Most Video Games Are Too Long
Our desire to spend as much time in game worlds we love is natural, but it's not always the best path to good storytelling. 'Minit' is an exercise in efficiency.
Image courtesy of Devolver Digital
After more than 30 hours of God of War, I needed a break from the game’s blood, violence, and self-serious parental musings. Minit, a game about exploring the world 60 seconds at a time, seemed like the tonal palette cleanser I was looking for. In-between my kid’s naps this weekend, I chipped away at Minit, one death at a time. Three hours later, it was over. It stuck around just long enough to make use of its gimmick, before realizing it was time to move on. Not enough games know when to stop.
God of War, by contrast, is extremely long. It justifies its length for a while, but towards the back half, when you’re sent on an errand for the billionth magical McGuffin, it can feel it's spinning its wheels just because it can. (The strength of the game’s combat goes a long way to mitigating that, but still—it’s too long.) But given the way gaming fans often judge (and reward!) games based on how long they are, it’s hard to blame developers who fall into this trap. There’s often more danger in shortening a game.
As someone who writes for a living, I know how hard it can be to trim things. You spend an hour trying to articulate a point, only to discover it doesn’t advance your argument—maybe it hurts it. This must be exponentially worse when you're talking about a game a group of people have been working on for years. And yet, editing is the toughest part of writing, especially when someone else points out your mistakes. But it’s also how you land the strongest punch.
Minit is at its best when the player always has something new to discover. A new screen, a new item, a new enemy. That way, when the 60 seconds are up, it doesn’t feel like a waste. The rigid structure is most frustrating when you’re trying to accomplish a specific task, and there’s not enough time to work out how to accomplish it. In my case, towards the end of Minit, I needed to track down one last item for a quest, and it was unclear to me on where to find it. I’d trolled the whole map multiple times, but I remained at a loss. I messaged Austin for a hint, he pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to keep moving. 20 minutes later, I’d finished the game. Rad!
Minit knew what it wanted to accomplish, and how long it took to accomplish it. Done. But it also left me wanting more. If they announce a sequel—may I propose Another Minit?—I’ll be there with bells on. Too many games leave me exhausted, as if my dozens of hours have only made a small dent. (This is especially true for open world games.)
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.