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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What were you thinking, dude?!

I am a Jaded Gamer.

I play about 20 games a year, which I know by some standards is quite low, but there is a reason for this. With all the games I have played in my life I have come to expect certain things from a new title. I have discovered over the years what types of games I enjoy and it takes something really special to make me look at something out of my standard genres.

Every month I see hundreds of new titles flooding the racks and half of them I will not even look at. Others get dismissed with a simple look at the back of the box. Why, you ask? Well let's look at what I expect from a game first. The single most important requirement is genre independent, seemingly obvious yet so illusive in the gaming world these days. I want to have fun. Simple as that. And flowing from that requirement, I do not want things in the game to stop me from having fun.

I think the single biggest reason I put a game down is some irritation, usually due to a rookie mistake on behalf of the Developers. Why is is that in an industry that is older than I am, we still have these well known, well documented mistakes made in game design? I mean with the millions of game reviews out there, the millions of tries these companies have had at doing it right, you would think that at each Game Developer's offices they have a big "DO NOT" list pinned against the wall for all employees to see. Yet still games come out every day where the scale of the obvious errors are only matched by the price tag.

Now what exactly am I talking about here? I am referring to design errors that spoil the core of the game. Some are genre specific, some are not and all they do is spoil what could have been a wonderful game because some studio didn't bother to learn from the heap of failed titles out there. So let's look at some of these more closely. In this article, specifically the genre related problems.

FPS - Clumsy Controls

I believe most people have played First Person Shooter games. You move your character with the keyboard and you move your mouse to shift your aim, press a button and hope that whatever/whoever was under the cursor at the time goes away. Simple, right? You can change the weapons, even replace them with spells or hurled sheep but the basic controls and style of play is what defines this genre. And seeing how Mouse Technology has matured considerably over that years, one would think that the concept of accurate mouse movement is something that not even the most half-witted coder could understand.

Not so, apparently. How many games have I picked up and put down 5 minutes later (mostly toying with the Mouse sensitivity settings all the time) because trying to get your character to turn around and shoot feels like the controlling the gun is done by turning a shopping trolley with a bad wheel and a hippo sitting on the front. How hard can it be to have the cursor move when you move the mouse, the speed of movement directly proportional to that of the mouse, allowing for the relationship to be adjusted by the Sensitivity slider and having the cursor stop when the mouse does? Can't be that complicated, right? Why then do I find so many games where the movement of the cursor seems to be controlled by BMW's Active Steering? Slow movements of the mouse do absolutely nothing and as the mouse movement speed increases linearly, the cursor speed does so exponentially. The result is that quick correctional jerks don't work and spinning around is usually over shot.

Then there is the "realistic" movement that some developers want to force on us. The most annoying of these is a delay on the start and stop of a movements. Your cursor is over the target, you stop moving the mouse but the cursor flies by like a car with no brakes, forcing you to try and correct by pulling back various times until you rest on the target. People tell me that it just takes getting used to and that it is more realistic. Really? Do me a favour. Pick up a slightly weighted object like a stapler or cup. Now hold it to the side and look at a target in front of you like the doorknob or that picture of Xena. No try to point the object at the target as quickly as possible. Did you overshoot the target? No, of course you didn't because your brain and your muscles work together to slow the momentum of the object in time. You can do this because there is a sense of weight. Force feedback if you will. You can not get this from a mouse so there is no sense of how to counter the imaginary weight of the gun you are aiming with. Gun momentum does not work in games. Stop doing it!

TPS - That Camera

The play style of Third Person games are usually what necessitates this camera angle. You still control one person but the environment gets involved in your play style a bit more making it important to see your character's relative position to these things. Sometimes it is for tactical shooting that makes strong use of cover, sometimes for acrobatics making it important to see the environment so you don't, say, fall off a 30 story ledge. So we have firmly established that the reason for this play style is the need to SEE things. Why then do we get stuck with a camera focused more on the cracks in the wall or the heroine's curves? I mean I realised that being able to put Lara in a corner so you can have a better look at her is a big selling point but seeing where you are about to jump is just as important so you can make sure that your target destination is, well, THERE!

I sometimes thing that developers do not actually play their own games to see where the camera is focused. It is simple guys. When your character is stationary the camera should move pretty freely. When you move it favours being behind you so you can see where you are going and when you are hanging from a ledge, it should pull back a little bit and give you a wider field of view to you can see where you should be going. Leaps of faith belong in movies, not games.

RTS - Complexity and Micro Management

A wonderful genre that has recently gone down the drain with developers trying a little to hard. Maybe they have too much time on their hands, maybe they are too ambitious but why is that I now need to read 3 manuals, 4 online tutorials and spend the better part of a year trying to get to grips with all the options in these games? Strategy is as much reliant on instinct as it is on intellect. It is fast paced, requires reactions that approach subconscious thought level and 3 extra clicks can cost you a game.

Yet when I look at some games I find that each unit has a Redwood for a Tech Tree with tons of different upgrade options to drown in while you try to get to grips with the game itself. This is supposedly to allow you to customize units to your play style and give more depth with the countering of you opponents upgrade path with your own. Well on the first argument, play style is actually much simpler that people think and the second is just laughable as there is not always a clear way to see what upgrade paths your opponent has chosen so 50 tweaking possibilities on your foot solders is really just a pain in the backside. One or two options per unit type, no more please.

Then there is the Micro Management. Correct me of I am wrong but in an RTS you are a Battlefield Commander, not a Babysitter. Constantly adjusting unit attacks and tactics takes away from other things you should be doing like managing your Resources or churning out more of the useless gits. If I have to tell a unit to stand closer, further, change his fire rate, take a flanking position or duck enemy fire I might as well try and play 200 FPS games all at the same time. I do not want to check their formation and stance every 3 seconds. I want three stances. Aggressive for full on attacks, defensive for protecting bases so they don't run after enemies luring them away and Passive for when I am trying to sneak past an enemy without drawing attention to myself. That is it. I do not care about star and delta formations. I do not want to tell units when to try and flank and when to dig in. I manage an army, not a soldier's personal life choices. Stop tying to turn every soldier into a Sims character.

RPG - Work

You know I have always wondered why your Character has to work 10 times harder than you do. People spend years in front of screens having their character collect 100 golden nuggets in the mines before hunting 50 kobolds for some guy in the villages. Why am I sitting and doing the type of job I would turn my nose up to in real life? Are Developers so lazy and unimaginative that all the can have us do to grow is to do variations of the same boring quests over and over? I didn't buy the game because I thought my life isn't arduous enough! I want to escape from reality for a little while and do fun and challenging things, not emulate my day job. You are supposed to get better with practise not menial tasks. I want to become a better fighter by fighting things with meaning. Give us long term quests with stories and meaning that drive them, not just the 12XP at the end of it all. I think this is why I prefer single player RPG games. I grow with the story and in pursuit of the next chapter I do things, relevant to that storyline that improves my character. If I start up a game and get asked to run to the other side of the map to get 10 rat tails, I unleash the Uninstall Wizard on it.

So what flaws in games drive you nuts? I'd love to hear some opinions on what simple things can ruin a game for you.



  1. No reference to platformers or 2d games, do we have a classic game bias here, methinks? Don't worry, so do I! I miss the old point and click adventure games, and I get bored of MMORPGs for exactly the reasons you do...

  2. Oh, no worries. I am an equal opportunity nitpicker. I will get to the other genres soon enough.