Today, the gaming industry in general seems to be focused on games that can keep players playing and paying indefinitely. This overarching genre of “forever” games includes esports such as hearthstone and overwatchsocial hangouts like World of Warcraft and Fortniteand endlessly repetitive grinds like Lot 2 even Candy Crush Saga† In any case, the idea is to create an experience that can engage a critical mass of players for hundreds or even thousands of hours over a period of years.
There is something to be said for these kinds of endless experiences. These days, however, I’m often more fascinated with games at the other end of the spectrum. This class of “lunch break” games — single-player, single-serving narrative experiences designed to be played once, in about an hour or less — will never be as big or as popular as games that require thousands of hours of attention from the public. player can ask. But there’s also something to be said for a game that impresses quickly and sticks with the player for much, much longer.
The last nice example of the form is Children, a “game of crowds” that lets you “move with and against crowds until everyone is gone,” as the Steam page puts it. I don’t really want to spoil the wholly unique experience by saying more than that, but this 30-second trailer gives a good feel for how the game’s fluid animation and striking, minimalist black-and-white characters have an eerie, claustrophobic aesthetic that’s hard to tell. shaking is.
I started Children at about 1:30pm yesterday after a quick lunch. I finished the game at 2:00 PM. But eventually I thought of that half hour for the rest of the day and in the morning.
Like an experience like Children came out as a floppy disk for PCs and Macs from the early ’90s, I think it would be a small cultural touchstone on the order of Flying Toasters. Instead, it seems that today the game is more and more buried in Steam’s absolute stream of indie copycats and those “forever” games that take up more and more of our gaming attention.
Make time for short games
There are important economic, technical, and social reasons why games have not historically been designed to be finished in one sitting. In the early arcade days of gaming, encouraging players to keep dropping quarters was an economic imperative to pay for expensive cabinets and computer chips. So, “quarter munchers” that made players pay through addictive loops and/or difficulty settings were mostly the ones that survived.
When gaming transitioned to cartridge-based home consoles, there was still market pressure for developers to justify the relatively high price (historically speaking) of all that plastic and silicon. So games of that era were filled with extreme difficulty spikes or gameplay tweaks that expanded the “value proposition” of the limited ROM storage space (guess you beat Ghosts and Goblins just because you made it through the last level? think again).
As costs fell in the CD-ROM era, the ability and compulsion to fill games with more (often repetitive) content only got worse. And today’s high-end games increasingly have to justify their rising development costs by stretching the time those beautiful, expensive art items appear on players’ screens.
The game equivalent of the short story from literature only really became achievable with the advent of the Internet, reducing distribution costs to practically zero. Early flash collection sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate were (and still are) loaded with short, free-to-play games that often focused on proto-meme culture or meta-commentary on the game medium itself. Achievement unlocked remains a hilarious and fun example of the latter, and an apparent inspiration for Super Mario Odyssey‘s target-dense setting.
But the era also saw more serious take on the concept of short games, such as the enduringly controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which put players in the shoes of the infamous school shooters. Content aside, the game was also notable for being made in RPG Maker, an early example of desktop software that drastically reduced the time, effort, and expense required to create a “professional” looking game. Access to these types of tools is essential for developers who want to create shorter games, and such tools have only become more common.
In the years since, single-serving “lunchbreak” games have become more common, especially on PC platforms like Steam and the indie-focused itch.io. Those games haven’t come close to taking up most of my playing time in recent years, but they’ve still provided me with some of the most enduring and gripping gaming visuals in recent years.
I find myself constantly thinking about the lonely criminals of Thirty flights of lovethe hilariously swinging limbs of Octodadthe ridiculousness of meta-gaming from frog fractionsthe lovingly depicted inner struggle of Depression Questand the silent mourning of a relationship in Florence† Extend the “time to beat” requirement by just over an hour and you can add recent favorites like super hot† What’s left of Edith Finch† fire watch† Abzuand many more in the same general bucket.
These fast-paced games contain more raw, memorable emotional moments than half of the 80-hour open-world epics out there. And there’s something about games that focus with such intensity on getting to the point quickly and then coming out without hours and hours of repetitive padding applied just for the sake of ‘value’. That’s especially true as the general gaming audience is getting older and more mature from their time and attention.
I hope more developers will follow Children‘ and create memorable, intimate games that don’t require a huge investment of time to make a lasting impact.