Thoughts on Chases in Video Games

In a similar spirit as the post on the Thirty-First of last month, I have another confession to make: I really don’t like “chase” missions.  You know the kind—tackle that guy before he gets away with the MacGuffin, escape the guy trying to stab you in the spleen, et cetera.  I usually find them–tedious.

One of the main reasons I don’t think this really works as a concept is the reason most people have—rubber band A.I.  What that is, essentially, is that you are not allowed to get too far ahead of (and, in some cases, behind) your opponents, no matter how skilled you are or how upgraded your avatar is.

"But I just dumped five points into run-like-a-chicken!"

Is that supposed to be fun?  If I put in the effort to learn the game mechanics, if I put in the effort to obtain enough game currency to outfit my avatar with the fastest this-or-thats, shouldn’t I be rewarded?  If I put in the effort to, say, take the ninety-eight-pound weakling and turn him into the fastest track star that ever lived and could run the mile in three seconds—backward—shouldn’t I be rewarded for that effort?  To go through all of that and still have the opponents zoom right up my tuchus—that’s not fun.  That’s obnoxious, and even insulting.

It’s insulting because it’s saying that what the player wants doesn’t matter.  No matter what you do, you’re obviously not qualified to decide what “fun” is or you, so they decide for you, and they decide to—let’s be honest—be cheap.  I mean that both literally and colloquially.

You see, it’s easier on the processing necessary—thus “cheaper” on processing—to just keep tabs on the player’s location and keep the opponents near them, as opposed to keeping track of everyone individually.  It’s also cheap in the colloquial sense, as, again, it doesn’t matter how well you play or how skilled you are.

This is important because it says that the player’s experiences in the game are irrelevant.  It ultimately doesn’t matter if you enjoy the game, or how you enjoy the game—you’re going to play as the game is designed to let you play, and that’s all there is to it.  I put forth the question again: Is this really fun?

THIS is faster than a sports car in most racing games.

Another reason I don’t think chases in video games really work is that either the opponent is better than you are, or completely terrible.  For example, if you’re chasing someone, they can hurdle every obstacle with ease, duck around every corner without an ounce of trouble, so if you so much as make one half-step wrong, you’re not going to catch them.  Conversely, you are unable to shake the one chasing you no matter what—you can take every obstacle, you can perform feats of daring that would make Jackie Chan think twice about, and your opponent will be on your heels every step of the way.

This is particularly noticeable when your avatar is supposed to be extremely proficient at a skill like Parkour, or is super-powered in some fashion.  It leads one to think, “Wait, I can scale the Eiffel Tower in thirty-seven seconds flat with nothing more than some hand-chalk, so how the heck is this mook security guard keeping pace with me?”  Or, “I just spent an obscene amount of money to make this Ferrari even faster, so how are the police in Crown Victorias staying on my tail?”

This is different than rubber band A.I.  This is more the A.I. being a cheating jerk.  There’s no reason why, say, Spider-Man needs to frantically web-sling after a (normal) gang member, or a souped-up Audi T.T. can’t overtake a stock Chevrolet Astro Van—yet similar issues crop up.

One of the few times gamers and protagonists alike are only all too happy to run like heck.

The problem I have with this as a concept is that I can’t imagine anyone finding this sort of thing fun, yet people must—either gamers must find it fun, or we blindly throw money at retailers for games even when we don’t like a concept.

Or, on a slightly different track, this is another way the used game market is helpful to gamers.  While, granted, in most racers, we go into them expecting rubber band A.I. (though we we should in the first place is a different matter…), we don’t necessarily know if the chasing A.I. in a platformer-ish title will be a cheating jerk.  If it is and, if you’re like me, you don’t want to reward that sort of element with money, buying used is the way to go.

The initial argument of the developers and publishers retaining the profit on the original sale still stands, so, yet again, you’re not taking money out of their hands when buying used.  Since renting games is, it seems, potentially on its last legs (or is about to become something wholly different; we’ll see how GameFly and its competitor, Blockbuster’s Total Access work out; though, as of this writing, GameFly’s site is “temporarily unavailable”, which is—interesting), there soon might not be any way of seeing if you really want to throw your money at a publisher and developer than the used game market.  With the Digital Rights Management debate still an issue and digital downloads becoming more and more popular, the ability for a game to be loaned between friends is becoming more and more difficult.  That means that there are fewer alternatives to handing money directly to a publisher and developer for a game one may not like.

To get back on-topic, chases can work, but such examples are few and far between.  I can’t even think of any, though I’m sure I’ve come across at least one.  I have to wonder how many gamers actually find this sort of thing fun—genuinely, truly enjoyable—and how many of us simply put up with it.  We put up with a lot, when you think about it, for the above-noted reasons of it becoming more difficult to (legally) “test” a video game.  Are chases another element we simply put up with?  It’s become accepted that escort missions are going to be a pain—we have been conditioned to think this going into it.  Are chases going to go the same route?  I certainly hope not, but, as with so many things, only time will tell.


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