A map full of icons from Assassin's Creed: Unity (Screenshot: Steam)

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

All Padded Out

My harrowing journey through Mass Effect: Andromeda continued this week. This is something I’ve suspected from the beginning of the game, but getting to its more tightly constructed missions has only confirmed it: Andromeda contains plenty of good stuff, but man, is that good stuff surrounded by a ton of tedium. Clearly, Mass Effect isn’t the only game to be suffering this rampant padding problem, and Merve had to wonder when this scourge began:

Has there always been this much filler in video games? It’s even starting to infect indie games; the recent Night In The Woods dulled its momentum with repetitive, unfun platforming sections. Why not trim the fat and just leave the good bits? Are publishers so wedded to the idea that a game has to have x hours of content that they’re willing to sacrifice player enjoyment to pack all that content in?

Karl Schmidt gave a succinct explanation of the trend:

Having cheap filler to give the player the thinnest possible excuse to go everywhere is pretty much expected in the triple-A open-world style games nowadays. I’m not entirely sure why, if it’s explicitly a content length thing or it’s that players feel that the world is “empty” if there are any map features that don’t involve a fetch quest at some point, but the sum total effect is pretty infuriating.

I’ve heard it described as MMO-like, which is accurate in the sense that most theme park MMOs have filler quests. However, since World of Warcraft MMOs have endeavored to construct a decent flow where you get a few related missions of very different importance to do simultaneously in the same area. Open world games just kinda vomit unrelated markers all over your map and expect you to go click on things.

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And Wolfman Jew sought to differentiate between modern filler and the kind you might have experienced, say, 20 years ago:

I think this started around the late 2000s. Publishers became more aggressive about making clear their games took longer to finish and had “more” content, no matter how repetitive or dull, because that bar for the average length of time on Metacritic started becoming a make or break point for players. You had players very pointedly arguing that length was a primary barometer of value, kind of like how so many open-world games treat the size of their world as a selling point (an idea No Man’s Sky should hopefully have dispelled).

Grinding and filler have been around forever, but this is a very specific kind we’ve been seeing gestate over the past 10 years or so. Because it’s usually not about that extra length creating a space filled with secrets or mixing up the gameplay or crafting memorable experiences; it’s only about nakedly accommodating demands that games be “worth” the monetary cost in a way that’s based around meaningless arithmetic without making sure those hours carry value. I was thinking of the Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow games earlier today, and the first game’s 20-hour length was absolutely a selling point, but they were so repetitive and neither the gameplay nor environments evolved in a consistent or meaningful way. So it’s long, but that length is not only not beneficial but an active detriment to the player’s experience.

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Juan Carlo pointed to a likely patient zero:

It started with the Assassin’s Creed series, which always had tons of filler side stuff (i.e. collecting feathers, doing repetitive assassination missions, towers, etc, etc). Then Ubisoft adapted that model to all their games and it’s since spread like a cancer. Now almost every game is just icons on a map.

And before we leave Andromeda, I’d be remiss if we didn’t check in with Staggering Stew-Bum, whose previous Mass Effect adventure were hilarious:

I’ve hardly progressed with the Andromeda singleplayer because I seem to be stuck in an infinite loop of finding glyphs so I can scan these glyphs which leads to more finding glyphs to scan. Fuck scanning glyphs. I don’t want to scan no glyphs! The only joy I’ve goten so far was creating a character called Ronald Mc Ryder, which thanks to his appearance leads to moments of humor, but also due to the wonky animation, moments of pure primal terror:

So instead of the endless pursuit of glyphs I’ve been plying my trade in the multiplayer, where it seems “co-operative” actually means “every man, woman, and Salarian for themselves.” It’s broken, of course, everything is broken, but it’s just as broken as Mass Effect 3‘s (fantastic) co-op was to be honest. Plus it has its own merits that are amusing enough, and to illustrate here’s my little playlist that I started developing:

A Different Kind Of Escapism

Screenshot: Persona 5/Atlus

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We also kicked off Clayton Purdom’s coverage of Persona 5, which launches next week and I’m sure we’ll be talking about for a very long time. Down in the comments, Mizerock left some very heartfelt thoughts about the Persona games’ ability to act as a sort of social escapism for introverted players:

Surely interacting in the real world isn’t 1 percent as interesting as it winds up being in these games, and I’m not just talking about the lack of demon fighting. But it makes me wistful: Wouldn’t it be just amazing if I knew (or could know) everyone that I passed by in my daily life, and they all were interesting in some way and sincerely interested in what I’m doing and they all suggested (or were open to suggestions from me) that we get together for different kinds of activities? “Oh, I’d like to go kayaking too. Let’s go on Saturday!” “Wow, you have how many Rock Band drum sets? I’ve always wanted to try them.” “Oh, my family lives in South Carolina. You should stay with me and them during the eclipse in August.” “My neighbor is selling a car just like the type you are looking for.” “I’ve never taken the bus before, but if you know where you’re going. Let’s try it”

Seriously, it freaks me out playing these types of games. I can look people in the eye and choose from witty, confident replies that are written for me. What a bizarre alternate universe they let me inhabit—especially the games that take place in high school, where I literally was just as awkwardly alienated as I’m presenting myself here. (I’m exaggerating about how I am now, but it’s not completely inaccurate.)

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That’ll do it for this week, friends. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!