Today I’d like to take a bit of time to discuss the ways I’ve seen that developers use to do what is called ‘artifically extending gameplay’. To explain what that means, basically it refers to methods that developers use to make single player games last longer without actually making the story longer within a single playthrough. And to give a brief disclaimer, not all methods to artificially extend the gameplay are bad. So I’ll also briefly touch on which methods I feel are good, which I’m neutral about, and which are things that I feel are a detriment to the game.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
1-Branching Storylines/Multiple Endings:
This one is mostly self-explanatory – developers implement story choices or gameplay decisions that alter the outcome of the game. You might end up saving x character, or destroying x planet, or even just failing completely.
This is the most positive method to artifically extend gameplay. Games like Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect, Dragon Age all do this, and it is a really really good thing. The reason this is a positive is that it extends the game without adding monotony. It doesn’t FEEL artificial because the changes make the game feel new. Also, it’s completely optional which is another huge plus.
2-Increasing frequency of non-essential combat:
Basically, what this one means is that they add a ridiculous number of enemies to fight that are hard to avoid, take up a lot of time, but don’t actually progress the story.
This one isn’t as common anymore but it’s one that frustrates me to no end. It is probably the only flaw in the older Final Fantasy games, for example. Final Fantasy 4 is a perfect example of this, because you can sometimes run into enemies every second step for most of a dungeon. I have no problems with random encounters, but please, make the frequency reasonable. This doesn’t just apply to games using the ‘random battle’ model, but it’s more frequent because it’s less obvious.
3-High scaling difficulty:
Some games use a highly scaling difficulty to force you to do some heavy grinds just to be strong enough to be able to progress.
I’m prettymuch neutral on this one. If it is handled well, it can be fun feeling the sense of accomplishment overcoming the odds. However, if it’s handled poorly then it just feels really really boring. This method is really only prevalent in RPGs.
4-Increasing Travel Time:
Again, pretty self-explanatory. Some games extend gameplay by adding in additional time to go from place to place. This can be done by either just adding extra distance between key locations or by not offering quick-travel options such as waypoints, bind-points, portals, vehicles/horses, etc. This one is often used as a way to mask #2 as well, by adding extra distance or forcing you to retrace your steps to go back they can increase the amount of non-essential combat thus extending game life.
To me this option feels like a bit of a copout unless it is done really well and with a very specific reason. Quite a few games have been guilty of this over the years, and a few have even done it well.
Another self-explanatory one, but basically a lot of games increase length by adding trophies or achievements(or accomplishments, feats, deeds, etc). These can range from requiring multiple playthroughs, to completing certain bosses in special ways to acquiring certain items.
This is prettymuch as good as method #1, as it basically serves the same purpose. It provides a fun way for people who want to extend the life of their game to do so, without forcing it on people.
6-“Gotta catch ’em all” Syndrome:
This one refers to games that add collectibles or capturables and give you a way to track how many you’ve found. I’ve named it for the reigning king of games to use this: Pokemon.
This is another method I’m in favour of, as it gives completionists a sense of accomplishment and something to do. Many games other than Pokemon do this as well, such as Uncharted with the treasures to find. This method is very often intertwined with #5.
7-Making you ‘start over’:
This option refers to games that have certain places, or even just the entire dungeon, where you have to start over each time you do it – losing equipment, experience, money, or even just your ‘progress’ in the dungeon.
Overall I’m in favour of this, as long as there is some way to progress. Azure Dreams is a perfect example of this. Every time you entered the tower, you started at level 1 and you could only bring 5 items with you. Your familiars retained their levels, and your gear retained any upgrades you did, but you still started over.
8-Putting low chance to acquire required items for progression:
Basically this one is what it says – in order to progress in the game, you must acquire x, y, and z. Pretty common right? The rare part is when say y has a 0.01% droprate and in order to continue you have to get that item.
This one I generally consider to be a bad thing. I understand the accomplishment of finding something rare, but when it’s so rare that you could spend hours grinding the same monster and still never see the item you NEED in order to progress, that gets frustrating.
9-Provide unusual limitations on gameplay:
Things like adding a ‘real’ game clock, or having required events only happen during certain circumstances that are out of the player’s control, or having a limited amount of actions before you have to rest/eat all extend gameplay by putting unusual(for video games) restrictions on how you play.
I’m fairly neutral as to this one, it’s another ‘it can be fun if it’s done well’ circumstance. Games like Rune Factory are the best example I can come up with providing a day-by-day clock and giving you a limited amount of time within the day to do things.
So those are the 9 ways I see developers extending single player game life without enlarging the story, and what I think about each of them. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this edition of ‘muses’.
Written by: Sean