Readers discuss the games they’ve thought about the most while not actually playing them, including The Witcher 3 and Tony Hawk’s.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Korbie, who asked which game do you daydream about the most when you should be doing something else, and how much do you plan out new strategies and tactics outside of a game?
Notoriously complex titles such as Dark Souls and XCOM were understandably common suggestions, but so too were the satisfying survival thrills of Subnautica and the way your situation slowly but steadily improves with every success.
This question is pretty much my measure for how much a game is entertaining me. If I’m not thinking about it when it’s turned off then it’s not really a top tier experience as far as I’m concerned. XCOM and Zelda are obvious examples, Soulsborne games even more so, but the one that’s obsessed me the most is Skyrim.
I actually think this is the key secret to the game’s success, the fact that it’s actually quite easy once you get a handle on things and the real fun is hunting down and exploring every secret, while unlocking every skill and crafting every piece of armour.
Many times I’ve found myself daydreaming in a boring meeting about what I still need to do to finish off my dragonscale armour or complete my homestead to my satisfaction. I think Breath Of The Wild has probably come the closest but while it’s probably a better game it doesn’t have quite the same level of customisability and that’s what really helps with a good obsession.
I’m not proud to say that I’ve spent an awful lot of the last year obsessing over Animal Crossing: New Horizons in just this sort of way. As any player will tell you there’s only a limited amount you can do each day, which leads you to planning out things quite a way in advance, working out how much you can do each day, how long it’ll take to complete a project, and what resources you’ll need in advance.
It doesn’t sound like much fun when I put it like that but it’s so satisfying to come up with an idea and sea it through to completion. I haven’t played it that much in the last few months but when the new patch and DLC came out I was back to it even more so than before. It may not be an action game but it’s got me more excited about playing it every day than anything else for a long time.
If I really get into a game I think about it a lot, although how I think about it depends on the game.
For racing games I will picture the circuit, trying to remember braking points and just trying to get better! It works too (although my natural ability level means it never works as well as I would like).
Rather sadly I also use it to help me sleep if I’m struggling to get off at night. Taking myself around a circuit I know really well, for example Brands Hatch or Spa, just helps me sleep. Not sure what that says about me!
The other kind of game I end up thinking about is if I’m playing a huge open world game, especially if it’s beautifully realised. I would say Oblivion and Skyrim fall into this category, as does Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (I also couldn’t get the shanties out of my head).
But the one that really stuck with me was Witcher 3, but more specifically Touissant. It was just so beautiful and rich. It did actually remind me to trips to southern France and the Mediterranean, particularly mediaeval cities and towns I have visited. I would just be thinking about how striking it looked and where to explore next.
If I ever fired up Witcher 3 again it would simply be to play Blood And Wine. Much as I loved the main quest, there’s no denying that game world was a bit, well… grim.
For me this is one of the areas where gaming beats film and TV. Depending on the game you can genuinely explore the world, not just see what the director wants you to see. It’s like in a film seeing a mountain in the distance and thinking ‘I wonder what’s up there’. You will never know. In a good open world game, well, you can find out!
Enjoy your gaming everyone!
The Dude Abides
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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, in the PlayStation 2 days. While out walking in the real world I’d often look at my environment and imagine how my game character might combo through it, e.g. ‘I could grind from that railing to that park bench, ollie off and then manual to that kerb for quick a tail slide,’ etc.
As an actual skater of many years, I knew the physics in the game weren’t reflective of reality but it didn’t stop me dreaming it on long walks home from the library.
The reason I like this question is I’ve thought for years that there can sometimes be a bit of a blind spot in game design. Too many games establish a great foundation in the form of satisfying mechanics, a few interesting ideas and high production values, then they seem to stop at that point, wrapping the package up with what I often consider to be distractions like script, dramatic performances, etc.
Games I often think about when I’m not playing are rarely the ones where I can’t wait to see what happens next in the story, or where I’m desperate to see what great new gameplay idea is round the corner (although that’s always important too). It’s the ones where I’ve got an interesting and varied to-do list where the completion of certain tasks has an impact on either other related tasks or on my general progress.
Games like Dark Souls, where problems often seem insurmountable but it’s within my gift to work out whether I need to learn the routine of a boss, acquire different items, improve the items I have, or explore alternative routes until I’m better prepared. I’d often sit in the office in 2011 wondering which of these activities I should line up for my evening sessions.
Other well-known examples of objective systems that really hook me include XCOM’s balance between tense operational missions and satisfying progression at a strategic level, and Subnautica’s cycle of exploration, resource gathering, and crafting.
Having received the latter for free as part of a PlayStation promotion, it’s been one of my favourite gaming experiences this year, and to develop from the point where you can barely survive a few hundred yards from your escape pod to building and occupying a floodlit multi-storey facility a mile under the sea, with a huge state of the art submarine that’s fully stocked up for expeditions lasting days at a time, was extremely compelling.
In contrast, while it’s a very different game, I recently finished Paper Mario: The Origami King and I just don’t think there was enough thought put into anything other than what was directly in front of me at any given time. The repetitive combat system might have been more tolerable if you were rewarded with something distinct that helped you work towards some sort of goal. Instead, it was just a bunch of coins and confetti that you could pick up at every turn throughout the game anyway.
Not to pick on Nintendo but I thought Luigi’s Mansion 3 suffered from this as well and could’ve done with at least one more layer of goals to keep me invested and to try and make all the repetition worthwhile.
I look forward to playing Subnautica: Below Zero at some point next year but your review suggested it was largely more of the same, so I didn’t want to burn myself out on it after about 65 hours of the first one.
PS: If you’re looking for satisfying and compulsive elements in games, the storage system in Subnautica is like the Resident Evil 4 inventory management multiplied by a hundred.
GC: It is good but you probably don’t want to play it straight after the first one.
I do daydream a lot about games, especially when I’m playing on a harder difficulty. I find myself thinking about different tactics and approaches to the section I’m playing.
However, the games I daydream about the most are the Uncharted games, but not for gameplay, just about how gorgeous Nate is!
The subject for this Hot Topic is pretty much my life in general for the most part, as thinking about tactics, strategies or planning out the next quest is me on a regular basis. Dreaming vividly about my hobbies when sleeping is a regular occurrence also.
In my work breaks, and without spoiling anything for myself, I’m always using the web for references or tips to best play out a boss fight if I’m having problems with it, or to upgrade my characters or read about hidden lore I may have missed. Ultimately my excitement for the current game keeps me going through the mediocrity of real life by merging it with my virtual life.
Games like Persona 4 and 5, Subnautica, Soulsborne games, Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls… it is basically an expansion of the game itself, with the thinking and non-spoiler research making a dull day into a highly entertaining day.
This then takes me onto dreaming, with my mind full of recent ideas and memories creating virtual worlds in my head. Only the other night I dreamt about Castlevania and a level in Symphony Of The Night. This is after many Soulsborne and Resident Evil dreams from many other nights. Technically they could be classified as low-level nightmares! But I wake up remembering them in great detail and thinking ‘Wow! Now that was a good dream!’
I am literally myself and surviving within my own dreamscape. The locations are scary but are mainly my own mind creating locations from my actual reality. Memories from my childhood or local areas or cities from the real world but blurred and warped and fashioned into something resembling a futuristic version of a nearby city, or a far out psychedelic version of it, but so-so memorable when I wake up.
It’s got to be the playing and thinking about games, and my sci-fi and fantasy reading, which are seriously effecting my dreams, as well as family and past nostalgia from memories of long ago. Walking dreams in the countryside are a common theme, due to my love of long distance walks in some very beautiful and scenic locations. Ironically this gets me thinking about games and music even more as I am strolling through woodlands and fields, etc.
The above may sound as though there’s something up with my head! But I promise you it’s genuine and make me very fulfilled when getting through life without it costing anything extra. I surely can’t be the only person out of the GC viewers who have experienced this on a regular basis. It’s definitely a positive in my life and long may it continue. Sweet dreams everyone.
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