Echo and the slow game opening
2017's Echo is to me a surprising and impressive example of a good slow opening.
For the purposes of this blog, a game opening is the time between the "start" of the game (introductory cutscene, gameplay, whatever) and the exposure of the player to the core of the game experience (what you'll spend most of your time doing). The core of an FPS would be moving and shooting, the core of a traditional Japanese RPG would be turn-based combat through a menu GUI, the core of a racing game would be driving around a track, etc.
I cannot recall the last time I encountered a game that took so long to expose its core. The core of Echo is 3rd-person stealth. However, you are not truly required to employ stealth until almost an hour into the game. Instead, you are slowly introduced to a number of gameplay systems while dialogue that sets up the world, story, and characters is allowed to play out at a natural pace in the background.
Pacing is the reason the opening of Echo impresses me. To be clear, I'm not going to argue that Echo is any better than other games at teaching players or is infallible. There are moments in Echo's opening that are clearly a little tedious. However, Echo is the first game I've encountered in a long time that gave its characters and world room to breathe.
Most of the games I've played seem afraid of letting the player set the pace for world-building. They use cutscenes and extended exposition dumps to try and make sure the player is fully aware of the story and stakes, and only succeed in overwhelming with nonsense. Darksiders 3 is the most recent example I've played of this, where the player is present with 2 separate extended cutscene sequences before the game has even begun.
Now, I'm not saying that all game beginnings need to be open worlds or completely devoid of explanation. What I hope to illustrate with Echo is the effectiveness of developing the world the player is thrust into through simple conversation, slow but steady forward momentum, and leaving control with the player, even if the path the player takes is linear.
I captured a commentary-less gameplay video to help illustrate what I'm talking about in terms of what Echo is doing:
I thought I had more to say about this. I'm either too tired or, more likely, further reflection while writing resulted in a ton of self editing.
My next blog will be on the 23rd, when I hope to have a tutorial on pathfinding written up. Until then.