Why I Cheated

| Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I've been playing GTA: San Andreas recently. It's fun, as long as you don't take it too seriously. But that's beside the point. Instead I'm thinking about cheating in the game. Specifically why I refused to do it, and then did anyway.

Some parts have been damn hard. Some parts I did ten times over before I got them right. Most commonly these were the strange vehicle fight missions from a nerd known as Zero. Yea, turns out WoW isn't the only game with awkward vehicle fights. And no, I don't mean the usual awkward acceleration and camera angles of driving in general. I mean things like using some weird miniature helicopter to move barrels and drop bombs, or a small red biplane shooting vans. This guy frustrated me, but I stuck with it. Eventually I mastered the miniature helicopter, thanks to a lot of practice with the bigger kind (mostly stolen).

I learned the awkward controls and targeting of the helicopter. This eventually seemed like an entirely pointless training session, since I've so far never needed to fly an attack helicopter, let alone blow up moving trucks with less than two minutes to get them all. That one caused more than one angry quitting. Not quite a ragequit, but close. I learned motorcycles, eventually preferring them to cars, due to fitting in small spaces.

Challenge I could deal with. I enjoyed it after I beat a particularly hard mission. At times I might substitute some preparation for skill, such as using a tank where it probably wasn't intended, but since it was still within the boundaries of the world, it worked for me. Overcoming obstacles by either wit or skill gives a good feeling.

But then I was sent to the airport and told to intercept another plane. No, not with guns or rockets. Instead I had to fly in behind it and jump on it. Simple enough, unless they give me a plane that is slower than the target, meaning that the only possible way to complete the maneuver is to perfectly time a loop which will catch the other plane right on time. This was a stupid idea. Okay I left something out: visibility was crap, both on screen and map. In other words, I have to do this by either guessing or by memorizing cloud patterns. Neither are good design, and incidentally aren't all that dissimilar to many raid mechanics. The mission in general was pretty stupid. Sure the jump looked cool, but it was pointlessly reckless. If I have access to the runway and to rocket launchers, why am I jumping out of a plane? And why, despite having much better weapons, did I suddenly find myself using only a pistol on the plane?

So I cheated. I said "this is stupid" and fixed it. Specifically, I made the other plane slower and my plane faster. Sadly, this turned the mission from stupid to trivial. So that's why I cheated, I saw it as the only readily available fix for what I considered to be bad game design.

In other games I've cheated because I wasn't good enough. The first times I played Half Life 2, I never properly beat them. I just got stuck at places. Since then I have beaten them, but at the time, I was grateful for the chance to shoot some Combine. Oh, and Starcraft. I'm awful at it. So a bit of poweroverwhelming here, a bit there, okay a lot here and there. Cheating acted as a very crude difficulty slider. Or more of a toggle: On and Off.

Sometimes being overpowered is just fun. When a level is supposed to be completed with a pistol, having a machine gun and rocket launcher is pretty sweet. It replaces challenge with silly fun. I think that's a good choice to be able to make.

Of course this falls apart in a multi-player game, where cheating isn't a different way to play, instead it's, well, cheating.


Celendus said...

"Sometimes being overpowered is just fun. When a level is supposed to be completed with a pistol, having a machine gun and rocket launcher is pretty sweet. It replaces challenge with silly fun. I think that's a good choice to be able to make."

This is exactly why every game needs a New Game Plus option (start a new game with all the skills and items of a endgame character).

I've noticed a lot of games have begun to allow changing difficulty during gameplay. It's a neat design, even if it's mostly used to bandage over other less-than-neat design.

Tesh said...

I've argued more than once that players need to be able to control their own challenge level. I'm usually shouted down by those who think challenge is the only reason for playing.

Still, I maintain that players should have that control. It's tricky with miltiplayer games, to be sure, but if those controls are available to everyone, it shouldn't be a problem.

Kinda reminds me of golf handicapping, come to think of it. That seems to work well.

Klepsacovic said...

@Celendus: As stupid as it sounds, I thought the Retirement system in Torchlight sounded dumb. Why make it easier? I think with that my issue was that it caused easy but not quite trivial. If I'm going to cheat, I want trivial, dammit!

@Tesh: Gear-based PvP ruins that. Just like it ruins everything else. I think I'll have to complain about that next week.

Tesh said...

True, unequal PvP is always going to be a problem. Whether it's level or gear based or both or something else, PvP needs to be normalized to make player skill the thing to test, not gearing/leveling/whatever.

Now, if you let players choose their own PvE difficulty and then just normalize their gear in regulated PvP, you're getting somewhere. Of course, open world PvP still sucks, but then, it always does unless you're a bully.

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