Too many games use journals

odplot | Game Design | Too many games use journals

Too many games use journals

Journals in games. They seem to have started coming in vogue when game budgets began ballooning and producers needed to figure out how to utilize all of their massive team. Part of the solution, apparently, was to create in-game agglomerations of menus containing of all of the back story for each character, location, item, and insignificant event that anybody on the team ever thought of for the game. Some are more egregious than others … Bioware’s stuff comes to mind, as does the Kingdom Hearts games. They’re just ridiculous. Does anybody read these things? Does anybody care?

I understand their purpose on a fundamental level: make the game’s world feel big and expansive, and make it seem like lots of thought has gone into the whole production (it probably has). But is there another way to do it? I’ve only seen this stuff make people tirelessly scroll through the things to get all of the “new” boxes to go away. (Of course, more recently a new innovation has been developed: the “mark all as read” option.) There must be a better way – one that is more integrated with the story, and that isn’t a petty distraction pulling us out of the world of the game.

As with everything I don’t like, though, there are usually good examples of it. Pikmin is one of them. Olimar’s Voyage Log actually develops organically with the game, and fills in story and character elegantly in a game that doesn’t feature it in many other ways. He also has notes about the areas he visits, and the monsters he encounters. And this is all perfect, because of course he would take note of all of these things, because he is an explorer, and the game is about exploration and discovery. As well, the journal notes are helpful for both Olimar and you, because understanding how a monster behaves is vital to keeping as many Pikmin alive as possible. A far cry from other journals which have useless boring backstory noise.

Of course, what these journals really are doing is just taking a load off of what the game is asking players to remember. Which is alright. But I think over the years that aspect of it has distorted beyond all reason. People tend to remember stuff very well, especially story stuff. People can read through the very long War and Peace without having a guide telling them the background of all the characters encountered so far. They even tend to remember minute details, like what characters were wearing, or said, and generally how all the characters feel about one another. And, yes, all of this even if they take a break from reading it for a week or whatever.

So when games go one step further and even have a system that tells you what it is you’re supposed to be doing (or even going one step further and just putting a dot on your map for where to walk to) … it disheartens me a little bit. That sort of thing strikes me as evidence of poor design, and, indeed, encourages poor design. No longer are the creators burdened by needing to properly explain character motivation, or write lucid dialogue that explains what the player needs to do, because you can just skip it all and see what popped up in your “journal”. Hell, why have characters & a story at all? The setting it all that design cares about.

By | 2017-06-26T11:58:54+00:00 June 25th, 2017|Game Design|