About games and gaming thereof!

Let’s Make Longer Games!

Okay, so we all agree that games were better back in the glory days when my mom gave me free food and I didn’t have to work for a living. Right? Good. But why is that? Is it because giant polygons look better than photorealism? Is it because games back then had obtuse interfaces? Is it because Bobby Kotick is secretly Satan in disguise?

No. It’s because games are shorter.

Let’s face it — the most important thing about a game isn’t whether it’s fun, or engaging, or thought-provoking, or immersive. It’s all about the length. The most important determinant in a game’s quality is how long it takes to reach the end credits. It’s simple logic, really; a game is supposed to take you away from reality, so if a game takes you away for longer, that means it’s better at being a game.

People say that game developers can’t make games as long as they could back in the old days, but I don’t agree with that. There are some simple design techniques you can use to ensure maximum game length for the player. This means you can put a label on the back of the box saying “Over 7000 hours of gameplay!” and you’ll inevitably make more sales. The player gets to play more, you get more money. Win-win, right?


This is an incredibly simple technique, and it really pays off. You don’t have to make the environments bigger or more expansive; just make the player character slower. If you let the player breeze through the levels he’ll be done in no time and won’t be satisfied, so slow him down to a snail’s pace and let him hold the right arrow key and watch as he inches along.

It also helps if you slow down the enemy movements. Take Fallout, for instance. In each turn you get to watch each and every enemy mosey around the battlefield, one-by-one. Players don’t want flow. They want to spend five minutes watching radscorpions crawl around in a dark cave.

Obscene Difficulty

The NES era was the best era for games. Games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden are some of the longest games we’ve ever had. But if you record how long it takes to get from beginning to end without dying, those games aren’t very long at all. The reason they last you so long is because you inevitably die every three steps.

This is a brilliant way to add more hours to a game’s length, and there are so many wonderful ways it can be achieved. If you’re making a platformer, move each platform as far apart as you can without it being completely out-of-reach. Make the player have to stand so close to the edge that he looks like he’s not even standing on solid ground. If you’re making a shooter, make the enemies so precise and deal so much damage that you have to know what’s coming and where before you even walk in the room. This way the player will be forced to replay the same room over and over until he knows every intricate detail. Because that’s fun. That’s what gaming is all about.


Repetitive gameplay is the best kind of gameplay because it’s easy to produce in bulk. It’s as easy as ctrl+c, ctrl+v. If a certain encounter or scene is fun, the most logical thing to do is to repeat it several times. You can tweak each encounter slightly and the player might not even notice.

This is a very obvious design technique, and yet so many developers these days completely forget about it. Portal was a pretty cool concept, but it wasn’t a real game because it was only a few hours long. If it featured more slightly different renditions of the same few puzzles it would have been far better.

Lives Systems

Super Meat Boy was a recent game that did well with the Obscene Difficulty, but one thing it forgot to incorporate was a lives system (except for the warp zones, which were brilliant in every tangible way). By adding an arbitrary lives system that kicks the player out of the game after they die one too many times, you end up eating a lot more of the player’s time by forcing them to replay the same content over and over. This is a fantastic way to extend a game’s length.


The bottom line is, if a game isn’t boring or frustrating, it could probably stand to be a bit longer. Games need to eat up more time. After all, it’s not like we have jobs or social lives to attend to. We gamers need to work for our fun, and games don’t feel quite enough like work. Not as much as they used to.


12 responses

  1. Oh J, you and yor wild theories….

    October 31, 2011 at 10:35 PM

  2. Ranneko

    Exactly, it is truly shocking how little respect these modern games show us. Not forcing us to spend 290% of our free time on them to progress through the entire story.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:59 PM

  3. SougoXIII

    Hm… I’m sensing a little bit of sarcasm in there. JPH, are you not being genuine? :P

    Anyway, you know what’s the best way of making a game longer and not at all pissing a player off? A combination of Obscene Difficulty and punishing gameplay:

    ‘Oh you did not expect that one-hit-kill enemy who hidding offscreen and throwing projectile at you? Well, tough! We’re now taking your items, your exp, your wife and first born son while restart you at the beginning of the level. And run 50 laps around the block before even thinking about picking up the controller again! What!? Unfair!? Suck it up pussies cause we’re HARDCORE!!’

    The sad part is many gamer to suck it up and sneer at others for being ‘casual’.

    November 1, 2011 at 2:55 AM

    • JPH

      ‘Oh you did not expect that one-hit-kill enemy who hidding offscreen and throwing projectile at you? Well, tough! We’re now taking your items, your exp, your wife and first born son while restart you at the beginning of the level. And run 50 laps around the block before even thinking about picking up the controller again! What!? Unfair!? Suck it up pussies cause we’re HARDCORE!!’

      I think that was one of the actual dialogue lines from Far Cry.

      November 1, 2011 at 3:47 AM

  4. Giantraven

    I don’t really get the complaint about modern games being too short. I guess I’ve spent too much time recently playing through games like Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, Human Revolution (among others) instead of whatever crappy shooter is out on any given month (which is where the short game rage seems to come from). I have to wonder why people still bother to buy suh games despite knowing the shitty deal that they’re going to be getting.

    November 1, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    • Because people, on average, are stupid.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:27 PM

  5. Babitz

    Are you saying that longer games = boring?
    There’s a difference in long games with a lot of quality content to deal with and games with shitty mechanics that arbitrarily lengthen your playtime.

    I have a personal life and a job and I think paying 50$ / euro for a 10 (or less) hour game is utterly retarded. I like my games to be 25+ in hours, challenging, with a well paced narrative and complex.

    You are being hyperbolic to an unnecessary degree; I can basically pull a straw man and say you’re claiming all games should be like CoD because you supposedly have a life to live and if a game is longer than 5 hours, it’s tedious for you, but I’m not an idiot. I would be missing the point, much like you are when you’re jabbing at older games and older gamers. It’s easy to blog about it all. Go present your views on rpgcodex and tell me how it goes.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    • JPH

      I’m not missing the point. I’ll absolutely welcome a long game if the game has the quality and variety to match that length.

      The point I was trying to make here was NOT that any game longer than 5 hours is boring and tedious. The point I was trying to make is that you can’t judge the quality of a game by its length.

      Wolfenstein 3D was a long game, but it was also horribly repetitive. Portal is only a few hours long, but it’s absolutely polished and packed with quality content.

      This may sound like an obvious point, but you’d be amazed at how many people fail to see it.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    • JPH

      And why the hell would I ever, ever want to post on RPG Codex? That would be like sticking your finger in an anthill.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:03 PM

  6. Noah 9

    I wouldn’t say that.

    For example, I’d replace “finger” with a distinctly masculine portion of the anatomy, and the anthill would be less standard and more army ant.

    What I’m saying is, that place is a blight.

    November 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM

  7. Babitz

    For what it’s worth, it’s still the most experienced and most critical community out there.

    November 2, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    • JPH

      It also has a severe superiority complex.

      November 2, 2011 at 4:28 PM

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