I win: Developer versus Audience, or: Process versus Result Pt. 2

Disclaimer: this rumination is mainly based on the personal experience of one gamer, and is not meant in any way to change the world. Instead it is intended as something to read and, hopefully, provoke thought. I have not collated data, nor have I heavily researched the topic. I have definitely read a lot of stuff on the internet, though.

The first part of this article was fueled by a podcast I recently listened to, and this second part came to fruition when I began reading an interview with Yoshinori Ono regarding the new Mortal Kombat’s execution:

I’ve played it and I like it but it’s obviously very different. I think it represents the difference in philosophy. I find Japanese games tend to find the ‘process’ of playing the game as the activity and the result may not matter. So in Street Fighter when you’re playing it’s the moment to moment gameplay that should be the best, whether you win or lose doesn’t really matter. Whereas in Mortal Kombat the fighting and playing is just a pathway to get to the result – it’s the Fatality you want to see and you almost want to skip the fighting bit and get to the Fatality because that is the result.I think western fighting games tend to put more weight in the result rather than the process. So it’s fun when you win but while you’re playing it doesn’t have the intricate build up where it’s ‘opponent did this, so you try this’. Street Fighter is more like a game of chess, it’s very quiet almost. You sit there, do the moves and enjoy that, there’s not really a lot of fireworks or explosions at the end.I think that’s the fundamental difference; whether you put the importance in the process or the result. In Street Fighter when you pull off the Hadouken command you see a fireball, but in Street Fighter philosophy seeing the fireball fly over isn’t the main draw, it’s the decision making process in when to pull it off – that is what is important. Whereas I think in Mortal Kombat once you pull it off you enjoy the result of what happens with the fireball effect and when you do it doesn’t really matter as long as it hits. Street Fighter is about timing and distance not the visual result from the fireball.

I would like to imagine there was a misquote in there somewhere and that this philosophy is divided between the premier fighting games and Mortal Kombat, because all the excitement from a Street Fighter match comes from what unravels during the fight.

However, I think that his note on it being a Japanese-centric philosophy would fall apart as soon as you compare Oblivion to most JRPGS. Oblivion is nothing but process whereas most JRPGs are slogs through battles so that you can see cut-scenes.

Even though Bethesda’s star is ascendant and Square Enix’s has very much waned, it is hard not to take what Ono is saying and think of games as Process orientated or Result orientated. Applying that filter to other contemporary games and placing them in one of two buckets, it’s easy to see that the Result bucket is beginning to overflow.

Watching a famous Irish comedian talk about his relationship with videogames it becomes clear why Result might be winning. Ó Briain is not alone in wanting to be able to play ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys straight away. That is why today we have modes like ‘No Fail’ and ‘Casual Auto’ appearing in games.

This man loves video games

This may sound like I’m gearing up to be negative about Result games, but that is not my intent.

I recently raged about Bulletstorm, which was Gerard Butler Syndromed to shit and by that I mean that it was marketed as a Process game (look at the freeform combo system) but really it was a Result game (see the next area, see the next execution, the next weapon, or piece of over the top dialogue).

If I had known that then I would never have bothered playing it. Games need to embrace whatever genre they fall into whilst also understanding whether they fall into the Process or Result bucket and ensuring that they can communicate that properly. I will freely admit that if Bioshock’s first level were re-imagined as a Super Mario Bros level it would have no jumps, no holes, no tunnels and only 3 enemies. Bioshock isn’t Super Mario Bros, but it never pretended to be and that is something I am grateful for.

Process is also very important in its own way. Learning through failure is something that is intrinsic to how we grow and evolve. Sometimes games simply have to learn how to make that failure more fun, or failing that more poignant.

I am also not saying that there isn’t a place for cow-clicking, sometimes we just want the reward without the risk. Although I do believe that Namco Bandai took it a little too far by offering up downloads on all the cutscenes from their games (the premium DLC only being accessible if you had purchased the game), for a price.

So how do you get it right? Well, for starters people need to be a bit more honest about what their games are trying to achieve. The recent interview with some guys from Splashdamage on the Eurogamer podcast was good because they told you what they were striving for with Brink. If the feedback is to be believed they didn’t always get it 100% correct but they actively seem to be engaging the community and trying to do what is right on a game that deviates largely from the standard FPS crowd. The same can be said of Team Meat who have on countless occasions reached out to their audience to explain why their process game, Super Meat Boy,  is worth playing.

Conclusion

The fact that the Developer versus Audience mentality has dissipated over the years is a good thing. We unlocked the content when we got to the store and used our credit card. But Result versus Process? There will always be a place for both, although Process games like Ultima are a dying niche breed and thus command a smaller share of player attention. This doesn’t have to be bad thing so long as Result games evolve their content and message beyond snapping necks and T’n’A.

This isn’t the first time I have written about these ideas and I already think that developers like Valve and Blizzard (who love their Result games) are moving the bar forwards. But please, developers, don’t forget those Process games while you are at it. I still want to fail meaningfully.

On a personal conclusion – and as a mild address to the Blunt Criticism in the first link at the top of the page – I am not out to change the world, I can’t C++ to save my life and Java is just a type of coffee as far as I am concerned. What I do hope is that occasionally, someone reads my stuff and finds it entertaining, thought provoking or just wants me to use spell-checker (RE: they learn from my mistakes). In short, I don’t mind failing as long as it feels meaningful.