Breakpoints

The two games I have been playing lately have been Far Cry 4 and No Man’s Sky. While I can and have played NMS for 3+ hours at a stretch, I struggle to play Far Cry 4 for more than maybe an hour. This is in spite of Far Cry 4 being the more entertaining game on both a micro and macro sense.

On reflection, the reason seems obvious: breakpoints.

Far Cry 4 is technically an open-world game that allows you to run wherever. However, there are definitely a lot of story-based missions that have clearly defined beginnings and endings and checkpoints inbetween. While they are not necessarily spaced far apart, there comes a time at the end of a mission that you begin thinking about how you’ll be spending another 30 minutes sneaking/guns-a-blazin’ through the next one. Why not just hit Save & Quit and take a break instead, eh? The end is as good a place as any to quit.

Conversely, No Man’s Sky is a lot like Minecraft insofar as there are no particular breakpoints. Turning in Missions sounds like a good time… but as soon as you turn them in, new missions appear to replace the old ones. And, oh, this one just requires you to exit the space station and kill one pirate ship. While you’re out there, the planet in the background has the Trading Post destination for that other mission clogging up your log. Ooo, it’s been a minute since you’ve seen a planet with water, so maybe go collect some Kelp Pods… et cetra, et cetra.

This phenomenon is not new by any means. Anyone playing MMOs knows it intimately, insofar as the breakpoints offered by dungeons, turning in quests at a hub, winning a PvP match, and so on.

What has become more interesting to me now, is how these breakpoints affect my perception of the underlying game. Like I said at the beginning, Far Cry 4 is objectively more fun. I know it’s more fun. But when I sit down to game in the evening, I find myself hesitating on the Far Cry 4 icon. If the game is so fun, why can’t I play it for more than an hour? What does it say about a game that I feel somewhat relieved when it’s over, and I boot up something else afterwards?

When I think back on the MMOs I have played, especially with WoW, I recognize that while there were breakpoints in certain content, there were a variety of alternative activities that allowed one to unwind. Raid for two days a week, spend time farming mats the rest. Complete a dungeon, go back to town and look into enchanting your new gear. and so on. Far Cry 4 technically has some elements of that – collecting herbs, selling vendor trash, etc – but obviously the game isn’t exactly designed to give you as full a break as an MMO.

The other interesting thing about breakpoints is how I used to feel like games without them would lead to faster burnout. It seems to make intuitive sense that the longer you leave a candle burning, the faster it goes out. Instead, I feel like all the abrupt starts and stops in Far Cry 4 have decreased the mental shelf life of the game. It is almost as though my mind only recognizes the number of intervals, and not the total length – playing an hour at a time is the equivalent as as playing four hours at a time. This certainly makes sense to me in terms of FF14 as well, when I kept running into content walls that all but required me to stop playing for the day.

Perhaps breakpoints aren’t as good as I once thought.

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Posted on December 22, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I think you are overvaluing how much fun you are having with Farcry then. I agree with the natural breakpoints (sorta, often times finishing a mission would lead to something else opening up just ahead, much like in NMS), but in a fun game, those are options rather than hard stops. You hard-stopping so often in FC4 suggests you DON’T find it that fun.

    Personally I loved FC4, played it through and did a lot of the side stuff, and while the break points were nice, they didn’t disrupt my flow as much as they seem to be doing for you.

    (Also FC5 looks like garbage now that PUBG is out, which kinda stinks).

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    • I played some more today, getting to the point in the story when I unlock the North half of the map. It was then, when the various camps and radio towers opened up, along with the next story segment a ~3 minute drive away that I realized that it was the distance that was the problem. Getting around is a giant slog. I can one-shot everything with the grenade launcher, but despite having the wingsuit, I never seem to be able to travel in a fun way.

      It’s weird though, because in NMS you can turn on your pulse jets to travel between planets and it take a literal minute to get there, with count-down timer and everything. But that was… fine? Maybe I need to use the cruise control more in FC4…

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  2. I agree with SynCaine – the disconnect here is most likely coming form your definition of fun. I’m guessing you have an academic understanding that the activities on offer in Far Cry 4 “should” be more fun but that’s being countermanded by your senses which are clearly telling you that you’re having more fun in No Man’s Sky.

    Fun is a very unhelpful concept at the best of times and when it comes to discussing games it’s damn near useless. By my own definition, something I want to do more than something else is de facto “more fun” but that really doesn’t get us very far. In the end, when it comes to defining what is and isn’t “fun”, what counts is what you do – not what you think about what you did when you’ve stopped stop doing it.

    All of which means I mostly have more fun writing about games than playing them, which is why I’m tabbed out from one now, typing this…

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  3. There’s another possibility: are you really playing games for the stated reason of them being inherently “fun” or are you motivated / compelled to play a certain game for reasons beyond fun-seeking?

    Such reasons could be: Wanting to spend 4+ hours escapism into a computer game world without breakpoints; feeling fulfilled by the sense of accumulation and numbers going up and tasks on a checklist ticked off; a long term investment of time doing something tolerable but not objectively the most fun in order to feel gratified with a valued reward at the end of it, and so on.

    I find myself in a similar boat these days – objectively, raiding in GW2 is not the most fun thing I could be doing at any point in time, but I make room for the three hour blocks in my life because a part of me likes to have the rewards and perceived prestige value of owning said rewards that can’t be obtained any other way.

    Sometimes, games are work – possibly fulfilling work in the long term, if you didn’t get your values wrong, and possibly leading to burnout if you did.

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  4. @Azuriel

    IMHO you’re talking more about immersion, or spatial presence, in said games, than you are about any cognizant realization of having fun. Breakpoints don’t necessarily have to signal a stop or start state. Back when the original Myst came out, I remember several occasions where I would look up at the clock and realize that several hours had gone by while exploring the game world and solving the puzzles. The same thing happened when I played System Shock 2 back in the day, and again in Vanilla WoW. As I’ve gotten older, I find that real life concerns are always floating around in the back of my mind, as I do not have the luxury of having more available gaming time as I did 10-12 years ago. So I can understand the hesitance you feel when you’re hovering over a certain game icon. It might very well be the fault of something other than the game that’s making you feel this way.

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