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How Strategy Guides Affected Gaming 352

Heartless Gamer writes "2old2play has another great story up looking into how games have become more complicated due to strategy guides. From the article; "Strategy guides have affected gaming by making games harder for all of us. That's right, it's not a typo — strategy guides have created more difficult games. Lend me your eyes and attention spans, and I'll explain. Admittedly, it may be a rambling explanation, but bare with me and we should get there eventually." Ya know I always find a strategy guide for things like Final Fantasy just because some puzzles are just ridiculous and I have no interest in trial & erroring for an hour when I'd rather kill monsters. But there really is somethign to this.
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How Strategy Guides Affected Gaming

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  • Follow the money? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday August 28, 2006 @04:59PM (#15996228) Homepage Journal

    strategy guides have created more difficult games.

    Strategy guides have been with us for a very long time indeed, almost as long as we've had games. I did a little research, and the earliest reference I can find to what I think qualifies as an 'official' strategy guide, are the 'hintbooks' published by Infocom in support of their adventure games.

    I remember those, form the early 80's. When you had to buy Invisi-Clues to solve InfoCom games. It struck me that some of these puzzles were so far from obvious you were going to fail without the booklets and their magic markers (which made the clues visible.) Why would I put this object in there? Where's the in-game hint there I should try such a thing? After all, there were probably 1.07e22 possible combinations...

    I don't remember a strategy guide for Space Invaders, but one for patterns to Pac-Man was a near best seller.

    Ya know I always find a strategy guide for things like Final Fantasy just because some puzzles are just ridiculous and I have no interest in trial & erroring for an hour when I'd rather kill monsters. But there really is somethign to this.

    Well, you seem to have hit the nail on the head with the video games -- you're getting pretty poor return on your entertainment dollar if you beat the game the day you bought it, thanks to a guide which tells you where to get the Spear and Magic Helmet you need and where the wabbit is hiding so you can kill him. Everyone is in a big hurry these days. Some is just impatience ("I want my reward, now!") and some of it is competitive ("George has already got the magic carpet from the Genie? Crap! I need to catch up to him!") I thought a Simpson's episode did a bit of fable (complete with moral) where Bart wanted some video game incredibly bad, then when he could just about get the game, some rude kid shows up in a shop and tells his mother the game is passe and he doesn't want it, he wants something else now. There's something about traveling in the herd which makes people need to succeed and buy these things.

    I'm so happy to be out of most of these newer games and having lots of fun with old games (even infocom invisiclues can now be found in the internet :-)

  • by Beuno ( 740018 ) <(argentina) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday August 28, 2006 @04:59PM (#15996236) Homepage
    Something must have lost balance over the years becasue I remember playing Monkey Island and getting stuck a few times, but not enough to have to go and read a guide.
    Maybe it's a mix of information availability and the wrong balance of game developers toward this issue.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:00PM (#15996240) Homepage Journal
    The readily available information out there, not just strategy guides but informal stuff on the Internet, has helped drive increased complexity in strategy games. However, the market has as well. People want more challenge, not rehashed games over and over. Unfortunately this has also led to many games becoming needlessly complex IMO and focused on complicated game mechanics at the expense of storyline and overall gameplay.

    Games with relatively simple rulesets and execution like Chess can, after all, be extremely challenging. Just layering on complexity is in many ways a cop out.
  • In summary... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:02PM (#15996258) Homepage Journal
    Let me guess:
    1. Our problem-solving skills are devolving because we don't have to use them, thanks to strategy guides.
    2. Authors don't worry about difficulty since they can defer complaints to the guides.
    3. Games are made harder to sell more guides through the distributions in-house publisher.

    Does that about cover it?

  • by legoburner ( 702695 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:03PM (#15996264) Homepage Journal
    At least nowadays we have gamefaqs [gamefaqs.com] to save money on overpriced gaming guides. Although most games are more fun without gaming guides, every now and then there is one puzzle in a game where something has been missed along the way and a little help is needed. I find gaming guides most useful if I play a game for a little while, then dont play it for a few months and cannot remember some of the smaller details needed to get past puzzles once I pick the game up again.
  • by w33t ( 978574 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:05PM (#15996274) Homepage
    This is why I would like to see more procedurally generated games.

    Games where the actual story is completely different - with different characters generated for each instance.

    Imagine a murder-mystery game, for instance. Which takes place in an actual-sized city. Your character waits around the precinct until the call comes in. You travel to the murder scene and it's completely random what happened and how it happened.

    In this case, no strategy guide could say, "you should always look for a knife or a gun" because the murder weapon could have been any physical object - instead of a particular "murder_enabled" object. Maybe the murderer used a microwave oven to bludgeon the victim.

    A procedural AI would do it's best to cover its tracks, and would learn your particular style of deduction so that the next murderer is even more thorough at cleaning-up.

    With the advent of a good physics engine and procedural map-generating algorithm you would have a completely different murder scene every time, in a completely new location.

    This could apply to all kinds of games. RPGs where the decision interaction between nobles and generals would dictate political climates and trickle down to direct the individual actions of the NPC AIs.

    I certainly hope that Spore is going to be the "Wolfenstein 3D" of the procedurally algorithmic games of the future.
  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:05PM (#15996276) Journal
    Most strategy guides are misnamed. They should call them "Spoiler Books" or something.

    You don't learn strategy from strategy guides, you learn how to follow a walk-through. Where's the satisfaction in that?

    Maybe I'm old-school, but I've never used a strategy guide for any game. If I can't beat the game without one, either I'm not as skilled/smart as I'd like to be, or there is a design flaw in the game. Both have been true with different games, and it's only the second possibility that really bothers me... especially when I lay out cash for a game.
  • Ye olde standby... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:06PM (#15996283) Homepage
    Ok it goes like this:

    1) Make a game people like to play.
    2) Toss in some incredibly hard puzzles that no sane person can figure out.
    3) Sell the answers in a "Strategy Guide"
    4) PROFIT!

    Nothing like making your own market.
  • Not true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveCBio ( 659840 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:07PM (#15996289)
    I really think this is complete and utter BS. I can't remember a single designer on any game I have ever worked on even considering a strategy guide when it came to design. This just screams of another gaming site grasping at straws and posting a contrversial topic just to get hits and it worked.
  • This is weird... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:08PM (#15996296)
    I always thought that games got more complex because the game designers were brilliant at what they did. The real reason is because of all these stupid gaming guides. What's next? John Carmack is not Santa Claus?
  • by Yath ( 6378 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:18PM (#15996352) Journal
    Strategy guides could also contribute to laziness among game developers. It's hard to make a puzzle that is challenging, yet not too difficult. This is evident in all kinds of puzzle/adventure games. The Zork trilogy had some puzzles that even some very smart people I knew just couldn't crack. And in Final Fantasy VII, the developers made no attempt to put enough clues in the game to perform chocobo breeding. So if a game developer knows that a strategy guide is going to come out in a month or two, why put in the extra effort to tune all the puzzles? Someone else will release the guide, and players who are having trouble will just use it. It's a shame, though.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:19PM (#15996357) Homepage Journal

    The thing is that lots of games are fun as they are, and can be completed without finding everything, but if you want to experience certain parts of the game you'd have to be fucking insane to actually get there without help. I mean think about Vincent's ultimate weapon in FFVII... In order to even get to that quest, you have to race your chocobos enough to level them up, then feed your chocobos weird food, then get them to breed. You need to go through two generations of breeding (minimum) in order to even get the kind of chocobo you need to get to where his quest is. Or how about that place on the railroad tracks you have to just sort of spontaneously turn and go up a rock wall to get? There's no visual clue whatsoever that there is a place to climb up there. NONE. And if you go past it and don't get it the first time you're there, it's not there the next time you go by, either.

    Basically, games are designed to sell strategy guides. What more proof do you need?

  • by joinder ( 658925 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:20PM (#15996368)
    I don't necessarily have anything against strategy guides, (in fact I find most I've gone through to be very enjoyable reads with high production values), I do fear they've had a direct effect at cheapening the actual content in game manuals. It seems like most pack-in manuals with games are not much more than installation guides/or control layouts. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but the days of comprehensive pack-in manuals seem in the past.
  • by packeteer ( 566398 ) <packeteer@subdim ... m ['on.' in gap]> on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:31PM (#15996422)
    First off let me say i am a video game tester for a living and have played every single xbox and xbox 360 game to ever come onto the market (and many that never made it). Let me tell you video games are not getting harder, they are getting easier. The trend in video games is to make them into an interactive movie.

    The biggest money makers in video games are sports games, second to that are the titles based on movies. I realized this one time when I was testing Ninja Gaiden. I realized that there was a single attack button that you just hit over and over during combat. The game made you do all kinds of cool looking moves including decapitations and wicked slashing combos. You as the player did nothinhg but hit 1 button and watch.

    Another game that was just an interactive movie was the xbox King Kong game. The game was extremely linear and the combat was based of learning a gimmick that once you knew you would not die. There was no difficulty in finding your way around becuase the game resembled a tunnel and all the fights were so easy that as i said before, you were simply watch a movie and your controlle rwas along for the ride.
  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:05PM (#15996598)
    Uh, Ninja Gaiden is the hardest game I've played in the last 5 years, no doubt about it. I don't get whether you're trying to use that as an example or not.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:24PM (#15996704) Homepage

    Similarly, all those "Dummies" books have allowed applications to become not only more complex, but less obvious. On the original Macintosh, all functions were accessable from menus. Now it's considered acceptable to have functions you can only reach from some wierd key combo, one not necessarily easy to find out about.

    Now every application seems to have an associated thousand-page book full of rituals and taboos. (Many such books are reviewed favorably on Slashdot. But I digress.) The "menu system" for many applications now consists of 1) look up how to do it in strategy guide, 2) follow button-pushing recipe blindly. Buy the book and learn how to add footnotes to your documents!

    Even Web sites now have books. There's Google for Dummies [amazon.com]. Then there's Building Your Business with Google for Dummies [amazon.com], which is apparently about search engine "optimization". There's MSN for Dummies, AOL for Dummies (of course), Yahoo for Dummies, eBay for Dummies, and Myspace for Dummies. Remember when web site navigation was supposed to be self-explanatory?

    What went wrong?

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:46PM (#15996836)
    > Um, were you expecting a 5.8 megabyte PDF containing a strategy guide or something? It doesn't take that many words to get this point across.

    My point was that whoever submitted this to Slashdot linked to a 5.8 megabyte PDF in order to talk about an article that was 3847 bytes long... A 1663-to-1 bloat factor has gotta be near the top of the charts for bandwidth wastage, even by our standards.

    About the only thing more wasteful would have been linking to a 60-minute HDTV broadcast, in order to talk about the 30 seconds of talking-head "editorial video" starting at 22:17 and ending at 22:47. Seriously not cool.

  • by Pulse_Instance ( 698417 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @08:10PM (#15997215)
    Have you even played Ninja Gaiden? I'm playing through Ninja Gaiden right now and there is more than one button for attack. X is regular blow Y is kick or with certain weapons a stronger attack, B is for projectile weapons, Y + B is to use your magic attack, and X + Y does a jump in the air which you can then launch different attacks from. There are also other attacks which can be done by launching off of walls. While you probably could get through the game only using X and block I'm pretty sure that would take an obscenely long time. From what my friends and other people who have also posted I can tell that I am not the only person who says that this is the hardest game they have played in years, which leads me to suspect almost everything you have said.
  • by maswan ( 106561 ) <slashdot2@@@maswan...mw...mw> on Monday August 28, 2006 @10:01PM (#15997584) Homepage
    The thing is, in the final fantasy games I've played (including mentioned FFVII), you don't have to do all that stuff in order to finish the game. In fact, if you instead of following strategy guides pay attention to the game, you could have a good time but not find all those easter eggs.

    When I played FFVII (back in 97, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think it took me about 35 hours) I never even got the character Vincent, and this was not a problem to finishing the game. Sure, I might not have seen every single screen or heard every single scripted line of "conversation" or gotten every item in existance, but you don't have to. The final fantasy games are enjoyable without getting all the ultimate weapons, doing all the side quests, etc, etc.

    I think it is rather a good sign of games to be so designed that there are elements to be found for those that enjoy racing and breeding chocobos, dodging lightning bolts, or whatever, but still be playable and enjoyable for those of us that don't want to do all that crap. I didn't read a strategy guide, I just played the game, making somewhat intelligent decisions of where to go based on the information given in the game and some exploring.
  • by Yath ( 6378 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @10:50PM (#15997726) Journal
    The idea that you'd have to go to a remote snowy island, then find chocobos hanging out with specific monsters, in order to get one good enough to win at the races, is too obscure to reasonably expect people to figure out. On top of that is the amount of effort you have to put in to just figure out whether a chocobo is any good. That was pure strategy guide material. In the case of FFVII, I can't say for sure if it was laziness or straight guide promotion, but in any case the game itself is poorer.
  • by masklinn ( 823351 ) <.slashdot.org. .at. .masklinn.net.> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:57AM (#15998359)
    WTF? EQ at it's starting point was way harder than WoW will ever be for the "Joe Blow" player. I don't know for high-end raids though. Anyway, MMORPGs are usually not "hard" (unless you're trying things you're somehow "not supposed to do", such as trying to beat raid-level mobs alone or with a single group, or a pair of friends), they're time-consuming, that's very different
  • by masklinn ( 823351 ) <.slashdot.org. .at. .masklinn.net.> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:00AM (#15998363)
    Except TFA isn't about complexity, it's about difficulty. Oblivion is arguably extremely complex, but I'd have a hard time hearing that it's difficult.

A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. -- Samuel Goldwyn