Experienced Points: In Defense of Hepler Mode

By Shamus Posted Sunday Apr 8, 2012

Filed under: Column 188 comments

My column on Friday was about the whole Hepler controversy. Actually, it’s what the controversy SHOULD have been about, instead of a bunch of trollhate against a single woman. The more interesting discussion wasn’t about Hepler herself but about what she proposed.

Read the whole thing.


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188 thoughts on “Experienced Points: In Defense of Hepler Mode

  1. Mark says:

    Somehow, every time somebody suggests some variant on “You should be able to skip gameplay,” a bunch of internet people get mad. This is doubly confusing because many Nintendo games in recent years have already implemented this feature in the form of the Super Guide system and it turned out great.

    Super Guide, for those who aren’t familiar with it, works differently in each of the several games it’s been in (New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Super Mario 3D Land), but it’s always some variation on this: if the game detects you’re having a lot of difficulty (typically by seeing if you fail five to eight times in a row without making progress), then it inserts a conspicuous object which, if activated, either replaces your character with an AI that beats the level for you without collecting any secrets, or gives you a powerup that lasts for the rest of the level and makes it completely trivial to beat. It then counts the level as “beaten” in that it lets you go to the next level, but it will note that you used Super Guide to do it, and it won’t count purposes of some late-game bragging rights rewards such as unlocking the ultra-hard secret final level, and you’ll have to go back and clear it the normal way.

    This is an excellent system for games that can be broken down into discrete, repeatable challenges, in that it’s basically a button to make a virtual older brother come into the room and get past the hard part for you. I’d say every game needs something like it, but each game needs to carefully consider its own most optimal convenience features, and not every game designer is up to that challenge.

  2. StranaMente says:

    I fully agree with this, and, especially in the bioware games, I think it should be implemented (as they are the main culprit of segmenting gameplay).
    I’m now playing through the mass effect trilogy to make some new saves to import in the third game because I’ve lost them with my last xbox, and combat now it’s more boring and repetitive than it has ever been. I just want to make my choices, and get on with my life.
    It’s just like with books.
    I re-read the lord of the rings 3 times at least.
    The first time I skipped some of the descriptions and the songs, another time I read the descriptions, checked the timeline, the moon phases and back history, another time (reading it in english) I paid attention to the songs and the language.
    It may be hard or even impossible to implement in some games, but in other it could be really helpful.

    And I went through the answers on the escapist and remembered why I don’t spend much time there on the forum. The content it’s still quite good overall (depending on the taste) but the user base is shifting towards juvenile-aggressive-plain dumb quite fast.

    1. Eärlindor says:

      That’s why I liked the comic-book section they added to the beginning of Mass Effect 2 which allows you to make all the major decisions from the first game (though they skip over Feros like it never happened–grr!). I wish they would do something similar for ME3.

      1. Indy says:

        From what I can tell, only the PS3 version had this. I wish they put it on all of the platforms.

        1. jdaubenb says:

          It’s up for sale as DLC for the PC at least. Don’t know about XBox.

          But there is always the save-game editor for ME2, in case you want to skip the first game.

          1. Dude says:

            Or the save game editor for ME3, which lets you make all the changes you want!

            1. jdaubenb says:

              That’s what Youtube is for. ;)

            2. Eärlindor says:

              I’m assuming this is a PC only thing?

        2. Eärlindor says:

          From what I can tell, only the PS3 version had this. I wish they put it on all of the platforms.

          It is on all platforms. I have it for the 360. :)

    2. Destrustor says:

      Re-read lord of the rings three times?
      Pfah! I did it at least five times, book noob.


      1. Agammamon says:

        But you have to read it 6 times on hard mode to unlock the secret final chapter.

        1. MelTorefas says:

          This made me laugh so hard I hurt my eyes. Thank you!

  3. acronix says:

    Quite an interesting article.

    However, I don´t think dialogue is really skippable in most games. Sure, you can skip the voice-acting and avoid reading the subtitles/text, but eventually you’ll hit a “make a choice on what to say” wall. The only way out of that wall is select one of the doors that gets the dialogue going again or that ends it. Sometimes even you can’t proceed into the game until you talk with an NPC.

    There was an article on Ferretbrain when this whole thing was still kicking that I found interesting. It´s on the “quite long” side of articles, but you people might find it worth reading.

    1. Darkness says:

      Not really worth reading. Tries to reword the “not in my game” arguments so they sound nice but says the same thing.

  4. Mormegil says:

    I remember X-Wing Alliance had a feature where you could “go on leave.” This allowed you to skip a mission and move on to the next one if you were having a tough time of one particular sequence. The game only let you do this 3 times and you couldn’t do it for any of the core story missions.

    The facetious answer is to just make better gameplay so that nobody wants to skip it but that’s not a real answer at all – I loved combat in Mass Effect 2 and the Witcher series, Shamus has said he disliked them. He’s not wrong, he just likes different stuff than I do. You can’t cater to everyone, all you can do is build in a bunch of options that might allow someone to customise the experience into something that they’ll like.

    1. James Pope says:

      Not to mention that sometimes games could have the most awesome gameplay in the world and I’d still just want to get to a certain bit of gameplay somewhere else in the game and not care to play through ALL of the gameplay to get there.

  5. Irridium says:

    The sad thing is, most RPG’s would be perfect for allowing you to skip combat by using the mechanics that are already in the game. You know, give you the ability to talk your way out of combat. Give you a chance to exercise that speech or charisma or intelligence score.

    Say you get ambushed, if you major in speech, you could talk down/intimidate the leader and have them back off. Bam, skipped a combat section.

    Or in cases where you happen to be in a combat situation, you could let the player throw their own combat taunts to lower enemy stats to make them easier to beat. KOTOR 2 played with this idea. Only with Sion, and it could have been done a bit better, but still. HK-47 tells you the best way to kill a jedi (or sith) is to mess with his/her mind. Erode their confidence. You could do this with Sion, and his skills would decrease, and you’d eventually talk him into dying (or “letting go”).

    Or hell, if you’re stats are high enough, you could have those taunts just stop combat all-together.

    Would make a pure speech playthrough all the more encouraging. And interesting.

    Also, it seems that when given the option, many will gladly jump at the chance to skip a section of a game they don’t like.

    And another thing, how many keep saves of characters right outside the main exits to the tutorials in Bethesda games? So you don’t have to go through the tutorials over and over when making a new character? I know I do.

    And a third thing, we used to have these “skip everything” commands. They were called cheat codes. Not too many people seemed to mind those.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      To the saving before exiting the tutorial: Skyrim automatically does it, IIRC. Maybe. It’s been a while… the saving thing was REALLY common in Oblivion, though

    2. Eärlindor says:

      I love cheat codes. They added a whole other dimension of dumb fun when you got bored. They also made me appreciate the vanilla challenge of the game all the more.
      The first Age of Empires had the best cheat codes.

      I was really sad when they disappeared from our games.

    3. zob says:

      You know, give you the ability to talk your way out of combat

      Original Fallout and Fallout 2 did that. Barring a few minor inconveniences you can talk your way out of almost every situation. That’s one of the reasons why those games were awesome.

    4. Exactly. Make the gameplay deeper then you can smoothly and seamlessly skip parts of it you don’t like, without taking out out of the game.

      This is why you let the character play stealthily, charismatically, bribe people or simply offer ways to skip the area if they player looks hard enough. Everybody wins, and more people are willing to play because they aren’t railroaded into a specific type of character.

    5. MatthewH says:

      Do games still have cheat codes?

      When I was a kid and sucked at computer FPS games, I would turn on god-mode so that I could play for the story and see more than the first 4 levels.

      Never did beat Outlaws without god-mode. Did manage to beat Jedi Knight and Dark Forces. But really, turning on god mode for a Jedi Knight game and just wading in with the lightsaber (you know, like the Jedi in the movies do) is just half the fun of the game.

      1. guy says:

        The odds of a modern game containing cheat codes is inversely proportional to the odds of needing them, pretty much.

    6. Darkness says:

      Funny you should mention cheat codes. I remember from decades ago that several women that I knew wouldn’t play a game without cheats. They (not all by any means) said they wanted to have fun and not have to figure out what some knuckle dragging game designer thought they should be doing. Give them God Mode and they just ran around killing everything and grinning the whole time.

      And as mentioned above was a great solution when one becomes bored with the game. Does anyone know God Mode for Red Dead Redemption? I have 4-5 hours in that sucker and I want to make dog food. I miss cars.

    7. Eric says:

      Speech? Charisma? What are these… stats you speak of? You almost sound like you’re talking about some sort of… role-playing… game. I just don’t get what you’re proposing here. Actually choose how you play? That’s… brilliant! Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that in a BioWare game for a change?

      1. Nordicus says:

        *slaps on the wrist*

        No choice for you! Only chest-high walls!

        1. Zombie says:

          And dirty brown hallways! Unless we’re in DX:HR. Then you can have dirty, YELLOW hallways!

    8. Eleion says:

      When I was a kid I played through all of StarCraft (and Brood War) and WarCraft 3 with cheat codes. I thought the stories were fun, but actually having to try to beat the levels was never fun for me. I hadn’t made that connection with that Shamus was talking about, but yeah, it was a “skip gameplay” option, and I loved it.

      Cheat codes would probably be a better idea than a button you press to skip to the next area. Getting tired of fighting endless hordes of Darkspawn in the Deep Roads? Never fear! Turn on cheat codes to blast down waves of them with a single blow! Laugh as the game deliberately breaks itself! Then get on with the story.

      1. Infinitron says:

        I hope your family didn’t pay for those games.

        1. Eleion says:

          I borrowed them from friends, but I’m not sure I understand why that would be important.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        After reading the column cheats as a way to “skip gameplay” were exactly what I was thinking about. I know I cheated through starcraft the first time, I don’t think I ever actually finished Strife or the first Blood Rayne without cheating, I seem to remember using a trainer at some point of Devil May Cry 3…

    9. Learning25 says:

      Some games (older, I admit) have this. I remember at least 2 or 3 times in Neverwinter Nights 2, this could happen to you. The very first bandit ambush (going on the road from Backwater Nowhere to First Real Town) you can Diplomacy your way out of. Or just straight-up pay them, but that’s not really the same.

  6. Vekni says:

    The NeoNazi dinner party comment? THAT HAPPENED TO ME ONCE. I’m Jewish, fyi.

    1. Nick P. says:


  7. Rariow says:

    You know what’s ironic? She ALMOST got her wish in Mass Effect 3. Story mode is almost “Hepler Mode”. The combat becomes practically non-existent. The toughest enemies fall in one or two hits. Yet no one seems to really mind. I’m happy for the people who just want to experience a story: They can finally get almost purely story out of a videogame.

    I really don’t know why people protest. It’s not like they’d be FORCED to use it. Hell, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone play Mass Effect 3 on story mode. Sure, if you want purely story, you probably shouldn’t look to a videogame, but is it BAD in any way? No.

    However, the fact that “Hepler Mode” can even EXIST shows how the game has failed. In games, story is supposed to be part of the experience. A game is a game, and therefore, the experience is the gameplay. Therefore, the story is supposed to be knit into the gameplay, to the point that missing gameplay would make you miss out on plot as well. This isn’t exactly common. In fact, most games that have done this are considered uncommonly good (Half-Life 2 is an example that is probably well known to anyone on this site). In reality, the “gaming ideal” is that every single game should be this way.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Story mode >>>> skipping combat. Shepard has to shoot some dudes, after all. And combat and story are much better integrated in ME3 than they were before.

      1. Dasick says:

        Haha. Funny.

        Load up ME1. Go to Feros. The planet with the mind-controlled colonists. At one point you’re given a choice of exterminating them (renegade) or trying to disable them with a “harmless” knock to the head or a paralysis gas (paragon).

        And you know how you make the choice? There’s a dialogue wheel, but it doesn’t do it. You do it. Through gameplay. By shooting – or not shooting. That bit was brilliant. Paragon means means you have to wade under a hail of fire or use up a grenade (which are only replenished through enemy drops). Renegade means actually killing the shopkeepers and questgivers. At the end of it all you get a bunch of paragon/renegade points, because you can’t just ignore them.

        This is, for me, one of the few rare moments when the morality system is given the weight and implications it was meant to have. And it achieves that through context giving meaning to gameplay.

        So far as I’ve seen in ME3, there is nothing like that (to be fair, I haven’t played ME3. Mostly youtube vids, word of mouth and the demo walthrough official video. Enough to tell me this is not the franchise I’m looking for :P ). And with their “story mode”, I don’t see how they can even have a sequence like that. Because the moment God-mode is activated, a situation like this looses all tension. You’re no longer defining your character as a Paragon or a Renegade, you’re just choosing if you want the red or the blue bar full.

    2. W.D. Conine says:

      The true failure of gaming is not that we have a plausible skip, giving people multiple styles of play with the same narrative should be explored to a greater extent, but the fact that “dialog” and “choices” aren’t considered to be gameplay and can’t sustain a AAA game is.

      It’s sad to see how far gaming has come yet so very, very far we have to go. It is depressing that we can’t have a game without action (in terms of AAA titles) but story shouldn’t have to be integrated into action. That’s good for action games, they have and are going to continue to come a very long way, but that’s not the root of the problem.

      The root of the problem is that we can only make action games for big publishers. We shouldn’t be pandering to this singular idea, we should be trying to gain acceptance of other genres.

      1. Infinitron says:

        the fact that “dialog” and “choices” aren't considered to be gameplay and can't sustain a AAA game is

        “Market realities”, my friend.

        First they came for the turn-based tactical combat,
        and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a grognard.
        Then they came for the stats,
        and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t like math.
        Then they came for the PC-style window and icon-based GUIs,
        and I didn’t speak out because I was a console gamer.
        Then they came for the choices and consequences,
        and I didn’t speak out because I liked seeing everything on my first playthrough.
        Then they came for the dialogue and story
        and there was no one left to speak out for me.

        Supporting good developers via Kickstarter is our only way out.

        1. krellen says:

          As a grognard PC gamer that likes math and multiple playthroughs: thanks for nothing, man. ;)

        2. Mogatrat says:

          please don’t compare your gaming preferences to the Holocaust, thanks

          1. Ramsus says:

            Please don’t impinge on freedom of expression, thanks. =P

            (I’m just pulling your leg here, countering your hot button topic with another. Seriously though, it wasn’t done tastelessly and “because someone did this about X issue” does not mean nobody should ever be allowed to do it about any other issues ever.)

            1. Mogatrat says:

              why do I have to explain so often on the Internet that criticism does not equal censorship/impingement on your FREE SPEACH
              and any use of that quote that does not directly relate to actual oppression is pretty damn tasteless man
              it’s your gaming preferences ffs get some bloody perspective and don’t appropriate stuff that actually matters
              also to the dude below: “to compare is to remember” no actually in this case to compare is to diminish because you’re undercutting the actual severity of the Holocaust by comparing it to “CONSOLIZATION CASUALS WAAAAAAAAAAH”

              1. Shamus says:

                It’s a metaphor. People build metaphors using rape, murder, infanticide, genocide, torture, war, slavery, and political imprisonment BECAUSE these things are horrifying. This is a natural feature of language and human interaction. Are you saying these things should NEVER be used in metaphor? Or is there some threshold of awfulness that must be crossed?

                There are times when the comparison comes off as crass or tasteless. For me it’s when the victims themselves are the punchline, and not the comparison.

                1. Mogatrat says:

                  See this passes the “crass” line for me, simply because it is a thing of such little consequence that comparing it to the Holocaust or even just using the saying suggests a deep failing of your priorities.

                  Also people should not build metaphors with rape because it leads to rank idiocy like calling beating the opposing team in a video game “rape”, which completely diminishes the seriousness of the actual crime.

                  Unless actual oppression and pain is being caused by the thing, you don’t compare rape or genocide to that thing, because it dimishes the seriousness of rape and genocide and helps us to FORGET the horror, not remember it, because lol I totally raped that guy in Halo!

                  It’s about priorities and showing respect to the actual victims of these crimes. No one was killed because a game had shitty writing. No lives were destroyed. It’s about normalizing shit that shouldn’t be normalized.

                  Really, do you think a Holocaust survivor or a rape victim would not be offended by your comparison? Always consider that.

                  e: also do not explain metaphor to me like I’m five, come on Shamus

                  ee: also, seriously? the idea is that I should clamour and complain and insist that games that I don’t like get made? why should I waste my time with that? Like, I was focused on the Holocaust analogy, but the argument itself makes no sense. The people who don’t like your style of gaming have no investment in your games, only in where they overlap. No FPS gamer like me is gonna give much of a crap about the lack of tactical turn-based combat games, and there’s no reason to add our voice to those of the people who ACTUALLY care. We can both agree on STORY and other elements that overlap between genres, but asking people to yell at publishers over games they don’t even like is just really silly.

                  eee: also the comparison doesn’t even remotely work because it’s not like the other gamers are DYING, they’re still around and most likely still complaining. so it’s a tasteless AND wrong analogy. I’m writing about this far more than I need to.

                  eeee: also is he seriously trying to imply that all the dialog and story will magically vanish? anfsajflalaflka I don’t understand why he thought this was a good thing to post and I don’t understand why you’re defending it

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Ok, so rape and genocide are off-limits, but murder, torture, slavery, and war are okay? Do those victims not count?

                    I propose that another person might come in here and have a completely different set of priorities. A survivor of war or a former slave might think those are no-no subjects for the building of metaphors and analogies. How serious does the crime need to be? If someone robs my house can I compare it to one of these crimes?

                    The reason I’m giving you a hard time here is that you’re drawing a very arbitrary line and making very absolute statements about what can and can’t be said. I agree that many time rape and holocaust analogies are crass and disrespectful, and the practice of using rape as a synonym for “victory” (as in your Halo example) is truly disgusting. But you’re not laying down any principles for others to consider. You’re assuming everyone else has the same valuation of crimes that you do, without giving them any reason to accept your valuation.

                    1. Mogatrat says:

                      Okay, when the hell did I say that slavery, war, torture and murder were appropriate for anything and everything because I definitely. Definitely don’t remember typing it.

                      No, you don’t get to compare someone robbing your house to rape without being called out on it. Not slavery, not genocide, not war or murder. This is not an ‘arbitrary line’, this is simple consideration of priorities and appropriateness. If the level of harm is comparable, then go ahead and compare it. But let’s take, for example, politicians insistence on rhetoric rooted in violence and war – like that lovely map Palin had up a while back with crosshairs over opponents. That’s damaging. It encourages and normalizes violence and war without taking into consideration how an ideological battle is not even remotely the same as a physical one.

                      Or like when someone says “They MURDERED Indiana Jones with the fourth movie!” Well, let’s see. That movie have family and friends mourning the loss of someone important to them? That movie a physical, living, breathing person? Well, no, and it’s stupid hyperbole.

                      Or when the anti-abortion campaigners compare the higher black abortion rate to slavery (and even diminish slavery by claiming abortion has a higher bodycount).

                      It’s not just that these things are insensitive, they’re also the LAZIEST goddamn metaphors as well as reducing the impact of the things they’re comparing. Thinking of war, rape, genocide, murder and torture as nebulous “bad things” that can be compared to anything makes them seem less horrible than they really are. It’s lazy writing! Instead of thinking up a proper comparison or make their case stand on its own, they resort to a crappy allusion to something that everyone ‘understands’ in the same nebulous and vague way because that’s the way the language has evolved, and it SUCKS. It’s like Newspeak in 1984 – constant use of these analogies actually reduces our ability to think critically.

                      If you want to get a further sense of where I’m coming from here, take a gander over at George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”. Obviously it’s focused on politics, but the points he make can be easily applied to an average conversation. Think about what you say, how appropriate it is, how well-thought-out the argument is, and whether the comparison actually works.

                      This is not me saying you CAN’T say these things – the comparisons ARE sometimes appropriate. But you have to CONSIDER and THINK THROUGH what you write, or risk being called out on your lazy and insensitive writing. Don’t act like I’m trying to censor anyone, but I AM going to call out problematic stuff. That’s what free speech is about- having a goddamn dialog, not “I should be able to say anything I please and not be criticized for it.”

                      E: nice, instead of arguing the issue at hand, complain about one of the examples I chose and then stop me from responding. bravo fight the fight against censorship my brah

                    2. Shamus says:

                      Wow. You just keep turning up the heat. You’re angry and demanding. Now you’re bringing abortion into this? That’s not a common point around which we can all rally, that’s an even MORE divisive subject that will further fragment this debate. How can you not understand this?

                      Fine. Topic closed. This goes for everyone.

          2. Newbie says:

            He didn’t. He referenced a piece of literature that makes a very poignant reminder of how failing to help other people can lead to no one helping you which is not only noted historically by the Holocaust.

            Even if he had compared them, the difference is still there to be seen, it’s not like he said they were actually the same. Plus to compare is to remember and we should always remember such a dark day in human history.

            Basically: What is your problem?

          3. Infinitron says:

            האמת שמותר לי

      2. Dasick says:

        the fact that “dialog” and “choices” aren't considered to be gameplay and can't sustain a AAA game

        That’s cause as far as “gameplay” goes, dialogue and choices are still stuck in the caveman ages of “choose-your-own-adventure book” and “finite state machine”, respectively.

        Yes, games in the past have done it wonderfully (fallout, torment). But those games themselves were simplistic by today’s standards, and what’s more, they were built up using simplistic systems and models. These kinds of games are awesome on the macro scale, as a sum of it’s parts. Gamers today are obsessed with the microscopic scale, seeing as many details as possible, over simulating as much as possible for a few core mechanics.

        1. Hyth says:

          The goal is noble, but improving dialogue is a remarkable problem. Do you have any workable ideas, or even a general feel for what you would like to see? Ideally things that don’t require a Turing-proof AI.

    3. chiefnewo says:

      I’d love a cutscene skip in Half-Life 2. Replaying it is irritating when you have to sit through Barney and the whatshisface scientist blather on about stupid stuff. You can only amuse yourself for so long trying to balance pot plants on their heads. Locking you into a small room is the same as locking your controls as far as I’m concerned.

  8. SoldierGeek says:

    I like the idea, and I’m surprised it get so much hate. Yeah, I know in Geekdom we like pointing out *bad*wrong*fun* when someone else is “doing it wrong” but come one, grow up already.

    It obviously doesn’t work for a lot of game types, but for the in-depth RPGs, I can see attracting a lot more players who are really there for the story this way. Enable a mode and give them a “win” button to hit to cause all of their opponents to drop dead once an unavoidable combat starts (combats *should* be avoidable through other means in a well-designed RPG, but that’s a whole other story). They still get the joy of looting if the game is built around it, but can otherwise skip past the combat to what is the good stuff for them.

    Heck, I usually skip cutscenes on replay; how is this any different?

    And you know, maybe this sort of mode would help reveal to developers when their game storylines don’t hang together too well …

    1. chiefnewo says:

      I think the whole Hepler issue was part of the backlash against Dragon Age II’s mediocre gameplay, a story that fell apart if you looked at it too closely and tended to be advanced by characters being idiots, and the one dungeon issue. People were out for blood and seeing Hepler say that she wasn’t a big fan of playing games was used as a scapegoat for the game’s problems. Combine that with an unhealthy dose of latent sexism and the drama explodes from there.

      Personally my initial knee-jerk reaction to a story only mode is “well why are you playing games in the first place?” but at the end of the day it doesn’t really effect me.

  9. Chris Headley says:

    I think raging on the internet is amazingly simple but I do agree I have watched cutscenes on youtube because I hated the gameplay,so a way to skip cutscenes or combat to tailor your entertainment experience I think is a fine move where it makes sense.

  10. Ira says:

    I thought Crystal Prison Zone handled the Hepler issue fairly well. The problem is that you actually have two different games: one of RPG combat (which, judging from responses, is often boring), and one that’s a mediocre visual novel. The skip button is for people who want to play one game but not the other.

    I think it goes without saying that ideally no one would ever habitually use a button like that. It defeats the purpose of a game as a work of art, and no game should be so schizophrenic. There was a large negative reaction to Hepler, I think, for the fairly obvious reason that here was a person fairly high up in the games industry displaying an active antipathy for playing games, and that’s not a mentality we want in game writers. (This is, if anything, a larger criticism of BioWare than of Hepler herself.)

    However, skip buttons used to be around fairly often. We called them cheats or cheat codes. It’s a shame not to have them any more, to be honest. The effect of them was to put power over the game into the hands of the player, and that’s okay. Now, it is true that, as much as the story was good, someone who uses the level skip cheat every single stage in StarCraft, in order to experience the entire plot without having to sully his or her hands with gameplay, is completely missing the point of the game. That said, though, I used those cheats sometimes: after reinstalling the game, for instance, to skip up to the mission I wanted to play. The effect of the cheat was to give me additional control over the game experience, and I’m entirely okay with that.

    So my solution? Put cheats back in. Players liked having cheats: they won’t complain, and Hepler has her silly anti-gameplay button. Then, you have to go and do the difficult, important work, which is this: stop making mechanically schizophrenic games, give combat more variety and depth and make it more fun, and tie narrative and gameplay together. There is a serious design challenge here. That challenge concerns me a lot more than the silly ‘I want to be able to skip the game!’ controversy. Why do people want to skip the game, and what can we do about it?

    1. Destrustor says:

      In starcraft, I always tried my best to complete the mission honestly and only used the cheats to become invincible at the last second before losing.
      That way I could still say I at least tried. I got the story without so much of the guilt.

      1. Blake says:

        Yeah I certainly did the same with the Warcraft/Starcraft games when I was younger.

        Especially ‘hold the base for an hour or so’ type levels, they weren’t what I enjoyed, they took about 45 minutes to fail, and I couldn’t finish the story without them.

        God mode worked well in those cases.

  11. Even says:

    Thought you should know, that the whole Hepler thing didn’t really start at Reddit.


    The video is what it is, but I haven’t seen any other source to actually document what happened before the whole “Hating on Hepler” became popular.

    1. Johan says:

      This video gets to the heart of one of my problems with the “skippible combat/skippable dialogue” ideas, that on a technical level it seems highly probably that this will just lead to combat and story being cordoned off so that neither interacts with the other, for if they do interact, than the ability to skip one or the other goes haywire.

      We already gripe about how story and combat seem so diverged in recent years, there is nothing logically wrong to suggest that there COULD be a way to skip one or the other, without damaging the integrity of the game and without making it so that people who play both really feel like they’re playing 2 different games, but on a practical level that seems to be the path of least resistance, and the one that will be most likely taken by a company wanting to go this route. And from what I’ve read about ME3, that is essentially what happened there, story is what you do in between combat, and combat is what breaks apart the story.

      1. Ingvar says:

        This video gets to the heart of one of my problems with the “skippible combat/skippable dialogue” ideas, that on a technical level it seems highly probably that this will just lead to combat and story being cordoned off so that neither interacts with the other, for if they do interact, than the ability to skip one or the other goes haywire.

        If the combat and non-combat parts of the game interact, skipping one could simply take some sort of “middle road” or “pre-assigned default”. Technically, shouldn’t be TOO hard. But it does mean that you’re not getting the full range of the game. I don’t relaly have a problem with “you skip stuff, you may not get the full experience” though.

        1. Johan says:

          “I don't relaly have a problem with “you skip stuff, you may not get the full experience” though.”

          What I’m saying is that it seems very likely that, in order to make things easier for the devs, this mode will mean EVERYONE misses out because the gameplay and story must be tightly separated.

          1. some random dood says:

            (Johan) “What I'm saying is that it seems very likely that, in order to make things easier for the devs, this mode will mean EVERYONE misses out because the gameplay and story must be tightly separated.”
            Sadly, you are probably correct (that’s even if devs even make any attempt at this). It doesn’t have to be that way though.
            If it’s a combat-oriented game, provide less enemies that are a lot simpler to kill (while beefing up the protagonist). For the hardcore game-wankers who boast that “even the hard mode was far too easy”, well, there are achievements to let the world to see how talented they are, so that is a way that they can be catered for without even having to change anything from the current system. Alternatively, let the player become the “wing-man” supporting an NPC death machine (can’t imagine too many Mass Effect RPGers would be upset at Garrus taking the majority of kills, or Wrex [as an aside, Tali pretty much did that for me one playthrough in ME1 after I upped her skill in shotgun and let her have fun with rampage! Was fun when I pulled an enemy from cover, for Tali to promptly boom into the far distance]).
            If it’s an RPG-style game, then others have already covered ways that combat can be worked around. Stealth, speech checks, speech combat (Deus Ex: HR, Monkey Island!), bribery, favours, duplicity, reputation (now there’s a thought for a game – a roleplayer where you find ways to boost your reputation as a bad-ass so that no-one ever dares fight you. You manage to cheat/lie/steal/bribe/romance/bromance your way through the game becoming the ultimate feared character that no-one will dare mess with, but without actually killing anyone), etc!
            Anyway, enough of the side-tracking, any of these ways would still allow the story to be weaved in through the game without you having to be twitch-fingered. Unfortunately, it would be more expensive to develop, and even more unfortunately does not seem to be seen to cater for the majority of gamers that publishing houses target, so is unlikely to happen. Which is a pity, because although the present core audience represents a multi-billion-dollar industry, can you imagine the potential audience available if they start drawing in people who are not twitch gamers, and want to be able to be involved in a story? Compare the number of people who watch movies or TV to the number of gamers – this is the size of the audience (potential purchasers) that the studios are leaving behind.

    2. CalDazar says:

      “The video is what it is”
      That’s a polite way to put “trolling”, I think I’ll use that.

      1. Cody211282 says:

        I don’t see how it’s trolling, the guy made a decent point.

        It was a good video for people who didn’t understand one side of the story.

        1. CalDazar says:

          Spekaing as somebody who watched 4chan and other froums in the months before during and after this incident and does understand the other side, there isn’t much to it.

      2. Even says:

        He still managed to make it somewhat informative, which is about the only reason I linked to it. For lack of a more neutral source, it’s the best I know of. I’ve personally only witnessed the thing happen from around when Dragon Age 2 came out.

    3. Infinitron says:

      That is an excellent video. Thanks for making me aware of it.

    4. James says:

      Don’t watch this video. It’s awful, one-sided and short-sighted.

      For example, this video says that if you are insulted by the misogynistic and sexist insults and slander levelled against Hepler, then you are “immature”. I really don’t think that I need to say any more about it.

      1. Infinitron says:

        Who really gives a shit about the insults, though? People get insulted and trolled on the Internet every day.
        We’re here to talk about gaming.

        1. Raygereio says:

          And gaming is serious business.

          Serously though, the personal insults slung towards BioWare employees are an issue because they draw attention away from the actual points that are being made and they allow the “other side” to wave away all criticism as comming from misogynistic dipshits.

          Getting worked up about it as a reaction to it really is immature though.

          1. Decius says:

            Objecting to hateful, hurtful, and demonstrably injurious actions is one of the most mature things one can do.

            1. Raygereio says:

              Reacting profesionally is indeed the mature – heck, the only proper – way to deal with insults.
              To bad that’s not what BioWare did.

            2. LunaticFringe says:

              Objections handled in a mature fashion are indeed a good idea, but Bioware and several of their employees have failed to do so. Hepler’s ‘they’re jealous that I have a job in gaming and a vagina’ is such an inane, baiting response that I can’t really say she handled herself professionally.

    5. HBOrrgg says:

      He was doing well until he started committing some of those same crimes. in particular: “She is clearly a fangirl because she likes the LOTR movies over the books.”

      Yes, “I understand this person’s train of thought completely because she disagrees with me” is always compelling evidence.

  12. Zaghadka says:

    Anyone else with mild dyslexia read that one as “Helper mode?” As for the Internet bile, nothing surprises me any more.

    I think skipping combat would be fine. Combat in Bioware games tends to be pretty awful. Ever play Jade Empire? The biggest problem is that without all that action-game padding, the stories can start to look pretty shallow, too.

    In closing, I hate Carth O’Nassi. I want an option to kill/maroon/space/not invite my teammates if they annoy me, and replace them with “Biff the Understudy.” He was an idea they should have expanded upon, not eliminated.

    1. GiantRaven says:

      ‘Anyone else with mild dyslexia read that one as “Helper mode?”’

      Nah. I’ve seen a lot of people, myself included, making the same mistake.

      1. Irridium says:

        Same here.

        1. Destrustor says:

          I don’t even think you need any amount of dyslexia to make that mistake. Just read a little too fast.

      2. burningdragoon says:

        The opposite really. When I first saw the article I was like “Hepler? Did someone misspell Helper… oh wait that’s the name of the skipping combat person, gotcha”

        Ooops hit reply to the wrong person, but I think you can handle it

  13. Mari says:

    I “play” a lot of games via the hubs just as he occasionally “plays” games via me. GTA was one of the games he played for me. I was vaguely interested in the story but I find the missions in many of the GTA games to be garbage. They give me an objective. The simplest way to achieve the objective is to shoot the guy standing 10 feet from me in the face so I do so. “Mission Failed!” the game announces. “Game failed,” I mutter as I toss the controller. So instead of dealing with Rockstar’s logic, which is occasionally worthy of Roberta Williams, I sat back and let the hubby do the driving. I like to think of it as “cooperative single-player” mode ;-) I give him helpful suggestions like, “Hey, it would be really funny if you mowed down that pack of pedestrians over there” and he helpfully lets me enjoy the wacky hijinks that ensue. So, yeah, I love “Helper Mode.”

    1. some random dood says:

      Yeah, used to like watching others play. Unfortunately had to move due to job (as in, to get one), so no longer in that position. Luckily, have the Spoiler Warning crew providing at least some of that fun :-)

    2. Destrustor says:

      In my case, it’s my younger brother. Way more apt at games that require reflexes and that neat hand-eye coordination thing. Hell, sometimes I enjoy games without ever actually playing them.
      He’s the one who got me past Barret in deus ex: HR before I learned hilarious ways to cheat those bosses on this very site.

  14. Eärlindor says:

    Somehow, I feel silly for having never considered this idea.

  15. Alan says:

    A good article, and I particularly loved the phrase “BioWare Paragon Doormat / Renegade Jerkface based decision making.”

  16. Eyeball says:

    I don’t know how much of SWTOR or DA:O she wrote, but I actually kind of liked the writing in those games (haven’t played DA2.) Origins wasn’t Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination, but it had characters that I still remember all this time later, and I thought most of the origin stories were top notch. I played a few characters up to level 15 during TOR’s free weekend, and those origin stories actually tempted me to buy the game just to see where they went with them even though I burned out on MMOs a long time ago.

    Let me see if I can say this they way I want to: Ideally, it seems to me like writers should be in more of a management/directorial position in game development rather than just being something that exists off to the side. I’d like to see world design, game mechanics, plot, characterization, and story all fully integrated rather than seeming like they were built separately and glued together at the end. I think DE:HR managed to do it that way, boss fights notwithstanding of course. I don’t know how many people there are in the industry that that have the skill set to write a coherent narrative and act as a project director at the same time, but I still think it is just a matter of management and organization at the higher levels.

  17. Dante says:

    And now, you guys get to hear something that I love to bring up.

    Morrowind vs Oblivion in terms of quest difficulty via directions.

    Now, for those of us that remember playing older RPGs like Morrowind, when we were given directions to go to a quest point and do whatever, we were given directions….typically vague directions. We were told to “go west til you hit the river, then north, where you find the cave to kill the thing/get the item/deal with the npc. If you see the swamps, you’ve gone too far” and most of the time, we didn’t even get the “gone too far part”. Once we got to the place we needed to go (after getting lost at least once and finding several locations we didn’t know about on our way there), we knew that the item/creature/npc we wanted was there, but not exactly where (unless the quest giver was really generous with info). So we would wander around, fight things we didn’t need to, get items we didn’t need, and deal with npcs we couldn’t give a toss less about, til we found what we needed to complete the quest.

    Oblivion gave us directions….and map markers. Not just map markers, but map makers that told us EXACTLY where to go. No exploring, no faffing about, just point A to point B. Now, this did make things quicker and easier….but it made it QUICKER and EASIER. It was one of the major problems that I’ve had with these games (Oblivion, F3, FNV, I haven’t played Skyrim yet but I’d think the same system would be in there).

    I understand having a system that makes it easy for a player to navigate the world, or a system that makes beating a game easier, but it should be used sparingly or not at all, because anything that takes the challenge out of a game is a game not worth playing.

    1. Eyeball says:

      You aren’t the first person I’ve seen holding this particular opinion, but I absolutely abhorred trying to get around in Morrowind. I consider the quest tracker to be one of the gameplay changes that was absolutely necessary, while to auto-leveling of content was one that was botched. I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I do think that Oblivion, FO3, FO:NV and Skyrim would probably have a lot fewer players if they didn’t have the quest-marker feature. Even with it I still find a lot of that accidental/incidental exploration stuff, and you can always turn it off just by unselecting the quest in your journal.

      1. Destrustor says:

        In morrowind, I just often went on random exploring trips, collecting any and all unusual items on my way.
        This gave me the double advantage of having intimate knowledge of the game’s topography, as well as often having the questgiver’s desired item just laying around in my house or on my very person. In the few cases where I didn’t already have the item, I usually found it easy enough to get to where it was because I can find my way around Vvardenfell better than I can navigate my hometown.

        So for some people, quest markers are not ultimately necessary.

        1. Infinitron says:

          This. Immerse yourself in the setting, people. Games are not “Point A to Point B walking simulators”.

          1. Blake says:

            Meh, exploration is for people that have time on their hands.

            1. Infinitron says:

              In that case I’d recommend not playing a sandbox game in the first place.

    2. bit says:

      But aren’t the exact quest markers not necessarily taking away challenge, just adding more options? That is, the option to screw around and explore OR plow straight through a quest, rather than semi-forcing one to get the other?

      My first-had sandbox RPG knowledge is unfortunately limited to New Vegas, but insofar as I can tell, these types of games are more about giving player agency than strict player challenge. And hey, it’s not like it’s limiting your ability to explore, or the rewards garnered thereof. It’s just giving you another option.

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        The problem with map markers as the default option is that the devs build the game assuming they’re on. This means the directions you get are usually pretty vague and thus often aren’t sufficient to play without the markers, they’re just there to justify the PC’s divination power throwing up an arrow.
        Whereas in Morrowind, if the directions are bad, it’s because the questgiver’s bad at giving directions, as often happens when asking directions in real life. The directions are always an honest attempt to tell you, the player, where you need to go, rather than to justify the PC knowing it.

        This is the main problem with helpful extras, they become the standard, easy way to solve a problem and effort isn’t spent on, say, giving better directions, or implementing a system where a questgiver can draw a map or local landmark and you put that pic in your inventory/questlog. The player can skip past the combat rather than the world being open enough to go round, or find a natural bypass like a security pass or killphrase, or make a tactical minigame where you’re given a description of the combat setting and choose three companions to send in, with you being kept in touch by radio to deal with any dialogue.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          This means the directions you get are usually pretty vague and thus often aren't sufficient to play without the markers, they're just there to justify the PC's divination power throwing up an arrow.
          Whereas in Morrowind, if the directions are bad, it's because the questgiver's bad at giving directions, as often happens when asking directions in real life.

          Oh come on, that’s utter tosh. “I hate game A so X is because the devs suck, I love game B so the exact same X is because it’s immersive and clever”. If Morrowind npc gives you useless directions, it’s because the writer for that npc gave useless directions, end of story. It’s not a character being realistic, it’s just the player getting screwed over, just like with oblivions “directions”.

          1. Nidokoenig says:

            “That dozy sod gave me bad directions” is not the same as “I got no directions, so I’ll just follow this magic arrow”.

            Morrowind’s sucky directions had to pass QA as the primary means of the player getting to the location. They suck, but they are a deliberate and conscious attempt to impart information. In, for example, Fallout 3, you’re often just told the name of the location you need to go to, without even a compass direction to help you, the job of imparting that information has been offloaded onto the quest arrow. It’s a different kind of suck, and one that harms immersion, regardless of writer intent.

            1. Syal says:

              “Morrowind's sucky directions had to pass QA as the primary means of the player getting to the location.”

              They have the Soul Trap bug, and the inability to heal boosted stats. This is Bethesda; their QA doesn’t have that kind of pull.

              (Plus “that crazy sod gave me bad directions” breaks immersion worse than map markers when you realize you’re going to talk to them three more times.)

              1. Destrustor says:

                When you say soul trap bug, you mean the one where you can get infinite, permanent boosts to your stats, or the one where you can get at least three copies of the same soul by soultrapping it by hand, scroll and magic weapon all at once before killing the enemy?
                Or just the fact that the info pop-up when you trap a soul says “your have trapped a soul”?
                Bethesda really needs more QA.

            2. hewhosaysfish says:

              Sure getting bad directions is more “realistic” but when the only viable response to bad directions to to go hiking in the mountains for several days then that’s *unrealistic*.
              That’s not adding realism, it’s just moving it from one place to another.

              In Morrowind, whenever I was given those vague and crappy directions I wanted to ask for clarification on the points I was unsure about but there was never a dialog option for that.

              When I got to a town nearer my intended destination I would want to ask someone there if they new the place I was headed. There was never a dialog option for that either.

              After I’d wandered around lost in the mountains for an hour or so, I would go back to the quest giver and ask them to give me the directions again. I would want to ask “Hey, I wound up somewhere near these Dwemer ruins overlooking a bay; do you know where I took the wrong turn?” but guess what: no dialog option for that.

              I would want to pull out my map and say “Could you point the place out for me?” but I couldn’t. Maybe the map on my HUD is an abstration rather than an in-game object… in which case I would like to buy a goddamn map.

              1. Decius says:

                Having several navigation options would be better. I liked the idea of directions, but would prefer if the NPC could also create a map note where he thought the destination was. Magic compasses are a way of refusing to consider navigation part of gameplay.

              2. Destrustor says:

                Sometimes they did mark it on the map. But since the map was pretty crappy, it often resulted in a measly little square on the map with no other information. You had to know which one had just appeared out of nowhere because they were all identical.

      2. Dante says:

        The problem is that by giving specific quest markers, most people don’t explore. There’s a whole bunch of mountain paths in the northwest of the map on FNV that lead from Red Rock Canyon all the way to Jacobstown, but its not marked and there’s no quests that specifically take you out that way. This causes most people to miss that area completely unless you’re going for the challenge of finding all map marker locations.

    3. Daniel says:

      “because anything that takes the challenge out of a game is a game not worth playing”

      To you. Not everyone enjoys difficulty in games. I absolutely hated playing Quake (single player) back in the day, until I turned on god mode and walked through the game. With that cheat on, I had a blast just playing the levels without fear of death or having to play sections of the game over and over again.

      I think the main idea is options. Me having the option to use a map marker to find the next objective in a single player game does not take anything away from your enjoyment of said game. I should have the option to use it, just like you should have the option to not use it.

      We should all be able to enjoy games the way we see fit.

    4. Axle says:

      The reason I stopped playing Morrowind, not too long after starting, is that I always got lost and rarely found the objective my quests. I found myself wasting my time in fruitlessly searching whatever I was looking form until I got bored and quit.

      I’m rather thankful for the map markers, and I don’t find them too much immersion breaking or challenge destroying. Mainly because I consider getting lost a design fail and not a challenge.

    5. HBOrrgg says:

      You can turn them off, and indeed a number of the quests in Skyrim work best if you leave them off (though the fact that you don’t really know which is which until you’ve played through them once is probably a design flaw). Eventually in Skyrim I wound up leaving the markers off for the most part, only turning them on when I felt I was close enough (ie ok, I’m in the town, lets assume I was able to ask around and figure out where this building is or where this NPC is hanging out) or when it became apparent that I had missed whatever quest item after completing a dungeon and I didn’t want to go around pixel hunting for the dagger that fell in a dark corner.

  18. CalDazar says:

    It’s a fine suggestion. It of course doesn’t work in games like Halo, but since she said it was for games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Deus Ex I think that would be great. My favorite part of Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines was talking, exploring and such. If I could have had a way to skip the combat of some areas I would have. A big problem with the ending was that it forced you to do a lot of fighting, if you could skip combat the way you can skip the driving in LA Noir that would be an improvement.

    I think it’s more than a little sad how that comment thread has gone. At best people are using a slippery slope, many are just using this as another change to prove what dicks they are.

    1. GiantRaven says:

      You can skip the combat and driving in LA Noire.

      1. CalDazar says:

        Wait, can you outright skip the shooting parts of the game (like the driving) rather than just fail a few times and then be given a skip option?
        How did I miss that?

  19. Astor says:

    All I can say is that I agree fully. Having the option is always a plus, doesn’t matter if most people won’t use it.

    Well I can also say that sometimes the skip a battle mode can be organically incorporated into a game (at least somewhat). Human Revolution LETS YOU skip combat: you can stealth through it [boss fights? what bossfights?]. Many RPGs also allow you to “skip” combat via dialog/running/stealthing, so there may be better options than just pressing a button. Would Hepler and likeminded people consider that a “fight” too? Possibly. Possibly not.

    I also remembered Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis which let you play in “action” mode if you wanted some fights. Anachronox let you skip some arcade parts. So I’m pretty sure if we dig we’ll find skipping fights is not even new.

    1. Infinitron says:

      That was no “action mode” in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. There was a point in the game where the game’s plot branched – you could choose one of three branches. One of them was called “Fists”, and it featured more fighting than the other two. But it was emphatically not an “action mode”.

      1. Astor says:

        From the all-lnowing Wikipedia: “Early on, the player is given the choice between three different game modes, each with unique cutscenes, puzzles to solve and locations to visit: the Team Path, the Wits Path, and the Fists Path. In the Team Path, protagonist Indiana Jones is joined by his partner Sophia Hapgood who will provide support throughout the game. The Wits Path features an abundance of complex puzzles, while the Fists Path focuses heavily on action sequences and fist fighting, the latter of which is completely optional in the other two modes.

        By “action mode” I didn’t mean it turned the game from an adventure into a shooter. Just that there was a mode with more emphasis on action, which was otherwise skipable.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Those last two paragraphs mirror my sentiments on the games perfectly.I already said how games are made the wrong way when story and gameplay are separate.The reason I am skipping cutscenes is not that I dont enjoy story,but that there is nothing for me to do in them,and if I saw them already,they are just the same few seconds again.If cutscenes were done like in half life(you can do whatever you want while the setpieces come into play),Id skip far,far fewer of them,if any.But the fact that we have skippable cutscenes and that people are suggesting the same should be applied to combat just shows that most game designers still have no clue how to make games.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      If cutscenes were done like in half life, you wouldn’t skip any of them, because they were unskippable.
      And.. tbh.. some sequences were really long and grated on n-th playthroughs.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Actually there are plenty of them that you could skip.The ones that arent essential to the story,but are still nice to look at.Dog taking down that carrier in 2 for example.Or when the aliens deploy their troops in 1.

        1. Raygereio says:

          But are those really cutscenes or are those just background stuff that neat to look at but serve no purpose other then that?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Well in other games your camera gets yanked so that these can be shown to you,so Id call them cutscenes.

            1. Raygereio says:

              Sure, if your control was yanked away and you were forced to watch it, then it would indeed be a cutscene.
              But those scenes you mentioned in HL are not cutscenes – just neat events in the background; you can’t skip a cutscene if there’s not a cutscene to skip after all.

              1. Decius says:

                They are what cutscenes should be. They aren’t skippable in the same way because they aren’t viewable in the same way as “traditional” cutscenes.

                1. Indy says:

                  To me, a cutscene requires a cut or transition to be called such.

  21. Infinitron says:

    Better late than never, Shamus.

  22. czhah says:

    I agree fully. Indeed at times players themselves add an option to skip gameplay, if one doesn’t exist. For example there was a mod for Baldur’s Gate II that allowed you to skip the starting dungeon, in case you’ve already seen it like a gazillion times. Likewise there’s a mod for Dragon Age: Origins, that allows you to skip the Fade sequence in the Circle of Magi quest. Alas, there’s no “Skip boring, monotonous, chore-like combat in the Deep Roads” -mod.

  23. PhoenixUltima says:

    This isn’t a bad idea, but it’d have to be implemented just right. That is, it should be something you choose rather than the game just switching to non-challenge mode automatically, and it should be as unobtrusive as possible. Like, a “skip this level” or “remove challenge” toggle in the options would be okay. The game popping up with “would you like to switch to easy mode?” every other time you die would not (hello, God of War 2). The game just switching to easy mode after you die 5 times whether you like it or not would definitely be unacceptable.

    1. HBOrrgg says:

      Woops, posted in the wrong spot.

  24. Eric says:

    I have very mixed feelings about this.

    My big complaint with Hepler isn’t that she’s a bad writer (she is, but that doesn’t make her much different from the rest of the Mass Effect team), or that she exists primarily to write trashy fan fiction and get paid for it (although that is her role at the company). Rather, she has a poor gaming background and little to no game design ability, and has even expressed that she does not really like videogames. This is a big problem if you are making games in which narrative is a fundamental part of the design.

    Narrative in games can be communicated in all sorts of ways. Dialogue with other characters. Books and other texts in the game world. The game world itself, and change over time in the way it looks and feels. The performance of different characters’ voice actors. Level design. Game mechanics which build on each other and evolve as the game goes on. Success and failure states. Structure of the game on a macro level and progression systems. Soundtracks and audio effects. So much of this has to tie into the overarching design vision of a game in order to provide a coherent experience for players.

    In not really understanding game design, Hepler does not understand how storytelling works in game. She can write exchanges between characters, letters, notes, whatever, that’s fine, but the actual way sequences of events play out in-game (is X information communicated explicitly or implied? do we use a conversation to show Y, or can we do this in a more interactive way?) is also a huge part of storytelling that I don’t think she understands. Maybe she isn’t responsible for this (I’m sure she collaborates with game designers assigned to particular scenarios) but in that case, the design team clearly aren’t picking up the slack or doing a very good job teaching and communicating with their writers.

    This is a big issue with Mass Effect in general. Gameplay is very clearly divided into “game mode” and “story mode”, with game mode providing the meat of the mechanics and interactivity, and story mode providing the narrative dumps with little interactivity. How much more engaging would it be to make a choice by actually physically acting, or how much more poignant a character’s death would be if it could actually happen during an interactive combat encounter? By separating these portions of the gameplay, BioWare fundamentally hinder their ability to tell stories effectively within their own medium.

    And this is the crux of the problem: Mass Effect doesn’t really want to be a videogame. From the beginning, it’s been all about giving players a cinematic experience, either playing good cop or bad cop. The actual gameplay is almost incidental, but of course, BioWare make games, and you can’t release 10 hours of vaguely-interactive cutscenes – nobody would buy it, because they expect a game, not a “choose your own movie.”

    Hepler’s presence at BioWare is itself a sign that at least some of the people in charge either do not understand storytelling in games, or that BioWare are consciously uninterested in taking advantage of the medium. Either scenario is bad. It’s that attitude I object to, and the way it manifests in their games, nothing so simple or crude as a “skip gameplay” button.

    1. JPH says:

      I’d say this is a problem with most story-heavy games in general, not just Mass Effect.

    2. evileeyore says:

      “The actual gameplay is almost incidental, but of course, BioWare make games, and you can't release 10 hours of vaguely-interactive cutscenes ““ nobody would buy it, because they expect a game, not a “choose your own movie.” ”

      I’d buy a choose your movie if it weren’t priced like a tripe-A title. You know, like Sam and Max or the upcoming Walking Dead game…

    3. Dude says:

      Heavy Rain sold buckets, didn’t it? It was pretty much this.

    4. Decius says:

      So, you have no objections to the Hepler Proposal, only personal issues against Hepler and an elitist attitude toward nongamers?

      1. Lavallin says:

        That’s not how I read it at all.

        Imagine an analogous situation in a film studio, where a big-name writer proposes that all future releases on DVD/Blu-ray have the fight scenes delineated by chapter marks, so that you can easily skip through them. Not everyone likes fight scenes, right?

        The fact is, however, you can put exposition into fight scenes. For instance, look at The Matrix; in the dojo scene, you can see Neo visibly growing in confidence and power. This effect would be visible even without dialogue.

        By artificially and arbitrarily declaring “no storytelling is happening in these segments”, I believe that Ms Hepler is either missing an opportunity, or choosing not to take an opportunity presented to her. Either case is limiting her as a writer.

        Doesn’t make her a bad person. Does mean that she’s more limited than someone prepared to be open-minded about where story is “allowed” to happen.

    5. Dasick says:

      Saved me a wall of text :)

  25. Greg Johnson says:

    It’s in fact very easy to skip the combat in Skyrim, and all Bethesda’s open-world games since Morrowind. The TGM command makes combat irrelevant and allows you to explore at whatever pace you prefer.

    1. Indy says:

      That’s Hepler Mode in action. I wish more games allowed cheats.

      I also wish cheats could be used on consoles, disabling achievement and trophy unlocking, but allowing the player to go through the single-player story.

  26. HBOrrgg says:

    If anything, the fact that Hepler Mode is possible is an indictment of the cutscene / combat / cutscene / combat / cutscene style of game design. I much prefer games where the story and combat are blended organically, so that you don’t have to stop doing one so you can start doing the other.

    Maybe instead of adding Hepler Mode, developers should make games where the story and gameplay are in harmony instead of competition. But if Hepler Mode is possible – if combat is nothing more than an obstacle between cutscenes and nothing you do in a fight will have consequences later on – then I don’t see any reason not to give players the option.

    Speaking of which, has anyone here tried Yahtzee’s new game yet? Story and gameplay are pretty well blended together (well of course they are, it’s Yahtzee Croshaw after all) and it’s also soul crushingly hard. I’m almost all the way through playing a couple of hours at a time before my hands go numb but, GAHHH it’s frustrating!
    One interesting observation so far: I’ve made a commitment to try and see this through to the end, but something tells me that if I had actually paid money for this game I would be really ticked off right now.

    Getting back to your post when you look at games like Deus Ex, Fallout, Skyrim, etc. which let you “skip combat” you are never really skipping the gameplay. Instead it is more like you are tailoring it into something you find more fun, rather than the fighting you are focusing on the stealth gameplay or the “grind up my speech skill” gameplay. Heck, even the player cheats to give himself a Kilev-re1 Gun is doing so because he thinks it’s fun to be unstoppable. I guess that like you I’m mainly concerned with the fact that she wants to skip the gameplay in the first place. Yes it illustrates a problem in story/game separation when the gameplay isn’t really adding much to the story but why does she not like the game parts in the first place? Are they too hard? Do they need more complexity? Is she just philosophically opposed to the idea of fighting? Skipping levels isn’t really a new concept, and judging by all the people outraged by the idea there are still a number of niche markets who would prefer games where you aren’t able to do that. A better lesson should be to figure out how to prevent people from wanting to skip parts of your game in the first place.

    1. HBOrrgg says:

      And just to avoid being a hypocrite I’ll add a thought on how a game like Poacher might be improved:

      I’m not really a big fan of complex precision platforming, especially for long periods of time between save points. But getting back to the idea of tailoring your experience and using your strengths to take some of the burden off of your weaknesses I was sort of bugged by the fact that you could grind and improve your combat strength by gathering more health, grenade slots, and special abilities but there is nothing like that you can do to make the platforming easier, even with a ton of health every hit is more often than not an “instant kill” when the stunlock/fly backwards effect causes you to drop to the very bottom of the jumpy puzzel. What about a special ability that lets you use a couple of grenades on solid ground to create a checkpoint which teleports you back to the platform every time you fall too far, or one that lets you rewind time Prince of Persia style to give you a couple more tries at that final jump in the sequence.

  27. Nightbringer says:

    She did write for the series that contained “the deeproads.” I mean, who can really blame someone for wanting a skip button on that marathon of boring repetitive combat.
    In fact, Dragon Age Origins in general makes it perfectly clear to me why she would have wanted this option.

  28. Raygereio says:

    “Games are about gameplay!” screams the crazed purist.
    They are!

    My main problem with the suggestion of Hepler mode is that it’s treating a symptom, not a problem. If combat itself or entire sections of gameplay are so bad that you want to skip, maybe you ought to… Oh, I don’t know… fix it as a developer so that it’s not so bad anymore?

    1. Indy says:

      But it might not be bad. A lot of people can like it and one person can hate it. But if that person could skip it, they’d probably enjoy the game a lot more than being forced to go through something they don’t like.

    2. lurkey says:

      But what if only some pieces of a game irritate you? Like, I remember in “Full Throttle”, point’n’click adventure, there was a sequence when you had to ram some cars with your car and arrow buttons got all inverted to boot. I fiddled 5 minutes with them and asked the boyfriend to do it for me. And if he hadn’t been at home, I imagine I would be mighty peeved. Cue to now, I’m playing “Anachronox”, a RPG of sorts and there’s a platformer minigame, which I naturally lose, and up pops the options: 1. Replay, 2. Pretend we won. Anachronox ♥ :-)

      Also let me express my undying, flaming hate to KOTOR’s unskippable “Shoot the tiny ships” minigames here because I so hate them forever.

    3. Shamus says:

      They are not!

      They are about fun. At least, that’s why *I* play them. And I usually don’t give a sod if someone else approves of how I do it. Do you?

      As for “fix it”. Yes, obviously that would be better. Really, I think cheat codes are my favorite solution.

      “Okay. This section has dragged on for too long, or it’s boring, or it’s too hard. I’ll just use a cheat and advance to where the game is more engaging.”

      1. rrgg says:

        They are about gameplay that facilitates fun! Be that providing a god mode option or facilitating an attempt at a speed run using only the starting pistol.

        But we also have to consider niche audiences and avoid using absolutes lest we end up like the hollywood orange and teal guy woops wait. . .


        Let me start over.

        Yes I mostly agree that having more options would help AAA games better appeal to a wider audience. But maybe something more robust than the classic “cheat codes” would be better since at the moment they are only really a major benefit to people who know enough to look them up online after they bought the wrong game. (Does Cherry Blossom Murders have cheats? Maybe you guys could finish your playthrough.)

      2. Raygereio says:

        They are about fun. At least, that's why *I* play them. And I usually don't give a sod if someone else approves of how I do it. Do you?
        I think you’re mixing up definition and goal. Games are indeed about fun. That should be their goal. A game that isn’t fun is a bad game.
        But “fun” is a bit of a crappy definition. Or are you saying that everything I do that causes me to have fun is a game? Is reading a book a game?

        A game has gameplay: that’s what makes it a game. If you take a videogame and remove all gameplay from it, you’ll end up with nothing but cutscenes: a movie.
        I’m having trouble reclassifying watching a movie as playing a game in my head.

        Now with some games you can end up with an interactive movie – akin to a visual novel. But I personally wouldn’t call that a game in most cases either. Just an interactive movie.

        A lot of people can like it and one person can hate it.
        Thing is, the examples that people have given that they would have wanted to skip are sequences that are almost universally hated. With the people that don’t actively hate it generally just tolerating it.

  29. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    What makes the difference is what gameplay you can skip. If you can skip the combat in God of War, then what’s the point?

    L.A. Noire supports my position. It’s a game in which you play a detective. Don’t want to follow people, shoot people, or drive cars? The game will let you skip those sequences after you fail a couple of times (giving you the opportunity to succeed is different from forcing you to endure). Don’t want to investigate crime scenes or interrogate suspects? Too bad! That’s the game!

    Games like Mass Effect are more nebulous, since they strike a better balance between what the game “is” and what a player might like best about it. You might like the combat a great deal but not particularly enjoy the lengthy conversations. You might really like the story but be put-off by the combat (either because you aren’t a skilled player or because you find the mechanics to be inferior to other third person shooters you’ve enjoyed) and wish you could at least occasionally pass it by. The ME3 solution–choosing your preference at the start–seems as good a compromise as any.

  30. RTBones says:

    I don’t see anything particularly egregious about having a system that does this. I -do- however think that game designers would need to be very careful in how it is implemented. I think it would have to be more than a simple ‘skip to the loot’ button. As a player, if I just slogged through some difficult fight and won, I think I would want some sort of ‘reward’ over the guys that ‘pressed the easy button.’ Doesnt have to change the story a bit, just give me a trinket that lets me say, ‘ha! I beat THAT guy!’

    I also think the whole concept could be tossed if more games actually made their gameplay and story mesh together better. We all know of and have likely experienced games in which the combat gets tedious after a while. If the combat in games actually helped to make the whole game a more cohesive experience, or there was a consistent way AROUND combat (for those that just don’t want to slog through it), you wouldn’t need an easy button.

    1. Decius says:

      You want an achievement for playing the game in a specific way? That’s what they are for. There should, of course, also be an acheivement for not skipping any cutscenes.

      1. RTBones says:

        Oddly enough, I wasnt even thinking achievement. Again, going back to the ‘no magic loot button’ – something that makes the fight meaningful.

        Personally, I would rather game designers change how they put together games (give me options, not ‘easy’ buttons). I would rather designers make the game – combat, dialog, story, cutscenes – more cohesive and meaningful, so that even if I -could- skip places, I wouldnt WANT to.

  31. Decius says:

    What’s the difference between the Hepler Proposal and the already implemented ‘tgm or iddqd?

    1. Indy says:

      Immediacy. However, you are right and both achieve the desired effect.

    2. HBOrrgg says:

      The only issue cheats and console commands bring up compared to a helper mode is the whole “I shouldn’t have to look up additional information online to play my game.” debate.

  32. Destrustor says:

    A thing I thought about while reading this, the hepler mode could be a reward of sorts.
    When I played “Star ocean: the last hope”, there came a point where I was grinding for hours to get random drops to complete the annoying MMO-style fetch quests (durr, get me ten insect legs, each insect clearly has six but you only get one leg every five monsters or so.) The game also had a bestiary where killing monsters increased your knowledge of that monster, and mastering a monster had actual gameplay advantages.
    After a while I wished there was a way to just say “Look, game, I already killed seven million of these things. They can’t even touch me anymore. I can start a fight with them, go make a sandwich and come back before my character can even feel their attacks. Could just just maybe assume that as soon as I touch them they’re dead? You even keep a tally of how many I killed, it’s not like you don’t know how much of a threat they aren’t.”
    That kind of gameplay makes me despise the game for its tediousness, myself for my stupid compulsion to “do alls of them sidequests”, and the devs for wasting my time. Just let me skip the actual combat when you see the enemies clearly have no chance to kill me. If you must insist on making me kill ten boars for just one hide, at least let me kill them quickly.
    But this could be applied to almost any RPG: when you’ve already killed twenty thousand goblins, there’s not much one can do to surprise you anymore. Just put an option to let us auto-skip enemies when we have already slain an arbitrary amount of them.
    Or you know, just increase the drop rate or something.

    1. Decius says:

      Your problem is that you are playing “kill ten ant” games, but you don’t like grinding ants.

      Play games that you like, instead.

      1. Destrustor says:

        My problem is that the kind of game I like all too easily falls in the “kill ten ants” mentality just to pad out the gameplay in order to boast about the “over X hours of play time”, and that I’m mildly obsessive about completing the sidequests just to make sure I don’t miss out on some cool gear/achievements.
        The games don’t HAVE to be that way, and often aren’t for most of their length.
        They’re basically self-inflicted torture bait, and I fall for it every time. Which is why I stay very far from WoW and the damage it could inflict on my sanity.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          WoW’s at least gotten better at it over time, but just like any other MMO you can’t avoid that sort of repetition or grind otherwise there’s no longevity. Hard for people to keep playing for months without something to do.

    2. Jeff #3 says:

      In Earthbound for the SNES, not only would weaker enemies run from you in the overworld, if the game decided that you really overpowered them you would get an instant win (with xp, items, whatever) without even dropping into the combat screen.

      I really wish more games would have kept that system around.

      1. Deadpool says:

        Wild Arms had a Migrant System. You have an upgradable bar (10-50 points). When an encounter shows up, you get an exclamation mark. If it’s red the enemy is WAY high level and you should run. You can avoid battle by spending a LOT of points (8-10). If it’s white, it is a normal enemy and you can avoid by using about 3-5 points. If it’s green, it is super low level and you can avoid for free.

        Not quite Hepler mode, but made backtracking more bearable…

  33. Anachronist says:

    I enjoy reading Shamus’s blog, but I am not a video gamer, beyond an occasional arcade game or session on the Wii Fit. The reason? I don’t enjoy combat play. And the games that are most sophisticated in their graphics rendering and physics simulations, the ones to which I would be most attracted, all seem to involve combat at some point. Sorry, not interested. Heck, I love D&D but don’t really enjoy the combat there either. I enjoy building characters, interacting, role-playing, and creating a story.

    Hepler is onto something. Providing a way to skip combat would attract more people like me to play the game. It doesn’t take anything away from a player who likes combat. But the option should be there.

    This doesn’t work is in games where combat is the only means of progression. A game should offer a challenge, not simply a way to skip to the rewards. Unfortunately, I think most game manufacturers won’t opt for the added cost and complexity of including non-combat challenges.

    1. HBOrrgg says:

      Two questions

      What is it in particular you don’t like about “combat”? Do you just not like the ways it has been presented or do you not like violence?

      Also, to what extent would you be willing to pay full price for a video game if you were planning to skip over a huge chunk of the content?

      1. Anachronist says:

        Oh, I don’t mind the violence. I can’t really put my finger on what I don’t like about combat. I know in D&D, I don’t like the way combat causes time to slow to a crawl. Role-playing occurs in real time, traveling and resting go by in a flash, but when combat comes along the game slows down to like 1/100 real time.

        A video game, which is in real time, doesn’t have this problem. But whenever I get into a combat situation in a video game, I find I don’t enjoy it. Honing my skills to move a joystick and push buttons so that I can shoot, punch, and jump just seems pointless. I lose interest real fast. Maybe I’d get into combat more in a VR environment, where I could jump around and move my limbs.

        As for paying full price for a game, if combat is the raison d’àªtre of the game, then no. I wouldn’t buy a combat game, and a combat game that lets you skip the combat is stupid, it’s still a combat game. If instead, combat was simply one of several elements of the game, then yes, I’d pay full price if I had an option to play the parts that I want to play. Exploration, chases, negotiation, solving puzzles, using strategy, commanding minions, etc. are all elements that would provide a fulfilling gaming experience if I opted to skip the combat.

        1. Dasick says:

          I recommend Portal for you. It’s a first person puzzler using physics and a device that breaks them. Look up some youtube vids, you sound like you’d enjoy it.

          As for combat being just one aspect of the game… welcome to the world of RPGs. Deus Ex: Human Revolutions has stealth and achievements for a pacifist runs. The Hepler Mode for boss fights is getting the typhoon augs/stun grenades/whatever overpowered dirty fighting technique you can come up with.

          Also, have you tried turn-based combat?

          1. Anachronist says:

            Thanks for those recommendations, I’ll check them out. I wasn’t aware of them mostly because apart from occasionally reading this blog, I’ve stopped gaming due to the combat aspect that doesn’t appeal to me.

            Turn based combat in a video game sounds like an interesting concept, depending on how it’s implemented. I haven’t looked into this; until recently I wasn’t aware that such games existed. As I mentioned in my previous reply, this type of combat slows Dungeons & Dragons to a crawl. That may have more to do with the group discussions of the multitude of combat rules. Our RPG group has spent up to a half hour in real time on 1 combat round (6 seconds of in-game time), which is maddening if you aren’t a combat character. :)

          2. Anachronist says:

            Followup: You’re right, Portal looks REALLY COOL. I wish I had a portal gun in real life. :)

        2. HBOrrgg says:

          Yeah, it can be sort of tricky to find good combat systems that are more strategic-based rather than twitch-based (heck, even rts’s have trouble with this). Especially without becoming slow paced or grindy.

          Most of the time the fun for me is just seeing how different games try to represent jumping, punching, shooting, stabbing, etc. in video game form. Then things get even more fun if, once I get a handle on the controls, I find that there’s a lot more room for strategy than I originally thought.

          1. Anachronist says:

            I agree, it’s certainly true that when you master a skill you can focus on other stuff. My problem is, I have found that as I age (I’m at least a decade older than Shamus by my reckoning), my spare time gets more precious, and I get more impatient with activities that waste it. Spending it learning how to twitch properly doesn’t bring me satisfaction, probably because I get no real-world benefit from it, as I would from problem-solving exercises. I certainly don’t fault others for enjoying combat though.

  34. Lesquille says:

    If you don’t like actually PLAYING games, you’re in the wrong medium. If you don’t like gameplay, read a book or watch a movie. I don’t agree with the trolling/harassment of Hepler, but a Skip Gameplay Button a terrible idea.

    1. JPH says:

      As Shamus pointed out, the dialogue of Mass Effect 3 is gameplay as well.

    2. lurkey says:

      It’s not “Skip gameplay”, but “Skip combat”. In many games, gameplay is not equal to combat.

      1. Zekiel says:

        Alpha Protocol being a great example. More so than (say) Mass Effect, the dialogue is gameplay. And the combat is pretty shonky. I would LOVE to play a game with the same dialogue system in which all the combat was either non-existent, or skippable.

    3. Trix2000 says:

      This argument holds little water when you consider there is no ‘Mass Effect 3 movie’, for example. Some people, myself included, really enjoy the stories told by several games and continue to play them because they want to see more.

      Personally I’m lucky I enjoy playing games as well, so the whole issue doesn’t bother me. But I have found myself doing easier difficulties just so I could go through the story easier.

    4. Deadpool says:

      What if I like a specific kind of gameplay? Like the boss fights are awesome but the mooks are boring and repetitive, like God of War? Or I like platforming but the combat is irrelevant (Prince of Persia)?

      Just seems like a narrow minded view…

    5. Shamus says:

      Missing the point. As I said in the article, there are times when too much padding just sucks the fun out of a game. Being able to skip it selectively lets you get back to the fun bits.

      (And as others have said, shopping, inventory, talking, exploring, and leveling are all non-combat gameplay.)

  35. Alan says:

    The only reason I’ve finished some games is Hepler mode, in the form of cheat modes. Cheat codes got me through the original Alice, which I enjoyed exploring and looking at the level design, but found the actual gameplay painful. Even with cheat codes I couldn’t bring myself to finish Diakatana, but it was nice to be able turn on god mode and take a quick tour of Romero’s Waterloo. Cheat codes occasionally get me past sections of games that I simply cannot beat. In their equivalents on console games, I simply give up on them and am left frustrated.

  36. Jeff says:

    I think Shamus missed what I’d consider one of the primary factors behind the predictable response – the concept of a zero-sum game in development.

    If a component of a game is ignored by a section of the market they are trying to capture, then less resources would be dedicated to that component. To those who enjoyed that component (and therefore not a part of the targeted market, but were a part of the existing market) this entirely feels like somebody is taking their franchise away from them.

    Look at Dragon Age 2’s mechanics over Dragon Age 1’s – certainly I enjoyed the dialog more (because Snarky Hawke is awesome), but we lost pretty much all the tactical mechanics – which is probably maddening to those who enjoy it.

  37. swenson says:

    If people are really so up in arms about it, can’t we compromise on unlocking a “story only” mode once you’ve beaten a game once, or at least once you’ve gotten a certain percentage through it? There are so many times, for a variety of different reasons, I really want to go back and rewatch a particular scene in a lengthy game.

    Say I want to confirm a fact in Mass Effect, but it appears only in one line in the middle of Horizon that only comes up if you’re a female Shepard who saved Ashley. Or maybe I want to confirm a bunch of facts that only come up if you’re a female Shepard who saved Ashley but killed Wrex and the Council. And once you start getting specific like that, it’s really, really hard to find a Let’s Play that covers all of them. So what can I do? I’ll tell you what I do–I go on wondering forever, because I’ve got no other options.

    That might seem like a trivial example, but it’s one of only many reasons I can think of for why someone might want to just watch non-combat bits. Because the combat sucks, like Shamus said in his article. Because you want to get through a game very quickly, while still being able to make all the choices, like if you’re, say, trying desperately to finish a playthrough of a certain space opera RPG the week before the third game comes out, and you don’t want to have to use a save editor. Because you just really like certain parts of a game and would rather be able to skip directly to them than have to replay everything before them. And the list goes on.

    1. Destrustor says:

      The “tales of (whatever)” games (at least the two I’ve played) eventualy let you re-watch any and all cutscenes, movies and skits you’ve already seen once. It’s often in optionnal, hidden areas, but it’s there.
      But it’s not like they’re all that important, though.

      Man, I have a lot to say in these comments today.

      1. Blake says:

        “If people are really so up in arms about it, can't we compromise on unlocking a “story only” mode once you've beaten a game once, or at least once you've gotten a certain percentage through it?”

        This is the opposite of solving the issue.
        There are so many games I stopped playing because of one tough section that would’ve taken a bunch of retries to get through.
        Worse are the sections too hard for certain people. In those cases they missed out on the rest of the games content because they couldn’t get through one little bit.

        God mode, super guide, older brother, they’re all a way to skip parts you don’t find fun.

    2. Ragnar says:

      No, no, no, no. No bloody unlocking. It’s equally stupid to have to play the game once on normal mode to unlock story mode as it is to have to play normal mode to be able to play it on hard mode (yes, there are games that does this and it is infuriating. I want my challenge now, not when I have already played the game and know where all the opponents are and how they behave). All modes that are in the game should be able to be played right from the start.

  38. Atarlost says:

    The stupid, it burns. Even at two removes.

    Charles Babbage’s Woolen Socks, man, this was proposed by a writer. There’s a very good reason for this.

    You have a dialog tree. Its behavior depends on what you did in other dialog trees separated from it by combat sequences. Test it. You can’t set conversation flags with the debugger because those conversation flags are part of what you’re testing. Have fun.

    Your story is nonsensical. Your QA people don’t tell you this because they can’t see the story through the bugs. If only you could throw the dialog and the storyboards for your cutscenes into the engine and give that subset of QA called editing your story in all its branching interactive glory before you actually give it to your voice actors even though the rest of the game is completely unplayable.

    You’re a writer who wants game reviewers to actually review your work on a game with a branching storyline and they can’t because the game is 30 hours long and they have 40 hours to write a review, but they could if some of them specialized in reviewing stories and could skip the gameplay, maybe working in two reviewer teams to produce a complete review. Maybe if reviewers reviewed game plots you’d get a little more budget or at least not have other departments shit on your schedule because you don’t effect review scores.

    Of course there needs to be a way to skip combat. Being unable to skip combat impacts your productivity if you’re working with noncombat game elements. This should be the most blindingly obvious thing in the world.

  39. The Rocketeer says:

    Wow, Shamus, you couldn’t have just tossed us an easy one like health care or organized religion? It’s a catfight in here.

  40. Vect says:

    I thought part of the reason for the rage against Hepler (or as her detractors call her, “Hamburger Helper”) was that she was the lead writer for Dragon Age II and dubbed responsible for all the problems with the writing in that game. Not that it means she deserved all the crap she got but there’s that.

    I also agree with the first post with how Nintendo did the whole “Skipping Gameplay” thing with their Super Guide feature well. It really wouldn’t work for other types of games but it works.

  41. Kdansky says:

    You know, instead of having a single game with two skippable parts, why don’t we have two games instead? One about shooting aliens, one about dialog and meaningful choices. Because that would make a lot more sense.

    Story does never work well with good gameplay. Evidence would be the exceptionally short list of games where Story and Gameplay are married perfectly, which encompasses exactly zero games. Planescape Torment and Bioware games have combat that’s just not up to standards set by Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy Tactics or Starcraft, and those games have superfluous story, or none at all. There is no game in existence where both halves by themselves are good enough. One always carries the other. Usually gameplay carries crappy story, sometimes story carries crappy gameplay (P:T). Sure, you can make a movie and put a game near it, but that only means that the player has no influence on the story any more, such as Amalur. The problem? We’ve ended up with a film of suboptimal quality where you have to press buttons to make the thing continue.

    All the best games (Mario, Tetris, Doom) did not have a story, because the developers realized that the game doesn’t get better if you make Mario talk smack while jumping. They don’t need a skip button for the story either. They need no story at all.

    1. Dasick says:

      I like your point, but I have to protest. There are games out there that manage to have the story and the gameplay bleed into each other, and thus create a unique experience that is impossible otherwise. If you want recent examples, the Feros (how you deal with the colonists) mission in ME1. That sequence would not be possible in a straight up action game (you are given choice which affects the story and you make the choice through gameplay) nor in a straight up story-mode (cuz you’re making choices that affect the story).

    2. lurkey says:

      Ahem. “All the best games”. Tetris ain’t even a game, it’s a bloody work, and not just any work, but a “packing boxes at the assembly line all day long, alllll dayyyyy loooooong” type work. How people are entertained by that escapes my imagination. Never played Mario, but from what I saw it’s just a platformer, so meh. Doom…okay, I give you that one.

      In short, people’s tastes in games vary just as much as in other entertainment types.

      1. Ragnar says:

        As somebody put it. Tetris is pure bureaucracy.

        “Tetris was invented exactly when and where you would expect “” in a Soviet computer lab in 1984 “” and its game play reflects this origin. The enemy in Tetris is not some identifiable villain (Donkey Kong, Mike Tyson, Carmen Sandiego) but a faceless, ceaseless, reasonless force that threatens constantly to overwhelm you, a churning production of blocks against which your only defense is a repetitive, meaningless sorting. It is bureaucracy in pure form, busywork with no aim or end, impossible to avoid or escape. And the game's final insult is that it annihilates free will. Despite its obvious futility, somehow we can't make ourselves stop rotating blocks. Tetris, like all the stupid games it spawned, forces us to choose to punish ourselves.”


    3. Ragnar says:

      You never played any adventure games? Or are you saying that the story of Gabriel Knight was detrimental to the game experience?

      Also there are games that lets you tell your own story. Games like Civilization, Dwarf Fortress, Crusader Kings.

      It’s also interesting that you forget about some of the greatest RPG:s that have character building as a core mechanic that gets you by in the world. Such as Fallout 1/2 (although I agree combat isn’t that good, combat is just a part of the gameplay).

  42. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Yes, there ought to be ways to skip minigames and combat. I spent a half-hour yesterday trying to get through an “easy” minigame that was part of an online turn-based game, and it was pretty obvious that another half-hour wasn’t going to improve things. I don’t know if it was my lack of coordination, my computer’s slowness, or server lag; but nothing I tried ever worked. I ended up having to just turn off the browser, because there was no other way to get out of the sequence.

    2. Yes, most combat/movement games are too hard to control and have too steep a learning curve. I have a friend who got a Wii and thought she was doing pretty good with it. Then she got the Lego Star Wars game, and could hardly even move around the first screen. She was a huge Star Wars fan with plenty of incentive to keep trying, but finally she just had to give up.

    And that’s the case with most games. I’m excited to play them, but they quickly become too hard for a human being who hasn’t trained on videogames of that type for the last ten years. So either you resign yourself to wasting money just to play a couple scenes out of hours, or you give all your money to the casual game industry because it doesn’t hate your reflexes.

    3. Atari didn’t do this. My home Atari joystick was simple to control. The gameplay increased in difficulty to match your skill, so every skill level had fun. I played Asteroids for hours, and my high scores were just as legitimate as anybody else’s.

  43. Ragnar says:

    For me, this rather points to there being much too few non-combat games. The adventure game genre has unfortunately fallen out of favor (even though Tim might be able to bring it back in style).

    What I would like is some kind of hybrid between a classic RPG and a classic adventure game. Take the interactive story and character building (yes, it is possible to have lots of stats not related to combat!) from RPG and the strong story from adventure games. I.e. an adventure game without a set path or an RPG without combat.

    1. Atarlost says:

      No. It is not unfortunate at all that adventure games have fallen out of style.

      Any genre where one of the stand out games you could lose by throwing the wrong object at a cat and not realize you had lost for hours is unforgivable. And not just any wrong object. The only freaking STICK in the entire freaking world. Because you’re supposed to wander off into the desert to find an old boot for throwing at cats.

      Every profanity Shamus and Josh and Rutskarn combined have uttered through the entire run of Spoiler Warning cannot contain my hatred for adventure games.

      Do not get your adventure games in my RPGs. Do not make me do moronic things dreamed up by crazy drunken people with aphasia and synesthesia to progress in a game of a genre I like.

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