Saturday, June 28, 2014

General RPGs' Sprint Meters

Sprint meters are stupid, annoying, and worthless.


...You're still here? Oh, what, you wanted more than that? Well, I guess I can elucidate, but that’s all it’s going to come down to in the end. But what the hell, let’s do this.

Sprint Meters are those little bars on the screen of some RPGs that fill up or empty as the player runs around a play area. After a certain amount of uninterrupted jogging, the bar fills up or empties completely, and the character onscreen has to rest for a period of time, unable to continue running (sometimes unable to continue moving at all) for a short period, during which they’re presumably catching their breath. Sometimes the meters also govern how tired the character is getting from more activities than just running, such as with The Elder Scrolls 4 (probably 5, as well, but I haven’t played that yet) and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where jumping, attacking, running, swimming, and so on all cause fatigue, at which point I just call it a Fatigue Meter instead. Most, however, are just for running, which is what I mean by Sprint Meters. It all boils down to the same annoyance in the end, though.

FIrst of all, the idea behind the concept is slightly irritating. I mean, I myself can only think of 2 possible explanations for the existence of a Sprint Meter in a game. The first is for game balance. If you can only run a certain amount of steps before slowing down, it limits how many enemy encounters you can manage to avoid, and in the case of a Fatigue Meter, attacking while fatigued from other actions lessens the effectiveness of said attacks in The Elder Scrolls 4, and the speed and actions you can take while tired in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are very limited. I guess I can accept this for Fatigue Meters when a lot of the game’s limitations and checks and balances rely on this handicap, when it seems like this was a legitimate, thought-out decision as far as how the game is played...I guess. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I like it, and it’s annoying, not challenging or fun, to work around, but whatever. But Sprint Meters limiting the time a character can run because you don’t want to allow for a player to potentially avoid all enemies possible? That comes off as a game developer just trying to cover for his/her own inability to design monster placement and pursuit patterns well enough to properly contrast a good gamer by imposing arbitrary limitations. Plus, why the hell do you even need to limit the amount of times a gamer can avoid an enemy to begin with? If a gamer avoids everything, he/she shouldn’t have the levels necessary to beat bosses past a certain point, anyway. The bosses are meant to be the balance, not some stupid bar that fills up/empties due to jogging.

The other reason I can think of for having Sprint Meters is utterly unacceptable: totally unnecessary realism. In the same vein of “genius” that spawned the unrivaled tedium of constantly having to repair weapons as they rapidly decay, some idiot realized that in real life, people, even physically fit people, cannot run perpetually and must eventually stop to catch their breath, and decided to create a game mechanic solely for the purpose of having characters travel more realistically. I hope to God that this is not and has never been the reason any game has adopted a Sprint Meter, but given the utterly, insanely idiotic ideas that have been put into practice in RPGs in the name of making things realistic (who doesn’t want to constantly have to keep track of when to use a repair item on their weapon? Monotonously counting every sword stroke and gunshot you make is just SUCH fun!), I certainly can’t rule the possibility out.

So frankly, until someone graces me with a better explanation for why Sprint Meters exist, I’m going to go with the idea that they don’t serve any particularly good purpose. And hey, if they didn’t serve any particular purpose but didn’t do anything irritating either, like achievement points and trophies and the like, then I’d have no problem. But Sprint Meters ARE irritating!

First of all, I resent not being able to have the characters on screen travel as fast as possible to all destinations. I’m not the type to run away from enemies,* so the whole potential idea of keeping me from avoiding all enemy encounters isn’t even an issue anyway, but I AM the type to want to move as quickly as is viable through towns and dungeons alike. Not to say that I rush through RPGs--I sit still quite patiently for every word spoken and story action taken. But to get from story point A to story point B, do I want to waste time just slowly walking there? Hell no! No one does! I bet you can’t find a full 5 people on the entire planet who would rather watch a character slowly trudge across the screen instead of just holding down the Run button to get around speedily.

Another minor annoyance with some games which implement this idea: they don’t always have any actual Sprint Meter or other indication of when the character’s going to slow down to a crawl. Some, like Lunar 1, just leave you to keep track of the time your character has for running yourself, giving no indication as that time comes to an end. Yeah, that’s a very minor complaint, but all the same, it’s another way in which this concept is needlessly annoying.

Another minor annoyance, although admittedly I’ve only encountered this once, is in Secret of Mana. Running in that game has no limit, per say, but it uses up an action so you do have to wait a second to regain the ability to run again, or attack properly, or whatever. It’s a bit of a departure from the usual way a Sprint Meter works, but it’s in the same vein, so I count it. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that a running character should not be confined solely to a straight line. For some reason, in Secret of Mana, any time your character runs, they launch themselves in a straight line and cannot be made to turn or even slightly adjust their course. I don’t know about you, but I, myself, managed to become adept at the art of changing direction during forward movements fairly early in my life. Like, before I could talk. One might as well not have been given the option to run in Secret of Mana to begin with; it was too awkward to use most of the time, anyway.

Also, I have to really take issue with how long a Sprint Meter holds out in all cases. If you clock how long it takes for a running character to get winded in these cases, you’ll find that, without exception, every character in an RPG is an asthmatic overweight chain smoker born with only one functioning lung. Seriously, the amount of time any given RPG character can maintain a brisk jog is inevitably less time than I, myself, can. And trust me, I am not the picture of physical fitness--I’m so out of shape that most offensive caricatures of geeks and gamers don’t actually go far enough toward depicting my lack of athleticism. There is no goddamn way that I should be able to maintain a run longer than an seasoned adventurer who has spent the last 50 hours of game time constantly on his feet and regularly getting the natural exercise that comes from fighting for one’s life with every few steps one takes. For that matter, there is no goddamn way that I should be able to maintain a run longer than Commander fucking Shepard. If you’re gonna limit the time an RPG character can run, at least make that limit halfway realistic for the character! Most people’s frail little grandmothers could outrun every RPG character ever made whose running is limited! Sheesh.

Sprint Meters and similar movement inhibitors are stupid and needlessly annoying in RPGs. Whatever dubious benefits they may be intended to provide to the game, the end result is something annoying, and in every case to my knowledge, totally unrealistic which ultimately only takes away from the gamer’s enjoyment of the gameplay.

* Hell, I don’t even use it to run away from enemies when there’s no benefit to gaining levels. In Lunar 1, enemy bosses level up as you do, meaning there’s not all that much reason to go out of your way to gain levels since you’ll only ever be gaining a marginal advantage at best. Did that stop me from running into every damn enemy I saw on the way through dungeons? Nope.


  1. IIRC, Secret of Mana was originally built as a SNES CD-esque game, and that was dropped, with developers holding most of a game they struggled to fit into a SNES cartridge. Hence so much of SoM seeming half-assed yet over the top at the same time. I won't say sprinting isn't clunky and obtuse, but I think they intended it as mostly a battle action with some pedestrian use in towns and the common empty paths. Sprinting out of combat didn't need restriction, but that might have been an issue to set a flag for. In combat, it sees some use in moving away from attacks, but still, it's a flawed execution. A bit of a tragedy, that.

    ME1's sprint was like 60mph in a game full of cramped quarters. Shit needed some holdbacks, yo; you can almost hear Shepard's heart screaming YOU SON OF A BITCH. ME2 is all about that clunky armor and empty warehouses. Clearly they want you shooting from two miles away take in all the bare environments. Running's for Krogans anyway, bitches.

    No idea why running is penalized the way it is in RPGs. It's not as if these are all roguelikes or dungeons crawlers that run on forced encounters. Eh.

    On the flip side, this makes Virginia Maxwell one of the most tireless adventurers ever. So there's that.

  2. Yeah I really don't get them either I mean I can do a brisk jog but I can't do a decent run worth a damn? Fuck that.

  3. Cases like Lunar 1 are worse than most , I think.

    I mean, you only get to run for a few seconds and there's no limit or cooldown timer, so all it adds is a habit of pressing X every few seconds. Might as well omit the ability to run entirely if it doesn't last long at all.

    The original Sega CD versions only had the running speed, but no visible encounters. I imagine the remakes decreased the default speed and gave the ability to run so it's possible to avoid enemies.