High Density

High density fun

I’ve been thinking about what type of game fits my lifestyle given that my free time is so limited.  Gone are the days when I can sit for hours, uninterrupted and just play.  These days I need to be able to come and go from a game, but still feel that I’ve done something worthwhile out of what might be a half hour session every second week.

I’m honestly not picky about genres.  I just want something that is fun to play and worth the precious few moments of free time that I get.  Review scores are a great guide, but if it takes a big time commitment to get the most out of a title, it’s just not going to happen.

So here’s my realisation…  Fun Density.

Hear me out.

Evidence the first

I love RPG’s, but a game like Skyrim for instance, with hundreds of hours of exploration and character development, as well as a deep story just doesn’t work for me.  From one session to the next I just can’t remember where I’m up to in the story, what quest I’m supposed to be progressing or at what point of development my character currently sits.  It just becomes a really broken experience, like trying to read a novel one page a week, and I just don’t get enough out of it to be able to stick with it for any length of time.  Inevitably I get lost, bored and move on.

Is it fun?  Yes.  Is it high density fun?  Well, no.

Skyrim vista

What a vista! If only I had the time to explore.

Evidence the second

Battlefield 3.  First person shooters can be great for short pick up and play sessions.  In general, I find that online multiplayer is even better as there’s no campaign story to try and follow and most game types are done in short rounds of maybe 20 minutes.

Despite this, I struggled to make much traction in Battlefield 3 as my short play sessions didn’t allow me to build my experience enough to progress through the unlocks.  I seemed to always be outgunned, even after a year or more of intermittent play time.  And forget about building genuine skill in any of the aircraft.

Couldn’t this be solved by the purchased gear unlocks?  Well I guess so, but honestly pay-to-win just seems to be so against the fundamentals of gaming that I won’t do it.  Is it fun to buy access to gear?  Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I did have fun playing, as evidenced by my year or so of play.  There just always seemed to be these long stretches of frustration between the genuinely fun moments.

Was it fun?  Sure.  Was it high density fun?  Consistently no.

Air superiority

That’s me, in flames amongst the trees.

Evidence the third

The entire Total War series seems to have been made with the sole purpose of making me feel like a complete failure.  My Steam library currently tells me I own Rome: Total War, Medieval 2: Total War and Empire: Total War, all amazingly deep and full games begging to be played.  Total play time?  Eleven hours.  Campaigns completed?   Zero.

Reviews, like this one for Medieval 2, draw me in with statements like “a royal treat for history addicts”, and “…one of the greatest games we’ve ever played…”.  I like history!  I love the Medieval era!  A perfect score?  This game is made for me!  But there it sits barely played, gathering digital dust in my Steam library.  What the hell is wrong with me?!

Certainly there is plenty of fun to be had, but when I can only sit down for half an hour or so, there is just no way I can achieve anything worthwhile.

You can see where I’m going with this.  Fun?  Yep.  High density fun?  Unfortunately no.

M2TW Map

So much map, so little time.

Wrap it up

So what’s going on?  Have I just become a dirty casual?  I like to think not.  Deep stories, character development and challenging game play all still appeal.  I guess I’ve just become less patient and willing to wait for it.

I recently posted about the indie platformer VVVVVV.  I think this is a great example of a game done right.  It may only be short (I blasted through it in a week) but in that short play time they manage to squeeze in a worthwhile story, a simple but ridiculously challenging game mechanic, which really does reward persistence, and a fun, pumping soundtrack.  There’s a depth of experience to be had if I want to put in the time, but I can still sit down for a short session and feel like I’ve made some worthwhile progress.

The Grand Theft Auto series also does this well.  There are hundreds of hours of game play available if you want to stick with it.  I could sit down for a multi-hour session and progress the story by working through a number of missions and develop my character, or I could just as easily sit down for a half hour and have a blast simply cruising around town, exploring the city or seeing how high I can get my wanted level.  You’re never far from the next mission or point of interest and something is always happening.  There is both a depth of game play and a high density of fun.

And that’s where it is for me.  Games are supposed to be about fun, and when my gaming time is at a premium, I need that fun to be easily accessible.  I don’t mean easy, shallow or over quickly.  I still want a story.  I still want a challenge.  I’d love longevity and re-playability.

Give me high density fun and I’ll die happy.


Featured image by Jens Schott Knudsen licensed under Creative Commons.