denied simply because they won’t have the full artistic experience.

      Games, by and large, are made for enjoyment not to discuss the finer points of the Maoist regime’s effects on modern Indochina. The ability to say, this chapter is too fucking hard/annoying/stupid/time consuming please show me the ending movie and let me get to the next level might not be so bad.

    • equatorian says:

      I’d like to say that when I pick books in a bookstore, I read the first ten pages and the last ten pages as a rule. It’s not because I want to know how it ends, I certainly don’t, and if the writer is competent you won’t really know HOW it ends from the last ten pages anyway, only what the ending is. But know what you can get from that? Whether characters will turn out to be types you find rather distasteful or not. At the last ten pages, all the development for the character will be done, and while I won’t know if there are any redeeming points in the middle, there’s generally a clear indication of whether a main character is someone I’d find so distasteful that I’d want to throw it at the wall.

      And by distasteful I don’t mean evil, conniving bastardly characters. Give me more of those. Just those that gives me an unpleasant taste in the mouth…’s how I decided I will not give in to my cousin’s pestering that I read Twilight (really, just because I’m a ‘fellow woman’ I should like Twilight?) and refused her right in the bookstore. I’d say the practice has some merits.

      (P.S. I practically taught myself to read and read every day, on a variety of books, on multiple brow heights. I helped my English Major cousin write her literature papers. So I don’t think reading the last few pages means I don’t like reading books, it’s just what I’m comfortable with….and I don’t mean to sound argumentative in any way, just giving the perspective of someone who likes reading the last pages first.)

  7. buxcador says:

    We have infinite cases of non skippable dialogues with skippable combat: it’s called movies.

    Some movies are great, but they are not games, and that’s why we like to skip dialogue and not to skip combat.

    We also hate quick time events. They suck.

  8. Fumarole says:

    Thanks for posting this article. Intelligent pieces like this are why I read RPS and avoid most of the rest of the game sites out there. I especially like the Whopper reference; the whole You’re Doing It Wrong crowd has always mystified me.

  9. Ultra Superior says:

    erm Alone in the Dark let you skip any episode, just like DVDs do and it was a terrible terrible shit of a game.

    It was one giant difficulty spike wrapped around massive difficulty spike that was impaled on a giant black difficulty spike.

    Never again.

  10. pilouuuu says:

    I wanted to read all comments, but I just skipped to the last one…

  11. choconutjoe says:

    The comparison to books and films is misleading. Books and films aren’t skipable by design, it’s just a byproduct of the format (i.e. you can’t stop someone flipping a page or fast-forwarding a tape). Specifically making a film or writing a novel so that sections can be arbitrarily skipped would be an entirely different proposition, and would almost certainly result in a terrible film/book. It’s hard to imagine that any serious film-lover or bookworm would rush to the defence of such an idea.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, accomplishing the same thing with games would inevitably mean dividing games up into exposition dumps and unrelated sections of gameplay, rather than trying integrate all these elements into a seamless whole. In other words they would be badly designed games.

    So, no, it doesn’t affect me if other want to skip parts of a game. If I have to play games which are badly designed just so they can appeal to people who don’t like playing computer games, then it does affect me and I’m entirely right to care about it.

    • iucounu says:

      I’m not sure that’s at issue here.

    • choconutjoe says:

      It’s a direct response to something in the article. I don’t really see how it could not be at issue.

      “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.”

    • Namrok says:

      That is a good point. No author or film maker in their right mind intends for the people enjoying their hard work to just arbitrarily skip certain segments. It’s how these things work though. To stop someone from skipping pages in a printed book, or from fast forwarding a tape would have taken a serious investment in time and technology. I’d say only starting from DVD and eReaders could you have stopped people from skipping ahead.

      That being said, to skip ahead in the game is not a matter of simply not inhibiting the action, but explicitly adding it. And like I said, what hard working person putting their blood sweat and tears, 80 hours a week, and years of their life into this product would want to let people skip parts of it?

      That, and there is also gamings ugly history with being inherently masochistic. Games used to be about killing you every minute so you had to feed the machine another quarter. How far into home gaming did we get before games stopped being “Nintendo Hard” due to that mentality? But still, we cling to the idea that you need to earn the next level in a game. You need some sort of objective bragging rights when it comes to comparing how far you got in a game VS your friend.

      Now instead of levels we have achievements, and most games that support cheats don’t allow you to earn achievements while having cheats active. And people get very defensive over games that give you trophies or increase your gamer score too easily.

      It definitely boils down to boys and men being competitive. We want to achieve something that puts us above others, even if its something completely immaterial like getting further in a video game than a friend. Games being a male dominated industry, it makes sense that developers would resist the idea of making games, and the experience of them, less competitive.

    • iucounu says:

      “If I have to play games which are badly designed just so they can appeal to people who don’t like playing computer games, then it does affect me and I’m entirely right to care about it.”

      That’s what I’m saying isn’t at issue. Nobody writes a book so that it can be read in an arbitrary order so it will appeal to mad people (except William Burroughs); nobody makes a film so that scenes can arbitrarily be skipped. But if people want to do that, they can. (I in fact have been known to skip a chapter or two when rereading a book, so I retract the implication that you would need to be mad.)

      The fact is that allowing people to skip sections of a game that they’re not enjoying doesn’t mean the game has to be wholly designed around the existence of that decision. You can even build it in to the game in a positive way, if you like; in Football Manager, you’re allowed to go on holiday and leave matches in charge of the AI assistant manager, who will probably be worse than you at managing. Or you can let a good AI assistant take care of press conferences if you can’t be bothered with that particular mini-game (or RPG, depending on what you’re trying to get out of the game.)

      What I’m saying is, you seem to be worried about something that nobody is proposing. I don’t see where Walker or Hepler are saying: let’s remove bits of games, like combat, and deny them to you, the hardcore gamer. They’re saying: why not let people who aren’t hardcore gamers, who are there for the conversation more than the guns, skip the guns if they want to, if it doesn’t affect your experience of the game.

    • choconutjoe says:

      The fact is that allowing people to skip sections of a game that they’re not enjoying doesn’t mean the game has to be wholly designed around the existence of that decision.

      Actually it does.And this is the key point: By definition, the only way it’s possible to skip the combat to get to the story is if the story and the combat are discrete elements. As other people in this thread have argued, failing to get the story and the mechanics of your game to intertwine is a textbook example of bad game design. But it becomes an absolute necessity if you want to design the combat to be skippable. To argue in favour of this would seem to be a massive backwards step.

      I release John hasn’t explicitly argued for this. My point is it’s an inevitable trade-off whether you want it or not. And it’s worth pointing out that Jennifer Hepler was quite explicit about the fact that she doesn’t like playing games, which begs the question why we should be abandoning principles of good design to please her (or anyone of her disposition).

      The Football Manager example isn’t really the same thing. That’s just the game giving the player different ways of accomplishing the same goal. It doesn’t involve restructuring the game so as to separate otherwise interacting elements. Different mini-games are inherently discrete in a way that story and combat aren’t.

      Your last paragraph doesn’t really relate to anything I’ve said. I haven’t accused anyone of trying to remove combat from games.

    • iucounu says:

      The FM example is on point. If there’s a problem with the intertwining of the guns and conversation, and someone skipped the guns, simply assume that the player would have done OK but not great. If I want to skip the sodding Deep Roads, let me, but give me less loot than I would have got had I played through it. It’s just the same as letting your dim AI assistant manager take charge of a match.

      Regarding my last para: your point, as I took it, was that you objected to the possibility that allowing players to skip bits of a game they don’t enjoy would mean that you would lose out on being able to play those bits. You seemed to be saying that it would entail a huge redesign or rebalancing of a game that would either remove, or remove the fun of, bits of that game you like. I got that from the bit where you said that you would be affected by this change somehow. I’m arguing that nobody is really going to change your experience by letting someone else skip a level, and nobody is arguing for that particular interpretation of the proposal. If anything, they’ll be penalised for doing it in gameplay terms – something that is already a very familiar gameplay/design mechanic.

    • choconutjoe says:

      The FM example is on point.[…]

      What you’re talking about here is not what I’m objecting to. Skipping the Deep Roads is not the same as ‘skipping the combat to get to the story’.

      Regarding my last para: your point, as I took it, was that you objected to the possibility that allowing players to skip bits of a game they don’t enjoy would mean that you would lose out on being able to play those bits.

      No. I never said anything like that. I’m not talking about skipping levels. I’m talking about skipping one element of the game design to get to another. This is also what Jenifer Hepler was talking about. Jenifer Hepler’s original point was about skipping combat to get to the story. By definition this is only possible if the combat and story are separate things delivered at different times to the player in different ways. That is, the game has to consist of exposition dumps and sections of combat that have little to do with one another.

      Look at something like the Half-Life games. The story and combat/gameplay elements intertwine to such a degree that there is no reasonable way you could skip one to get to the other. They are delivered at the same time and are virtually one and the same thing. This is good game design. The only way this game could be made palatable to Jenifer Hepler is if the story and combat elements were divided up and delivered separately. This is bad game design. If Half-Life had been designed to accommodate Jenifer Hepler then the version of the game I would have played would have been considerably worse than the one I did play.

  12. Cinnamon says:

    This idea, like many others that can be put in a box labelled dumbing down, seems slightly disgusting because it is a negative reductionist idea about the future of games. You take one part of a game that annoyed someone once and decide to smooth all the creases out of it leaving you with a product that is less offensive in some ways but on the whole if feels like something is missing. It’s depressing and unimaginative. It has no insight into how a game as a whole product adds together to make you feel awesome at it’s high points. It offers absolutely no hope for bigger or more expansive games in the future.

  13. Keith Nemitz says:

    In 1999, the IGF finalist, ‘Flagship: Champion’ was a starship combat adventure that allowed players to handle combat five different ways. The first was a 3D tactical wargame that would make Frozen Synapse players sweat. The second was a 2D version of combat. The third allowed players to discover a trick, hinted in the story, to gain a powerful advantage in combat. It was like ‘pulling a Kirk’. The four allowed the player to discover the trick but then assume the battle was won. The fifth allowed the player to skip combat altogether and just interact with the story. Every battle, you could choose how to approach it. So if you were ass-kicked one way, you could try again or try again in an easier mode.

  14. Davie says:

    You make some interesting points. I will say that there were times I wished I could skip Mass Effect’s dull third-person corridor alien shooting and get back to the generally lovely talking bits. If some real thought and effort has been put into a game’s story, I would happily accept the ability to skip combat.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Yes, Mass Effect 2 was the only game where I really wanted to skip everything except for story and the dialogues. I like the universe, some parts of the story but the game was terrible. Regenerating when sticked to cover – and cover thats useless unless you are sticked to it with a button – that was the WORST GAME MECHANICS EVER

  15. cheeba says:

    A lot of people seem to have a rather binary reaction to this, like skipping ALL the combat would be the default choice. Surely it’s more about skipping particularly irritating sections and the like, boss fights, y’know? Skipping all combat would just be an extreme example. And skipping boss fights would be trivially easy to implement for just about anything.

    I really don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be the standard. Might even encourage a few devs to put some more thought into their writing if they have a subsection of gamers playing more for the story. All these folks getting bent out of shape because it’s some kind of affront to their principles, well, it’s just baffling.

    • Hematite says:

      I think we’re seeing the common internet effect where people with extreme opinions are the most motivated to comment, so at a glance it seems like everyone has an extreme opinion.

      Moderates who would like the option to skip combat to be similarly common to the option to skip dialogue probably don’t have much to say. Except me, I like talking. Lovely weather today.

  16. Deviija says:

    Thank you very much for writing this, Mr. Walker! I completely agree, just like I agreed with Hepler. There is nothing wrong with the option of skipping combat. I, for one, am not someone that enjoys grinding levels for 20+ hours, clicking the same buttons and seeing the same animations repeat over and over. It gets incredibly tiring! Combat in games is rarely fun, new, engaging, or customizable, imo, so it’s not something I’ll miss come hour 10+. Or if I am having an issue with a severe boss fight and just want to get around the tedium.

    This isn’t saying that combat must not be developed for a game with said option for people to skip it, nor is it even saying that all games MUST have combat skipped. It is just offering an option. An OPTION that gives people CHOICE.

  17. Hoaxfish says:

    Someone has probably said this already, but designing an aspect of your game to be skippable probably means you sub-conciously think you’ve not done a good job in the first place.

    Surely anyone who believes their game to be a solid consistently well-wrought multi-media construct would be unable to conceive of skipping any aspect with a simple key-press.

    We can see this when devs do not add skip-buttons for cutscenes (whether pre-rendered or in-engine) even though those are arguable much more “parcelled” up (simply marked by removing control from the player).

    Is the part where you beat a boss by assessing and then overcoming their abilities part of the story or a character/player’s struggles? Do you skip the part where the boss details his ludicrous plans while forcing you to dodge rockets? Is that combat or story?

    There are plenty of games, and other forms of entertainment, where you don’t have to skip combat because it is simply not there.

  18. Beefsurgeon says:

    This topic is silly, so I’m inclined to chime in. Depending on the nature of the game, certain elements are going to be either more integral or less integral to the overall experience. So it’s no big deal for the dev to allow the player to skip the less integral parts.

    The thing is, it’s still a game, so the outcome of skipped sequences should generally still count toward the player’s performance/progress through the game.

    I’m reminded of the Total War series. You can either play the realtime battles or have the computer play them for you. Either way, you win or lose the battle and you carry on with the game.

    Of course, every game is different and it’s up to the devs to figure out how to make the game fun (possibly in unexpected ways that go against standard conventions). If they succeed, good game. If they fail, shit game.

  19. nERVEcenter says:

    If you’re not confident enough in your melding of gameplay and narrative to force people to play your combat, you shouldn’t be designing games. People should want to set aside the time to play your game in its entirety, regardless of where their interests lie.

    There are other products much more appropriate for largely passive storytelling, or even with minimal interactivity. Video games are not those products. As a consumer of video games, I expect both the narrative and gameplay elements to be both engaging and highly complementary, preferably moving towards innovative intertwining of the two into a can’t-miss experience.

    I simply won’t give another dollar to a developer who makes the time to implement an entirely skippable game in favor of a narrative that is otherwise a completely separate entity that might be better suited to a movie, short story, or novel.

  20. Mr. Cranch says:

    Hear, hear!

    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.

    In particular I’ve never understood the hostility among some to quicksaves. If you think quicksaves are so detrimental to the challenge, then don’t use them! Sometimes there seems to be a simple lack of charity towards those who just aren’t good at combat but still generally enjoy it — provided they don’t have to start over at the very beginning every time they die.

  21. Jae Onasi says:

    I’d love to have an escape key for some combat. I enjoy boss fights, but endless trash mobs waste my time. I buy all my SPRPGs for PC so that I can mod them. I’ll play through the first time on ‘normal’ settings to experience the game as the devs intended, but the second time I’ll mod in Uber Gear of Invincibility and Great Sword of Insta-death to burn through the trash mods quickly to get to the good stuff–exploring the different aspects of the story I’d missed the first time around.

    I used the no-clip cheat in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines in the Warrens because I can’t stand the Tzimishe creatures–they creep me out and that whole area is just a pain in the arse anyway. They were also in the way of me hearing more outrageous Malkavian dialogue.

    I have no desire to get rid of combat in a game–some times I really do want to knock the crap out of bad guys. Some days, though, I just want the comfort of a good conversation, or get a laugh from party member’s sassy comments.

  22. karthink says:

    If a game has clearly slotted combat and conversation sections, something has gone very wrong in development. Yeah, the Mass Effects count.

    The ideal game would have no need for such segregation; see Bastion, for instance.

    That said, Bioware is going down the path of interactive movies with clearly distinct shooter bits. I guess these are disparate enough that I can understand wanting to skip either.

  23. corver says:

    So people are suggesting that it would have been great if Portal had been released with the ability to press escape and just walk right through the exit of every test chamber?

    • Gabbo says:

      That’s not really what’s being suggested at all.
      Combat |= puzzle solving in this instance. Maybe the very end of the game[s] where you have to defeat GlaDOS, but otherwise no.

    • Xocrates says:

      Is it really that hard to grasp the concept that some people may not wish to experience a particular part of a game at a particular moment?

      The game is unchanged. YOUR experience is unchanged. This isn’t different from fast fowarding a DVD or reading ahead in a book. You shouldn’t have a reason to do it, but there really isn’t a reason for why you can’t.

    • jrodman says:

      I think that would have been great.

    • corver says:

      I’m not especially invested in the larger argument about whether people should be able to skip parts of games they may not enjoy, but there is something that feels wrong about suggesting that developers should be making special effort to allow players to skip core elements of the experience they are trying to create.

      Skipping parts of books and movies has nothing to do with this issue. Authors and directors aren’t responsible for making it possible to skip parts of their work. They can’t do anything to prevent people from skipping what they want to, either. A more appropriate analogy might be asking authors to write a sort of outline and index at the end of their novels so that people who don’t care about character development or drama, for example, can simply see a condensed summary of events and skip to the pages with action scenes. The author is being told to write a reduced version of their work without any of the extra fluff (according to whatever you define as fluff) for your convenience.

      Portal is relevant here. The puzzles are the part of the game that obstructs you from just getting on with the story. Why is it any different from suggesting that an RPG like Dragon Age should allow you to skip the combat, when the combat is pretty much the “game” part of that title? Sure there’s lots of story and other interaction mechanics, but all of that is built around an RPG with character stats and party-based tactical combat. Bypassing the challenges makes those mechanics pointless.

      I fully understand that it would be great to skip combat in some cases. I wouldn’t mind being able to go through Planescape Torment or Baldur’s Gate without having to deal with all the combat parts of those games. I don’t care much for the mechanics of building D&D characters, after all. But those games were based on the adaptation of D&D systems, and expecting the developers to create a disconnected and neutered alternative for people who don’t enjoy the design of the system seems silly.

  24. Gabbo says:

    So long as developers are able to adequately change a game’s narrative per the combat being skipped, it don’t see any problem. Alice: MR had such abilities during the chess sequences later in the game, and I took advantage of them least once. If combat is strictly a break in the linear sequence of the game’s path I don’t see why that would be bad. I myself wouldn’t take such an option, but someone might, and hey good on them.

    Now in an RPG, or any game with actual narrative consequences for combat, things get tricky. Does a skip automatically ‘win’ a battle and thus take a specific path? Or can I choose the outcome of the battle so long as ‘game over’ is not one of them? If it lead to developers having to rethink narrative structure, I can only see that as a good thing. But to simply add the option with no forethought into its consequences would be a wasted opportunity.

  25. Futhark says:

    I would have done this for Alan Wake. I thought the story was neat and wanted to see where it went, but quit due to the horrible combat.

  26. Nate says:

    “I think skippable combat is a fantastic idea. I doubt I’d use it very often.”

    That’s the thing– I think very few people would.

    There’s a tendency to see options like this as “free”– to imagine there’s no cost to them. So why not? But nothing in game design is free. Even in games that already use auto-resolve (games where such a thing is proven possible, where it must either be more desired or easier to implement), it takes a bit of thinking (and a bit of coding) to figure out how to make it work– and even then, auto-resolve is the butt of jokes because of poor implementation! Unless skippable combat IS used often, that’s not worth it.

    It’s clear that skippable combat is easier to implement for some kinds of combat. I think that one way to describe the difference is to what extent to combat is analog vs to what extent it is digital. Analog combat, like you find in FPSs, depends entirely on small differences, usually in position, whereas digital combat is more number crunching (just my definitions, for purposes of what I’m saying). The thing, there already are tremendous pressures on game designers to make their combat more digital. It’s much easier to design and playtest– much more difficult to exploit. I’m concerned that a game designer that comes to the table going, “Okay, one of my goals is to have skippable combat” is going to feel additional pressure to making more digital combat systems. Which is not the kind of game I prefer, and I think most of the readership of RPS feels the same way.

  27. Mokes says:

    If you’re going to skip combat you might as well just go and read a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

  28. Tychoxi says:

    Dude, with Deus Ex it isn’t about skipping the Godawful boss fights, the game ALLOWED you to skip most fights and GHOST through it, and I haven’t seen anyone complain. Same goes for many of our most beloved CRPGs, the option to skip combat via dialog/running/stealthing was there and nobody complained. Maybe it’s not about pressing escape to (I remember Anachronox let you “escape” out of some arcadeish parts) skip the fight, but outright allowing you to skip it in a more “organic” way via actual gameplay.

  29. Jason Moyer says:

    Why not just remove the interactivity altogether? Release the game as a 100 hour cutscene with DVD-like controls and scene selection and an option for the good video or the evil video.

    • iucounu says:

      Because then you would be removing content that most people want and it would be a commercial disaster. Giving people the option to treat a game as a cut-scene DVD isn’t remotely the same as forcing that on everyone. I don’t really see what your point is and I’m grumpy because EVERYONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET TODAY.

    • karthink says:

      Because most people will want to play through the full experience.

      Way to jerk that knee, pal.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I just don’t see the point in making games that aren’t games. At this point it seems like it would be cheaper and more profitable for someone like Bioware or Infinity Ward to just release Infocomics.

    • jrodman says:

      Pack away the straw men and contribute to the conversation like an adult, please.

  30. wererogue says:

    In the few games I’ve played where there was the option to take an easy road (God of War’s “would you like to switch to easy mode”, for example, or L.A. Noire letting your partner drive, or any game with bonus levels) I have tended to find that they induce in me a ZEALOUS DESIRE to FULLY EXPLORE every piece of skippable gameplay. I think it comes out of a fear that if I skip it, I’ll miss out on something good.

    So I’d love a “skip combat” option, maybe something that you could enable in the menu and would otherwise not be offered. It would make me take more time to fully understand the combat, to see if there’s anything there which I’d be missing if I skipped it.

    • Dhatz says:

      That would mean devs must first understand that gameplay and cutscenes are one world and you cant do exclusive maneuvers in either.

  31. fooga44 says:

    If you want to skip combat in a game, that means the game is a bad game and you shouldn’t be playing it. Games require participation, the moment you’re just running from cutscene to cutscene you’re watching a really bad movie.

    The article is idiotic because if you want to skip combat that means you are either 1) Non-gamer and 2) Someone who really doesn’t like videogames, just the cinematic presentation within certain games.

    Many of us older gamers have had to watch at the dumbing down and cinematization and movie-fication of gaming and it’s taken games off course from interactivity to cater to bottom feeding passives.

    If you think skipping combat is a good idea you’re not much of a gamer.

    • HothMonster says:

      Combat isn’t the only form of gameplay. I would love to be able to replay ME+ME2 without having to trudge through the shooting parts. There would still be a lot of interaction and decision making beyond watching interconnected cut-scenes.

    • someone else says:

      I thought Planescape Torment was fantastic. Didn’t like the combat at all, so I ran past it whenever I could. I definitely would have liked it a lot less if it had Baldur’s Gate-style “you must gather your party before venturing forth” gating measures.

    • fooga44 says:

      @someone else

      Torment was a commercial failure – it was remembered for the story/characters NOT because it was a good game. The game was basically a novel wrapped in a (poor) game. Huge text heavy conversations that just dragged on and on. Torment would have made a better novel then a game.

      We mis-remember the past when we say torment was awesome – it was awesome to a small percentage of nerds and didn’t have the mass appeal of an aesthetic more pleasing to the masses like the tolkien-esque art of forgotten realms.

    • someone else says:

      Torment being a commercial failure is a misconception; Chris Avellone’s mentioned in several interviews (e.g. Tales of Torment at RPGWatch) that it did make a profit, just not a huge one. I personally consider it a good game with flaws (but what’s flawless?) and if it were a novel I wouldn’t have had the ability to define the personality of the Nameless One or interact with characters in different ways. Your belief that I’m “mis-remembering” is incorrect because I played it for the first time two years ago, and I don’t really care if anything has mass appeal or not as long as it appeals to me.

    • fooga44 says:

      @someone else

      Planescape was a commercial failure (didnt’ sell well enough to justify a sequel). The same thing happened to Freespace 2. Freespace 2 also made a ‘a bit of profit’ but both volition and interplay (before bankruptcy) saw it as a commercial faliure.

      Torment didn’t do anywhere near the numbers baldurs gate did, and they were hoping to get those #’s.

    • mckertis says:

      “Planescape was a commercial failure (didnt’ sell well enough to justify a sequel). The same thing happened to Freespace 2”

      How would you (or I) know ? There isnt a single game publisher in the world that would release such information. All the stupid business secresy prevents you from making any meaningful assessment. And we’re talking about big name games here. Are you telling me that even when a publisher decides to tell you the truth about his profits, he will provide information on time range from release date to present time ? Will it include all the reprints ? Digital downloads ?

  32. Dhatz says:

    Seems it’s getting further than Bioware naming ME3 difficulties. I for one could stand combat sections alternable with cinematics if the game’s strife specibus was storykind.

  33. Stevostin says:

    “So why can’t the same apply to combat?”

    Is it really such a deep question ? Dialog gameplay, no matter how good the lines are (and Bioware certainly is on the top of this specific game) is pretty much a tree that you explore. Sometimes there’s a roll, rarely there’s a destructive decision, one that you can cancel only by reloading… and doing it again, skipping what you need to. That’s how dialogs are made nowadays, even in the most advanced dialog systems (such as Bioware’s one). Because, well, that’s as far as tech goes. There isn’t really such a thing as procedural dialog. You can make procedural maps, you can make AI that make each fight a new combination to explore. You can’t make an AI that make random, different conversation eachtime.

    So unless you have a very dull fighting gameplay (actually the case for ME titles, BTW) there’s no huge need to make those skippable. Redoing them is ok, even pleasant. Reading twice the same paragraph in a row isn’t.

    Problem solved. Next.

  34. icedon says:

    If you’re going to skip through dialogue/story you might as well just go and play chess.
    Gaming entertains. Some people play games for a story, some people like to man-shoot.

    • jrodman says:

      I may misunderstand your point.

      You say that skipping dialogue means you should play chess, but some people want to manshoot. Don’t the people who want to manshoot (and not read story) want to skip through dialogue?

      What is the message here.

  35. Dhatz says:

    I came up with idea of standardized unlocks like “IplayedThisGame”, but look how many game studios are disgusted with freedom enough to forget cheats ever existed, or ownership or fairness.

  36. Smion says:

    Didn’t LA Noire totally already have this?
    I can’t see how it was negatively affected by this in any way.

  37. DocSeuss says:

    The thing that bothers me about what she said isn’t that you can skip the gameplay to get to the story–as long as the story features gameplay, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s conversation battles or Alpha Protocol’s timed conversations, this is fine.

    The problem is that she separates game and story as two different things. I think this is bullshit. In a game–a good one, at least, gameplay and story should be intertwined. If you are like “no, the story is the story, and the game is the game,” then you don’t understand good games writing and should probably find a new career.

    Look at Half-Life, for instance. The game’s story and its gameplay are one and the same. It doesn’t take time to stop you and tell you a story, then let you play it, then tell you a story, and so on and so forth. How about Thief? That game actually tells a great deal of its story through the NPC dialogs. Who could forget the bear fight discussion in Lord Bafford’s Manor? Not only does it flesh out the world, but it helps you, the player, figure out where guards are so you can sneak past them (I know; you don’t actually sneak past the bear fight guys, but this same thing happens elswhere).

    Without its emphasis on combining story and gameplay, System Shock 2 wouldn’t be the greatest game of all time. While the game does have distinct story bits (stuff you pick up and read/listen to), the game is mostly built around telling a story through its sound design (“RRRRRRR KILL MEEEEE!”), level design/AI (making the environment feel like a real space), and the characters who communicate with you (SHODAN, mostly).

    Story and gameplay should be fused together, not split apart. I don’t mind the “I don’t really care about the game’s padding” or “do I really have to worry about equipping my character or leveling up?” bits. Those aren’t really important (indeed, LA Noire let you skip the interrogations if you failed them enough, and most RPGs let you autolevel). Not understanding that gameplay and story should be one in the same, or at the very least, complimentary (Max Payne), though? Terrible.

    • Hematite says:

      You’re totally right about those games you mentioned – the only way to ‘skip’ the combat but still have the story would be to make the combat ridiculously easy but still actually go through the motions because it’s so well integrated.

      Sadly, those games are the pinnacle of the art. The rest could use a skip button for the filler combat or unreasonable difficulty spikes.

    • fooga44 says:

      Half life really didn’t have much of a story at all though, you refute your own point! Half-life was about the player doing things – participating in the gameworld. Story had little to do with it. Half-life was hardly a modern cut-scene fest most games are today. Half-life 1 by todays standards has practically no story at all. You prove once again that a game that gets rid of cut-scenes and only uses narrative sparingly makes for a better game because more resources go to into level design and making sure the combat is fun.

      More importantly – the combat, enemy and level design didn’t suck. Most modern games are badly designed from a gameplay standpoint because too many resources are being sucked into AAA hollywood bullshit.

  38. cHeal says:

    Clearly a contentious issue. I’ll give my hopefully brief 2 cents.

    While the idea cannot be discounted on merit, it can be discounted on practicality. There simply would not be very much game left if one was to skip the combat (unless it was Final Fantasy…), and I understand the argument that it would not necessarily apply to games now, but new different games, in the future. Or in reality IN THE PAST. Such games have already existed but mostly do not anymore because nobody wants to play them. They were called text adventures. Here is the fundamental problem.

    If one was to REMOVE all the actual gameplay from a game and just leave it with cutscenes, it would be a fancy text adventure or MYST or something. Who would buy it? Nobody really. It could not support itself at industry standards. That’s why text adventures and such are niche. So as a middle ground you would consider that perhaps combat /could/ be skipped, but this obviously wouldn’t be mandatory? Everyone is happy yes? No. Because we used have those game too, they were called turn based RPG’s. The combat was basically non-existent. It was already just a series of maths equations taking place in the background. Except for the fact you change weapons and such and the fights took place over a period of time, they were basically skippable combat the extent that it could be implemented without making the game into a movie. If it were implemented as “auto-resolve” like in the total war series, but the player would still have to take part in the game, to SOME extent!

    See the reason we don’t skip combat, but maybe do skip dialogue is because we are playing an interactive medium which very often does not have well delivered dialogue. I just have subtitles and read the subtitles and skip to the next line when I have finished reading. Rarely is the acting of a quality that I would listen to it. But I do want to hear the story. But in the end, cutscenes are not interactive, what I can skip are things I cannot change and never could. Dialogue with choices cannot be skipped and that is why the comparison is not fair.

    A fairer comparison is between dialogue and travel in RPG’s, and I shall specifically speak of Skyrim here. Skyrim DOES include a “skip” travel option. Why? For the same reason it includes a “skip” dialogue mode, because travel is for the most part a non interactive experience. It’s much ado about nothing. It’s running for many many minutes and often getting bored. And for the exact same reasons people skip dialogue, they skip travel. Because the activity of watching (or travelling) is not engaging enough to justify us sitting through it.

    I’m on your side to be honest. Mostly I play games for the narrative and god do I wish games would be shorter so that I might get to the end of the narrative more often, but I would not support a “skip the ‘game part'” option, not because I might be tempted to use it, but because it would influence the game design to include it and I believe it would influence it negatively (with loads of junk cutscenes keeping us up to date with what we have just done-which is why I would imagine some people are getting so angered by her statements – and because of her position of influence.)

    But like I said I do wish that games were shorter and they are getting shorter which is great, in the last year i have finished more games, than I had previously, ever. Games like Deadspace and Batman, AA are great and have replay value. Give me that over 80 hours of gameplay which while engrossing will inevitably become tedious and over stories which while clearly epic and brilliant, I will never see the end of. My 2011 game of the Year Witcher 2 is a perfect example. 25 hours of great gameplay, a little cutscene heavy but with great story, locations and great characters so that’s tolerable. A game that’s relatively short for an RPG but which I have played twice for obvious reasons, and will play a third time. That is the answer to the problem of narrative love in an interactive medium, rather than this “skip” proposal.

  39. equatorian says:

    I’ve been playing RPGs since the late 80’s and I support this movement. I certainly would’ve played more games, and spend more money on games, if I could spend bits that are too time-consuming. I hate grinding and would like to skip that. After 40+ hours it’s easy to get tired of combat and sometimes you just want to move past the long, LONG LONG LONG final dungeon and fight the last boss already. There are plenty of platformers that I would’ve loved to play but didn’t, only because I know there’s ALWAYS that one level with difficult jumping that I just can’t do. (I really can’t do jumping, guys, I have problems gauging spatial relationships IRL. Not serious, but there they are.)

    A lot of people play adventure games with a walkthrough in hand. That’s akin to skipping all the combat, since they’re skipping all the puzzles and hence most of the ‘gameplay’, just to pursue the story. A story which, I might add, tends to have less interactivity than the standard Bioware game, even though they might be better written. While people do raise eyebrows at them, I don’t see anyone going to war over it if it’s just their way to enjoy the game.

    I’m also fine with Visual Novels. I play a lot of them, in fact, including ones that have no ‘dating’ elements whatsoever, which sadly tend not to make it over here. (I don’t know what is so repugnant about having romance in games, either, but please realize that they’re not the be-all-end-all of the genre, despite being the most visible.)

    tl;dr, games shouldn’t be about competition or even tests of skills. It’s just fun. And there are many different kinds of fun. Some people have fun with challenges. Some don’t. I think there’s room for everyone, if we could MAKE room.

    Also, you know what? If you can skip the combat for the untrained masses, you wouldn’t need to dumb down the combat for the untrained masses. All the complaints about games being dumbed down, right there. Unless developers make the intellectually dubious choice of making combat so easy you can play them with one hand and then add an option of skipping, the hardcore will have their challenge back. Again.

    EDIT : Or maybe do like some JRPGs do. Give us a New Game+ button so we can speed through. Nobody’s forced to use it, and it adds to replay value because replay isn’t always necessarily the same fights over and over ad nauseum.

  40. pilouuuu says:

    I’m playing a game where I skipped everything. I skipped downloading it, installing, combat, story and the ending. It’s called Nothing – the game. Really cool! The best thing is I spent no time playing it, but it has been the most avant-garde experience in gaming! Gaming is really art!

    • jrodman says:

      Sounds interesting. Maybe I should get it.

      Would you say it has replay value?

  41. bhlaab says:

    The “Narrative” of the sort Bioware deals in is to put it simply, garbage. It’s something you watch or mildly paw at at best. You skip the carefully scripted and bland melodrama, pick your good/insufferable/evil dialogue option that affects nothing, and you go back to Running Around and Combat which is the part of the game that is an actual game.

    Take a look at Fallout New Vegas, now. In that game you can make a point to talk to nobody (hell you can shoot them in the head before they even have a chance to talk to you most of the time!), avoid all combat, and the game’s story still makes perfect sense because in that game the story isn’t what happens it is what you as the player DO. And you can’t skip that because the only way to do that is to not touch the keyboard.

  42. Det says:

    Why not skip combat?

    Well, for one, because it’s the main form of demonstration of your advancement in that game.

    Whether it’s unchanging combat where it seems that you character does not seem to gain in-game abilities(tetris/multiplayer games) or games where your in-game character advances in capability as the game advances (just about every fucking game ever save for some obscure ass indie title I seriously can’t care about), combat is basically a very easy watermark for “What changed, really?”.
    In the first type, it’s your IN REAL LIFE advancement that makes you think “oh I’m not just wasting my time, something is actually happening and I’m getting better at this and this is getting more fun and is still stimulating”. See: tetris speed increase, multiplayer rewards for skill increase (through your better killing of other people).
    In the second type, you get stronger as you advance through the story and achieve growth – leveling up, getting more ammo, more party members, what have you. And you get harder enemies, and you blow through them with ease, with the boss battle being highlighted/is harder, etc.
    There are some games inbetween – things like military testosterone manshoots, actually. There’s really no growth involved (or even required), of either you as a player or you as an in-game character. I think that’s where the reasons behind “skippable combat” comes to begin with – it’s combat that you don’t like because you, for some reason or another, don’t find it making use of the growth you gained within/through the game.
    Things like dragon age 2 combat (why would I kill these same mobs over and over again? enemies need to be stronger as I get stronger, and demonstrate the fact that I got stronger – or at least be fueled by story reasons like in MILITARY MANSHOOTS).
    Things like human revolution boss fights (adam’s growth in computer science is no match for CYBORG MERCENARY MAN’S ridiculous auto-targetting and an enclosed room with typical explosive barrels).

    So why not skip these “bad combats”?

    Because combat itself is the thing that stimulates growth, and letting the player skip it would in some way induce artificial growth – which detaches the player from the game and really gives incentive to just “read” the game rather than “play” the game, and I believe this growth itself is the core to video games and what differentiates videogames from books/movies/novels/etc.
    As terrible as the boss fights in HR was, it very much gave a way for players to measure their “combat effectiveness”, if you will. It was very much a “HEY IF YOU DON’T LEVEL COMBAT AND CARRY THESE WEAPONS YOU’LL DIE”. It forces players to go a certain direction – which drew a flurry of negative responses.
    But I still wouldn’t skip it.
    Because skipping it means that the credits that I’d get for beating the bosses/their loot/etc would either
    A: have to be handed to me through some artificial means (even something as non-flow blowing as altair comes from behind a pillar and stabs the dude)
    B: there was no reward for beating the boss to begin with
    In the first scenario, it presents the inevitability that what you do in the game is irrelevant – that the game really is just a “whore” to entertain you, if you will, and that there is a “wink wink” agreement that your in-game character is really irrelevant and your will is absolute. I think it’s disgusting.
    In the second scenario, the game doesn’t reward you for beating the boss, and you run into the manshoot problem of “well what’s the point of killing this tank if all I get is a stupid cutscene and I don’t really kill these man I have to shoot any better than before”.
    The scenario that HR originally had, is C – you have to spec a certain way and you basically have to fight a certain way.
    I’m not going to say that it was very much fun all the way through, but at least you were shown that you were getting better at it.

    Well, play another game. You can read the story on youtube through a playthrough video. Play through the quicktime events with a controller in your hand pretending you hit the button just as the guy who played it hit it.

    I guess the only legitimate excuse I might accept of skipping combat would be if the combat systems themselves change completely (like TIN PIN SLAMMERS in TWEWY where being better at tps is completely irrelevant to the other – the game actually basically lets you skip all instances of tin pin slammers after the tutorial, by the way).

    So why do I think combat, and associated growth/demonstration of such growth, is the key thing that makes videogames videogames?
    Because I think gameplay has genuine “thing” in differentiating games from “interactive experiences” or “books” or “movies”.
    I haven’t read many books or watched many movies or even played that many games, but WHATEVER
    PS if any of this doesn’t make sense it’s because I’m ANGERY and MAD
    PPS I don’t skip cutscenes without watching it at least once either why would people do that

  43. Miltrivd says:

    I can’t agree more (pretty nice video as well).

    Customers, or rather, players, should be able to enjoy the experience any way they want. I like the idea of skippable combat because of that, it gives choice. Choice is ALWAYS a good thing.

    Possible outcomes I see from this:

    a) There is more thought into story and writing put into games, since you can lure audience that want just that, a good story, so we could see a spike of coherent, well thought plots that can hold themselves without the combat giving a good experience for the skippers and much better one for the full on gamers.

    b) Gameplay and combat has been eased up (dumbed down) quite hard since the console generation started (due casual players and wider market target), but since combat could be avoided, we could start seeing “Hard” difficulties that are actually hard instead of being the old “Normal”. That’s good news for hardcore/old school/niche gamers that like a challenge when playing a game. That’s pretty optimistic tho, since it could be very well be the other way around to avoid people skipping it, due to my next point.

    c) Real extra content would need to be added to extend games, since repetitive combat scenes, fetch quest, arbitrary number increase of enemies to give more game-time to an already dried up game wouldn’t cut it, since all of that can be avoided. You would see real plot lenght, with variations in both story and combat, since people would be curious about the next combat section if it’s something new, before skipping it.

    d) It could produce a new trend in which story is told as actions are made, instead of the (for me) already too old format of cut scenes, standing dialogue and wall of text briefings.

    I don’t see many negative outcomes. I am hoping for this.

    • mckertis says:

      “Choice is ALWAYS a good thing.”

      No its not. There was an example of Stone Soup on the earlier pages, and i agree with it. The game doesnt allow the player to sell items, because otherwise EVERYONE would haul everything that isnt bolted down to the shops. I know i would, i do it in other games, like ADOM. But in Crawl i cannot. And its totally fine, its not a worse off game for NOT having that choice.

      Same with quicksaves. If the game has quicksaves – players will abuse them. I know i would, i do it in other games, like when i play on emulators. But in other games i cannot. And its totally fine. I cant say its definitely better one way or the other, but having a choice is NOT always a good thing.

  44. MDefender says:

    The gameplay in ME is mind numbing enough to be indistinguishable from the dull, poorly written dialogue anyway, so hey. Something to think about. But in game worlds that actually require active participation from the player to navigate and fight in, it doesn’t work.
    It’s a game everyone on this site must be tired of seeing name dropped by now, not to mention being held up in lopsided comparisons, but damnit: you wouldn’t skip a mission in Deus Ex.

  45. Apolloin says:

    The problem is that nine times out of ten the combat action and the cutscenes are completely divorced from each other. This is especially true in shooter games that also like to maintain the illusion that they contain a storyline. We’ll leave aside the fact that a character who could carry out complex mission objectives having killed that many sophonts must be a high-functioning sociopath and focus on the feeling that the combat and the narrative frequently feel utterly divorced.

    The reason for this feeling is that, by and large, they absolutely are. Frequently the set piece combat encounters are predicated by the combat assets that have been defined for the game and that often they are designed well in advance of, not only the environments they will take place in, but very far in advance of everything but the highest level storyline pass. Often chunks of the game will not make it into the final product due to scheduling and resource issues and these gameplay segments will be yanked up out of their now non-existent settings and shoe horned into existing areas.

    Even the ingame speech, those cookie cutter single sentence exclamations, are often written by a completely different person and at a completely different time from the cut scenes. Quite often the people designing the combat don’t see the cutscenes much before paying public.

    How could it possibly feel seamless?

  46. Envinyon says:

    My two cents: I see a lot of people saying that “combat is sometimes boring, so sometimes I want to skip it”. Well, that would be a poorly designed game then. And having the option to skip combat would seem like it would encourage developers to not make combat interesting and just say “don’t like the combat? then skip it”.

    Wanting to skip any part of a game means there is a flaw in the design. So being able to skip something is like the developer saying “Yeah, it’s boring, but we can’t be bothered to actually make it good, so just skip it”.

    Skipping dialogue was only put in so that when people are playing a game a second time, they can skip it, since they already know what’s going to happen, and they can get to the meat of the game. What kind of idiot skips dialogue or cutscenes their first time through the game? Skipping gameplay is a whole different philosophy altogether. If you want to skip it, then it’s flawed. If you don’t like gameplay at all (As Jennifer Hepler has stated) then why are you even playing video games? Go read a book and stop ruining my hobby.

    If you ask me, skipping content will only encourage developers to not spend time making quality content.

    • Hematite says:

      The counterargument to ‘skippable combat will make developers lazy’ is that if the developers get lazy their games won’t sell. Even as it stands, being lazy is economically beneficial for developers if they can get away with it because it reduces development time.

      I personally hope that skippable combat would make developers more focused – either do a good job and make the combat a selling point of your game, or cut it back enough that it doesn’t interfere with the parts of your game that ARE selling points.

      The current fashion for having a certain amount of filler combat which isn’t fun or rewarding is a blight on the industry.

  47. cheesetruncheon says:

    I’d like to just make a point… I get personally offended whenever a game tells me I’m not good enough to play it.

    See: L.A Noire, Donkey Kong Country Returns.

    I know I suck at video games, but I’m not going to take the easy way out, I’m gonna persevere and in the end I will win and i’ll be a better gamer for it.

    If you have a skip game function in a game… don’t tell me all the god damn time.

    • jrodman says:

      I also get offended when a game tells me I suck.

      However, I have a different attitude about playing. I know I’m not very good at most of these things and so I’m happy to pick the easiest possible options. If I get bored I can increase the difficulty until there’s some meat there.

      I don’t ever want to see the game saying “you suck too much, how about we lower the difficulty?” because I want to have chosen the Hard experience if I get it at all.

      But the really infuriating one is not even *allowing* me to pick easy until i mess up enough, then telling me I suck and offering easy.

      Some games make this extremely stupid. In God of War, as I recall, I had to mess up again in each zone to get the easy to unlock again. So I would just charge into enemies and die 8 times in row or whatever. Is this a good way for me to spend my time as a player?

      Let the player choose the experience that fits them, dammit. Don’t hide easy behind an unlockable taunt-prompt.

    • Bork Titflopsen says:

      This, so much this.

      I’ve been playing Kingdoms of Amalur a lot lately and I hate it when that happens.
      I know there is an easier difficulty and had I felt the need to play it I would’ve chosen that one. But I didn’t, I chose the hard difficulty knowing it is harder than all the other difficulties because that’s what the bloody name implies!

      The most frustrating thing here is not even that the game is hard -which it isn’t due to crafted gear being improperly balanced- but that I am absolutely horrible at dispelling curses on chests and I’m too stubborn and too much of a loot-whore to let a chest go by unchecked and the dispelling isn’t getting any easier because it’s based on timing.

      I don’t want the game to pause, pop up a big message telling me I’m stupid and urging me to play on an easier difficulty, because it isn’t going to get any easier for me. I just can’t get the hang of dispelling chests. They could’ve easily spent less time and recources making a small, inconspicuous message that pops up on the top of your screen that would’ve been just as effictive but a heck less annoying.
      Better yet: Add it as a line of text that get’s displayed at the bottom of loading screens.

      And just to be clear, I’m neither a hardcore or a casual player, I’m just a guy who doesn’t like being treated like he’s an idiot.

  48. Deepmist says:

    As some one who went back to play some Mass Effect 2 recently and frustratingly couldn’t skip most of the intro scenes. I want to skip story because it doesn’t change the second time around for the most part. The actual game play can be different every time. I was going to go for the level 30 achievement by starting a new game plus but got sick of waiting on the un-skippable story.

  49. Nic Clapper says:

    In Machinarium theres an option to play a mini-game to see images that reveal how to solve the puzzles. This isnt exactly the same as a skip, but it was an ingame helper that I ended up using more then a few times. And, as neat of and idea as it was its something that obviously made solving the puzzles less of an accomplishment. Normally I woulda kept messing around with whatever puzzle until I figured it out regardless of how nonsensical the puzzle was, and would have been much more satisfied knowing I figured it out. But, with that helper RIGHT there, I would go to it. Instead of it being a game of challenging puzzles, it became more a challenge of will to not do the mini game.

    That kind of thing would easily apply to skippable battles. You seem to think that a skip option wouldnt effect people like me who dont want to skip, but it most certainly would. Battles too hard…well instead of sticking it out and feeling accomplished…I could just hit the ol skip button….its RIGHT THERE…and its not even a cheat!

    Of course skipping levels through the console or something similar is already generally possible in games. But, that clearly feels like cheating. You are going way out of your way and outside the game a bit to do this. But, an ingame skip….it would be just too easy to give up and hit it. It WOULD change game experiences for me..for the worse.

    Theres also the problem of games being developed differently depending on the popularity of the skip mechanic. It certainly could make some future games have less put into the combat. Just look at “QTE’s”. Thinking about that…we’re kinda already getting there. Yuck.

  50. smagnus says:

    I seriously can’t understand people who prefer to play games in such manner. The game industry almost never released games with really good dialogues + script + characters + storyline. You can count them on one hand. Even now I have trouble to pull a random name of such game from the memory.
    When was the last time the industry released something like Inception or Shutter Island for example? Or an epic drama like Titanic?
    Most game industry voice actors are bad, writers and scenarists are even worse.
    An AAA video game sold at almost 10 times cost of a cinema ticket, and if people prefer to throw their money listening to Dragon Age 2 storyline instead of going to watch a movie – these people don’t need to play videogames, and don’t need to tell other people how videogames should work.

    • jrodman says:

      No manner of playing videogames is actually under discussion. There is simply the idea of a modification to the options present for combat sections of videogames.

      If you wish to comment on a particular manner of playing games, you will have to define what that manner is.

    • smagnus says:

      my point is that there is no reason to implement such option in today’s gamedev state. a pure or half-pure visual novel of Dragon Age, Mass Effect or Deus Ex would be just too boring to watch and listen, needless to say it wouldn’t worth ~60$.

    • jrodman says:

      Well, I haven’t played Dragon Age, so I can’t comment on whether a visual novel version of that game would be compelling. However, no one is advocating for a visual novel version of Dragon Age, so it’s quite perplexing that you are spending arguing against it.

    • smagnus says:

      it’s not only about dragon age (i’m not from the game haters, i think it’s quite fine actually), it’s about all the modern (and not modern too) games.
      let me represent my point this way:

      a person who decides to completely disable the combat, what he’s going to receive from the game then? cheesy dialogues with 3 response types (yes-no-alternative) , predictable boring story, bad voice acting?

      the game industry just not mature enough to have such privilege of allowing player to completely skip half of the game, because the other half, most of the times, is simply not good enough by it’s own.