Earlier this week, William Hughes delivered his take on XCOM 2, a significantly meaner sequel to the already kind of mean alien-busting strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This installment’s difficulty and unpredictability has made the practice of “save-scumming”—where players save their game frequently and retry a scenario at the first sign of shit hitting the fan—even more appealing. Down in the comments, CrabNaga asked readers to reflect on their personal scumming habits:
This review talks about something I feel we’ve all experienced during these games: the decision to save-scum and how scummy you’re willing to be. For those who don’t want to scum, there’s Ironman, but I feel like there should be some middle ground, some way to encourage (or force) players to not rely on saving/loading so much.
How scummy is everyone here? I tend to let things happen as they happen, until a soldier dies. There are some other reload-worthy scenarios: missing a crucial high-percentage shot that means the difference between whether or not a Sectopod will rain hell on your squad’s nethers; moving my Ranger one tile and uncovering a fresh new pod of aliens when I’ve already got five to deal with; running next to an unseen civilian, abruptly ending my concealment when I’ve got two pods about to be ambushed; etc.
There should be an in-game way of weaseling your way out of scenarios like this (at least pre-Ironman), without relying on simply reloading the game. I’m not entirely sure the form that this would take beyond a simple “do-over” button that lets you undo an action or restart the current turn entirely. A “Chrono Trooper” class might be a cool addition for this sort of ability and could have all sorts of other time-manipulating powers.
I used to be a horrendous save-scummer. The greatest gaming invention of my childhood was the holy duo of quicksave and quickload. When playing the original Doom, I’d save after every firefight and reload anytime I took any damage whatsoever. Yes, it took eons, and yes there were health items scattered liberally across the game, and yes it does turn a fun and frantic first-person shooter into a repetitive grind. I believe that borders on some sort of psychological disorder, but as far as I know, it doesn’t extend into any perfectionism in my actual life. Nowadays, I try and let the chips fall as they may, as there’s beauty in the chaos. The feeling of pulling through by the skin of your teeth in a situation that was completely ass-end-up is one of those feelings that justifies gaming.
That said, I’m not going to redo four-plus hours of anything due to bad luck. I have limits.
For Monkeylint, it’s a matter of time:
I’m the scummiest scum that ever scummed. I’ve become much less precious about my gaming “integrety” in the five years since becoming a father and watching my game-time dwindle to a vanishing point. I don’t have time for Ironman or losses that result in an unwinnable game. I had to abandon my first playthrough of XCOM as I was learning because I didn’t get satellites up fast enough and ended up losing too many countries, and it killed me to have to start over. I will accept serious injuries in XCOM and long recoups and even failed missions, but I will reload any soldier deaths.
I can’t go back, I can’t start over. Shit, I barely play any games that have set save points because a) I can’t control how long I’m going to be playing and b) if it autosaves when I’m in a bad position and makes the level unwinnable, I can’t stand having to backtrack. I have abandoned games unfinished rather than backtrack or restart. So I save-scum.
A few years ago I had an epiphany. I’d always save-scummed on games like XCOM, but what I realized was that, the busier my life got, the more precious my gaming time was and the lower my tolerance for bullshit was. I play games as a diversion, to enjoy myself, not to prove myself. I have plenty of other ways in my life to prove myself.
What convinced me was playing the first Dark Souls game and, after a few hours of wanting to hurl my controller through the TV, I finally decided, “Fuck it. Life is too short to spend it playing a video game that pisses me off this much.”
“Get good,” some might say. “Entertain me,” I reply. I’m fine with there being a difficulty curve. I’m not fine with games being hard for the sake of being hard.
So now, when a singleplayer game stops being fun, I either stop playing, lower the difficulty to where it is fun, or I just cheat.
Play for fun. Play in whatever way you enjoy yourself, whether that’s in constant God Mode or Ironman Legendary Hardass mode. If it’s not fun, don’t waste your time, because there are so many better and more fun games out there—to say nothing of the rest of life.
As for XCOM 2, I recommend modding the hell out of it. It’s made the experience much more enjoyable.
For Pokémon’s big 20th anniversary weekend, Matt Crowley stopped by to talk about how the series is built around patience and delayed gratification. Wolfman Jew agreed and gave another take in the comments:
As iconic and exciting and simply fun as the individual Pokémon are, it’s this element of interaction and slowly increasing in strength that gives it so much power. It’s notable as well that while none of the other regions copy Kanto’s topography or urban layouts from the original games, almost all of them do have a constant, strong use of circles and ease of backtracking. Everything always comes back to the start, in some way or another.
One of my pet theories on the series is that it’s one of the best for customization, since all the ways that you interact with the world come through the Pokémon themselves. But I’m wondering if the idea of delayed gratification and incremental empowerment is a central part of this, too. You don’t start with all the best tools, or even the “right” ones. Starter Pokémon never have moves of their type available at first, and a lot of the Pokémon types and most powerful attacks are hard to find or unavailable for a while. But exploring and interacting with the world in as many ways as it allows (training, catching, earning badges) is what you specifically and explicitly need to do to move through the game. What you want out of Pokémon may be to have the strongest ’mons on your team or to fill out the Pokédex or whatever, but there are also secondary goals that have to be achieved through the traditional avenues of “winning the game” or “saving the day.” Pokémon is always comfortable with how you want to play it. It’s a fundamental notion of game design: Playing the game rewards you with more of the game. But the series’ affability and gentleness obscures that a lot.
Elsewhere, Vyolynce defended the series from the notion that it’s just for kids:
As someone who was 21 in ’98 but has owned one title from every generation of the series, I have always hated the “it’s for kids” dismissal of Pokémon. Yes, it is clearly aimed at younger children, but at the end of the day, these games are some of the finest RPGs out there, and that transcends demographics.
I joked with my friends just this week that my first Pokémon game was Final Fantasy Legend on the Game Boy. It, too, featured a largely customizable team of combatants that were each restricted to four limited-use moves. Many of these combatants could even change shape or otherwise evolve into different forms or powers. It’s not that far-fetched (Farfetch’d?) a reach to note some significant ancestry there.
Additionally, once you learn about all of the largely invisible backgorund mechanics hidden behind the obviously (and successfully) toyetic facade, it becomes apparent that no child should ever be expected to grasp Pokémon to its fullest, most competitive extent—and frankly, the ones that can frighten me. Not that I’ve ever cared about being competitive in Pokémon (because I am nearly 40 and have better ways to spend my time than obsessively breeding virtual cock-fighters), but this added dimension gives the series a lot more depth than your standard game that is targeted toward children.
All that said, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that my wife (two years my junior and who has also played every generation, many of them concurrently since we got together in ’99) and I are in possession of several Pokémon plushies in addition to the games themselves. Because another thing about things ostensibly aimed at children? They tend to be fun, and that’s something more adults could use in their lives.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologinistas. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week.