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Kid Gloves: When Hand Holding Goes Too Far

Oh, I need to press the GLOWING BUTTON in the room with nothing else in it? Thanks for telling me...I NEVER would have figured that out on my own!

As I was moving into the end game of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I was tasked with finding three power couplings to unlock a door. It was a simple enough job, but in a game that had been almost entirely a linear affair, I was glad to have the rails taken off if even for a small section. It turned out that this wasn’t the case; any time I got remotely close to one of the power couplings Doktor would chime in on my codec to inform me that I was near my objective. Frowning, I destroyed the coupling and repeated the task with Doktor telling me exactly where to go and what to do. It made me realize just how much game design has changed in recent years, and what needs to be done to combat the need for constant hand holding that game designers have developed.

The Revengeance example is in stark contrast to 1998’s Metal Gear Solid. In that game there was a similar task given to Solid Snake towards the end of the story. In order to gain access to the Metal Gear Rex prototype, Snake needs to use three key cards. He’s tipped off that he already has all three keys on him—the card he possesses changes shape based on temperature. However, Snake isn’t told exactly how to bring these changes on. Instead, it’s up to the player to figure out that the key needs to be equipped while Snake is in the refrigerated area where Vulcan Raven was defeated and the smelting area on the route towards Rex. It wasn’t a huge brain teaser, but solving this little puzzle added something special to the game.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how games today seem to be focus tested to death. I don’t know the criteria for video game focus testing groups, but I get the impression that they attempt to pull in as many people that have no gaming experience (or cursory experience) as they can. This, of course, is because publishers are trying to reach as wide an audience as possible. The problem with that, obviously, is that certain games simply aren’t going to reach that audience. A game like Metal Gear Rising, for example, is going to appeal to a niche audience within a niche audience: fans of Japanese-developed action games that also love the crazy plotlines of Metal Gear games.

As a veteran of video games, nothing annoys me more than a game telling me what to do before I even have a chance to try things out for myself. This hand-holding can achieve extremes quickly, even in game franchises that have been around forever. After an already too-long tutorial section for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword I shut the game off when, as I was about to use a save point, my guide stopped the game to tell me how to use a save point.. I was there to enjoy the new Zelda game, not to be coddled as if I’ve never played a video game before.

Of course, things can go in the opposite direction as well. Video games are far more complex than they were in the days when you could pick up a controller and know exactly what each button does in a couple of minutes. Controllers have a lot more buttons now, and characters gain moves and abilities throughout the course of a game. If the designers don’t teach players what their character is able to do or how the systems and mechanics actually work, the player may get frustrated and move on. I’ve talked to many people that couldn’t get into the first Mass Effect -- a game that does a poor job of explaining its controls and mechanics. Once I showed these more casual gamers how the game is actually supposed to be played they were able to go back and really enjoy it.

There is a happy medium that can be reached and it goes beyond something like difficulty settings. I keep thinking back to Heavy Rain, a game that didn’t have “easy”, “normal”, and “hard”, but instead asked players how familiar they are with a PlayStation 3 controller. This is something I think could be applied to games across the board, perhaps even on a system level for the upcoming consoles. Ask me what my experience is with games. If I say “I’m really experienced with this genre”, maybe take the kid gloves off, eh? It’s not just a matter of intrusive tutorial messages—those can be turned off in the options on most games. I’m talking about constant NPC dialogue pestering the player to do “x”, or exactly how “y” needs to be used on “z” before the player even has a chance to look for “z” on their own.

This isn’t a rant about how games today are garbage and things were better when games were obtuse for the sake of being obtuse. I think “hardcore” gamers sometimes conflate challenge with poor game design. We’ve learned a lot about the language of video games over the years, and developers should take that into account. If you’re conversant in the language of video games your experience should be different than someone who only knows a few phrases. I’m all for growing the gaming audience, and I think the ability to customize Mass Effect 3 (choose action, story, or RPG -- a separate setting from difficulty) is a step in the right direction. There’s much more that can be done, though, and as we move into the 8th generation of consoles I think it’s high time that developers learn to give gamers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their ability to play video games.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/18/2013 at 03:21 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

yeah I think about this a lot too. I hate how there's always someone talking in your ear in modern games.  Dark Souls isn't for everyone, but the nonlinear quality, problem solving, and solitude of it are a welcome change. 


05/18/2013 at 04:48 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I think another reason for hand holding is that the developers spend so much time and money in creating assets, that they want to make sure that you experience all of it. I read something about Mass Effect 3 and that most people chose the default character and settings and didn't finish the game. Just imagine all the time and planning and work that went into ME3 to give you choices, and most players didn't bother to go through any of it. So dragging you along a straight path might be a way to make sure you see it all. Then the other problem is it can get boring after a while. 


05/19/2013 at 02:53 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

sadly this is something that is needed with gamers these days, along with the complex words they now weave. I've run into gamers where they don't know where to go or what to do. and when they try to figure it out on their own they do everything EXPECT what is suppose to be done in the game.

It's even needed for gamers who are just now trying out any given game in general. My wife who was a big gamer during her time can't even figure out where the said "switch is" even when it's right there in the room.

It's not because she doesn't know what a switch looks like or she can't figure it out on her own. It's just the worlds are so much we almost suffer from stimulus overload. and if she ends up spending too much time trying to figure something out it's not fun anymore.

As much as I don't are for hand holding I fear it's here to stay if only to ensure games can reach a broader demographic is they wish to remain relevant.

Julian Titus Reviews Editor

05/19/2013 at 04:25 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

And I realize that some gamers need that extra push. This is exactly why something as simple as telling the game "I'm really experienced with games" or "I play games, but not all the time" could help.

Of course, developers have been working with things like sliding the difficulty of encounters on the fly for quite some time now. You'll notice sometimes you'll scrape by a battle by the skin of your teeth after getting slaughtered five times in a row? Likely that was the game easing up on you just a bit. This should be applied to navigating the environment or solving puzzles, as well. I remember Batman: Arkham City using Batman's inner monologue to guide players in the right direction. Problem was, he'd do it the instant he entered a room. I'd rather see this happen after a player has been wandering around for a good amount of time.

And the worst thing devs can do is have a partner AI tell you what to do next EVERY 30 SECONDS. This was one of the big problems with Enslaved, for example.


05/19/2013 at 04:36 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I rarely think about it but it's true games hold your hand far too often, i think it's made me a worse gamer in some respect.


05/20/2013 at 05:30 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Three solutions:

1. Make the hand-holding optional - give the player the option to turn it on or off at the beginning, and give them the opportunity to turn it on and off throughout the game in the options menu.

2. Keep the tutorial level as a separate level selectable from the main menu instead of inserting it into the main game. Tutorials bore the shit out of me, and I don't really want to be forced to wade through the tutorial at the beginning of every game. I want to be in the thick of things at the get-go.

3. Start printing manuals again. The shitty pamphlets are useless, and I'd rather read a manual than look at some in-game database, which breaks immersion and stops the action.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

05/20/2013 at 11:09 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I don't mind having my hand held if I've been stuck on something and died over and over again.

Let me use Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge to explain my thought process. I was stuck on Day 2 for quite a while. There's a mini-boss involving a Helicopter shooting missiles are you through the side of a building while enemies are attacking you simaltaniously. The entire time I was just jamming the Left Trigger to dodge while taking crack-shots at the Helicopter. After 5-10 deaths, it would've been nice of them to tell me I could shoot my bow WHILE jumping through the air.. Instead they offered to bump me down to easy mode in which I responded with a polite fuck you I quit.

I suppose my example isn't exactly hand holding, but I think I made my point in what I like in terms of 'assistance'.

Beat Day 2 on Saturday though Laughing


05/20/2013 at 12:14 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I am slowly getting to a point that I like to shut off any sort of hint, or tutorial system.  Why do sequels have longer tutorials built into the game than  the original?  I think that having hints pop up when a new mechanic is introduced is far more effective than a tutorial.  Tutorials can be nice, but sometimes they can be too much information.  Information that you do not need until the middle of the game is somewhat useless to know before you start playing.  Also, some stuff you may never use because of you play style.  



05/20/2013 at 05:39 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

If you haven't already, I'd recommend stopping by and reading Jeremy Parish's "Anatomy of a Game" blogs. He's been going back to some famous 8-bit titles and exploring, among other things, the ways in which well-designed older games nod you in a certain direction without telling you too much. Of course, there are those maddeningly opaque moments, too, and weaker NES titles like Milon's Secret Castle thrive on that sort of thing. Newer games could certainly learn from this sort of thing.

Patrick Kijek Staff Writer

05/21/2013 at 02:20 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Haha, great final picture. Video game gold. It'll probably happen somewhere down the road.

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