My internet BBF and dweller of the Twitterverse Tom recently posted an article on his blog about games and where he feels they need improving on. Being the self-absorbed twat that knows everything better than everyone else, I felt the need to write a post to further add to his points. Yes, I’m taking his post of improvements and I’m improving on it because it’s terrible.
Seriously though, it’s a fantastic post and everyone should read it before continuing reading this post.
Reversing the obvious
There’s this very common pitfall with action games that has been there since the NES and still occasionally pops up. Back on the NES you only had 2 buttons. In most games A was jumping, B was attacking. No matter what game you played, chances are the first thing you did was pressing A to see if you could jump and B to see what kind of attack you had. Sounds obvious, straightforward. Everyone knows what the two buttons do, so why challenge it?
Yet it gets challenged. Every now and again you come across a game where the two buttons are reversed from the logical order. You start finding yourself falling into pitfalls you’d otherwise jump over because your automatically pressing the “wrong” button. And enemies surprise you and in shock you’re jumping around the room like a complete retard, all while trying to find the shoot button because the shoot button isn’t shooting. Alarming enough, even Mega Man has gotten this wrong at some point. The Anniversary collection on the GameCube reversed the logical combination its own series has had.
Even these days there are games that completely copy the control scheme of another one because, hey, it worked. You don’t fix what isn’t broken… Well, except the grenade throwing and reloading, they should be switched. It’s not like anyone could ever get confused with this during a heated battle or anything. Chances are you’ll never get used to it because the original control scheme is printed in your head and fingers. At least, you think so until you start playing the original game that featured this control scheme. You’ll end up knifing a team member when trying to zoom in your sniper rifle and get kicked out of the game, resulting in a downwards spiral of low ranked matches and alcoholism.
Long cut scenes after a save point.
Please, just reverse these two. Chances are you’re going to unleash a boss battle that is going to completely destroy me in 5 seconds after the cut scene so I can watch it again anyway.
I don’t even want to know how many times I’ve seen Seymour from Final Fantasy X give me the same speech about… about… Actually, I heard him drone on so much about the same crap over and over it all just blended together into nothingness. It helped making me a zen master.
Backtracking all across the game world and back.
Good job getting here, hero! We’re going to knock you unconscious and drag you back all the way so you can see how much better you have actually become when you walk all the way back.
At least, that’s one scenario how this gets used.
Ha! You’ll never make it past here! You’ll need item X to break open the door, which you can only get using Special Weapon I in the corner over there together with Card Key Z to the left. It’s in the starting area of the game. Hurry up and go get it!
No, just no. I’ve seen these challenges already. They’re not a challenge anymore now that I’ve beaten them, they’re a nuisance. If I want to go through the entire playing field a second time, I’ll just walk back or restart a new game after haven beaten it.
I don’t usually mind this in Metroid or Metroidvania games because exploration is the whole point of them and they’re usually quite good at it. What I can’t stand is action games that do this, because they do it in such a painful fashion it’s not even remotely fun anymore. If you’ve played your fair share of games, chances are you’ll know a game that used both the above examples. As much as I loved the game, Metal Gear Solid played this one a bit too hard. Not only did you have to walk back to the starting area for a sniper rifle, you also got knocked unconscious and moved back to the exact same location. Story-wise, it worked out and the rest of the game wasn’t that bad in this. Still, walking back to get the sniper rifle felt extremely awkward considering the situation.
We need a story!
We don’t. A story makes a game a lot of fun to play through once. After you’ve seen it, that’s it. No need to go back. Most games handle their story awkwardly, as if they’re trying to add some foreign unheard object into something they understand. Mixing and mashing elements that don’t get together until you get another game that is almost good, but is lacking that certain something.
Don’t bludgeon two objects that don’t work together and hope for the best. Craft something that does work. There are games with good stories out there and neither gameplay nor story are compromising each other. A game makes you want to continue playing for both of them, not one.
We need voice acting!
I could’ve combined this with the previous point, because the basic nature is the same. Not every single game needs voice acting. Sometimes the problem isn’t just that voice acting is terrible, it’s just that it’s there. Yet most of the time when that is an actual problem, the voice acting tends to be bad enough to make you turn the volume off. It’s obvious they didn’t put much thought into it, which mostly shows because there’s no option to turn the voices off with these games either. Yet most games with at least decent voice acting have a volume control for it.
The most recent game that made my jaw just drop when a character started talking was Mega Man ZX Advent. Nobody should talk in a Mega Man game, ever. This has been proven extensively by Mega Man 8 and Mega Man Legends. I had thought they learned their lesson when they started making the retro MM9 and 10… Yet there it was. I turned the game off and never played it again.
The entire sandbox genre
This is hard to comment on for me right now. I haven’t played Red Dead Revolver yet and I keep hearing it’s a solid game. Still, one good game doesn’t pardon a genre that has so many basic flaws to begin with, so onward I go with my problems.
A game is a piece of work, like a sandcastle. The more work put into it, the more there is for the player, or observer, to see and enjoy. If you’ve done it right, they’ll have to observe it closely, search for all the details, walk around the thing and take it all in. It’s both more satisfying to you, the builder and it is to the beholder of the amazing sandcastle. If you’ve made a good one, they’ll never forget the work.
Now we’ve got the sandbox. It’s the middle of a bunch of sculptures, and that’s all it is. There’s nothing to see. You can shift the sand and move it around a bit, but without any other added things, there’s not much you can make. It’s desolate compared to the wonders of the sculptures around you.
This is how I envision most Sandbox games. Developers too lazy to create content in their games, so instead they just make the surface area of the game world 10 times the size and hope you can find your own fun in it. The problem with this is that this has been done many times. If you’ve had fun running around in GTA, you’ve pretty much got the whole crime thing done. If you’ve played Crackdown than you’ve played ProtoType and Infamous.
If you create a game world with enough content for the players to have fun with, they’ll run around and play in it. If you give them a free open world to play in, they’ll get bored. I understand the basic idea, it just doesn’t work the way developers hope it will.
Customizable items… with stat bonuses.
Now I can see the point in having stat bonuses for items in RPGs and MMOs, it’s an important aspect of those games, so I’m not going to complain about that.
What I can’t stand is games where characters judge you based on how you dress, yet the game pushes you to be who you want to be. Again, a sandbox problem. You can be whoever you want to be, but if you want the very best results, chances are you’re going to look exactly like every other player. This is not a good mechanic. Either I can make my character look the way I like or I go along with the game. I often really stare at the screen, wondering if I should upgrade and give my character the bonus stats, which tends to be more than double of my current statistic no matter how the game judges me.
One game managed to completely piss me off with this though. Soul Calibur 4. It included a create-a-character feature with a massively important stat system for the main single player game. Either I went for an extremely stupid outfit with maximum stats, or I’d use a character I actually liked and not get past the beginning of the thing. It’s a shame too, because otherwise the game had a fantastic create-a-character mode.
This is not how create-a-character should work. It should be a pointless vanity thing. As stupid as it sounds to justify it being just that, it really should be just that. If you cannot create the character you want, it’s not your character. It’s create-our-character-and-select-the-color-scheme.
I do not want to sit through your create-our-character-and-select-the-color-scheme, thank you very much.