2378: People Ruin Everything: FFXIV Edition

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I quit Final Fantasy XIV today.

I am sad about this. Really, genuinely sad. The game has been an important part of my life for quite some time now, and will always be special to me — hell, it’s where I proposed to my wife.

But I think I’m gone for good this time. I’ve just had enough.

Not of the game, mind you; the game itself remains one of my favourites, with an enjoyably rhythmic combat system, plenty of distinction between classes and some truly memorable encounters — not to mention an incredible soundtrack and a great story.

No, I’ve had enough of the people who infest it.

The community’s slide into unpleasantness has been a gradual but noticeable process. Whereas I described FFXIV’s player base in my USgamer review (circa 2.0-era A Realm Reborn) as one of the most helpful, supportive and friendly communities in gaming, these days I regrettably can’t say the same — though I find myself pondering whether or not it’s because at the time I wrote that review, I’d only been playing endgame content for a short period.

Let me talk a bit about the incident that drove me over the edge today, then I’ll talk a bit in more general terms about what I feel has gone wrong.

A short while back — like, earlier this week — FFXIV introduced a new type of content called Deep Dungeon. This was a completely new way to play the game, and involved descending into a 50-floor dungeon with up to three companions and clearing it out, one randomly generated floor at a time. The rewards on offer include tokens called “potsherds”, which can be exchanged for various valuable items, and if you fully upgrade the weapon and armour you use in the Deep Dungeon — these are separate from those which you use in the main game — you get a high-level weapon for a level 60 character that is not quite the very best in the game, but certainly very respectable and suitable for all levels of content.

Upgrading the weapon and armour requires that you find silver treasure chests in the Deep Dungeon. Opening one of these will do one of three things: upgrade your weapon, upgrade your armour or explode, dealing damage to you and anyone unfortunate enough to be standing nearby. The deeper you go into the dungeon, the more likely it seems you are to come across trapped chests, and your weapon’s upgrade level is also capped by your character’s level within the deep dungeon — also measured independently of progress in the main game. To put it another way: your weapon and armour can go up to level +30, and in order to upgrade them to this level your character must reach level 60 in the Deep Dungeon, though thankfully levelling up is considerably quicker than in the main game.

After completing all 50 floors once, it’s likely that your weapon and armour will be around the +10 to +15 mark, depending on how lucky you’ve been. This means you then have to challenge the dungeon again from floor 1 but with your upgraded gear, hoping you’ll get luckier on the deeper floors this time. As incentive to run it again, however, every 10 floors gives you a generous shot of gil as well as Allagan Tomestones of Poetics, Esoterics and Lore, all of which are used to purchase the best level 50 or 60 gear available, so it’s not as if running the upper floors again is a useless waste of time. Alternatively, if you enter the Deep Dungeon on a class you don’t yet have to level 60 in the main game, completing 10 floors awards you with a large chunk of XP for your character’s level in the main game, so it’s also a good means of levelling alternative classes.

You may have surmised from that description that this structure puts a lot of pressure on Floors 41-50 to get players up to the magical +30/+30 needed to take away a shiny new weapon into the main game. And indeed, this is where the problems arise, with players doing everything from skipping fights with monsters that they don’t feel the party “needs” to fight (despite some players not having reached level 60 at this point, and some enemies dropping treasure chests) to outright Vote Abandon-ing the whole dungeon if they don’t feel they got “enough” silver chests in the first couple of floors.

I ran into one of these people today: a white mage, which is to say, a healer, and so an important, useful part of any group. Deep Dungeon, unlike everything else in the game, doesn’t matchmake you into a party made up of one tank, one healer and two DPS, so it’s entirely possible you’ll find yourself running in a group with no healer at times, and as such having a healer in your group is something to be celebrated.

Unless it was this guy. Right from the very start of Floor 41, he ran off in completely the opposite direction to the rest of the party, leaving the remaining three of us to fight off monsters and get afflicted with various status effects that could have easily been cleansed if he had been there. But no; he had places to be, apparently, and finding those silver chests was more important than actually helping the other three people in there.

“Will you PLEASE stop running off?” piped up one of my companions halfway through Floor 42, obviously getting as impatient as I was with this git’s shenanigans.

“I’m skipping mobs,” replied our friend.

I then pointed out that not everyone in our party was level 60 yet — one was 56, one was 58 — and thus it would be in everyone’s interest to kill as many monsters as possible, particularly as it’s also necessary to kill a certain number to open the exit to the next floor anyway. He then complained about us being “slow” and “inefficient”, and took great umbrage at several of us accusing him of “speedrunning”.

Speedrunning is a bit of an issue in Final Fantasy XIV as a whole, particularly in dungeons, most of which are tuned more to the “casual” end of the difficulty spectrum, but nonetheless remain a good source of income for those valuable Tomestones. With a well-geared, confident party that knows what it is doing, most dungeons can be cleared in about 10 minutes or so, but this relies on everyone being both well-geared and confident in the speedrunning process, which usually involves the tank pulling as many enemies as possible at the same time, the healer working overtime to keep their HP topped up and the DPS doing area-effect attacks as much as possible.

It’s quick, sure. It’s also boring, because more often than not fighting like this means that you use maybe two or three of your complete suite of abilities, and fighting the monsters just becomes a case of standing in place hitting the same buttons over and over for ten minutes. Not interesting, and certainly not doing justice to the impressive encounters the Final Fantasy XIV team have created throughout the game. But no, at some point between 2.0 and 3.35, where we are now, someone somewhere decided that the de facto way to run dungeons was as quickly — sorry, “efficiently” — as possible, and woe betide anyone who slows it down for any reason, even if, say, the tank or healer say they don’t feel confident or geared enough to do it.

Now, the thing with Deep Dungeon is that speedrunning is largely pointless, because monsters respawn, everyone needs to level up, you need to kill a certain number of monsters to open the exit to the next floor and, as with any good role-playing game, if you split the party you’re probably asking for a bad time. With the levels being randomly generated, too, there’s no set route through each floor, either, so you can’t even work out a route that lets you avoid certain encounters as in certain fixed dungeons in the game, so it’s really more trouble than it’s worth.

That didn’t stop this obnoxious White Mage from arguing his case increasingly aggressively though, eventually descending to insults about his perception of the rest of the party’s skill levels. Hilariously, he even had a go at me on the grounds that I “wouldn’t last five minutes in Expert Roulette” (the current two highest difficulty level 60 dungeons, neither of which are very tough) — I chose not to engage with him by explaining that actually, I had been playing the game since its open beta and as such knew it pretty fucking well by this point. Instead, I just voted to dismiss him from the party; my companions silently agreed, and thankfully he was booted shortly afterwards, to be replaced by a much friendlier person who unfortunately wasn’t a healer.

This White Mage’s attitude is representative of a considerable proportion of Final Fantasy XIV’s player base as it stands today: the game, for these people, is about the relentless pursuit of “efficiency” so that they can acquire all the best gear, get all the achievements — achieve whatever they want to achieve, in other words — as quickly as possible then, in all likelihood, go on the official forums and Reddit to complain that three months is too long between content patches and that there’s “nothing to do”, despite smaller patches with additional features (such as Deep Dungeon, which was a significant addition) being added on a monthly basis.

I also saw this among a number of active Final Fantasy XIV players I used to follow on Twitter. There was a marked shift in their attitude over time; one person in particular that I started following as a result of attending an in-game “funeral” for a player who had sadly passed away in real life began as a very pleasant person to talk about the game with. But gradually over time he started caring more and more about parser figures — a parser being an external program you can run to see how much damage per second (DPS) everyone in the party is doing, a common means of harassing other players for “not pulling their weight” and technically against the game’s Terms of Service, though I don’t know of anyone who has been punished for it. He’d complain about parties he’d come across in Duty Finder; he’d post images of the parser figures; he’d shame people for not playing “well enough” or being “lazy”. That relentless pursuit of “efficiency”; your DPS must be this high to ride.

I just can’t stand it any more. It’s ruined the game for me. Dungeons that I used to love running, like A Realm Reborn’s final storyline dungeons Castrum Meridianum and The Praetorium, lose all their drama by people skipping all cutscenes — and yelling at people who don’t — and speedrunning their way through as quickly as possible, even if someone in the group hasn’t seen this part of the story before. (Not coincidentally, those two dungeons were also the last to have lengthy cutscenes in the middle of the dungeon run.) If I decide I want a leisurely run through a dungeon rather than a stressful but boring speedrun, I get yelled at. If someone in the party makes a mistake and there’s a single death, everyone gets yelled at. And apparently not going fast enough in Deep Dungeon is now a cardinal sin, too.

Fuck all that. Fuck everyone who has ruined one of my favourite games of the last few years. And fuck this shitty behaviour being considered “normal” in all games, not just Final Fantasy XIV — indeed, I’m under no illusions, and am well aware that this sort of thing is a problem in all MMOs.

I just thought Final Fantasy XIV’s community was better than that. It certainly was once — at least, I think it was. But no longer. The buildup of this crappy behaviour and how not-fun this makes the game for me has led me to both cancel my subscription and uninstall the game completely for the first time ever since open beta. And I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.

2377: Creative Block

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I don’t tend to suffer from creative block in the traditional sense: there’s never any shortage of interesting ideas rattling around inside my head (particularly while I adjust to my new anti-anxiety medication and consequently am wandering around in a perpetually stoned haze) — it’s just actually pushing forward and making them tangible in some form that I sometimes struggle with.

I’ll explain using RPG Maker as an example, but this applies to all manner of creative pursuits: music composition, writing, drawing and anything else I feel I might be able to turn my hand to on a particular day.

I’ll sit down to spend some time with RPG Maker, with something in mind that I want to achieve. In the case of my current project, I’ve even gone so far as to hand-draw some grid-based maps for the worlds in the game — pretty much essential for the structure I have in mind for at least two of the worlds players will be exploring, due to their open-ish nature. In other words, I have a clearly defined long-term goal to achieve: presently, it’s assembling all the necessary screen-size maps and ensuring all transitions are in place for the world of “Lucidia”, which is one of the four locales players will be exploring in the course of my game. I decided to assemble all the exterior maps before I even start thinking about putting obstacles, game structure, dungeons and events in place. Sensible, I think.

Anyway. When I sit down to do some mapping, I might put together a complete, nice looking map, then stare at it for a good ten minutes or so while I think about what the next screen will look like. Then I might playtest my game, even though I’ve already playtested it lots of times already, just to get the satisfaction of wandering back and forth between the new screen and existing screens. Then I’ll probably stare at it for a good few minutes, and only when I can break through this barrier of daydreaming what comes next will I actually produce the next map.

Having an awareness of this is somewhat infuriating, because it means it takes several times longer to achieve the things I want to do than it really “should” if I focus and knuckle down to it. That said, since becoming particularly aware of this trait over the last few days — I’ve always had a vague awareness of it, but over the last few days I’ve been noticing it particularly keenly for some reason — I’ve noticed my overall productivity on the project has increased quite a bit. I’ve so far assembled nearly a third of the overall map for Lucidia — a total of 53 separate screens so far, including the linear “prologue” chapter — and am feeling a lot more confident than I normally do with a creative project of this type that I might actually finish it, or at least the part I’m currently working on, at some point.

To put it another way, my own personal type of creative block is not for a want of inspiration; rather, it’s a matter of being overloaded with too much inspiration at once, and wanting to do everything all at the same time, eventually ending up doing nothing at all other than staring into space thinking “well, this should probably go like this…

In this sense, this blog has proven to be an invaluable tool to help train myself in that I can normally churn out a whole post in one go without stopping or getting distracted in the middle. Normally. There may be a brief period of apparent brain-death while I decide on a particular topic for the day’s post, but generally speaking once I get going on a post, it flows pretty freely until I reach the end of it.

And here’s the end of it right now. I’m going to go and make some maps now. Honest.

2376: Gal*Gun: Gloriously Stupid

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Gal*Gun: Double Peace came out today, and my preorder from a while back arrived right on time. The limited edition comes in an absolutely enormous box thanks to the nice quality wallscroll in there.

But let’s talk about the game!

Gal*Gun, as I shall refer to it from hereon, is a peculiar affair that is part dating sim and part lightgun-style shooter. The story concerns our protagonist inadvertently being hit with a fully charged angel’s bullet that is 32 times the normal strength of a Cupid’s arrow, which means that for the next 24 hours, he will be completely and utterly irresistible to women. There’s a catch, however: if he fails to find his true love during this period of unprecedented popularity, he will remain alone for the rest of his life. Thus begins a rather peculiar adventure.

Gal*Gun is split into a number of different components when playing through its Story mode. Firstly, there are straightforward visual novel-style sections with occasional choices, some of which are locked off if your stats are too low or too high. Secondly, there’s an “intermission” between the action stages where you can visit the school shop to purchase items that either buff up your character’s base stats and personality traits or provide protection against various types of attacks. Thirdly, there are the rail shooter segments, which also incorporate “Doki Doki Mode”. And finally, there are minigames corresponding with various events.

The visual novel sections see you pursuing one of several different love interests, with the aim being to get their affection rating as high as possible by the end of the game. You’re given auditory cues when you make a choice as to whether or not you picked the correct choice to increase their affection rating, allowing you to make better choices on a subsequent playthrough. The presentation uses a combination of polygonal animated characters for most of the dialogue, and hand-drawn event pictures for noteworthy things happening. The 2D art is quite a lot more detailed than the 3D models, but the 3D models are animated nicely and presented in an attractive cel-shaded style.

During the intermission sequences, as well as purchasing various items from the shop, you can also read a virtual message board, on which the various characters in the game post about problems they’ve been having or things they’ve lost. These exchanges contain cryptic clues for hidden items you need to look out for in the coming action stage, as well as whether these hidden things are something you need to actually shoot or just stare at until they register. Sometimes you get a choice of stages to proceed onward to, and certain requests only apply to certain locations, so if you’re interested in pursuing a particular girl, you need to pay careful attention to her messages.

The action stages unfold in fairly standard lightgun fashion, with a few twists. Firstly, you’re not actually killing anyone; you’re fending them off with a “Pheromone Shot” until they collapse from “euphoria”. Different girls have different weak spots that allow you to one-shot eliminate them, and doing so is called an “Ecstasy Shot”. You can also zoom in while playing the action sequences, and this has several uses: firstly, it allows for more accurate (albeit slower) aiming; secondly, it allows you to see hidden things; thirdly, it allows you to see through things, including tree leaves, items of furniture and, of course, clothing. Ogling a girl for long enough also allows you to determine what her measurements are, which are subsequently recorded in the in-game database.

As you progress, the challenge escalates somewhat. Initially, the girls run towards you and “attack” you with love letters, hugs and kisses, but later in the game as the plot gets underway, you start coming across sadistic girls who have been afflicted by a demon’s curse; these rather aggressive young ladies like to slap, punch and step on you, and the only way to snap them out of it is to find the hidden “mini-demon” floating around them, then shoot it before eliminating them in the usual manner.

Success in the action phases increases a meter in the upper corner of the screen; when this is at 1 or higher, you can enter Doki Doki Mode and bring as many girls as the meter indicates. In Doki Doki Mode, the girl(s) are presented posing provocatively, and you’re tasked with finding where they like to be poked and rubbed to increase an affection meter at the side of the screen. The main use of this mode is to affect your stats, since each and every girl affects one or more stats in different ways. There’s a secondary benefit, though: successfully completing a Doki Doki sequence unleashes a “bomb” when you return to the action phase, making it a good way to clear a particularly stubborn crowd.

Finally, the event sequences occur when the protagonist and a girl find themselves in a somewhat awkward situation; for example, early in one of the routes, the hero’s love interest finds herself stuck in a window as she tried to escape being locked in the PE equipment closet. In order to free her, you have to find and shoot various hidden targets over her body, and in some cases do motions on the touchpad, to increase her “Satisfaction” level. Once this phase is completed, you then have a particular action to complete as many times as possible in a short time limit, then you repeat the process twice.

At the end of each section of the game, your score is tallied up and you are graded on your total progress. You’re also awarded Angel Feathers to purchase items from the store in the intermission menu.

There are several story routes, an absolute shit-ton of collectibles and a customisation system for all the characters in the game. There’s also a score attack mode that can be played independently of the main story mode.

Gal*Gun is gloriously, deliciously stupid. It knows exactly what it is, and isn’t trying to be intelligent or clever about it whatsoever. It’s colourful, high-energy, joyful fun with a filthy sense of humour, and yet it somehow manages to come across as charming rather than sleazy. The story is surprisingly enjoyable and the characters are fun; I’m looking forward to seeing what hidden depths this game offers! Failing that, just a bit of looking at pantsu will do me nicely.

2375: Mommy Issues

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Overwatch has finally seen the release of its first new hero since launch, in the form of Ana, a new Support character and mother of existing character Pharah.

Ana is an interesting concept for a support character because she’s based at least partly around sniping, which in Overwatch terms has traditionally been an approach reserved for Defender-type heroes. As a Support character, however, Ana’s role is actually surprisingly well-rounded, comprising both offensive and defensive capabilities and possessing an overall feel quite unlike any of the other heroes on the roster.

Ana’s basic ability is a sniper rifle that shoots bolts that either heal allies they hit or damage enemies. In both cases, the healing or damage process isn’t immediate — it takes a second or two for the value to affect the character’s health, though it’s not quite a long-duration damage or heal over time either.

What this essentially means is that Ana is able to heal people from a much greater distance than any of the other Support characters, though the tradeoff in this case is that you have to be reasonably accurate in order to register a hit on the person you’re trying to heal. You don’t have to be absolutely pinpoint accurate, but your reticle still needs to be roughly in the right area to register a hit, unlike Mercy or Lucio, who lock on to nearby targets and affect all targets around themselves respectively.

Ana’s other abilities throw some interesting twists into the mix. Her “E” move allows her to throw a grenade that provides an immediate burst of healing to anyone caught in the blast, along with a temporary buff to healing from all sources while it’s active. Like her gun, this grenade also has a negative impact on enemy characters, in this case dealing some damage to them and completely preventing them from being healed for a few seconds.

Her Left-Shift ability, meanwhile, is something of a game-changer: it’s a dart, shot out from her sidearm, that puts anyone it hits to sleep, causing them to collapse to the floor and be completely immobile for a few seconds. This is an absolute godsend against characters who can be difficult to push through such as Bastion, since it allows you to take the pressure off for a moment — just long enough to sneak in and finish the job. It’s also good for interrupting powerful Ultimate abilities from characters such as Reaper and Pharah.

All in all, Ana seems to be a strong addition to the roster. Her healing capabilities aren’t up to Mercy and Lucio’s standards, largely due to the accuracy requirement, but they’re solid enough, but her real benefit is the addition of some solid offensive skills. Her main weakness is in her mobility; unlike the two previous sniper characters Hanzo and Widowmaker, Ana has no means of easily getting up to higher ground, and so must either do her work from ground level or find more roundabout means of getting to good vantage points.

2374: In Praise of the RPG Maker Community

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I touched on this the other day, but it bears mentioning again, I think: the community surrounding the RPG Maker series of software packages is one of the most interesting, diverse and helpful communities I’ve had the pleasure of coming across in all of gaming.

Gaming communities can be a variable bunch. Communities that surround online multiplayer games tend to err somewhat on the side of aggressively arguing that their opinions are the “right” ones and that everyone else is wrong — sometimes even putting players at loggerheads with the developers. Retro-gaming communities are keen to celebrate old games but have an often unspoken code of honour about not sharing pirated versions of software — even though this is sadly the only means of getting to play some older or rarer titles these days. And the Steam forums are just… well, no. Nothing good comes of sticking your head in there.

The RPG Maker community, though, they’re some of the most cooperative people I’ve seen ever. Sure, there’s an element of the usual supercilious “Search is your friend!” obnoxiousness on the forums when someone asks a question that might have been answered before six years ago, but this is true for pretty much any Internet community out there, and the help and support the community generally offers for the program is second to none.

It helps that RPG Maker has always been extensible — initially just through graphics and sound in the earlier incarnations, but with more recent installments through Ruby scripts and JavaScript plugins to extend and customise the functionality of the basic engine far beyond what it was originally intended for. Many creators provide these additional bits and pieces either under a completely royalty-free license, or under some variation of Creative Commons, which allows people to use them freely so long as they credit the original creator and, in some cases, don’t fiddle around with it and pass it off as their own.

This is extraordinarily generous, and it has always amazed me quite how far people are willing to go to help out the community as a whole — though I’m pleased to see with the rise of Patreon that some of these creators are now able to make a bit of money off their creations through pledges from grateful users, something which was very hit-and-miss when going through PayPal as in the pre-Patreon days.

I know that I’m massively grateful to the RPG Maker community as a whole for providing me with all manner of excellent content to extend the functionality of the program — and helping me feel like I can make the best possible game with the resources I have, rather than having to settle for doing something within limitations. While my silly little game that I’m working on at the moment will doubtless never be anything big or exciting — as I’ve mentioned before, the very reason for its existence is mostly an in-joke that perhaps only four or five people in the world will understand — I am very happy with how it’s looking so far, and how unlike the generic, out-of-the-box RPG Maker engine it looks, just with a few simple changes to the basic mechanics and functionality.

I’m thinking I may well spend next month on MoeGamer covering RPG Maker MV, since it’s still relatively new, so watch out for that. In the meantime, I’ve got games to make!

2373: Sheriff of Nottingham

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My brother bought me a board game for my birthday known as Sheriff of Nottingham, and it hit the table for the second time this evening. I was particularly keen to see my friends Tim and James compete against each other in it, because they’re both very good at arguing (they’re both lawyers) and both often get rather competitive — and Sheriff of Nottingham is a game very much designed for argumentative, competitive players.

The mechanics are pretty simple. By the end of the game, it’s your aim to score as many points as possible through a combination of the cash you have on hand and the value of the goods you managed to successfully bring to market. To achieve this, you play through five phases several times.

First up, you look at your hand of six cards, ditch up to five of them and draw replacements from either or both of the two face-up discard piles (which have a small initial stock on them) and the central blind draw pile.

Once you’ve done this, you put up to five cards in your “merchant bag”, a lovely little prop with a pop fastener, just big enough to hide the cards you choose.

Next up, each player declares to the Sheriff player (which rotates each turn) what they’re supposedly bringing to market in their bag. You can (and often probably should) lie about this, because contraband items are worth significantly more points, and there are also big end-game bonuses available for whoever has the most of each of the four “legal” goods, so it pays not to telegraph your intentions to your opponents too early.

Then comes the Sheriff’s time to play, since he hasn’t participated in the previous phases. At this point, he has the choice of whether to inspect each player’s bag or let them through. If he inspects the bag and discovers its contents are not what the player said they were, the offending goods get seized and discarded, and the guilty player must pay the Sheriff a fine. If, however, the inspects the bag and discovers the player was telling the truth, the Sheriff must pay the innocent player compensation for the value of all the legitimate goods in the bag. In order to determine the best course of action, the interaction at this point is completely freeform: the Sheriff can threaten players (within reason!) while players may offer the Sheriff bribes of money, goods or even favours to let them pass without incident.

Once all the merchant players have been inspected or let through, they lay down the cards they were able to keep — legitimate goods face-up, contraband face-down — and the Sheriff role passes to the next player. This then continues until everyone has been the Sheriff twice, at which point the winner is the person with the highest total points, which consist of the points on the cards they have on the table, plus the number of gold coins they have, plus bonuses for having the most or second most of each of the four legitimate types of goods. (There are no bonuses for having the most contraband, but some contraband counts as multiple legitimate goods when calculating these bonuses.)

It’s a really interesting game. It’s simple and quite quick to play, but the interaction element makes it rather fascinating — though at the same time also rather dependent on having a group who are capable of negotiating and dealing with one another rather than just not really knowing quite what to offer or threaten with.

It’s essentially a game about lying — either getting away with lying, or making other people believe that you’re lying when you’re actually telling the truth. After two games, I think we’re still learning the intricacies of appropriate strategies, but it’s been a lot of fun so far, and an eminently good fit for our gaming group as a whole.

2372: The Lost Art of Puzzle Games

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I’ve been playing some old puzzle games recently. By “old” I mean “predating the smartphone”, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that old, but in technology terms is positively ancient. And, while I’ve known this for a while, the difference between puzzle games now and puzzle games of then makes it abundantly clear, beyond a doubt, that the modern age has done our collective attention spans no favours whatsoever.

The reason I say this is a simple matter of timing and commitment. The age of mobile and social gaming — Bejeweled Blitz in particular had a lot to do with this, I feel — has redefined the puzzle game as an experience that must be over and done with within 30-60 seconds, lest the participant get bored with the experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be easy, mind you — quite the opposite, in fact, in the case of free-to-play games, where “friction” (ugh) is specifically incorporated into the game design at regular intervals for the sole purpose of extracting money from lazy players.

There are some people who are too stubborn to pay up to get past an artificially difficult level in Candy Crush Bullshit, of course, but these people are in the minority, because the 30-second structure of the levels that are easily beatable trains one to expect a bite-size, painless experience rather than having to actually put in any work or practice. And so for many players, the option to pay up to bypass a particular challenge — or at least make it insultingly easy, for the illusion of them having beaten it themselves — becomes an attractive one.

Compare and contrast with a puzzle game designed in the old mould, then. Rather than being designed as rapid-fire timewasters, puzzle games used to fall into two main categories: those which, like the best arcade games, challenged you to see how long you could last against increasingly challenging odds; or those which, like the other best arcade games, challenged you to demonstrate your superiority over either a computer-controlled or human opponent. In both cases, said challenges took a lot longer than 30 seconds to accomplish — in the former instance in particular, a good run could go on for hours or more if you really got “in the zone”.

In other words, puzzle games used to be designed with a mind to keeping a player interested and occupied for considerable periods at a time, rather than allowing them to while away a few minutes — that’s what simple shoot ’em ups were for. Everything from the classic Tetris to slightly lesser known gems like Klax and oddities like Breakthru were designed in this way; these games weren’t just “something to do” — they were a test of endurance, observational skills, strategy and dexterity, both mental and physical. Having a Tetris game that went on for an hour was a badge of honour rather than an inconvenience; you weren’t playing the game until something better came along, the game was the better thing that had come along.

This change in focus for puzzle games is a bit sad, as I miss the old days of them offering substantial, lengthy challenges to tackle over time. That’s not to say that there’s no place for rapid-fire puzzles, too, but it just disappoints me that 30-second “blitz” challenges are all we have these days.

At least the old games still play just as well as they always did — with them being so graphically light in most cases, puzzle games tend to age a whole lot better than many other types of game.