When purchasing a DVD, do you choose one based on length? How about books? If length is a factor in choosing DVDs or books, you probably choose the shorter. I’ve never heard of anyone decide against seeing a movie or reading a book because it’s too short, but plenty of people pass on movies and books because they are too long.
However, it seems like the opposite holds true in games. A lot of reviewers mention that a game is “short” in their reviews as a negative thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. Similar to movies and books, long games often have a lot of “filler” content that isn’t as good as the rest of the game, and they are unable to keep the excitement throughout.
Here’s an example. Lost Odyssey was the last long game I played. It took me over 40 hours, which is about standard for a JRPG. There are some amazing things about Lost Odyssey. Lost Odyssey is the most emotionally engaging game I’ve ever played. The story took a common video game contrivance – the player never dies, and transformed it into a touching story about the fragility of human life and the pain of loss. The plot was a bit slow to pick up, but about 10 hours in, I was completely hooked.
So it sounds like Lost Odyssey was great, right? Well, not exactly… Towards the end, game ended up dragging on and on and on. Nothing in that last 3/4ths of the game came close to being as compelling as the beginning. It seemed like they said all they had to say storywise well before the end, and the end was filled with grinding against the same enemies, which wasn’t much fun. Although I was super enthusiastic about Lost Odyssey at the beginning, it transformed into something I just wanted to get over with.
Lost Odyssey would have been one of my favorite games had they trimmed it down and kept the good stuff and removed a lot of a filler. One might argue that JRPGs are supposed to be long, but my favorite JRPG (and favorite game ever actually) Panzer Dragoon Saga. You can beat the game in a bit more than 10 hours and do all the sidequests in more like 15 or 20 hours. Every second of that game is totally awesome though, so I’d rather play through it 2 or 3 times than a 40 hour RPG with a lot of filler.
Similar to a good book or movie, games can be replayed. Every time you watch a movie, it’s the same. With a games, you can take a different path or try something new like a higher difficulty. You can do speed runs, compete for a high score, or collect all the achievements. If a game is great, you’ll want to play again. If it’s too long, then you will really only want the experience of playing through it once.
The one negative thing people have to say about the recently released Limbo is that it’s too short. The developers admitted they threw away about 70% of what they created because it didn’t fit in with their vision. Would Limbo have been a better game if it were over 3 times as long? I say no. Limbo as a game has a very strong artistic vision, and to add content that isn’t as good as the rest of the game just to pad the game length would be doing the game a disservice.
It is the job of the editor in both literature and film to chop out the dull stuff to ensure tension is maintained throughout. Why don’t we trust game developers with the same responsibility?
PS. Many other game developers feel this way, and we decided to all blog on the subject at the same time. If you are interested in reading how more developers feel about this, check out all the links:
- Jonathan Blow of Number None
- Ron Carmel of 2DBoy
- Chris DeLeon
- Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games
- Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games
- Cliff Harris of Positech Games
- Chris Hecker of Spy Party
- Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games
- Noel Llopis
- Peter Jones of Retro Affect
- Lau Korsgaard (Not safe for work! You have been warned!)
- Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules
- Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games
- Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire
- Michael Todd
- Alex Amsel of Tuna
- Steve Swink from Enemy Airship