Since I am always anywhere from 6 months to 3 years behind on games, I recently started playing Metal Gear Solid V. So far I find myself in agreement with 90% of popular opinion on this game. I think it is fantastic.
That would be the smart place to leave it. Just acknowledge that I like the game and move on. I can go play it, enjoy myself, and not try to overanalyze it. If you have read any of these posts, you know that isn’t how I function. Figuring out why one game is more enjoyable than another game is sort of my jam. Saying things like “my jam” is also my jam. The full extent of the jam.
So, getting back to it, this is what I think makes Metal Gear Solid V a good game. It waits. This is a trait in great games that I have written a little about before. The Souls series of games is probably the most celebrated for waiting. By waiting, I mean that the game is happy to wait for the player to initiate play. This doesn’t mean that the game is slow or that it lacks intensity. It means that the design of the game is player reliant.
When you start a game of Robotron 2084 your character appears at the center of the screen and a horde of robots converge on you until either you clear the level and move on to the next or they touch you and the game ends. If you start the game and then lift your hands from the controls the robots will quickly close on you and end the game. The game system is player centric, but not player reliant. It will play itself to an end state with or without you.
With the exception of a few timed missions, MGSV is pretty willing to let the player take everything at their own pace. Want to lay down by a rock during a mission and research dog armor? Go for it. Want to retry that mission but only use grenades / sniper rifles / inflatable decoys? Not a problem. Want to run one mission over and over until you can finish it in a minute and a half? You can, and the game even expects that you might.
This waiting is different from a game that simply has no combat in an area or requires you to move to a new arena passing through an invisible switch that starts the next wave or puzzle. Even fairly sophisticated games that fall under that category, like the Uncharted series for example, really aren’t that much different from Robotron. You move from level to level, often without any indication that you have, and the game presents you with challenges that, in the case of combat, play out with or without your input.
Waiting is when a game operates in one state until the player chooses to trigger a new state through interaction. If the game provides a lot of options for how, when, and why the player triggers a new state, manipulating the system becomes the source of fun. This sort of goes back to my theory that fun is when our brains predict patterns from apparent chaos. A game system that waits until poked by a player offers pattern resolving opportunities by the bagful.
This isn’t to say that level or wave based games aren’t fun, they can be phenomenal, but they are player centric not player reliant. The player centric system will play out the simulation to an end point regardless of what the player does or doesn’t do. The player reliant system will just run. It’s possible that it would run forever while waiting for the player to interact with it. Even after the player manipulates the system it can keep running and never actually end the simulation. You as the player are required for the system to change, but the simulation is never driving toward any particular state. It just waits. It waits for you.
There, I took the time to write this, when really what I wanted to do the whole time is go back to playing MGSV. It’s late now, but maybe just one quick mission.