Why People Think Turn-Based is “Boring”
I started playing a bit of the expansion for Civilization V (Gods and Kings) recently. I will say that it brought Civ V mostly up to the level of the other Civ games. Combat is a little better than Civ IV, but some other things are a little worse. The new system for spies seems very cool, at least on my first impression. I’m pretty certain that vanilla Civ V did not have “quick move” and “quick attack” feature (even though every Civ before it did have that), but it’s been “re-added”. Is this the pattern Civ is going to take? Release a new game every 5 years stripping away various features, and then re-add them in an expansion?
But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Most Civ players know that there’s an option in the game setup screen called “game speed”. It’s one of the things you can configure for your game; things like map type, map size, how many civilizations are playing, difficulty level, etc.
Now, there are four game speeds: Quick, Normal, Slow and Very Slow (I’m not sure if those are the names of the slower ones, I haven’t even clicked on them for reasons that will become obvious in a few more sentences). Each of them has a description. Here’s a screenshot I took of the description for “Quick” mode:
Let me ask you: how much do you like to “wait around”? I’m going to guess that even if a million people read this blog, nobody answered “too much”. I know, I know – they meant “too much” in a different sense of the phrase than I’ve just implied. Either way, let’s cut out the “too much”. Do you like to wait around at all? I’m going to dare to guess that most people don’t like to “wait around” AT ALL. Waiting around at all, pretty much universally, almost objectively, sucks.
Let me quickly clarify what I mean by waiting around. In games, the thing that really makes them games is the decision-making. Time where the user is not making any decisions is therefore wasted time. One exception might be if the user is watching an important cutscene, or something, but that brings up a whole separate issue.
The Civ Experience
You might be thinking that I am trying to find some cheap “gotcha” moment in some tiny amount of text in a game that has like roughly 9 million words of text in it. I could probably find some text in Civ V to prove just about any point.
But the key here is, Civilization does make you wait around. A LOT.
Every Civ player knows what I’m talking about, too. The first 20-50 turns are exciting, interesting, scary, and dynamic. You’re uncovering new lands. You’re meeting new civilizations and deciding how to handle them. You’re fighting off barbarians. You’re getting into scary wars. You’re struggling to survive.
But then, you reach the mid-game, and things generally tend to cool off. If you’ve survived this long, it means you have often defeated (or at least pacified) your closest adversaries, and now it’s just you and your 8 to 12 cities. During this time, most turns, all you will do is press “End Turn”. Over, and over again. Every couple turns a city will ask you “hey, do you want me to build a hospital or a barracks or one of 23 other possible options, almost all of which you eventually would like to have but none of which are a high priority at the moment”. You scroll down, and sort of click on one half-heartedly just to get the window out of the way.
This kind of non-decision “waiting” shit ends up taking up at LEAST half of the time when you play Civilization.
Now, I play usually on the NORMAL difficulty mode or the mode just above it. It’s possible that if I play on some super-high skill level, that it would be more intense more frequently, or that the game would simply end sooner by my being defeated, but I think it is fair to judge a game by its NORMAL difficulty. Most people are going to be playing on this, and nowhere does it say in the manual “if you want to avoid boring horseshit, make sure to play on GODLY MASTER skill setting”.
Most Turn Based Videogames are Boring
This is why people think turn-based games are boring. There aren’t a lot of turn-based games to choose from these days. There’s basically the Civilization series, and JRPGs (and Advance Wars, which I’ll get to in a second). So it’s no wonder that people think turn-based games are boring when the two existing games that are turn based both happen to be really boring and slow and liberal with wasting the user’s time.
I’ve said it before, but if you actually take a stopwatch and time a user while he’s playing a videogame to see how frequently he’s actually getting to make any meaningful decisions at all, you’ll find it’s offensively, shockingly low. Between load times, cutscenes, tutorials, more cutscenes, running down linear hallways, and other menial tasks, the actual decision is few and far between.
This is not an inherent property of turn-based games, though. A great example is Advance Wars, which – especially when you turn those battle animations off – is quick and snappy. Very little of your time is wasted while playing Advance Wars, and it’s a really well-liked modern turn-based game. I would hope that more developers would learn from this example.
For our part, AURO is the snappiest and most efficient game it can possibly be. We really, really value every minute that a user would give us their attention, and so we want to make use of it. We’re shooting for absolutely zero “waiting around” in AURO, and as close to zero no-brainer decisions as possible (no game, as far as I know, has ever actually reached zero on that). Our animations are de-coupled from the turns system, so you never have to wait even a second for animations to play out. Similarly, our text feeder is also decoupled from gameplay, so just like Portal’s voice-overs, you can play at your own speed; there’s no need to “wait” while text happens.
People think turn based is boring because most modern turn-based games are boring. This will change in the future, in part because of the merge between digital boardgames and videogames.
Another quick example: Magic: The Gathering 2013 (PC), which I played a bit of. Coming from playing Yomi over at www.fantasystrike.com, MTG is CRIPPLINGLY slow. Like, it’s unforgivable. Every time you do anything, there’s some “animation” you have to wait for (they can’t be turned off). Every phase of your turn has, for some reason, a real-time timer to it, despite the game being turn-based. Yomi does this way better by simply having prompts, which means you can move at your own God-damned speed.
Anyway, this has been a pretty haphazardly written article, but I’m actually knee deep in AURO development at the moment so I didn’t have time to write an outline as I usually do. The point is – DON’T WASTE YOUR PLAYER’S TIME, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT OF IT. That “players who don’t like to wait around too much” is too telling – it displays clearly that videogame developers really are okay with some amount of players “waiting around”. We should not tolerate this kind of contempt for the audience.