Video Game Debate: Short & Simple vs. Long & Complex.

With the presidential debates already passed and coming, MattTGF, brought up this week’s topic of short vs. long video games in a new feature titled: Video Game Debate. It is an opposing viewpoints feature written in instant messaging format.

The topic of short and simple vs. long and complex games has been a long talked-about topic within the video game industry, and hopefully we can clarify things for any of you via our debate. MattTGF will be defending short, simple games, and to a degree discrediting long, more complex games. IceTheRetroKid will be doing the opposite. Read on to see our debate and how it turned out. We tried to be as polite as possible to one another.

This feature may seem a bit long, but when you think about it, it’s two articles meshed together. One arguing for short and simple games, and another for long and complex games.

Be sure to let us know who you thought won or who you agreed with via our poll and comments section.

MattTGF, defender of all that is good with short, simple video games.

MattTGF: Hey, IceTheRetroKid, you know, I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, and I want to know what you think, so hear me out; that many short video games are superior to long games. I mean, look at classics like Portal, Star Fox 64, Punch-Out!!, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Geometry Wars, and Slender. I know many of those are arcadey, but hear me out, those are all very memorable video games that could be played numerous times over a period of years without getting old, just because their core gameplay is so solid. Long video games in comparison can unnecessarily drag out, tend to age badly, and their replay value is often lacking, and heck most of the longer-games have but two to three memorable moments at the end of the day. We’re talking about 10 to 15 set-pieces, compared to shorter games like those I mentioned which don’t have anywhere near as many, mostly. Your thoughts?

IceTheRetroKid, defender of long and complex games holds up a game of that type, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

IceTheRetroKid:Well, MattTGF, I would have to say that you are wrong in that regard, some of those games you named came out during periods of time where that was the average accepted length for content. Pac-Man came out in an age when that was in style and Punch-Out!! as well, except Punch-Out!! started that trend of requiring multiple sittings to get through the game as it is known for it’s legendary difficulty.

Things like Geometry Wars have also submitted to being downloadable at prices between $5-$15 which is what they should be priced. Something like Star Fox 64, however, definitely didn’t evolve the proper way its other Nintendo brethren evolved like Super Mario 64 or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, by being beatable in just over an hour as opposed to 20-30+ hours.

Ocarina of Time is a timeless classic that takes hours to beat, and yet it never gets tiring to play, and there’s other classics out there that are very long and yet retain their charm, like Final Fantasy VI, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metroid Prime, Xenogears and Assassins Creed II. These kind of games, you can just wander into their glory and soak them in at a slower pace, and every penny spent seems like pennies spent well because they don’t feel wasted.

So if these games are classical and long, they can last very long and even longer if you want to replay these classics, unlike those shorter games because they’re gone in such little time.

MattTGF: Okay. I’ll concede that many of the longer games you listed are very memorable and fantastic, but they suffered from a lack of accessibility. Why? Because if you leave a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metroid Prime, Final Fantasy VI or Ocarina of Time alone for more than a week or two, without finishing it at least once, getting back into the game can be quite frustrating. These quests are meant to be played within the span of a week or two, and some people just do not have time to do that with a 20 to 30 hour video game, so a sense of disconnect for those people can came about for those select individuals. Whereas with the shorter and simpler games I referenced, this problem cannot likely occur. Hence, not only are the games I referenced memorable, but they are accessible at any given time. With a game like Slender, you intrude of this monster’s property and steal pieces of paper, without getting caught, which is simple and easy to get into at any time.

Now, while it may be true that many of the games I referenced came out during a period where it was more acceptable to be made in a short and simple style, like with Pac-Man, I don’t believe you can deny that these games have aged far better than most longer games, because far more polish could be given to their simpler and smaller designs. So, let me ask you, what do you say for the games that did not come out during such a time that are absolutely loved, that have come out recently, like Slender and Portal? Sure, Slender and Portal were and are technically free, depending on how you look at it for Portal especially, but isn’t it a bit telling how a small and simple, extremely cheap game can often match your longer $60 games?

Also, as I said, although you can replay those longer games, will you want to, compared to those shorter and simpler games? Maybe even if these experiences like Slender, Portal, Star Fox, so forth are over quickly, I would be willing to bet you that you’ll revisit them more than a game like Xenogears. Whatcha say?  

IceTheRetroKid: What I say about games like Slender or Portal is that I don’t find them to be like a sin, especially since something like Portal is amazing for the time period, but I don’t like it’s brevity, yet I can concede that Portal is amazing as a short game, but it does leave more to be desired after it ends so quickly. The real bummer though is Star Fox 64, the very first game I found to be too short. I spent $50 on it, this is after some amazing lengthy experiences in games like Super Mario 64 on the N64, so I expected Star Fox 64 to evolve, it didn’t though, it lasts an hour per play-through and it can take 3 hours, 5 hours tops to see everything in the game, and it drove me mad, and I couldn’t believe games still did this for $50. I thought the original Star Fox was at acceptable length for SNES, but Star Fox 64? Absolutely not.

I wouldn’t exactly go back to the games you listed over like Xenogears, because it’s a wonderful deep experience to get into, even so, long games are like reading a book, you read a few chapters and put it down; Star Fox 64, Slender or even PORTAL are like short little books that I read really fast, kinda like Berenstain Bears books!

MattTGF: Ahh… Star Fox is one of those games that harkens back to the arcade days, and although you can be mad that it’s a short experience, especially for $40+ that Nintendo wants for each new edition, it features quite possibly the most refined game-play for its genre. Sure, Sin & Punishment (a more intensive game in the same genre of Star Fox) can give it a run for its money, but honestly with Sin & Punishment’s more involved plot, it can be more-so convoluted and less enjoyable compared to the simple, easy plot of Star Fox. Also, because of Star Fox’s loose and simple premise in comparison, it allows for a lot of player freedom with multiple attack paths to Venom (the last level), depending on how good you are and if you can discover the game’s secrets. A game like Star Fox is a spectacle, that does not disappoint. It won’t continually blast enemies in your face for no reason. The series has a clear and balanced sense of momentum, urgency and so forth. Each set-piece sticks out because the developers condensed the game. In larger games, a lot of it becomes filler just to make it larger, which does not stick-out as much. Shorter games benefit from being condensed, because they can be more focused than longer games which tend to have a lot of filler content.

The original Star Fox was revolutionary for its time, to be sure, and it still is one of the best in its genre; that says something. A thing you can most definitely say for this series is that it will not alienate people due to being too large or complex, which is part of the point I’m trying to get across with my argument pertaining to short and simple video games. Also, no matter how short, if it is enjoyable and replayable and easy to access, isn’t that better than a video game which is long, enjoyable and only somewhat replayable and maybe, although not likely, easy to access?

As to your book analogy, who doesn’t like a short, awesome book, translating to something like Slender or Portal? So continuing with that thought, some people just won’t touch a large book just because it takes too much time to get into, and can be quite involved, so forth. So, sure, that long book may be good, but it better be a master class book. Short books are easy risk, especially if they’re cheap, and even if they’re not cheap, they get the point and memories across quickly, and will often entice people to look into them again and again without too many thoughts of, “Do I have time for this?”, “Will I be lost?”, etc.  

IceTheRetroKid: So you’re saying Star Fox 64 is a legitimately priced $50 Berenstain Bears book? Real smooth (not really)! So, let me say that Sin & Punishment’s complexity is actually a good thing because while it is a longer rail-shooter game, it has more rewarding cut-scenes in-between gameplay that give a bit more length to the game, so it has a great story, great gameplay and doesn’t feel like it cheats you on content. Star Fox 64 only has good gameplay down and that’s it, and just because not everyone can necessarily understand stories like Sin & Punishment, doesn’t make Star Fox 64’s story anything more than a dry backdrop. Sin & Punishment immerses you in all aspects including heavy content. As for the question you asked regarding short vs. long game content, the latter is actually more worth the $$ because it’s more respectable that you can get so much out of one play-through rather than having to play the game multiple times just to get everything you want out of a game, it becomes repetitive and tiresome.

Even back then during the Super Nintendo days with Star Fox, what is the better game if not arguably the best Super Nintendo game?

The Legend of ZeldaA Link To The Past.

A Link to the Past has the same great quality gameplay of Star Fox, is longer, it’s not convoluted as you’ve addressed; it’s a simple game, the story is simple, yet it presents itself like the long book you want to read. You can pick-up where you left off any time and once again, it’s the same amount of $$ as Star Fox, yet it gives more more content.

MattTGF: Your Link to the Past example is quite true. It’s a game in a class of its own though, technically, but it does work into your argument. A Link to the Past is indeed quite an interesting game. It’s rather straight-forward, easy to play, charming, so forth, but still it can invoke that sense of, “I’m loss, and I don’t want to try to get back into this” if you leave it too long, although not nearly as much as most other longer games. It’s one of those games that was beautifully crafted, so I cannot really argue against the game well. So, there’s definitely exceptions with long games that can match the style of shorter games.

I also guess it could be said to be more respectable to get more out of a game on your first attempt or play-through than not, and yes there is a chance of games that require multiple play-throughs or attempts to become repetitive and tiresome, but the same could be said of longer games, in the sense of you’re doing the same basic thing throughout the game, just slightly evolved, the further you go along. A problem though with that repetitive nature, along with that fact which progresses into multiple gameplay additions, may lead to an eventual alienating experience, time to time, depending on the complexity and length of the game.

No matter, switching gears a slight bit, multiplayer focused games fall into this short vs. long game category. The multiplayer function is like another game in and of itself: get the best score possible, survive, die, and try again, usually with no story progression or contrived puzzles to solve in most FPS, racing or sport games, for example.

IceTheRetroKid: Oh my, longevity and multiplayer don’t tend to go hand in hand, but you might have me here because with multiplayer, you are not always with that person so the fun you have has to be in a shorter burst. So you mention FPS’s, with multiplayer in FPS’s, in well, let’s say Halo, you usually think of Deathmatches, whoever gets the most points wins, correct?

MattTGF: Correct. Before I let you continue though, let me further elaborate that multiplayer games can be considered their own entity. Sometimes people only touch the multiplayer portion of a game. Multiplayer in and of itself is short, fun, and easily accessible. So yeah, continue.

IceTheRetroKid: That is true, there are people who only touch the Multiplayer portion of a game (looking at you Call of Duty players!). I can’t really use an example like the Tales series as they are very long RPGs with drop-in and drop-out multiplayer and usually one person is in full control outside of battle while other players have to wait until they actually get into a battle before they can do something.

So, what do you say about the ability to play co-op throughout the entire single-player campaign of a First-Person Shooter like in Halo?  Now you and a buddy are enjoying the same long experience of the single-player campaign while thereby playing a multiplayer aspect and having the social gaming fun with the same advantage of longevity. With all of that, it’s even less likely that you and your friend (or more) will get bored like you would playing basically the same, basic, small game over and over again, because for a long period of time you are experiencing something new every time you play the co-op campaign until you get to the end, because of the unique element people present.

You and your friend now feels triumphant over that long period of time you just spent shooting those baddies down!

MattTGF: That’s most certainly an interesting point. Co-op gaming is a bridge between short and long games, because the social interactivity between yourself and friends (or strangers) can even make the most large and complex games seem approachable. I was more-so talking about arcade like multiplayer experiences, however, but even so, as I said, it’s a good point and as I said, I believe co-op experiences are a fantastic bridge between what is by nature short and brief with multiplayer and long and complex with the single player campaign of large games. 

Nonetheless, lets summarize our thoughts, and maybe add some additional thoughts we may have neglected to mention previously. You can go first.

IceTheRetroKid: With most games costing $59.99 a pop in modern times, it is important for games to be worth that entire $59.99 and it’s difficult to achieve this in a shorter title because with only 4 hours of gameplay, it’s like paying $15 an hour. Hence, if games are $60 predominately, it better be something I am going to be playing for a long time, that will last without having to replay the game continuously to get my money’s worth, which can cause monotony or else it’s not fulfilling the money you spent.

You need to savor the moments and play a long game, so that $60 will feel worth it to spend on a great big, epic game. Aside from money though, when a great game is long, it can most certainly provide a deep and emotional experience as your attachment grows to this game like a companion you’ve spent so much time with.

Longevity can also mean things such as taking everything in at a slow pace, developing that said attachment to the game by taking in the beautiful sights and glory of these long games, it is just relaxing. Even if everything isn’t perfect in these games, there’s always more game to enjoy and because of that, the good can definitely outweigh the bad, with so much available content in larger games (as some of it is sure to be fantastic and make you forget any dull moments).

If a game is too painfully short, it can cheat you out of all of this stuff, your money, your choice of pacing and the emotional attachment you can get out of the game, including the reflection of these emotions and memories as the credits roll down the screen as you think about all of the time you spent on the masterpiece. And longer games give you the triumphant feeling of overcoming the long and hard obstacle, and that is why long games are more worth getting invested in than short ones.

Did I mention that shorter games are starting to become a huge problem in the industry with big mainstream companies that give you more graphics for less game or something similar to that? I don’t wanna even know how short those games might get next generation.

MattTGF: There are plenty of arguments to make on either side of the fence, as evidenced, but ultimately it comes down to what is most enjoyable, easy to get into, and will keep you coming back for more. There are always those longer titles like Resident Evil 4 that are addicting and hardly ever get old, but there are also those games like Slender, Portal, Punch-Out!!, and even Angry Birds which may be picked-up at any given second for any reason. The multiplayer sector shares a very similar role. As I hinted though, there are obvious exceptions on both sides of the fence.

Another problem to mention or clarify with longer and complex games is that these games unlike a game like Slender don’t necessarily show a mastery level over the game, as anyone with enough patience and wisdom can complete an RPG or first-person shooter, assuming neither are unfair. The games I mentioned, except for maybe Portal fall into this line of thinking. 

I must mention though, that not every short game needs to fall into the classifications I laid out. Some short games can just be short and fantastic and well worth your time, money, and memories. These short games I’ve mentioned have pure gameplay and they are the heart of video games. Not every game needs to be long and complex, but not every game needs to fit my argument for short and simple games either. There does need to be a balance and an acceptance of both game sizes and complexities, however. 

Shadow of the Colossus (it may be pushing the boundary of what is a short game, but hear me out, it is fairly short, five to 10 hours) could have worked fantastic as a larger, Legend of Zelda type game with clear dungeons, but the developers didn’t waste your time with that. The developers gave you a core, easy to understand gameplay element, that blew your mind once you finished the game within a relatively short amount of time.

Core gameplay without unnecessary story elements or illogical extensions to the gameplay is what will be remembered (Shadow of the Colossus had moments where you traveled to bosses, which could take a while, but these moments gave the game a sense of scale and added a story element as you traveled the land, and even with this arguably unnecessary element, the game was short). Ultimately, years from now, people will not remember how long a game is, but the memories and fun that came from it. Small, sometimes arcade-like and less complex games are the most potent form of that (although not always true, as there are plenty of exceptions).

Tell us what you thought. Who presented the better argument?

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One Response to Video Game Debate: Short & Simple vs. Long & Complex.

  1. Hunter says:

    Both of you have valid points, I think it just comes down to personal preference in the end, though. That’s the beauty of video games.

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