The Secret Club

Old games were pretty simple. The mechanics of Repton, for expample worked thusly:

Arrow keys controls your lizard, rocks will fall if not supported by earth, falling rocks will kill a lizard. Monsters will hatch from eggs and kill you on contact. Keys open safes and collecting all the diamonds completes the level.

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And that’s it really. Now, on the surface this all seems great. Anyone could pick up and play Repton without too much trouble, they would probably enjoy it too. Apart from the music, which was funny to begin with and then incredibly annoying.

Many early games followed this same principle, having a very few, simple to understand mechanics. Part of this was down to the lack of complex graphics, often inaccurate or straight up poor controls and the fact that the devs were still learning about what players wanted.

I’m not saying old games like this are better than what we get today, they’re not. Modern games are empirically better than the old ones. Video gameing is one of the few artistic media in which quality is intrinsically linked with technology.

I’m not saying old games like this are better than what we get today, they’re not

Better technology, not only in graphics, but in computational power and memory allow devs to make bigger, more complex, more detailed worlds.

Another contributing factor is the control mechanism. You had to play Repton with keys only, although for me they were the nice chunky mechanical keys of a BBC Micro.

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Now, with multi-button, ergonomically designed controllers, gamers have it easy! Plus the extreme accuracy offered by mouse and keyboard for PC.

Suffice to say, the combination of huge developments in control and in the power of gaming systems means that not only are games, in general, much better but much more complex. And this brings me to my main point.

Getting deep into a game these days is like being part of a secret club. There are a series of complex, intertwining rules and regulations that govern the gameplay. Combinations of actions and events that conspire to drive you forward either in a choreographed story mode or in a levelling system.

These game devices can be obscure to the point of being esoteric. This is true in most RPGs as well as story-led and even some mobile games.

These game devices can be obscure to the point of being esoteric

The reason I wanted to write this article was after going back to The Division after a few months away from the game.

Since we last played, Ubisoft have added in new missions to encourage those still playing the ‘end game’ (the ongoing game after levelling up to the max) to continue. They were always going to lose players, but the drop from opening week to now is significant; 115k down to 22k.

So, the way to shoe-horn more hours into the game is to make the player do the same things they were doing before but just with a slightly different mechanism. Hence the HVT (High Value Target) missions.

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These missions set the players off to take down a boss in traditional fashion and the reward is Phoenix Credits. These are a form of currency that was only revealed in the end game, and you use these credits to buy loot. You get loot to increase the effectiveness of your player so you can take on more missions to get more credits, to get more loot……. and on and on and on

If it sounds complex, it is

If it sounds complex, it is.

Not only that, but even in order to play these HVT missions you need to get hold of ‘Intel’. To get hold of Intel, you need to head to specific safe houses and first enable ‘Search and Destroy’ missions. To do this, one needs to clear the area around the safe house of all other side missions. Once you’ve done this, you play out a trio of ‘Search and Destroy’ missions and then return to the safe house. During these missions and on your return home, you will gather Intel which is effectively another form of credit you then spend to ‘buy’ HVT missions back at the BOO.

So, it’s designed to engage long standing players and for us, it certainly has. I’m not saying that this convoluted system is bad, I don’t think it is. In fact, I really like the cadence of these missions. But when explained, it seems so complex and obscure that it stands to make the game highly esoteric.

This is what makes you feel like you’re part of a secret club. I know the tricks to get credits, I know the trick to unlocking this or that. Sharing this with your team online is one of the great things about games like The Division and actually, I’m all for it. However, we had a friend recently who thought he might like to join us and he logged on to watch our game and get a feel for it.

The vernacular of the game is one thing but the terms we have added ourselves within our own group make the whole experience even more impenetrable!

Within a few minutes he was extremely confused. Not just with what he saw, but what he heard. The vernacular of the game is one thing but the terms we have added ourselves within our own group make the whole experience even more impenetrable!

So, if you’re willing to invest the price of the game and then the tens or hundreds of hours required to get to the heart of the beast… Then you can join the club.

Si

MD, Editor in Chief, Editor etc etc etc of idiotgamer.co.uk Enjoys, RPGs, PES and being crap at shooters.

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