On pace and walking simulators

Sir TapTap
pace
noun
1. a rate of movement, especially in stepping, walking, etc.: to walk at a brisk pace of five miles an hour.

2. a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo.

While playing TIMEframe I found myself thinking–isn’t this a bit slow? As a “walking simulator” (forgive my use of the term, I don’t mean it derogatorily), TIMEframe’s primary input is, yes, walking. And I began to notice something about the genre: they really all are quite slow–very much walking sims and not running sims.

I fired off an email to the developer and was told, as I expected, the pace was something deliberate to take in the surroundings and there was deliberately no run button. And just recently Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture released, and it seems many reviews take issue with the game’s walking speed and the (apparent) lack of a run button. (Fun fact: there is a run button, albeit a rather poorly thought out one)

The common refrain is that the plodding pace of movement is meant to match the more calm and meditative intended pace of the experience. I understand and respect this line of thinking, but I really do not believe it is a good choice. To me the core of what makes a walking sim so interesting is the ability to explore, to move about. To be blunt, Dear Esther was not a very good game in my opinion, but what enjoyment I did get out of it was almost entirely due to being able to move and explore freely, as if it were a world in and of itself. If Dear Esther were simply  a scripted cinematic, a movie with no input, almost every aspect I enjoyed would immediately be removed.

Movement in a walking sim is often the only mechanic, and so any flaw in movement stands out incredibly strongly. I respect the intent to make me slow down and reflect, but to be quite frank, why the hell would I be playing a damn walking sim if I had no intention of slowing down and reflecting? I’m not an idiot. I slow down and reflect in these games because they give me amazing visuals, crafted scenes and implicit lore to wonder at. If you want me to slow down, all you have to do is give me something to look at and I will stop and look. By giving me a plodding movement speed you are actually hindering my ability to explore and making looking at all the pretty things that much more painful.

Making the player move slow discourages exploration. If I go off the beaten path not only will it take a while, it will take even longer to get back on track as well! Replays are made far more painful due to slow movement as well. Allow me to move fast when I want–either by an options menu for speed or a simple run button–and I will be much more happy to flit about and prod every corner of your crafted world. Slow me down and jeez, maybe I should just finish this thing already?

Now, there are times where slowing the player’s movement to a crawl (metaphorically or literally) can make quite an impact: certain scenes in Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4 drive this home well enough. But these scenes are so impactful because your movement is not so restricted, so the situation starkly stands out, the player is briefly made powerless or held captive in a sense, for whatever reason. This makes a fantastic splash for a scene, but the impact is massively diluted if you chose to give an entire game the treatment.

Rapture does this in some cases–indoors you cannot run, and certain scenes are more impactful because of it. On the other hand, I found myself walking into a moderately large building that turned out to have no story purpose or interesting events and found myself quite frustrated by my movement speed–with no reward for my glacial pace, it felt like a trap. I never went back in there.

Pace is of course incredibly important for story-driven games, and it can be very tempting to limit your player’s literal pace to match that–but please don’t. The simple reality is players will slow down to take in the sights as long as you place interesting visual and story elements about to make them stop and gawk. Slowing movement speed is an extremely artificial pace-enforcer that probably doesn’t have the impact you think it does, and actually discourages exploration.

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Author: Sir TapTap

Opinionated gaming spikeball dedicated to showing cool games and making games more enjoyable for everyone.