Friday, April 8, 2016

The Effort/Reward Equation, or, Why I'm Quitting Gungeon.  


I picked up Enter the Gungeon a few days ago, and I’ve been playing it in short bursts here and there. The graphics are super cute, the controls feel dialed-in and responsive, and I like the idea of coming up with a solid pun and building an entire game around it.

So why am I about to quit it?

It's essentially a roguelike -- the player enters the gungeon and tries to get as far as they can, defeating enemies and picking up new guns as they go. It has a bunch of bullet-hell DNA in its makeup and plays a lot faster than most roguelikes, not to mention that it doesn't mess around with inventory or turn-by-turn strategy.

Despite the fact that (on its surface) this game seems like it should be right up my alley, I found myself coming to the end of a run today and thinking that I was just about ready to delete it from my hard drive and move on. At a base level, I think it's asking for more time and effort than I'm willing to give these days, and the results of this effort/reward equation just aren't generous enough.

Playing Gungeon requires twitch skills and repetition to learn tactics needed for each kind of enemy, and also enough practice to be able to survive long enough to get to the progress-aiding unlocks, which @Broodwars64 informs me are in there, somewhere. I’ve made a number of attempts with virtually nothing to show for it, and at the point in my life where I'm at now, I have very limited time to play games each day -- usually only an hour or two if I'm lucky.

With such limited time, I feel like I need more tangible progress in order to keep me going -- I'm not afraid of “hard” games, but I need to feel like the time I'm spending nets me something in exchange, whether that's an enriched mastery of the mechanics, making it to the next level, unlocking something that improves my next attempt, or somehow otherwise makes it feel like the time I put in got me somewhere.

With Gungeon, I feel like it's asking just a little bit more than I want to put in, while not giving quite enough back.  

Compare this to something like Rogue Legacy, whose system of progressive unlocks and improving powers kept me playing far longer than I otherwise would have. 

In other genres, look at “hard” games like Monster Hunter or any of the Souls titles. They may be equally difficult in terms of challenge presented, but each one of those is excellent at giving just enough incentive to keep going, whether it's finally getting that last bit of material to make an amazing new weapon, or unlocking a shortcut that made a desperate dash through a dangerous area pay off. Balancing steep difficulty with the incentive to push through it is a tricky balance to achieve, and not every game is capable of pulling it off.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to say that something’s too easy in a negative sense… I have no problem breezing through something if it has neat ideas, great art, or is otherwise interesting in some fashion. I'm far more inclined to find something too difficult in the sense that the reward is outweighed by the effort required, and devs have to be very careful when they try to ‘go hard’.

The fact is that there’s a ridiculous number of games out there for anyone to choose from, and for the player on a budget (like me!) almost any title can be had for a song if someone is patient enough or flexible enough to play on different platforms.

Building up a backlog of quality titles is easier than it's ever been, and having a wealth of options combined with a lack of free time means that games which don't manage to absolutely nail the difficulty equation usually end up forgotten on a shelf (virtual or otherwise) and left behind in favor of something that delivers appropriate amounts of bang for appropriate amounts of work.

I like Enter the Gungeon a lot, but I honestly don't forsee myself putting much more into it unless I have some kind of miraculous breakthrough in the next day or two – the effort/reward equation is skewed just a little too far towards the wrong side for my liking.  


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