Ex-People Can Fly Dev: Most Memorable Gameplay Moments Don’t Involve Gameplay

Ex-People Can Fly Dev: Most Memorable Gameplay Moments Don’t Involve Gameplay

This is one of the strangest developer blog posts I have ever read, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. Adrian Chmielarz, ex-People Can Fly developer, now member of The Astronauts, has claimed that we need to “kill gameplay” in order to make better games.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but one I completely disagree with.

After listing a series of typical favourite gaming moments (riding into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption, the opening 10 minutes of BioShock, etc) he makes the connection that, in actual fact, these moments are “game-free” or “game-less”.

Then he expands…

If we understand gameplay as something that a challenge is a crucial part of, then none of these moments features any gameplay. You just walk, or swim, or ride a horse, but that’s it. You cannot die. You don’t make choices that have any long term consequences. No skill is involved.

There is no gameplay.

In other words, certain things worth remembering from certain video games are not what these video games are all about.

Chmielarz goes on to use The Walking Dead as a good example of a game that removes gameplay loops and mechanics and replaces them with ‘moments’.

Ultimately I think this whole argument is flawed based on the assumption that players engage with video game content to solely create memories — an assumption that is completely incorrect. It also ignores the simple pleasure players get from engaging in a finely tuned mechanic. Just because most gamers don’t take the time to describe that experience, or understand it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t important or completely integral to the experience.

And finally — these memorable moments are memorable precisely because they are designed to be. They’re memorable because they usually work as a stop gap between the regular mechanics. Using the idea that such moments are memorable as an argument to strip all “gameplay” from a video game is pretty ridiculous.

Via Beefjack


  • Sounds like watching a movie. I think he forgot to read the words setup, simulacrum and reward for previous choices on the box.

  • There are pure gameplay moments that stand out for me just as much as these more cinematic moments.

    Things like Journey, when you start to play around with the amazingly floaty jump mechanics and the connection you make with complete strangers with extraordinarily limited ways of communication.

    Competitive games like Counter Strike or StarCraft, where you managed to make an amazing comeback.

    Challenging games like Dark Souls and Trauma Center, where you finally take down that one boss that has been roadblocking you.

    Different games will strive to be memorable in different ways. Narrative driven single player games, like the ones mentioned in the article will probably stand out because of the non-gameplay moments. They’re the reward for playing to that point. Other games provide different experiences.

  • I’m not sure I can actually think of all that many memorable moments that I’ve had from games like the ones he talks about. I know I certainly didn’t think anything of my first hour and a half of Bioshock, let along the first ten minutes 😛 The only one that comes to mind at all is the Mission Accomplished ending of The Forever Train in Lylat Wars. Otherwise, the only memorable parts are gameplay ones, like the time during Halo 2 multiplayer that I tanked-off against a friend, missed a shot and got killed. Only to then have my tank explode, the tank carcass cartwheel into the air, land on his tank and kill him in return. Wish we had that match being taped or something.

  • Most of my memorable moments in games come directly from the gameplay.

    Good example: Falling down that shaft while fighting Ridley in Metroid Prime 3.

  • While I just flat out disagree (found both those scenes mentioned pretty boring actually), let’s assume he’s right. It’s still a silly point, memorable moments aren’t memorable just because of that moment in a vaccum. I remember getting my degree because of all the hard work that went into getting to the moment, less so if someone had just handed it too me. I remember resigning from that job I hated because of the hell I went through for a year doing it. I remember beating Dark Souls because it was a decent challenge getting there (This is a really good one because the actual non playable ending is pretty meh in reality).

    Basically what you said in the last paragraph expanded with examples. 😉

    • As a bonus, my most memorable gaming moments come from the multiplayer modes in Smash Bros Melee and Timesplitters 2… so only gameplay.

  • I find movies dont engage me enough, and most new game i always find myself saying “needs more gameplay”.

    However i found the switch between cut scene and game play in max payne 3 and even MK9 to be incredibly well done, so while i disagree that less game play = good, a great symmetry does give that drawn in feel.
    just out of curiosity is he an ‘ex’ people can fly dev because of these horrible idea’s?

  • I get what he’s saying. Sailing around in Wind Waker is still one of my favorite moments in games, you’re not doing anything, but its memorable.
    But if a whole game was like this it would be boring, the reason it’s memorable is because you know there is this whole world full of things to do and that gives life to those moments.

    Holidays are the more memorable times in life, but if you were constantly on holidays it wouldn’t feel special. It’s that break from responsibility that creates “moments”.

  • I think this guy forgot about his own game, Bulletstorm. Chaining various kills together was really fun and memorable.

    Also Just cause 2. All the chaos I caused with the grapple hook was awesome.

  • “If we understand gameplay as something that a challenge is a crucial part of…”

    I think that’s a flawed assumption right there. Look at games like Journey and Flower – there’s little/no challenge in those games, yet they’re certainly not lacking for gameplay.

  • Although interesting thoughts as soon as I read it I was thinking of moments recently that were memorable. X-com in the middle of a firefight desperately trying to keep the team alive is all gameplay, Halo’s combat constantly throws out memorable moments also.

  • I’d agree and disagree with him. I can definitely say that moments such as Mexico in Red Dead stick in my mind as being some of the most amazing I’ve experienced in gaming, but he over generalized the argument against his point when he said that you never see people refer to the gameplay as being memorable. The very first thing I thought of when it came to memorable gameplay was Ninja Gaiden 2. the brutal, technical, fast pased action was the entire game. The story was nonsensical, the bosses were generic, and the level design was ok, but the gameplay was the rock that game was built on and that’s what I’ll always remember it for. Even games such as Dark Souls or Shadow of the Collosus where the art direction and set pieces were huge, the gameplay itself is still one of the main things I remember about those games.

    In the end, he’s writing about an interesting concept and one that should definitely be considered in game design, just without it being taken too far.

  • I think those particular moments were memorable because of the sense of anticipation they created from the new enviroment and gameplay possibilities these created.

  • Riding into Mexico from red dead redemption is a terrible example. How about lassoo’ing a dude and dragging him down the road? oh wait that’s gameplay. Driving your warthog across the surface of a collapsing spaceship in Halo 3? Gameplay. Every awesome headshot, fluke grenade, boss fight, hidden treasure chest, narrow escape, coin and heart and star collected; gameplay. The reason riding into Mexico means anything at all is because there are Mexicans ripe for the lassoo’in

  • I agree with aspects but mainly disagree. Personally, I can relate to ‘movie moments’ in gaming – simply because I love watching movies. However, for like the thousandth time, I must point everyone to A Link to the Past – my favourite video game. A timeless classic for me that I can pick up and play even today. It contains no real ‘movie moments’. Just pure, fantastic gameplay.

  • He actually has a good overall point…
    However, I think he has incorrectly attributed how humans make memory connections with what humans want, or strive to engage with, in a game. Neurologically speaking we connect with memories when we can create context that is easily related to others. Telling a story is a key way our brains create connections and a human makes better memories when they can relate that information re-iteratively. If we made no impact but still enjoyed the scene before us its very easy to relate it to others.

    Humans don’t recount the actions and little steps to a moment in their lives. But if you look at something like a sport as a good analogy you realise the tale of triumph is the outcome of a well enjoyed process that was in EVERY respect mechanical in EVERY WAY. Training, mental conditioning and desire to win are all functionally the mechanic with which we create a success memory. When you fail you reassess those mechanics in an effort to better your approach in future.

    And in that line of understanding he has mistaken second nature for a throw away non-gamed aspect of a setting. It was all still mechanics that allowed people to witness an event. Riding a horse into Mexico was NOT mechanic free, it was an action the user saw as trivial only to the outcome. A means to an ends and the designers simply didn’t make it hard to do. When a person climbs everest they don’t say, “I completed 420,000 steps and reached an altitude that allowed me to visually assess my relationship with the altitude of other people.” NO, they say, “I climbed everest, the view was so amazing. I was on top of the world.” And most never recount the hardship (challenge!!) to get there unless asked specifically. Doesn’t mean challenges weren’t experienced and surpassed, it was merely trivial in relation to the victory conditions that are easier to relate.

    I do see what he is trying to say about the challenge aspect and I think he is trying to say if we took artificial obstacles away from gamers then they might actually enjoy some experiences more. Picking your design moments for challenge vs reward is something games still don’t do very well yet and can;t ever get right really as all gamers have different skill levels and expectations of outcome. And he is 100% correct about QTEs. We all know it, if not consciously, that QTEs are cheap and stupid. Most would either want some gameplay there or just watch the cutscene the designers are clearly trying to provide but were scared they didn’t provide a game in it.

  • Some of what he said, I agree with.

    Riding into Mexico was amazing. Bioshock started out amazingly (didn’t play too long because don’t like scare game pls). The GTA one he mentioned was cool too.

    But he missed the mark on Uncharted 3. The desert scene was somewhat interesting but it mostly overstayed its welcome. A better example would have been the sinking ship.

    Also, I loved other non-gameplay ‘moments’ in RDR like Dutch’s last speech, but I also loved gameplay stuff like riding into some gang’s hideout with a bunch of Sheriff’s or chasing down some fleeing opponent and killing or capturing them.

    Also, what about multiplayer? While it is true that I don’t remember specific matches and maybe encounters, I consider some multiplayer games not only among the best games I have played but also among the elite few I call ‘games of my life.’ These games are RSV and Gears (specifically their one life modes).

    A good example is Halo:CE. While there are awesome non gameplay moments like landing on Halo for the first time and just looking/exploring, there is also stuff like storming the beaches in The Silent Cartographer with a bunch of marines. The fight was short but intense. I still remember some things: the exchange of grenades, and Elites popping in and out of cover. Obviously, it never happens exactly the same way but it is still a memorable “moment.”

    TLOU isn’t a completely appealing game to me. The plant zombies, while fairly unique are still just zombies and the falling down the elevator shaft into black gloom doesn’t bode well for my nerves. There is nothing wrong with these things, they just don’t tickle my fancy. If there is anything that might make me overcome any misgivings I might have, it is hotel shootout’s they have demonstrated. They are dynamic and fluid, while also being tense and utterly engaging almost like my favourite multiplayer game modes (one life modes like Assassination). Anything can happen and the flow and details of each match are typically distinct.

    It is a mixture of being challenging but also interesting (the latter carrying some more weight than former while not removing the former entirely: for me anyway).

    The story bits and the characters they have shown look incredible and it is bound to have some cool “moments” outside of gameplay, but I was content to ignore this game until I saw the gameplay sections and how dynamic they were. Conversely, I wouldn’t just play the next FF for simple gameplay. It is not what I want from that game.

    I believe it is a balance. Gameplay and non-gameplay stuff are essential to my enjoyment of most games and neither should be excluded, particularly gameplay. It is kind of the point of games, after all.

    Still, what about stuff like Journey and old Adventure games. Journey is considered excellent and those Adv games have their classics as well. I haven’t really played them so I can’t comment, definitively. I mean, exploring is part of a lot of games so I guess it makes sense in Journey’s case. Of course, I don’t know if the game is devoid of gameplay or if whatever gameplay there is adds to the experience. I do know one thing though, not every game can be riding to Mexico with beautiful music. Can such things sustain a 20 hour game? And is gameplay something so worthless to ‘games’ that they must be thrown away? While gameplay doesn’t necessarily have to have Action (shooting/fighting etc) of some kind, I maintain that it should typically be there in some form. In my experience, terrible/unenjoyable gameplay (and it’s trappings) make for a largely unenjoyable game.

    Still, I am making a huge assumption. I suppose when you think about it, Gameplay contains the words Game and Play. I suppose, going by what I have seen, Journey at least satisfies these. I was confused about what Adventure games actually were so I played a vid of Grim Fandango on youtube. It was surprisingly more gamey than I expected. There seem to be obstacles and challenges. It wasn’t Halo but it was still there and seemed to be concurrent with the experience. These basically reinforce my opinion that games should have gameplay.

    I understand doing away with certain gameplay conventions (not that I agree completely). Not every game needs to be COD or FF or whatever, but I am more convinced now than even when I started that doing away with gameplay entirely is folly, especially if you fully consider what gameplay actually means or at least implies in the general sense.

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