late morning sunday design ~ Banishing Buffers in Games

Let’s talk about buffers — things that spread a game out, extend it, while not being terribly fun themselves. Let’s talk about genocide.

For starters, let’s talk about JRPG COMBAT. In many games under this genre umbrella (you know what I’m talking about! I don’t really need to explain what I’m talking about, right? and though I may generalize I accept that some people don’t mind it. okay? let’s carry on :3), combat is simple and easy and effectively the same thing over and over, lacking excitement, a ‘buffer’ to the ‘fun’. Boss fights might be more fun, but they can’t happen all the time. The story is great but needs to be spaced out. Perhaps there are some puzzles to be solved, but they might just be buffers too.

However, these actions aren’t the worst offenders. People don’t like buffers, as evidenced by people saying we do not like grinding, and not so many people standing up to defend the fun act of grinding. Grinding is possibly one of the worst buffers to fun, where the ‘fun’ is leveling up or, in general, progressing. Farming (item farming) can be a buffer too, the ‘fun’ being ‘getting a lot of money, and/or the rare item you wanted’.

There is a problem: people find different things ‘fun’. How can we banish buffers if we don’t even know what they are?

There is a solution: don’t half-ass parts of a game, or rather, pay attention to every moment and every aspect, to the extent that you can. Be aware of the existence of buffers and be aware that you, too, can fall victim to their alluring promises of doubling or tripling your game’s length. For the record, I don’t think this is a problem within ‘indie’ games for the most part (I use this word tentatively), but that’s not to say they are immune.

I don’t know when this started being a problem, and I don’t know if it has started to stop being a problem, but the problem of buffers exists and will continue to exist.

The real problem is that a game will always have peaks of excitement — and therefore everything else is in danger of falling into ‘boring buffer’ territory.

THINGS THAT MIGHT BE BUFFERS:

  • Repetitive actions, such as fighting the same weak enemy over and over again.
  • Actions without interaction (ones that are not fun, not challenging, and present no choice), such as walking a long path (especially several times, for example if you die?) or climbing across walls for a long time, slowly

Wow, that’s a real short list… but it covers a lot. There are other things I’d love to say are not fun for sure but right now I am talking about buffers.

Okay, so, I think I’m done. Get rid of grinding. Shear walking long distances through bland terrain. Remember even the most mundane of choices, of interaction, can be appealing; there’s a reason why people jump through megaman doors, and why people jump up and down while walking across straight expanses of land even though it doesn’t do anything. Last of all, remove times when the player is doing the same thing, for the same reward, all the time. Forever.

Good riddance, buffers; off to the halls of Mandos with you.

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About Droqen

Droqen is a game designer/developer/creator/etc. from Toronto, Ontario. View all posts by Droqen

3 responses to “late morning sunday design ~ Banishing Buffers in Games

  • JMickle

    I disagree with this. Buffers serve a very important part of gameplay; pacing. Pacing is part of every creative medium, including art, music, cinema, video games and even comedy. In art, space is valuable, and you can give a much better impression of volume by using the space around an object rather than just in the object.
    In music, there is no such thing as rhythm without the bits in between notes, the gaps. Also, so called “boring” parts of a song make the more interesting parts so much better when the arrive.
    Also in comedy, the gap between the set-up and punchline is the most important part of a joke.

    This all applies to video games in the form of anticipation/peak. For instance in final fantasy 7, you know about the character Sephiroth for a VERY long time before the final boss fight, and you know exactly how powerful he is. The whole game from a certain point is the build-up to the inevitable. It’s the push and drive that keeps you playing. But you wouldn’t enjoy the 20 minute boss fight if they were thrown into it straight away. All the imagination of the player is dashed when the fight starts, and replaced with reality. If there isn’t much to replace, there isn’t much to notice or enjoy.

    ah i’m just rambling now. but you must understand pacing and the “boring bits” while not necessarily having to be boring, are just as important as the climax.

    • Droqen

      I agree with you for the most part! I think that maybe the most important thing is that the “boring bits” are, in fact, not boring — or at least made as interesting as they can be.

      Pacing is definitely really important; in no way did I mean that every moment of the game must be spent madly pressing buttons and fearing for your life.

      I think maybe I didn’t talk about the BEST WAY TO FIX BUFFERS and that was rather careless of me. That way is to make them fun. The Etrian Odyssey series (which I am in love with, hopelessly) is all about the ubiquitous turn-based RPG battle, but it makes every last one fun and interesting (well, mostly) by making them far more dangerous, challenging, and by giving you, the player, so many more interesting abilities with which he or she can respond to these challenges.

      It feels like, to me, the Final Fantasy games gave up on making battles interesting and instead vied to make them look pretty. That’s fine! Whatever. Just not my taste; I know some people can have fun just because a game is excruciatingly pretty and I’d tell them ‘go watch a movie’ but they never do.

      ~~~

      Finally, to music. Some music has ‘boring’ or ‘repetitive’ parts that lead into a climax, and some music is entirely boring and repetitive. There is other music that is boring all the way through except for the climax. There’s a big difference between boring buffers in music; and enjoyable low-intensity, low-complexity parts that add to the experience. The same is true in games.

      (Fez still doesn’t need 20 seconds of solid vine climbing)

      • JMickle

        haha I didn’t realize this post was in reply to fez climbing (at least partly)

        I can’t comment on how that would be, seeing as i haven’t actually played the game yet (an important part). As far as watching the video goes, i didn’t even notice i.

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