You Know What I Love? Short Games

Thirty Flights of Loving

By on January 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm

You know what I love? Short games. Games that aren’t bloated with content simply because games are apparently meant to be long. Games that know they can say what they want to say in a matter of hours or, sometimes, a matter of minutes, and are all the more powerful for it.  I love the games that are only as long as they need to be.

I don’t know when it was decided that a good game must be a long game. I can remember reading game reviews when I was a kid in the 90s that rated a game’s “lastability” or similarly ghastly made up words. The longer a game is, the better it must be. The shorter a game, the worse it must be. This isn’t judging a book by its cover; this is judging a book by its thickness. I guess when a single game is going to cost several months of pocket money, you want that game to last for a long time. That makes sense. The problem is that over the years this has translated into an idea that a game’s length is synonymous with its quality.

But this clearly isn’t the case. Some of my richest gaming memories of the last year are from games I could finish in one sitting. In the past week, I’ve played two games that have each taken me less than fifteen minutes to get from start to end: Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia, and Blendo Games’s 30 Flights of Loving. Each of these games, in its own way, offered an incredibly rich experience that I won’t soon forget regardless of (or, perhaps, thanks to) the brief length of time it took me to play them.

Anthropy’s Dys4ia uses a retro, WarioWare aesthetic to tell the player a deeply personal story about something that Anthropy herself has gone through. Over four very brief chapters, the game sets up a conflict that the player can comprehend, challenges and anguish that the player can feel, and, finally, a sense of hope that the player can share in.

30 Flights of Loving, meanwhile, uses filmic cuts to tell an equal parts simple and confusing story of a heist gone wrong. It throws the player from scene to scene, across space and time in a confusing and disorientating way. It doesn’t waste time telling the player what order the scenes are meant to be in or who these people are or what this world is. It wants you out as quickly as it pulled you in. But for all its haste, I was still able to feel a connection to this world and its characters. I felt my avatar’s relationship with his woman accomplice far more strongly than any dozen-hour-long romance option I’ve had to slave away over in a AAA game.

What’s special about both of these games, I think, isn’t that they are incredibly short. Rather, it’s that they are exactly as long as they need to be to do what they want to do. Both are capable of doing what they want to do in minutes, so why bloat them with hours of unnecessary content?

‘Long enough’ is going to be different for each game. Dear Esther takes me about ninety minutes each time I play. The Unfinished Swan takes me about two hours. Both these games are perfect at this length. Dear Esther could always add more jaw-dropping scenery, or The Unfinished Swan could have more mind-boggling puzzles, but they don’t need to. Each is just long enough to do what it wants to do.

Of course, all these examples are independently developed games with smaller price tags. What about the big AAA games that still cost upwards of $60? Should we be able to demand that these games have a certain length? It’s something I’m in two minds about. On one hand, I’d like to think I was paying money for quality, not quantity. But on the other hand, if I finished a $100 game in fifteen minutes, I’d be pretty disappointed.

Yet, one of my favourite AAA games of the past year, Spec Ops: The Line, only takes about five hours to complete. Again, it is just the length it needs to be and doesn’t waste any time with content that it doesn’t need just for the sake of being longer.

Ultimately, it is a case by case thing. There will always be games that we will rightly expect dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours of gameplay out of — our RPGs and our open-worlds and our MMOs. I love having a single, massive game that I can absolutely lose myself in for days, weeks, months on end. But it’s the other end of the scale I’ve really come to appreciate in recent times. The games I can just sit down with and play and be done with after one session. The games that aren’t a slow submersion but a sudden splash of cold water to the face.

And they are all the more memorable for this. The suddenness of these experiences, the immediacy of them, ingrain them onto my mind, giving me memories and sensations that other games take dozens of hours to engrave. That’s why I love short games. As I grow up and find myself with less and less free time, I love that there are developers exploring the other end of the spectrum, getting straight to the point and seeing just how much can be done with so little.

10 comments (Leave your own)

How could you talk about good short games without mentioning Portal?

 

Short, impactful games are great. Spec Ops is the perfect example of this, yet as far as shooters go it’s probably the exception – if you only played the COD series for the single player campaigns, I don’t see how you couldn’t come away disappointed with what the short campaigns (not to mention the ludicrously stupid stories and average gameplay, but that’s another thing altogether).

I think, ultimately, it comes down to value. I’d feel kind of annoyed if I’d paid full retail price (say, $90) for Spec Ops for 5 hours of gaming, even though it was the best 5 hours of an FPS I’ve played since Half Life 2. It’d be great if some games were sold in packages – half price if you weren’t touching the multiplayer in COD, for example. Naturally this will probably never happen because developers and distributors are likely quite keen to hook players via strong multiplayer offerings, but a man can dream.

 

What annoys me about “large” games like say, Skyrim, is having to trek from one side of the world to the other to kill a wolf in some blokes house then back again to say i have done it. An they allow this purely because you can use fast travel if you don’t want to walk it. Whats the point of having a huge world and big game with lots of content if it encourages you to take the short cut.

 

khandruas,

To have an option for both people who WANT to walk all that way and people who DON’T want to walk all that way.

 

palzer0,

Excellent point! Let’s say I was leaving it for you to point out :D

 

I too have been loving short games lately. The latest example would have to be The Walking Dead each episode took about 2hrs to complete and it didn’t need to take longer. Each episode left me wanting more but had it gone for longer I think it would have ruined the experience.

 

BOOOOO! short games blow. The most disappointing (and honestly probably the ONLY disappointing) aspect about Portal was how short it was.

Long games don’t have to be bland and full of padding, the late 90′s to early 2000′s were full of great, long games across just about every genre.

 
Ralph Wiggum

I like short games with lots of potential for replayability. I’m more of a storyline type of player and prefer it when a game has a tight narrative which sucks you in and keeps you interested. Much better than long (especially sandbox) games with drag on and on with 1 million side quests. Which is probably why I continue to struggle to play Skyrim and the GTA series no longer interest me. Borderlands is probably the one exception.

 

A story driven game, should only be as long as it needs to tell the story (Like in Dear Esther). But you basically sum up my thoughts with “Ultimately, it is a case by case thing.”, some games will feel padded out, others will be enjoyed because of the padding (Just Cause 2 springs to mind).

 

it’s value

no one likes a short game when you are paying 60-70 bucks for it

That’s why indie games are doing so well, they cost 20-30 bucks and have so much value and fun

 
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