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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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  • by Innova ( 1669 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:04PM (#15996271) Homepage
    The reason I use them is because I appreciate how much time is put into making a modern game. I want to make sure that I don't miss any parts of the game.

    Usually I will play through the game once on my own, but then use the strategy guide to go through a second time and hit all the side quests.
  • Re:Bare What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hotdiggitydawg ( 881316 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:13PM (#15996328)
    But there really is somethign to this.

    It's not that hard to believe once you realise the editors can't be bothered proofreading or spell-checking their own copy, let alone any of the submitted text.

    Jeez Taco, can it be that hard to run articles through a spellchecker?
  • by DaveCBio ( 659840 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:15PM (#15996333)
    Maps and art content as well as audio might be able to be done well procedurally, but I have yet to see anything that could even come close to pulling off what a good designer/writer could do. So, if you wanted hack and slash dungeon crawls then your idea works and has already been done. Story and design wise that ain't going to happen any time soon.
  • Re:No Death (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:23PM (#15996382) Homepage
    You've put your finger on exactly why I loathe "adventure games". It's not about puzzles or problem solving, it's about guessing what the writer thinks would be fun to have you do right now.

  • by w33t ( 978574 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:27PM (#15996411) Homepage
    That is a good point.

    But a good deal of what makes a story great are the characters.

    Perhaps with good enough AI the idea of writing a "story" will be less about the story-line, and more about the detailed crafting of individual personalities.

    This way only half the "story" work is being done by the algoritm. The "drivers" of the story would be exquisitely crafted by writers/designers.

    Think about Han Solo, for example. I think he's a fantastic character, and many many stories can stem simply from him as an entity and from the decisions he would make and thus the situations he would find himself in.

    I could see then a game where you know the attitude of certain characters, and get to know them as "people". But perhaps with good enough AI, quality procedural stories can emerge simply on account of the strength of the character design.

    In fact, I think in this kind of environment where individual actions and decisions affect the "story" that the players own personality would likely have a large impact on the flow of the game. This type of impact would be much subtler than choosing the A-D answers from a menu which make your character simply become more "evil" or "good". The ability to have your personality impact a story would make the game have many shades of personal depth that a human writer could only achieve if he or she knew you personally.

    Writing this kind of software?...well, that's what I believe theoretical physicists refer to as, "an engineering problem" ;)

  • i disagree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wiarumas ( 919682 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:33PM (#15996442)
    I personally thought games were getting extremely easy nowadays. I, for one, welcome more challenging games.
  • Re:No Death (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doctor Ian ( 452190 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:42PM (#15996471) Homepage
    Actually you can die in the original Secret of Monkey Island. When Guybrush is under the water and just out of reach of all the sharp things, if you wait for 10 minutes, he turns all sorts of colours and dies. All the action buttons turn in to things related to being dead, and you can't get out of it.

    Okay, so you'd never actually take 10 minutes to figure out that part, even if you tried anything. It's just a little joke because Guybrush says he can hold his breath for 10 minutes.
  • The problem is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:44PM (#15996481)
    At this point, the technology doesn't exist to do it well enough to keep it from getting repetitive. You just can't link things together with the subtlety and detail that a human can. So in games that do it (Freelancer would be an example) the variation actually makes it more rote. Sure no two missions are precisely the same, but they are all the same general thing.

    It's going to take a lot more advances before there's the ability to generate compelling random missions.
  • Re:Bare What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by starrsoft ( 745524 ) * on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:49PM (#15996511) Homepage
    It's hard to take someone's comments seriously when they display such an obvious lack of spelling and grammar.
    Perhaps you could make sure your pronoun agrees with your noun. "They" is a plural pronoun which should refer to a plural noun. Try using "he" next time. I suggest the following improvement: It's hard to take someone's comments seriously when he displays such an obvious lack of spelling and grammar.
    "Someone's" is not a noun. It's an adjective. The antecedent of "they" is not "someone's", it's "comments". The antecedent noun and pronoun agree in their original form. Your example is proper English, but the grandparent's original is as well. I love the irony! ;-)

    Now I bet I made some mistake and there will be triple irony... Such is life...

    (BTW, you should either change the "which" in your second sentence to a "that", or add a comma.)
  • Toy Story 2 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Iron Condor ( 964856 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:51PM (#15996527)
    Y'now: pixar made a movie about how you had to buy the book to beat Zurg. Since when is something news that was mainsteam entertainment years ago?
  • by Astarica ( 986098 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @05:52PM (#15996531)
    Final Fantasy 9, which was released in Japan with no strategy guides because Square was experimenting with their PlayOnline system which is basically a strategy guide online for FF9 at that point, and later Square blamed the lack of strategy guides as the reason for poor sales of FF9. Now of course there could be any number of reasons why FF9 sold less than any other FF, but this is about as close you can get to a controlled sample (most FFs sold awfully similar numbers) since it just isn't possible to release the game without a strategy guide, observe what happens, and then do over.

    Developers didn't really catch on the fact that strategy guides help sell games while generating a tidy profit themselves, but once they do, it is obvious that you must make your game hard/obscure enough for people to be buying the strategy guides. I don't like this game design because it's introducing complexity/difficulty for the sake of just doing it (to the players, anyway). Though with the availability of sites such as gamefaqs.com, at least you have a free way out of this mess.

  • For me this only became painfully obvious when I was playing Dreamfall: The longest journey, the other day. This game, on multiple occasions, left me clueless on what to do. Instead of (as in the good ol' days) trying every possibility for hours, I just gave up after five minutes and went for a quick browse to gamefaqs; thus solving the problem at hand but not really getting any satisfaction out of it.

    Dreamfall is a bad example, since its actually by far one of the easiest adventure games around, only difficult part is the cave in chapter 5, but thats more due to the invincible trolls then due to the nature of the puzzle, rest of the game is more like an audio-book, then a normal adventure game since there simply aren't really much puzzles worth to talk about.

    However I doubt that strategie guides had anything to do with the death of adventure games, for one simple reason getting stuck *SUCKS*. Its simply no fun, plain and simple. If I get stuck there is a very good chance that I simply drop the game and go do something else, especially when its the "I don't even know what I am doing wrong" kind of being stuck, which in adventure games it often ends up being. Strategie guides on the other side resolve the stuckiness and allow me to actually enjoy the game, so if anything they should have increased the enjoyment of adventure games. There is of course a danger of getting more out of a strategie guide then you want to, spoilers ain't no fun, but compared to being frustrated for days or weeks, its really a small payoff. Beside I had a strategie guide for every adventure since ZakMcKracken, so those aren't really anything new either.

    The truth why adventure games died almost out (still rather alive over here in europe) is plain and simple: LucasArts stopped making them and there was nobody to step into their shoes. There simply weren't much great games around after LucasArts, there where still plenty of good ones, but almost nothing great, nothing that would drive the non-adventure crowed into the genre. And there of course also was no innovation. While every genre moved forward, the adventure game had its last jump back when ManiacMansion was released, after that almost 20 years of nothing, little jump again with Myst, but that was more a sidestep then a leap forward. Only recently Fahrenheit tried something new again, something that wasn't the same old point&click which most people got already tired of 10 years ago. And a lot of the good aspects of adventure games of course also got absorbed into other genres, each FPS now has some kind of puzzles and most RPGs tell more interesting stories then the average adventure game.

  • Re:No Death (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:24PM (#15996711) Homepage
    My brain clearly was not compatible with Roberta Williams' brain. That, coupled with the part about having to pick up literally every object in the game (especially the undetectible ones) in order to finish....

    Yeah. I understand that there were technological limits in the genre, but I found them unduly frustrating. I'd feel the same way if I tried to read a book with no proper nouns in it.
  • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:31PM (#15996749) Journal
    I was actually thinking about making a game like this, recently. I didn't know what the name for that class of games would be. I was thinking the right term would be "causal" (not casual -- read it again) games. That is, you can't do something that you wouldn't have known you could do.

    Let me give an example: say in some game, there's some hidden treasure. But if you've beaten the game before, when you fire it up the first time, you go *right there* and get the treasure, since you know where it is. One way around this is for developers to make it so if you dig there before being told about it, nothing's there. But that strikes me as unfair.

    So in a causal game, what would happen is that the treasure would be in a random, non-obvious spot. Every place you search, you have a miniscule probability of finding it. And every place you unsuccessfully dig, you "collapse the probability bubble" so that the only possible locations are now "somewhere else". And then here's the kicker -- if you actually do hit on the treasure, but reload without saving, and look there again -- it probably won't be there. (And obviously, the previous game's location of the treasure wouldn't help either.)

    This could extend to plot elements -- maybe that guy betrays you this time, maybe he doesn't. Maybe taking his armor off before the big battle weakens you, maybe he was about to betray you and it was a good idea. Each game is genuinely different.

    You could practice this on a small scale, with e.g. the card game hearts. The computer doesn't actually "decide" which opponent has which cards until it plays them, and it only has to be consistent with its previous revelations. (i.e., if it did't play a club when you led a club, it won't play a club on any later turn.)
  • Re:No Death (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saxerman ( 253676 ) * on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:36PM (#15996775) Homepage
    Space Quest 2 was the worst offender that I can recall. In the first scene of the game, if you don't notice a particular item and grab it, then at the end of the game you're screwed, with no idea why. You have to start over. From the beginning.

    I also seem to recall the InfoCom H2G2 game, where at the very end of the game Floyd would ask you for a specific item to open the hatch so you could leave the Heart of Gold. The item was randomized each time you started the game, and could include a number of items from early areas to which you could not return. But consider the target audience for text based adventure games; If you didn't want to figure anything out, you could more easily just buy a book.

    Also good modern games that include painfully complex and/or time-consuming content also tend to make it optional, such that you don't need it to finish the game, or it can only access it when replaying the game in 'God Mode' or something similar. This way the die-hard gamers can enjoy the extra content, and the more casual gamers can safely ignore it.

    Whenever I'm asked if I 'would like to get a copy of the strategy guide at X% off?', I tell them, "No thanks, I have access to the Internet."

    IIRC, the sales of strategy guides were also an early indicator of piracy when they sold better than the game itself. I used to know a guy who knew a guy on the old 8-bit Atari warez team, and this was eventually given to me as the reason they shut down their operations.

  • by osgeek ( 239988 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:59PM (#15996905) Homepage Journal
    Look at how it affects MMORPGs. WoW is a no-brainer, sure; but making puzzle solutions so spelled-out for the user takes a lot of the fun out of solving difficult them.

    One of the things that I kind of liked about EQ, was the fact that there were really tough puzzles where you could accidentally sacrifice some hard-won quest item if you didn't know what you were doing. Unfortuntately, after the first generation solves a puzzle, they post it on the Internet then it's easy for people after them. To compensate, EQ cranks down the drop rate for key quest items or they make the quests so unbelievably complicated. Imagine instead if information were much more limited.

    Imagine if you and maybe just your guild had to figure out how to solve certain problems that were different from what everyone else was solving. Then, game makers could feel comfortable in making puzzles that teased your brain a bit, but weren't so ridiculously hard to make up for the Internet effect.
  • Re:Follow the money? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shilkanni ( 803384 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @10:28PM (#15997660)

    I haven't read many strategy guides lately, maybe 10 or so in total, and I definitely haven't read any in the last couple years in either a seperate book version or print Computer Game magazine feature.

    I've been disillusioned to them since I read the Diablo II strategy guide and like many I had read before it seemed to be a series of common sense suggestions, and a rehashing of in-game help & manual information. More importantly, it often suggested strategies, character builds, and skill combinations that were bad. The most annoying is information which is out of date or incorrect!

    At least now I can go to gamefaqs or gaming websites if I want mediocre strategies and single-player walkthroughs (I generally don't).

    I find a lot more useful information and effective strategies reading the most popular fan forums for the game in question. Yes, there is bullshit in the forums and information which is wrong, but the absolutely vital thing is that people usually get called out if the provide bad information, strategies that only work on 'easy', or are easily countered. People will sometimes (best cases) give hard evidence/examples/replays/game data to back up their claims, and will comment on whether patches have changed the effectiveness of any plan.

    My recommendations:
    • Detailed information or strategy discussion -> Forums
    • Walkthrough for an unenjoyable/unsolvable puzzle -> Gamefaqs
    • Otherwise -> Enjoy the game unassisted

    It's very possible I'm out of touch with most others and get more 'into' any game I play

    Games I've played recently & best website I could find discussing them:
    Civ 4 at Apolyton [apolyton.net] and Fanatics [civfanatics.com]
    Rise of Legends [heavengames.com] also Game Replays [gamereplays.org] is a pretty popular site for Rise of Legends and other popular RTSes I don't play (C&C, AoE III, Act of War, Battle for Middle Earth).
    Rise of Nations [heavengames.com]
    Guild Wars [guildwarsguru.com]
    NWN Official Forums [bioware.com] and NWVault [ign.com]
    Ground Control II Official Forums [massive.se]
    Age of Mythology [heavengames.com]
    Diablo II [diabloii.net]

    I've tried looking for a good place to find out about Star Wars: Battlefront II and Homeworld 2 but I haven't really found out what the most useful site for these games is.

  • Re:Follow the money? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @11:29PM (#15997833) Homepage
    To reiterate what others have said, there was chirping, and it was fairly obvious at that. Unless you have your sound off. And as for Vincent: submarine. Regardless, the green chocobo should have been enough, which should only require one round of breeding (though Ruby WEAPON is actually a fairly easy battle, just time-consuming, and is an easier approach to "go for the gold").

    Anyways, I've played through FFVII more times than I can count. Dozens. And each time, I'll probably spend anywhere from 20-50+ hours (I'll play through cheating just for kicks). I've quite literally done absolutely everything there is to do in that game, and more than once at that (the sole exception being finding the Added Cut materia, but I can hardly be bothered to find a light blue dot in a few dozen screens of white). I've memorized the majority of the guide, save the odd tidbits, and know tons of things that aren't in there either. But was it a worthwhile $20 investment? Hell yes. As great as GameFAQs is, it just doesn't quite substitute in for a full-color printed and bound guide with maps and all that good stuff.

    Now tbh, I'm a bit of a strat guide whore. I have them for FF7 through FFX-2, several other console games, and probably a dozen PC games (most of which being fairly old ones, back when games weren't quite as linear). I try not to rely on them, but you know how those things go. Myst, for example, I'd have been totally f00ked without the guide... Dungeon Keeper, on the other hand, doesn't pose quite the same mental requirements.

    Yeah, a lot of games are going to be nearly impossible to beat without using a guide of some sort. I did HL2 no problem. Doom3, while I gave up after a while because it sucked so badly, required me to look up those stupid keycodes for cabinets (or, I should say, drove me to do so thanks to shitty gameplay). Quake4 was a bit of a no-brainer, as were numerous other FPS games as of recent. Some games just don't need them, some are made a bit easier for those tough spots, but there are certainly a few out there where you really need to either go online or to the local game store to win.
  • Re:No Death (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ponzicar ( 861589 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @11:36PM (#15997857)
    That's from this article about the death of adventure games at the long neglected oldmanmurray site: http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html [oldmanmurray.com]
  • Re:Follow the money? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by billcopc ( 196330 ) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:30AM (#15998714) Homepage
    Interestingly enough, I did find that secret stash on my own the first time I played FF7. You could hear the baby phoenix chirping and if you just happened to hit your "Action" button, Cloud would automatically jump up and start climbling. It's no different than the old-school Wolf3D searching for secrets, where you'd hump each interesting wall until something happened. What's changed however, is that people who are used to strategy guides have lost that sense of exploration because we have the quick fix. Why do the hard guesswork when you can google the answer, or pay 15$ for a book that tells you everything about anything .. but I feel it takes away from the fun of playing on your own.

    Yes, FF7 has a few of "wtf" quests, but for the most part you can figure it out fairly well on your own. You might die a few times along the way, but that's part of the gaming experience. The point is to challenge you.. if you can never lose with your strategy guide breezing you through all the tough spots, there is no challenge and there is no fun. It's human nature.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller