Sony Wants to Reduce Friction In Games, But For Many, That's the Point

Sometimes you should stop and smell the digital roses.
December 2, 2020, 2:00pm
Screenshot from Spider-Man:Miles Morales, Miles swings through the streets of Harle
Image courtesy of Sony

Activities, the mildly controversial PS5 feature that allows developers to set fast travel points and other shortcuts on a system level, was pitched by Sony as a way to help players fit games into their lives easier. While it can be difficult to choose where to spend your time when gaming time is limited, the ability to warp directly to quests might be lampshading the real issues with game length rather than fixing them.

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On this episode of Waypoint Radio, we discuss what other perhaps unintentional effects this feature might have. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.

Austin: I think that this whole process gets us to, and probably the reason that we're so heated about this, is that this gets us to an unresolved internal conflict about what we think games are and where they fit into our lives, because the idea of doing this for movies seems absurd. Imagine watching a movie with all the dead air cutout, right?

I just want dialogue all the time, baby. I don't want longing shots. I don't want people looking at each other across the table and, and trying to like figure out what they're thinking about each other right now."

Rob: Dr. Zhivago in just 25 minutes!

Austin: Right, exactly that, get rid of any sort of establishing shots, get them out! Because that's what, okay.

The end of my Breath of the Wild review ends on me saying—I love this game, blah, blah, blah, the thing that I think sums it up the most—you can never fast travel to a town in that game. You can never fast travel to your destination. You can fast travel to a shrine you've been to before, but then from there you have to see, you have to travel the distance from there to your destination. It's like the subways in Miles Morales.

And because of that, you have the sense of momentum, of distance, of travel all the time. If I could teleport right to my house in, in Hateno village, that I would just be in my house. But you have to travel outside of Hateno village, you have to walk through the gates again, or walk through the front pathway. You do that everywhere you go in that game. And that communicates something, that is the establishing shot, that is the verb of the establishing shot for the game developer. It lets them set up your view of a place before you come into it.

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And, for me, that part of the way I think about games is important and I wouldn't want to lose that  even if it meant I could sneak into one extra side activity into the one hour I have a day to play a certain thing.

Patrick: But that game justifies the stories that will occur on your way to that [place].

Austin: But it’s not about stories. It's not, that is not what this is with Zelda. It literally is just, you're looking at basically a framed picture because you're coming into a shrine and then walking to the stable, the stable is like right across the field, 50 feet from you. But that is an important thing and a decision that they made about where and what you could fast travel to.

And the reason for that is that they found value in the friction, they found value in there's 50 steps to take there. And I, I am someone who, if we're thinking about games in the same conversation that we're thinking about film and books and other forms of art, that friction is valuable and, and kind of cutting it away is risk is risky or changes them. It moves them to me to be something more consumable, less long lasting. And that's fine. Like, I think, again, this is why I think this gets to a conversation about…

Patrick: I think Miles has no friction in that swinging for three and a half minutes, I'm just swinging for three and a half minutes.

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Austin: But that's friction. You being like, “Ugh, I'm swinging for three and a half minutes, I just want to get to the place” is friction.

Patrick: I don't learn anything about the city in that three and a half minutes. Partially [what this is for is the] weight of parenting and time, especially in COVI,D there's all sorts of things that exasperate an existing analysis of the time in the game and how you're spending it.

It is also the case where, at a certain point, it's like, “game, you stopped justifying why I should [experience] the friction. “ I play Demon’s Souls. It's not as though I am I'm opposed to a game pushing back

Austin: Where you're always on, like tensed up.

Patrick: Yeah. I play hard games, that's my thing, that is part of my brand. I like to play hard things and have them punch me in the face. At a certain point, it’s not that I'm not enjoying it, there's just nothing here. There's no value in even just the time spent going from one place to another, there's nothing that I'm learning about the city.

Austin: To me, that's a failure of the game at that point right?

Patrick: Yes. And I think that's, that's my point.

Austin: And at that point it's an indictment of the style of game, in which what we've decided “this is the way that content should be presented to us,” and the fact that what we've landed on, or what Sony's landed on, is a system-wide feature to organize your messy table into categories that you can quickly jump between, I think is as big of an indictment of the contemporary open world action game structure, as anything you can see.

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Ricardo: To use that metaphor that we were using before about film, it's like the gate, the open-world structure of the game is all the raw footage you ever needed, and then you're putting in the cuts with this fucking, uh, you know, fast travel not fast or, yeah, it's

Austin: It is a fast travel system. Yeah yeah yeah.

Ricardo: With this short cut system,

Rob: Or the platform holder is now like, “we need to build skip list functionality into games."

Austin: There's too many episodes.

Rob: Yeah. And no, I like, I think we are roughly on the same page with this, because I think for me, I love, I do love that friction. I am somebody who almost never fast traveled in The Witcher because there was so much stuff that you might just stumble into going back through an area. There were so many minor quests, so many odd vignettes you'd encounter.  I was always feeling rewarded for “oh, I'm gonna ride, I'll take the long way again. Oh, there's a little, there's a monster hunt over there, I'll go do it.”

I also think back to Far Cry 2, a game that did frustrate me in some ways, but I can never just take for granted that I was going to get from point A to point B without some shit happening. It was always like, “okay, I got a long drive ahead of me. I'd better stop and stock up on ammo and fresh gear if I'm going to make this ride because chances are, I'm gonna have a couple of gunfights on the way, and I gotta be able to tough those out.”

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And then those things could just take you in weird directions where you'd end up in a part of the world where like, “oh, I'm having a gunfight in the sand dunes now. Didn't expect that was going to be a thing, but now here I am good to have the sniper rifle with me cause I can see forever.” But so many games don't, by design, throw anything interesting at you on the path from point A to point B, or they throw something at you that by design, you can just walk away from and evade trivially easy, nothing will pursue, you'll just exit the radius.

And so I do like the feature in that it solves a problem that's become really commonplace, but it also highlights kind of an absurd problem that's become commonplace, which is we have these massive open world games and increasingly we're like, “you know what'd be cool is if this was kind of linear and I could get to the stories and missions.”


This transcript was edited for length and clarity. Discussed: Demon’s Souls 1:09, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales 27:06, Demon’s Souls Part 2 36:20, PS5 Activities 43:36, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity 1:11:41, Destiny 2: Beyond Light 1:21:25, Phantom Brigade 1:28:04

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