The Need to Complete: Part One

I recently rediscovered the joys of Chuckie Egg, which for the young or the forgetful, was a single screen platformer where the goal was to collect eggs, whilst avoiding the hens that wandered aimlessly along the platforms – and bizarrely – up and down the ladders. I stumbled upon it whilst absentmindedly surfing the net. Seeing it there on the screen, memories of playing it on my old commodore 64 over twenty five years ago came flooding back. I sat for about thirty minutes playing it with blissful fondness, but then, after a while, with each level completed – I started to get a strangely disjointed feeling. At first I put it down to the fact it was one of those genuine, unofficial flash based homage / knock offs – it must just be slightly different than what I remember, but as I continued the truth became apparent. I was playing levels I had never seen. But not because this flash game was different, it was because I had never got this far in Chuckie Egg! 

This didn’t make any sense; It was a game I played throughout my entire childhood. I remember vividly going to a friend’s house and playing the two player hot seat mode for entire evenings. It had probably been the start of my assertion that games were a social pastime and that outside was for the weak and the socially adequate. There was history with this game, surely I finished it? Turns out, I hadn’t. 

My first reaction to this revelation was that as a small child, my gaming skills must have been shockingly bad. It was a sobering thought, I can tell you. Years of gaming, honing my skills, bragging to my fellow scouts (yes, I eventually went outside) that my reflexes were better than theirs because I played computer games, and it turns out I couldn’t even get past level fourteen on Chuckie Egg. 

My second reaction was that it didn’t really matter. Maybe back then it wasn’t essential that games were finished. It was about the journey, not the destination. Now admittedly, my seven year old self probably didn’t have such lofty philosophies, but I never remember thinking that I needed to get to the end on any of the games that were played. Games like Flashback, Midwinter 2 and Stunt Car Racer could have ended in all manner of bizarre ways, I’ll never know and frankly, have I lost out by not knowing? It could be argued that Flashback needed to be finished to find out what the deal with his memory was, and why he was being chased by those low polygon biker police dudes, but really.. did it matter? Midwinter 2 was a massive game at the time, and to be honest, I have no idea how you would finish it, or indeed if it were possible – and why would you want to anyway – when there’s mid-air vehicle swapping to look forward to (on a side note, am I the only one that thinks Just Cause 2 would make for a really cool Midwinter 2 game?). In retrospect, Stunt Car Racer was probably more than do-able, its just one of those games that was more fun to play than to finish, and no, I never got to division one, and yes, I am bitter. 

Overall,  the attitude in those days was one of playing, not completing. Even when you look back at the old arcade games, they were clearly designed to keep the player in a perpetually unfinished state – it’s no good to a company that relies on you constantly sticking coins in their machine for the player to be confronted with a “Well done, you have completed this game” message. They might as well have put “Okay, we have enough of your money, off you go.” If you ask me,  the whole concept of the high score was just a really clever way of getting your money, we all know there’s nothing worse than a hard days schooling followed by the long walk down to your local arcades, to find ADY has beaten your score on asteroids again. The bastard.  

Thankfully, if you don’t like my opinion, I have others. Not mine, obviously – I’m a one opinion at a time kind of guy, but those of people with far more standing and the ability to form calm, collected thoughts than I could ever manage.  

Mustering such thoughts is Simon Butler, previously of Ocean Software – the stalwarts of the 8bit era with their plethora of movie tie in games. “I always attempted to finish the great majority of the games I played both way back when and today.” he replied, when asked whether people need to finish games to get value from them.  

The quality games always deserve completion because if they actually are of a certain quality then you know that there’s always something new or tougher around the corner that you’ll get satisfaction out of discovering and hopefully beating. The games that are just thrown together for the sake of making more money, I seldom even play let alone complete.”  

He makes a valid point, Flashback and the like certainly deserved to be finished, but maybe the quality of the games meant not finishing still gave value. Simon continues, “One perfect example [of not finishing a game] is that I never completed Knightlore or Starquake, yet the experience has never left me. They are gaming moment I have treasured for almost three decades.”  

I asked the same question to respected games journalist Brad Shoemaker, from giantbomb.comThat entirely depends on what sort of game it is,” he notes, “If the the story is a meaningful core aspect of the experience, it would be ideal to see it through to the conclusion, but in general I think you should only keep playing a game as long as you’re having fun with it. 

And therein lies the rub. Fun. Games can sometimes be art, they can also sometimes be educational, but at their heart – no matter what else, they are a form of entertainment. And when they stop being entertaining, they have essentially failed. Developers have found their way around this failure though, by introducing a saving grace for a lot of poor games. That saving grace? Achievements. 

 Andy will continue his look into ‘The need to complete’ in the second half of this series, ironically titled ‘Achievements’ 





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