Games: Everything should have a purpose, and you shouldn't need a Wiki

I’ve been playing Don’t Starve. While I really want to enjoy the game, I’ve been frustrated with a couple of things that I think are major sins. I’ve also occasionally found these things in other games as well.

First, the game has recipes to build items that are just functionally useless (like the compass, various weather measuring devices, etc.), but until you build them for the first time, you don’t know they’re useless because the recipe description doesn’t really tell you what it does. You can’t preview the item, you have to build it. Resources in Don’t Starve seem like they are important, as is time. The game makes you find resources (like gold, which is limited availability at least early on), and has a seasonal cycle where winter is harder to survive (so when you are starting the game, you want to make progress quickly so you can survive the winter).

For games like this, it seems to just be a cheap shot to the player to have him spend limited early resources to build devices that are just pointless. I appreciate some people like building cosmetic items, but Don’t Starve does a terrible job letting you know what is cosmetic or just silly, and what is useful.

That leads to the second point - don’t make me consult a Wiki to play your game. I believe that you should be able to reasonably figure out all of the puzzles and little tricks in a game from the game itself. There should be instructions, clues, etc. Don’t Starve is terrible at this. I just read something about this skull I discovered, that if you bury it in a grave at night, it unlocks a character. But I have no real reason to know that, nor do I have any real reason to know about the countless other things the game does like this (things that you dig up from a grave apparently can be traded to some Pig King for gold nuggets - why would I ever guess this when I’m digging the stuff up, or even after)?

Now I know someone is going to say there is some little snippet of lore somewhere in the game that I missed that explains the grave thing, or something similar. I don’t really buy it. There’s a point of reasonableness. Yes, you should have to work to a degree, but you should not have to sit there trying out seventy item combinations for everything you run across to just see if it happens to produce some magic trick.

There’s a thin line between providing a clue and just being unreasonably vague (or even silent) on game interactions - I think the Dark Souls games occasionally fall down here too. If I’m only discovering really cool mechanics through a Wiki, I think the game is not doing its job in showing the player its options and tricks.

I’ve been banging this drum for a while, but alas! I believe we’ve lost this war.

The types of games I play, I dont expect the game to realistically tell me how to do every little bit. Survival games, to me, rely on figuring stuff out for yourself with little help - and that’s what I want.

The compass is very useful in multiplayer.

Eh. It’s a different design methodology. Minecraft is totally impenetrable without outside information. It might be helpful to know what you’re in for before starting a game, but some people like games with systems you have to either figure out or crowdsource. That said, I never thought of Don’t Starve as that kind of game. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a wiki for it. I’ve probably missed some of the interactions and content, but I’ve been able to survive for many dozens of days without one.

When I think back to older Gold Box games and stuff in the 80s and 90s… those games all would have wikis now. The closest you got were the Invisiclues for the Infocom games. The way we played the games then was very different. It was ok to take time to experiment and explore, make your own maps, etc.

One could take the same approach with Don’t Starve. I think the culture around gaming has changed quite a bit, though. We go to the wiki because it exists. I was just having a discussing with somebody about it was OK in the 1980s to not know the answer to a question while at the dinner table. “Who sings this song?” “No idea.” Conversation over. It’s no longer ok not to have the answer.

Yeah I disagree on the wiki thing. A game should be playable, yes, but if some of the depeer features or unorthodox options are wili fodder? That’s ok.

Case example for me? EU IV. There are some tags that are only achievable through specific criteria. Want to form the kingdom of Jerusalem? Well you can, but look at the wiki to find the exact requirements. Want to do some absurd religious conversion to become the HRE emperor as the Turks? Well have at it! The game won’t tell you exactly how to do this, but some time on the wiki learning the deeper mechanics will.

That is info that isn’t needed to okay the game. But it is entirely a power player for the fun of it approach that works best contained in a wiki. Also I can research those things while… not able to play the game. Like, say, a lunch break at work.

I think there is a distinction between looking up finer points and strategy or very high end tactics on a Wiki, and just having a bunch of items that are “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

When it boils down to “click these 20 items in various combinations with 20 environmental features and see whether any of them randomly do something,” then it’s just silly. You’re basically just doing combinatorics, not playing a game at that point.

Give me something that makes me feel like I actually figured it out based on clues and guidance. Not just randomly pushing buttons until something works.

I’d like to point out Final Fantasy 11 as a great (awful?) example of an MMO that basically requires a wiki to play.

It came out before WOW made things like quest markers common. One of the quests that sticks in my mind is the one to unlock the Corsair class. The quest is pretty literally to “Find me a blue rock” with no further explanation or hints. If you don’t use a wiki you have to wander until you: eventually, at the back of a dungeon on the other side of the world, full of mobs that will one shot you, that you have no reason to enter in the first place, find a locked chest containing a blue rock… Or you can read the wiki, shout for help from a max level player, and get the rock in about 20 minutes.

Why did I spend so long playing that game?

I’m still not sure if Don’t Starve is a good example of this. The basic game is structured around the need to play the game over and over. In fact, the beginning portion of the game actually gets more fun the more times you play because you understand the game more, and you know how to do more things and how to do them faster. So it’s basically structured for you to try things, fail, try things, succeed, try things, fail, and die. Then on the next try you do the things that were successful and you try something else.

I’ve never looked up a wiki for the game, and for the first 80 hours or so, the game has been fine without it. Now, did I know any of the stuff mentioned by Slyfrog about burying a skull or trading things to the Pig King? No, I didn’t know that. That sort of stuff wouldn’t have occurred to me, but that seems like easter egg stuff, not something I need to survive.

The Dark Souls game won’t even let you figure out how to play the DLC unless you crowdsource it and go look it up. It does force you online and forces you to look things up, and the game does seem designed around the idea of players crowdsourcing things. They even built that into the game using messages. So other players leave behind messages. But the messages can never be detailed enough to let you access the DLC in the original Dark Souls, for example. You really do have to go online to figure that one out.

That’s one of the various points I decide the game isn’t worth the bother (The last distinctive case I remember this happening to me was Darkest Dungeon).

Yes, this is another great example.

(Which is also a third category - I love it when a game doesn’t make me take notes or remember things that I’ve already done. Darkest Dungeon has a ton of those things where item X modifies a trap, or interacts with a trap to give you another item, etc. Okay, fine, I can discover that by exploration, but then don’t make me remember which of the 30 items in the game I’m supposed to use with which of the 30 traps. Once I’ve figured it out in game, put something into the game that reminds me, or autofills it in the future, etc.)

Same here.
If a game isn’t even playable and you’d have to consult external information just to get started, then that’s bad design.
If there are are so many mechanics, strategies and simply depth in a game that it simply couldn’t all be easily conveyed to the player, then something like a wiki is just the right thing to do. Or good old trial and error.

As others said, figuring out parts of the game yourself is part of the fun, for many even a big point to play a game to begin with. If there is nothing to figure out, then the game just isn’t very deep - which is fine for some games, but certainly not all.

The thing is… What seems like just randomly combining items to you, might be perfectly logical and/or intuitive and/or fun to another person.
A game really only has a problem when a majority of the intended target audience has these issues. If it bothers you so much, the game might just not be for you. Which isn’t that unexpected, given that nobody likes everything.

While I agree that everything in a game should have a purpose, that purpose might as well be to mislead and trick the player. An entirely useless item to build seems to be part of that - I could imagine “Did you build the “thing” yet?” to be a fun topic within the community. Both to poke fun at noobs and to reminisce about the time when you were a noob yourself.

I knew someone who decorated their house in Morrowind with entirely useless items, dropping the framerate to single digits. Just because they could. Which just shows that even if the developer puts something in that really doesn’t have much or any purpose - it might end up having some anyway.

Not long ago I rage uninstalled a game after spending hours trying to figure out how to progress, then looking it up to find you had to do some obscure, unintuitive, unhinted at thing. I think I ranted about it here. I wish i could remember what it was though… I don’t want to install it again by accident!

Yes, this for sure

Especially for those of us who frequently take breaks from games, only to return and go “what was going on? What are the controls? What am I supposed to be doing?”

In the case of Darkest Dungeon, I thought this mechanic was just obnoxious and didn’t bring anything at all to the game. I guess they kept it only to claim there was something besides encounters in dungeons and to justify walking your way, but that should have been dropped.
Armchair game designer out.

Are you talking about the use of items during interactions like bandages or shovels for positive effects? Didn’t one of the later patches highlight the best/correct options once you’d selected them the first time, or something?

Can’t tell: I was gone!

I think you’re right Scott. I think that was there the second time I jumped in.

In the case of Darkest Dungeon I probably went through the whole game, twice, without knowing a lot of item interactions with the dungeon features. It isn’t required to play through game. Maybe one could say I played the game sub-optimally, but it really didn’t matter after a certain point because the difficulty hits a cap and turns more into a weird RPG puzzle with attrition.