The lights are on
Power Member - Level 10
Depending on my ability to wake up, during the week I game
60-90 minutes in the morning, none on Saturday, and a 3 hour gaming session on
Sunday. Last Sunday I anticipated my
weekly 3 hour game session excited that on Friday evening I had a surprise
opportunity to game for 2 hours and I progressed in the remaining stages of
BioShock 2. As I sat down in the living
room's trusty recliner on Sunday morning I wondered how many hours I have
remaining in BioShock 2 and inwardly I groaned.
Is the grind part of the experience?
The game is not bad.
In fact on its own without the pressure of the entire BioShock franchise
pressing down BioShock 2 is a solid game with fluid controls, a detailed
environment, and (so far) an intriguing story.
Yet, a particular gameplay mechanic left me counting down the time
remaining in the game, harvesting/adopting Little Sisters.
Gaming inherently has us repeat the same mechanics over and
over for hours. Story based games are
traditionally much shorter than typical releases. Sighing out loud at the prospect of grinding
through the Little Sister sequences I decided to pursue a different game and I
searched for story over the gameplay grind.
The decision was close, I shelved Half Life 2 for until I beat BioShock
2 and I want to beat my open saves on a series of shorter titles before diving
into the JRPG Lost Odyssey. I cracked open
Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I am only a
few hours in and I hesitate to judge a game on so little but thus far I am
loving the game. Dialogue trees allows
me to shape conversations and the combat permits me deep stealth that makes me
not overly mind repeating sections with wonky combat controls.
Setting up the array of traps 6 times in one level for 3 Little Sisters to harvest twice is too much math in my gaming.
In BioShock 2, I struggle maintaining my patience when faced
with a new set of Little Sisters each level.
Each level shows how many Little Sisters are available to
adopting/harvesting and the number simply taunts me with the tedious gameplay I
have to complete. Each Little Sister
requires three fights, one to beat her original Big Daddy and two mini-horde
modes of defending her while she harvests ADAM from waves of splicers. Despite different environments requiring
different strategies for defending the position, the upcoming and multiple
protracted battles in my future made me resent the game. Each fight depleted my resources requiring
scavenging in preparation for the next fight.
Sometimes returning the Little Sister to her hidey hole triggers a Big
Sister battle at the exact moment that I have almost no resources. This gameplay mechanic became a grind that
made me apprehensive about progressing through levels.
I wondered when repetitive gameplay kept me hooked and eager
to return versus became a struggle finding the will to finish the grind.
Set Piece Moments/Level Design
We all knew exiting that worm would be a bloody mess, we just didn't know how bloody the mess would be.
As a mostly single player gamer, I play through the
campaigns of the blockbuster first person shooters when I can borrow the game
from a friend or rent the game over a weekend.
Certainly, blasting through massive set pieces is cathartic for moments
when I need to release some stress.
Looking back, I have played most of the campaigns for the Call of Duty
and Gears of War franchise. Bullets
sprayed, cars exploded, and inevitably an enemy sat atop a roof with a turret. After awhile the games merge into endless
corridors echoing with shouts and the sounds of nearby helicopters. The grind occurs when the gameplay reaches a
choke point of a seemingly never ending shootout and final victory only lands
me smack in the middle of another firefight.
Replaying the same sequences only to be out of bullets and facing a new
horde upon sweet victory is win I turn off the game because I have little
anticipation or sense of reward for my progress.
This cramped office space stalled my progress for over 30 minutes.
For example, Gears Of War 2 is well known for a level that
involves fighting throughout the innards of an impossibly humongous worm. We all know that we are not leaving this worm
in a sanitary fashion because this is a game with soldiers on steroids carrying
a gun with a chainsaw attachment that splits regular sized enemies in half. So even
when overwhelming enemies resulted in multiple attempts in beating back the
same horde (taking over turrets really helped with this problem I learned late
in the game) and poor checkpoints added to the frustration but we pushed
through for that satisfying explosive ending (it is every bit as satisfying as
the anticipation). Call Of Duty sets the
standard for the destruction of well-known international landmarks. You name it, Call Of Duty has destroyed
it. What I remember most is the initial
shock of ground fighting in modern day suburban Northern Virginia in Call Of
Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and the sequences in Alex Mason's interrogation room in
Call Of Duty: Black Ops. In COD: MW2
defending the computer network in Makarov's safe house while the files downloaded
was excruciatingly painful. Only after
several failed attempts was I able to drag my barely alive carcass out of the
house only to be dumped in the middle of a gunfight amidst a destroyed plane
yard. I turned off the game. As a note, I have played Call of Duty: Modern
Warfare 3 but my memory can hardly differentiate between the explosions and I
have not yet played the campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
New skill sets, if only real life let me cash in my experience points for a "shrewd business savvy" that results in riches.
A different grind exists in action based games. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a 3D
action/platforming game that plays homage to its franchise's 2D side scrolling
roots. Prior to Castlevania: LoS I had
never played a Castlevania game. In my
play through, Castlevania: LoS has a grind typically associated with
JRPGs. Rather than grinding level ups
through random encounters in the open world in order to bulk up a character in
preparation for a boss fight, Castlevania: LoS features levels with hidden
areas that require later game skillsets allowing the player to play through the
level again at their leisure for additional experience and missed
treasures. I progressed through this
game, not with ease, but gathering the level ups that I could and regularly
faced with death. Fighting, and
puzzling, through the levels opened up new worlds. In true JRPG fashion my imagination could not
keep pace with the new environments that presented me with worlds that left me
in awe (even if more than occasionally frustrated, I am looking at you music
box and your timed obstacle courses).
The game quickly left behind the standard supernatural fare of forest
haunts for werewolves and creepy mansions for vampires.
Gabriel better run, dodge, and jump in time with that music or he will repeat this section, more than once.
Upon facing the first real boss (boss identities are a fun
discovery) I very quickly died. Careful
and timed attacks only advanced me to the boss' second form (we all I suspect
have yelled at the television when we discover multi-stage bosses) and I swiftly
died, not for the second time either. I
was forced to replay earlier levels to advance my health/magic meters and gain
new attacks. I love gaming but my time
is limited and I was initially irritated with the required backtracking instead
wanting to progress the main game. When
I returned to the boss I did not win easily but I felt accomplished in my hard
earned victory and unlocking the next level was a reward well worth the
I see the trinket, now how do I get to it? Maybe I should shake the bloody heart like a Magic 8 Ball for an answer.
Another type of grind that can go oh so very well or mind numbingly
awful is the loot/collectible hunt.
These in-game searches are most often optional but many of us are
compelled to scour corners ferretting out these secrets if not to 100% completion
then for as long as we can withstand the repetitive grind. Dishonored provides a standard collectible
approach, whalebone charms are scattered throughout levels and when equipped
provide passive upgrades such as faster climbing or increased health from
potions or moving faster when lugging dead bodies. Dishonored's levels are open for exploration
and the bone charms reward exploration.
Richly detailed environments are great fun but more so when we have a
reason to stop and stare rather than only giving into our OCD tendencies. The bone charms are not overly obscurely
hidden but are marked by a rumbling from the living heart we are carrying
(admittedly a bit gross). Yet, even when
we know that the bone charm is in the room above us or locked in the vault
getting into the hidden space requires puzzle solving and further exploration
to gain access into the exact nook that we need. Obsessing over the environment for a hidden
passageway or vault code is an entertaining reason to slowly scan the room. A required slow scan of a video game
environment when done poorly is agonizing.
Dishonored provides us with richly detailed environments, that includes
the video game time honored tradition of working faucets, with a reason to stop
Wastelander attire may look dorky but that's "our" dork.
Fallout 3 is the quintessential game of gear looting,
collecting (or hoarding), and obsessing over those few items not in your
possession. Main quest goals are quickly
abandoned for the promise of treasure elsewhere. My main story arc in Fallout 3 is not quite
completed, I abandoned my play through when a glitch impacted my ability to
complete the Nuka-Cola challenge as well as my day one pick up of Dishonored. During my wasteland antics I wandered into
two of the DLC quests, the Pitt (that includes a Steel City reference with an
optional quest collecting 100 steel ingots) and Operation: Anchorage (snooze
fest of a quest). I cannot speak poorly
of the Pitt with its obvious reference to Pittsburgh (for all of you
considering your college choices right now keep in mind that you just may end
up settling down in your college town) because 'Burgh pride is a requirement if
I do not want to be chased out of the city.
However, neither DLC left me wanting to wander into the other DLC stories. Both quests immediately stripped my
wastelander of her gear and weapons. Suddenly,
without the items that I spent untold hours looting, sorting, agonizing over
what to keep, equip, store, and sell which all molded the Vault 101 escapee as "mine"
was gone. Stuck in new areas without my
all important stuff and the ability to travel home to Megaton to stare at my
pile of looted teddy bears I felt lost.
Both DLCs included stretches of corridor running and shooting that left
me searching for the end in order to return to "my" character.
Attaining this image requires hours of real life time. Are you committed?
This loot fest results in Fallout 3 as an inordinately
difficult game to finish because of constantly returning to Megaton dropping
off gear that I could not leave behind but left me overburdened and sidetracked
my original quest intentions. Real life
hours are lost peeking into abandoned buildings, under bridges, and diverting
slightly to see what is "over there" because the best loot is always "over
there." This time and attachment to what
we found shapes our gameplay, not whether or not we convinced Button Gwinnett
to open the storeroom for us. The
struggle between equipping the beloved Fat Man or the old faithful minigun is
our obsession. Stripped of our toys, we
are left without a reason to stay in a wasteland with giant, mutated
The video game grind is a rite of passage. I remember a game in my youth (the game was
on a floppy disk) regarding a lemonade stand and I devoted my summer towards
becoming a lemonade selling magician, a title complete with a cape, top hat,
and wand. Now as a discerning adult
gamer I have the funds and backlog to satisfy my daily changing gaming wants. The question perpetually remains, what makes
a game fun to return to? Sometimes the answer
is a return to the grind.
Many thanks for dropping in and reading. May this week provide you with many hours of the
fun, not tedious, gaming grind. Personally,
I will search for the willpower to return to BioShock 2.
Does a particular
gaming grind make you smile in remembrance (or frown)?
Do you tend to divert
from the main quest for side quests or collectibles?
What is your preferred
in-game reward for completing a side quest or collectible search?
Did you collect all of Fallout 3's bobble heads (I have not but I did collect all 100 steel ingots in The Pitt)?