Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brainstorming the Execution of Satisfaction

Investigating the art of the moment with Viewtiful Joe has me thinking about how it fits into the execution of satisfaction. After all, satisfaction is composed of many factors, and how intense the satisfaction that results is a matter of the quality and execution of those factors. Factors like visual execution, aural execution, story elements, challenge, and gameplay execution. If one of these factors is weak, it doesn't ruin the satisfaction, but it still keeps the satisfaction from being its best, or what I call "true satisfaction". Of course, satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder, so this investigation is all from my point of view.

Despite there being many factors that go into satisfaction, there are many different ways to execute a satisfying gameplay experience, as games like Metroid: Other M and Final Fantasy IX have proven to me.

Speaking of Final Fantasy IX, why is it that RPGs can be so satisfying? After all, all most RPGs consist of is exploration, battles utilizing menus, and story elements; there's none of the white-knuckle button-mashing that action games or shooters have, so why is it that many of my favorite and most satisfying games are RPGs? This is where my investigation of the "art of the moment" with Viewtiful Joe got me brainstorming. "The Moment"; I've come to understand that this is a critical piece of the enigma that is satisfaction. After all, unless one is playing a high-octane arcade game like Metal Slug or After Burner, a game can't be immensely satisfying at every moment. This is where "the moment" and the process that goes into creating it come into play.

In the genres of RPGs and action games, the crowning moments are often the boss battles. The final battle with Jeanne is, currently, the most satisfying moment I've had in my time playing videogames; this is because the visuals, music, gameplay, and diversity there-of throughout the entire fight was absolutely spot-on and enthralling. So why is it that the final battle with Lavos in Chrono Trigger can be just as satisfying when all the gameplay has me doing is scrolling through menus? The answer is the power of the moment.

The power of the moment is truly a defining factor in the execution of satisfaction, one that I truly haven't been giving enough credit. The art of building a game up to "the moment" and having the player actually play it out, no matter what the gameplay execution is, is truly the core element of satisfaction. If the moment plays out well, then the player is satisfied, but if it doesn't, then the moment, which may have been set up well, falls apart due to poor gameplay. The moment may be a critical factor in the execution of satisfaction, but gameplay is something that can never be ignored, for it will always be the foundation of the execution of satisfaction.

One example of poor gameplay ruining an otherwise superb moment is the final boss battle of Super Mario Galaxy 2; the setting is epic, the music is of a scale beyond anything else a Mario game has done since Yoshi's Island, and the immortal rival battle between Mario and Bowser is set; unfortunately, the boss battle is so simple and easy in terms of gameplay that the player barely has any time to savor the moment given to them. A truly unsatisfying ending, and a perfect example of a ruined moment.

Now, an example of a superb execution of a moment, is the final battle of Yoshi's Island; like SMG2's final battle, the battle is a surprise, so the set-up is sudden, the music is intense and epic, the setting is ominous and scary, and baby bowser couldn't look more terrifying. The set up is a truly incredible example of how to create a "moment". Then the gameplay kicks in, and only makes every other factor in the battle better. The gameplay is executed in a style unlike anything else played in the game before-hand, so the player is left to learn as they play, this truly adds to the intensity and anxiety of the fight, because for every missed hit the player makes, Baby Bowser gets closer and closer. And after a few hits to Baby Bowser, the player gets less footing, which makes the fight twice as hard. And while this is all happening, the music just gets more and more intense. This rare, superbly executed moment is so satifying because of how the moment isn't forged simply through the use of amazing visuals, music, and gameplay, but how they all come together in this condense package we call a "boss battle".

A boss battle is what most think of when we think of great gaming "moments", but there can be many others, including just straight-up gameplay. But, what can make just normal pieces of gameplay into great "moments"? Well, this all depends upon the genre. For example, Chrono Trigger is a game made up of great moment after great moment, all thanks to its great story, superb pacing of events and gameplay, and varied settings. Chrono Trigger is an RPG that keeps the player on his/her toes, and that's what makes it so enthralling. Other RPGs can have different execution methods, such as FFVII and FFIX, which took their stories and gameplay processes (leveling up, gaining weapons, etc.) pretty slow, but as a result we get to know the characters better, the story was allowed to be more complex, and the player could become in-tune with the gameplay systems better thus allowing the game to be harder in the game's second half. This is how RPGs create their moments, by utilizing a pace unique to its genre; its a slow, yet endearing process that provides many, many moments that are more tied to story and setting rather than gameplay. Of course, the quality of the game has a lot to do with how satisfying the game may be; after all, a poor story, poor characters, and poor gameplay can ruin pieces of the game that the developers may have considered moments, but probably weren't conceived as such by the players because of poor quality.

Action games create moments through many methods, but I'll use Bayonetta as an example. Bayonetta has a unique story built around a great mythology, a mythology that the player sees throughout the game's levels; as a result, each level feels like a critical piece of the puzzle of Bayonetta's story, and yet we are there, interacting within the levels. Interaction in a place of supreme importance to a game's story is often reserved for a game's final level with the levels beforehand being just fodder, at least in the action genre of games. Not so with Bayonetta. Furthermore, the player doesn't go long in Bayonetta without fighting a new enemy type or fighting a boss; this further creates a sense of importance in the game's levels and pacing there-of, as it shows that what's happening in Bayonetta's world is important, she can't just walk around as she pleases; or to put it simply: in the story of Bayonetta, shit is real. All of this comes together well in the boss battles of Bayonetta, which are definitely the best "moments" of the game, for not only was there great build-up to the boss battles through the excellent settings and pacing from one to the other, but the boss battles are always executed with intensity and finesse. Gamplay may be a bit simplified in boss battles in comparison to the normal battles of the normal stages, but the intensity is something that cannot be ignored. The build-up to, pacing, setting, and intensity of the final boss fight in particular is especially impressive.

So what does this brainstorming all lead to? It has made me realize that the quality of satisfaction is by no means something one genre has more potential for than others. A great moment in an action game can dwarf in comparison to a great moment in an RPG. After all, I never would have thought a stealth game could provide the moments of satisfaction a 3D action game could, but just look at the final boss battle of Metal Gear Solid 4. It's incredible.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that the satisfaction of a game more than often always comes from these condensed "moments" of satisfaction. For an entire game to be truly satisfaction from beginning to end, where just traveling across a field, obtaining items, and interacting with NPCs is a satisfying experience, is a truly rare thing. I find Okami, Chrono Trigger, and Metroid: Other M to be such satisfying experiences, but to expect this from every game is overdoing it. (Though that doesn;t mean I won't continue to have high expectations). What it comes down to is: a game's satisfaction is often built around these moments of satisfaction, and that's all well and good, but one should still come to expect more from other areas of the game and not just play them for the "moments". Viewtiful Joe showed that an action game can be comprised of condensed moment of satisfaction after moment of satisfaction while still having superb gameplay and depth; it's a possible process.

The process of having a game comprised of "moment" after "moment" is not new; after all, that was the foundation of arcade games in the past, but those games lacked strong gameplay depth and were often short and quickly paced. More games like Viewtiful Joe, Vanquish, and Bayonetta need to come along where that foundation of creating great moment right after another coincides with gameplay depth and fidelity. This creates an enriching experience that one can dive into but still have the intense satisfaction of arcade games and yet still savor it for it for what its worth, because it won't be over in 20 minutes.

However, that statement was just for action games. As far as other genres go, it's all a matter of the creativity of the developer. Same goes for the action genre too; after all, I'm sure there are many, many more ideas to be utilized for the execution of satisfaction and the process of making "moments" that I just haven't seen yet.

At the moment, I'm hoping for some new types of experiences to come out of Asura's Wrath and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.


  1. I think RPG's that are well done are essentially games that essentially are good at providing the player with the ideas that the next goal they achieve is worth working for. They essentially dangle the carrot in front of the player, allowing them to eat it, but making it good in a way that they are both satisfied by what they got, but also begin to look forward to the next one. They do that with gameplay in leveling and earning abilities, equipment, and all of that. The story needs to be interesting so that the player has motivation to work toward the next plot point.

    I think satisfaction comes from making the player part of the game and at each step making the game solutions to problems feel like they are intuitive yet challenging, and inventive yet appropriate. The player should innately know what they are supposed to do in a critical moment but shouldn't be made to feel like things were given to them. I think that is where satisfaction stems from (at least in single player games).

  2. Very, very well said Sonic.

    Personally, I think the game to finally fully satisfy me will be an RPG. They really satisfy like no other genre; specifically for the reasons you said.

    Though I won't count out action games.