Sunday, 22 July 2012

Thought and theories on game development (III) - walkthroughs

In most cases games are for relaxing and the achievement to complete the whole game. However sometimes players failed to completed a certain part of the game, or they are impatient to deal with the game, walkthrough appears upon demand. In this section we'll discuss how walkthrough is developed, and the reason behind these development.

With electronic game being more popular and more online interactions are promoted, walkthrough in fact develop in terms of how it spreads and also its content.

Back to 1990s internet / online games aren't mature enough, most games are solo PC games, or even not working on PC, instead an individual machine (e.g. tamagochi), and a more traditional ways of spreading message is adopted. Printed simple walkthroughs are circulated among players and this is the initial form of walkthroughs, and it hasn't been commercialized.

When RPG games, or "growing" games became more popular, comparason, or competitions arose quickly, then there's a higher demand on walkthroughs, or more like a database giving a wider choice available to players. Multiplayer games are technically was starting to be available (connection line for GB, notably the application on pokemon, because some of them evolve only upon battles) and that enhances competitions within the game. Since then, walkthroughs/databases are commercialized. Of course a stack of print-matter is far too informal, hence database booklet become a joint product with the game. These booklets are usually sold in the magazine stalls or whatever, but due to population density or whatever they're more popular in the Asia population. I had a Pokemon databook talking about the appearance and ability of each pokemon, as well as transferring pokemon from GB-based game system to Gamecube-based system, and it would be very useful at the time considering the information flow is not that fast in 1990s.

Deep into 1990s or during the millienium, personal website or hostage service is etremely popular, and many of them using their personal site as a place for writing their own walkthrough (or copying others' work). Among these services geocities is probably one of the most famous one (well, the one in HK closed down now, we've lost a sea amount of precious memories and information...). Again we take pokemon as an example, the walkthrough can be simply a flow chart about the opponents, who to talk with, what's the opponent's team, etc. There could be extra information like advices on combination of the team, methods to catch rare pokemon, etc. There're less commercialized booklet because the information has been nearly free, and people dare not to buy such a book.

In late 2000s source of walkthroughs has been more diversified. Initially there're forums specialized in discussing games but very soon the majority has gone to a bigger integrated forum for such discussion. The reason is simple: due to the ease of finding desired information, professions are not really a secret. What the pros conclude is instantly accessable in other places. However the discussion base is larger and you can get your question answerd more easily.

Where has the commerialized joint products gone? We have to realized that the developing team is not necessarily the best player of the game. They may know every secret on the game but they may not control as well as players. RPG games require good determination, action games requires good reaction and finger moves. The alogarithm for determination in RPG game is far too complicated to induce into a few words (especially the system is not well-ordered, as discussed before, and every decision is not absolutely good or bad), all of these are trained through a long term practice in which the developing team isn't really going to practice them for a very long time (their incentive to test is to find bugs or improvements, not to master the game) whilt players do these stuffs. As a result players often make conclusion which is better than the developing team, and there would be no sense to compete without quality or cost advantage. Another reason that they're not going to provide explicit walkthrough is that a clear official walkthrough leads most of the player playing with the given approach, reducing the fun of exploring themselves, as well as reducing the variation available from the game.

However, they know the secrets of the game well. What they can still sell is the database booklet, like the related settings of the game, or the "secrets". Take Rockman EXE as example, there's a machine in the first chip shop, and you have to input a password in order to get specified items. Usually they are announced in special events (in reality), but these information may leak quickly so that it's not a bad idea to put them into the booklet. For a 8-digit number it's really hard to know what you can get without cracking the game.

There're also more related products, like figures, OST (original sound track) disc, booklet about character settings...these are very similar to what the re-creation world are doing, and these may reversely promote the game. One of the best example is the FF (final fantasy series), which is famous in its graphics and music. These are so popular that some may try to play FF after they encounter with FF music/pictures. Again these products were invented very natrually, based on games' advantage and the market's demand.

Besides, the walkthrough exist is more ways than simple text or pictures, there has been more video turotials on youtube. For example "meat boy" is an extremely hard action game, and without video walkthroughs in youtube one can pass rarely. Games are even combine with walkthroughs as a whole, then people can choose between entertainment and achievement freely like armorgames.

Summarizing the passage the incentive and actions of both developers and players are clear: developer maximizes profit and player masters the game. Electronic games are a bit odd in the sense that the nature of it lies between electronic and reality goods, same as their related products. In the devleopment of the walkthroughs we can see how economical principle works, in particular the change when they stepped into the field of free economics in which the reality walkthrough booklet instantly losses its advantage and nearly all the market.

In fact this is a economical phenomenon about demonetization, where the nominal productivity decreases while more people benefit from it. Also in free economics people degrade from professionals to individuals but a larger field is covered. Considering walkthrough as a piece of objective information it's similar to the case on encyclopedia but with a much informal status. From what we observe we can actually apply them into theories, and that's why academic stuffs are fun.

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