Saturday, February 12, 2011

Exercise Restraint

It's not a quality that's typically required when playing computer games, but restraint is occasionally important.  Like when you're playing a stealth game, and you think, "Yeah, I can take out that thug who's just walked into the room, even though I haven't taken the time to think it through properly.  What's the worst that could bangsplatohnoimdead?"

Or when you're playing a platformer and you just can't be bothered waiting 5 seconds for that moving platform to go away and come back again, so you take a chance and try jumping to reach it and fall to your death and no it wasn't really worth it because now you have to do the whole level again.

Okay, so maybe restraint is required a lot.  In fact, it's probably required anywhere that there exists a risk that can be taken for little tangible reward beyond simple convenience.  It's certainly not emphasised in many games that I've come across, not like it is in Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU21).

TDU2 was released yesterday... or, wait, no.  Five days ago.  I've been playing it a lot, and the time's been a bit of a blur.  Having played a lot of the first game with its myriad problems, and the beta with its myriad betaness, I had some reservations about how it would turn out, but I'm happy to report that the final release of TDU2 has addressed every single one.  The game is very well made, and the series is innovative to boot.  It's not perfect, obviously, but I'm not going to nitpick, because this isn't a review.

If you're not familiar with the series, it's an open-world racing game set on Oahu, and the sequel contains both Oahu and the Spanish party island of Ibiza.  It's got realistic racing and was, I think, the first big racing title where you can drive around with hundreds of other online drivers in the same arena with you.  If you encounter another player, you can challenge them to an impromptu race then and there, and wager in-game money on your success.

Anyway, apart from the usual races, real-estate moguling and plastic surgery to occupy your ostentatious time, there are a number of missions that you can do for NPCs2 who are distributed around the island, waiting hitch-hiker style to solicit someone for an extravagantly over-priced driving-related errand.  Presumably they identify you through some invisible middle-man who vouches for your honest character, or something.  I can't think of another justification for them to entrust you with the keys to their million-dollar supercar and offer you money to deliver it to their mechanic.  I also can't imagine how busy they must be, and in what lucrative venture, to justify paying you 60,000USD for 10 minutes' work, but I'm not asking any questions3.  I'm curious what the mechanic is getting paid; at some point it would become less hassle and money to just buy a new supercar every 30,000km.  I dunno, maybe it's a tax thing.

So you take their car and their foolish trust and you start out on your journey.  The car is extremely powerful, so you have some trouble getting going in a straight line without the wheels spinning madly in first gear.  Once you do get moving, you're soon cruising at 300kph down a narrow country road, and you encounter traffic.  The result is predictable:  smash car; lose money.  The fee that you'll be paid on completion of the task goes down with every collision, and if it reaches zero then the mission is forfeit.  Driving off-road produces the same effect.  There's no time limit imposed on you, so you restart the challenge and decide to take it slow.

After a minute or two you realise that this is taking too long - you've got 34km still to cover and you've barely made it out of town.  This mission will take ages, and this is boring, which is not what driving a million-dollar supercar should be.  So you speed up.  Pretty soon you're weaving in and out of traffic like a madman, but you forget to keep an eye on the minimap.  You don't see the turn coming up until after you've been wrapped around a forest, at which point it's too late to react.

In most races and game modes, it wouldn't matter.  Damage is cosmetic only, for some very good gameplay-related reasons, so you shrug off head-on collisions, and you tear across grass and gravel without a second thought.  In this mode, that attitude doesn't cut it, unless you don't mind failing, or at least not being paid very much.  The only way to complete the mission without scratching the car is to change the way you're driving.  You have to be defensive.

Defensive is of course a relative term here - it's not even in the same ball-park as a truly safe driving style - but this is completely different to how I've been trained to think about virtual driving; any caution is more than I'm used to.  You have to watch your speed, and keep an eye on blind corners and hills.  Sometimes you have to slow down and wait behind traffic until the other side of the road is clear, then overtake.  Extreme high speed is only sustainable on freeways, and even then if you don't get into the habit of slowing down when you spot a clump of cars or a blind hill, I can guarantee it will ruin your day sooner or later.

And as I mentioned, there is no time limit.  You could drive at 70kph for the whole 35km trip, but that would be half an hour of drudgery, so you've got to compromise somewhere.  These missions are the most well-paid of any of the side-of-the-road challenges, so they're worth conquering.  The only enemy you really face in this challenge is your own impatience, and how much you're willing to risk damage or failure just for a few extra minutes.  And let's face it - real-world time is valuable, and you don't want to waste that time in a computer game driving at the speed limit.

My approach is that I will not accept anything less than a perfect run.  I was doing one delivery, and I rounded a 90-degree corner and was too eager in second gear.  The car spun out and the wheels hit dirt.  I lost maybe $50 of my $12,000 fee, so it wasn't really worth restarting for the money.  But I wanted to beat it.  Getting $11,950 was not victory, especially when I only had myself to blame.  I restarted.  Eventually I got the hang of controlling the car around tight corners, and being patient enough to hit the brakes if it looked like it might go the shape of the pear.

A lot of people might find this kind of challenge too frustrating, or worse, boring.  I find it helps me to suspend disbelief and allow myself to get drawn into the world.  This is actually how I might drive in the real world if I wasn't concerned about money or the law.  Or, you know, human life.  It's a very refreshing feeling to have in a computer game, and the more a game forces me to think differently about what I'm doing, the more I can learn from it.  The reward for doing this challenge quickly is entirely intrinsic, and I find it far more satisfying than just getting a "ding" with a first place icon at the end of a race.

That's not to mention the people who want a lift,4 but complain of carsickness.  Again, no time limit.  You have to keep the "jolt" meter from filling up, which is essentially a cumulative g-force meter that goes down slowly over time.  The harder you corner, brake, and bounce the car, the more sick they feel, until they've had enough and you fail the mission.  I don't know if they blow chunks - I didn't think to intentionally fail the mission just to see what would happen.  It's another challenge that forces you to look at the road and your driving style from a whole different perspective, and is only boring if you're not interested in learning something from it.

1 Yes, gaming publications of the multiverse, I'm defining my terms.  I'm not just throwing around MOBA or BAA or MMORGSTSG or whatever supposedly ubiquitous acronym I've come up with this month.  Incidentally, try Googling BAA to find out what it stands for.  Does it mainly stand for B-word Associations of Australia?  I actually thought it would return onomatopoeia, but there was none on the first page.

2 Oh, just Google it.  NPC is in fact a ubiquitous term, and it existed long before computer games made it popular. 

3 The guys from the first game who asked you to take a package from A to B with a tight deadline and ABSOLUTELY NO COPS are another entity of whom no questions were ever asked, and are conspicuously absent from the sequel.  Perhaps it was thought that on an island populated mostly by young adults furnished with more luxury, money and spare time than they could possibly know what to do with, those packages would be understood to contain only one thing:  streamers.  Dirty, filthy, party streamers.

4 For 3,000USD.  Seriously, I think cabs are cheaper.  In fact, I think helicopters are cheaper.


  1. A helicopter costs between $750-3500 an hour in Sydney. Depends on the helicopter, apparently.

  2. Blow chunks. Oh yes, I've been away a while. That's being put on the list of terms to see if it's trans-Pacific or if I can horrify those who want Australianisms from me. "Budgie smugglers" sufficed for a time, but it's time to expand the range.

  3. So, for what would amount to a 2 minute flight, the helicopter is significantly cheaper than what I apparently charge for a glorified taxi service.

    Blow chunks was something I got from Wayne's World, so it may be A: not an Aussie-ism, and B: terribly outdated. I offer no warranty on the phrase.

  4. Oh yes, I remember. Blech. I'll just have to mine for some others. "Technicolour yawn" is one I think may have a more sound provenance. You know some people here just spout gibberish in a cockney accent at me, and then ask, "Is that Australian?" They do it to be smacked in the face, I'm sure of it.

    Then there's the guy who keeps offering me Fosters, and another one who's trying to master "G'day, mate." I've given up trying to be mean to that one. He just looks so ... hopeful. I have honestly come to believe Australia is America's favourite non-American stereotype.

    On a more serious note, is there some kind of ratio of ... I guess "tweaked reality" that makes gameplay worthwhile? As in the accumulation of ludicrous amounts of money for paltry services? Obviously some games are at the far end of fantastic, but what's the minimum, before you're basically just living real life on a computer? Can you make a single sliding scale or are there several irreducible axes of reality tweaking? And where would the different elements lie along them?

  5. Give 'em a dose of raw prawn, kick 'em in the niagras, tell them to stone the flamin' crows with flamin' Aylsa at the flamin' diner, toss in a few rip-snorters, and call everybody Bruce. That will give you something to be going on with.

  6. Already used the raw prawn, along with bunging it on. Stone the crows, now, that's good and solid, but what's Aylsa at the flamin dinner? Not ringin any flamin bells....

  7. The short answer to Nina's question is, "Not sure." The long answer is, "Stop asking hard questions."