Over at next-gen, Randy Smith has an interesting article up on how more and more games are “hand-holding”, making it easy for players to know where to go and what to do next, keeping them from making “big mistakes”.

He believes that this is not necessarily a good thing; that games should loosen up a bit and let the player make some errors. He gives an example from Ultima V, but really, the one to consider in this respect is, of course, Ultima IV.

There was certainly no hand-holding in that game. You had some vague idea you had to become an “avatar”, whatever that was. No one gave you a roadmap. The closest to advice you had was Hawkwind down in the basement, who would tell you how well or poorly you were doing in the various virtues. And he sure didn’t tell you how to improve those virtues. You had to figure this out for yourself.

On the other hand, we have Diablo 2, fresh in my mind as I just offed the Big D a little while ago. If you want hand-holding, this is definitely the game for it.

For instance, in Act III (the annoying jungle), you’re tooling along and kill a “special”. It drops a figurine. Immediately, the quest button pops up, and clicking it tells you to see Cain. He sends you to Meshif, who trades a “golden bird” statuette for the figurine. Then the quest button appears again, telling you to go back to Cain, who finally sends you to Alkor. Whew!

Now, in an action/RPG like Diablo 2, that isn’t too much of a big deal. The emphasis there is very much on combat and moving forward. Taking time to figure things out would just slow down the pace.

But in a more traditional RPG, where many have complained about the linearity, is so much direction really a good thing? Does having to think about the game and what we’re doing somehow take away from the “fun”?

I certainly enjoyed playing Ultima IV. But it wouldn’t have been as much of a pleasure had Hawkwind (or anyone else) been directing me through the game. It’s a situation we’ve discussed before, feeling that everything is all rather mechanical, because there’s some NPC who is always there with helpful advice, if not outright orders.

Naturally, some direction is necessary. However, I think it would be a good thing if designers eased off on all that hand-holding, and let the players work things out on their own. Sometimes, it’s better to dump that GPS and do a little thinking.

Choice and Consequence on next-gen