The Rule of Always Turning Around

Recently when I have not been programming on my own game or on other projects, I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy XIII. In the process I’ve been thinking about its design and how it sparked a lot of Internet hate-raging about how the game is more linear than Euclidean geometry. Personally I think XIII is better than every other game in the franchise, with the exception of Final Fantasy VI, but that is a length, ‘flame war’ quality post for another day.

Instead, tonight I want to briefly describe something simple that came to my mind while playing the game.

Seriously—Always Turn Around

Final Fantasy XIII plays out across thirteen ‘chapters’, and except for chapter eleven they are the definition of linearity. Many aspects of the game feel linear, but perhaps none as much as the areas you ‘explore’. I quote the word because there often isn’t anywhere to go except straight ahead.

Except when you should turn backwards at the start of every area. All of the time. Always.

For a game so well known, for better or worse, for its linear nature, I find it funny that you can find items—often weapons or equipment you would have to purchase later—by simply turning the camera around one-hundred eighty degrees at the start of any area. The game consistently rewards you for giving the middle finger to its overwhelmingly linear area design. I’ve been speed-running through the game (yeah—I know) and turning around backwards in new areas is something I do automatically now.

I wouldn’t find this quirky if it didn’t feel so antithetical. And I find it interesting to see how games respond, if at all, to the player who bucks the system and chooses to not take the immediately obvious route. I enjoy it even more when a game acknowledges it, as XIII does by littering items in the one direction you’re constantly discouraged from taking.

It makes me think of a discussion Jeff and I have had about our game: what if the player simply never fires at enemies? How do you account for that in the design? Do we acknowledge with tangible results the gamer who refuses the obvious action?

(Note: Yes.)

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4 thoughts on “The Rule of Always Turning Around

  1. I think there was an article on Cracked recently that mentioned this, but in any game where there are two routes, the explorer or completionist always takes the route that’s obviously wrong first, because then you can be sure to find everything in a particular area. It’s so ingrained that I didn’t even find it weird that the designers of XIII threw in the items behind the player- I turn around literally every single time, in every game where it’s an option. What’s weird to me is that with the exception of the Parable That Shall Not Be Named, I can’t think of a game that tries to buck the explorer- As in, the route that’s obvious is actually the wrong one, and the player ends up missing content because they bucked the system. I’m not sure if I’d respect the designers for doing something like that, or get pissed off, heh.

    1. I can’t think of a game that tries to buck the explorer- As in, the route that’s obvious is actually the wrong one…

      I woudl be tempted to lump some of the R-Type games into this. Certain levels will fork, and although neither route often looks like the obvious choice, you’re punished by making the wrong choice (i.e. killed by unavoidable, deadly level geometry).

      I’m not sure if I’d respect the designers for doing something like that, or get pissed off, heh.

      In general, I’m not sure how I’d feel either. As for the example above, how often have you heard me say that I’ve been playing R-Type lately? Never, heh.

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