The Three Hour Game

Something I’d like to see is a move to shorter games.  I find my time comes at a premium, so when I do encounter games that can be finished in an evening or two, it leaves me happy.  But it’s more than just the time requirement, it’s that when game is compressed to a short narrative, you can digest it as a whole, rather than being in the situation where after two weeks of play, the narrative references a character from the first few hours and you can’t remember why he’s important.

Of course, a lot of people don’t like games that are this short.  In fact, if I’m enjoying a game enough, I’ll often be disappointed if it comes to an end so quickly.  But my own disappointment is tempered by the fact that I enjoy not having to spend a month playing a single game in order to finish it.

However, gaming wasn’t always like this.  A lot of earlier games were built in ways which perpetuated short but repeated play sessions.  Either in the form of being difficult and limiting your ability to play (lives), or simply being so good that you were willing to replay them over and over.  My favorite example is Super Metroid, a game which I can play through, start to finish, in two hours or so.  It can be an entertaining evening to sit down and play a game from start to completion, and Super Metroid has enough room for improvement and optimization that it continues to be satisfying, even after many playthroughs.

Of course, these kinds of games weren’t heavy on narrative, and most games nowadays, short of pure sandbox games, push the narrative as their raison d’être.  However, this often results in a conflict over which is more important.  The sandbox is limited by the narrative, and then your gameplay is dictated by the same narrative.  The end result being that the narrative becomes stretched for the sake of gameplay, and the gameplay is artificially limited in service of the narrative.  Which, at the end of the day, serves neither.

I would like to see a move to shorter, more replayable games.  My ultimate game would be one which is built to be finished in a few hours, but all those development resources that would normally go in to making a game much longer would be used, instead, for branching narrative and random level generation.  You could even skip the branching narrative, and instead, just have the variety of gameplay which would let you experience the narrative with no chains on gameplay, so that each playthrough becomes rewarding simply because it plays out differently.

After all, the biggest thing which ruins playthroughs is being forced to do something that you’ve already done.  Even for a lot of the more open ended or simulation based games, it can be frustrating to have to go through a tutorial again, or deal with a part of the story that restricts your gameplay options.

Of course, the narrative issue is something else.  Not sure, yet, how we’d deal with seeing the same narrative over and over.  Branching seems the logical solution but perhaps we can step back and play with a more dynamic and procedural narrative by eschewing words in favor of more Sims-like communication.  But that will be a different post.

2 thoughts on “The Three Hour Game

  1. UncleJeet

    When I got to the end of this post, I started thinking about Groundhog Day, and how that movie is the perfect game as you’re describing it here.

    You have an open sandbox with a set of rules, a singular narrative pushing your forward and repeating throughout the day, but with each playthrough you can interact with the world differently, producing vastly different results.

    It goes back to that “simulate a city block” idea. If someone could manage to set up the “world” and throw enough rules into each character and object inside it that would reasonably interact with each other character and objects rules, you could create a Groundhog Day like game that would do everything you’re talking about.

    Short playthroughs, emergent gameplay, branching narrative, etc…

    Get on that. But no sniper globes.

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