The five remaining annoyances in gaming

annoyed eshuThe face of gaming has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Genres appeared, genres disappeared. The industry grew, and with it the audience changed. Through all this time, some annoyances have remained, completely untouched by the things going on around them.

Vestiges of an era where “roleplaying game” meant “draw dungeon maps with pencil” still exist. Remnants of a time when storage space was tight and cramped are still defining when and how a player is allowed to save their game today.

So I’ve identified the five point in modern gaming that annoy me the most and tried to find possible solutions. Not all of this applies neatly to all platforms and all genres, but you’ll get the point.

* **Save points are spaced 30 minutes apart, sometimes only in specific locations like towns or save rooms.** What if I don’t have time to go into the next hairy boss battle? What if I have to run off because work called?

We all remember the days when we had to leave our poor NES switched on with a paused game of Super Mario Bros. 3 running all day long. Later, Japanese RPGs showed particularly sadistic tendencies in this regard, with save point locations that seemed deliberately chosen to make you suffer.

Is it still necessary? With hard drive space, memory cards and internal flash memory becoming cheaper and cheaper, I think not.

*Solution:* Every game should have at least a quicksave feature. You see many games that do on the Nintendo DS, but there the feature is borne out of the necessities of a portable console that has many games meant for small bursts of gaming. Still, this type of thing should be everywhere.

* **Unskippable, s-l-o-w text and cutscenes.** No matter how beautifully rendered they are, cutscenes will probably look dated in a very short time. Unless there is a stylistic element there that keeps them timeless. I don’t care how many thousands it cost to rent that renderfarm, that’s no reason to shove a 20 minute cutscene down my throat that mainly involves angsty teenagers with big hairdos. Extra bonus points for making them unskippable *every time*, not just the first.

Slow text might even be a worse sin than that. I can read faster than the average third grader, why don’t you let me? Also, perhaps an option to cram more than two lines of text into a dialog box would be welcome. But let’s not ask for too much.

*Solution:* Offer a way to skip any cutscene, any time. Plus, offer a way to speed up text display. Many games at least let you press a button to fill in the entire dialog box in half a second, but some games don’t even grant you *that* little morsel of generosity. *cough* Okami *cough*

* **250’000 different moves, using 8 buttons.** Yes, it’s fun to see my character do that wall-jump-somersault while he guts the enemy and knits a shawl. But why do I have to hold R1, walk forward, press jump twice and then once when hitting the wall, press the analog stick downwards and then bash triangle?

Granted, some genres have a genuine need for this level of complexity in order to accomplish their genre goals. One on one fighting games, Tony Hawk style sports games, you fill in the blanks. But for an average platformer-ish thing? Too complex.

The old platformers accomplished a great deal with only two buttons and no combinations. I’m not being nostalgic here, just stating a fact. It is possible to give the player tight controls and a lot of diversity without unduly complicating the mechanics of the whole thing. Context-sensitive actions and clear visual feedback are two ways. This also might do away with boring tutorials (see next point).

*Solution:* Simplify the controls. More context sensitivity and visual feedback, less combos and buttons to learn. If you can’t do that without turning your game into a boring button masher, perhaps you should rethink the game.

* **Boring, long, unskippable tutorials or in-game tutorials.** Tutorials are often aimed at new players. This is fine, new players need to see what the game feels like, what you can do. They also need to be taught the sixty-five button combinations they need in order to survive the later levels, which is a bit less fine, but here we are.

The horror begins when these tutorials are unskippable, and it gets worse if the game tries to pass off the tut as a part of gameplay. Here we are, battle-hardened ‘Nam vet sitting in the CIA basement learning to shoot a handgun. It’s just cheap.

Experienced players *might* just want to skip all this and get to the game already. Trust us, we can find out how to do the double jump on our own, we did it a few dozen times in your competitors’ games. Failing that, and in case it has escaped you so far: there’s an Internet out there. Simple.

*Solution:* Let us skip the tutorials. Don’t worry about us, we’ll survive on our own, we’re all grown up now. Yes, we will write from time to time. Uh-huh, those are fresh socks.

* **”Monsters have started to appear around town”, “You are our only hope” etc.** It’s, quite literally, the same story over and over again. At first I thought only Japanese RPGs were guilty of this, but if you apply just a tiny bit of abstraction to the storyline you get to see, a huge number of games begin to sound the same. Something evil is happening and *you*, the player and protagonist, are the only one who can do anything about it! And they rub it in your face with every step you take.

I’m not asking for unreasonable things here. A brawler-type game doesn’t need a unique story, it benefits much more from a unique setting (see God Hand). Golfing games are no-go area for writers, although nobody told Camelot Software Planning about this. But for games that *should* have a story, please *give* them a story. “Monsters have started to appear” has enough mold on it that it needs a comb.

*Solution:* Hire better writers.

These are all quite simple, straightforward things. They would make gaming a lot more enjoyable, with no detrimental effects that I can see. So why not just do us the favor and get rid of the five remaining annoyances in gaming?

*(The photo used above is (CC) eshu, released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license)*


2 thoughts on “The five remaining annoyances in gaming”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    After a long break from games due to college, work, life, etc, I sat down to play some of the ‘best’ games that I had missed. I found most of these games unplayable simply because of their bad writing. I don’t want cheese. I want a compelling story penned by excellent writers. When you read reviews about how cinematic a game is (like resident evil 4), you don’t expect it to have dialogue worse than a Uwe Boll film.

    Game designers are not novelists, but they attempt…and often fail.

    And, worst of all, what’s happened to game players, reviews, designers that they don’t notice this?


  2. “what’s happened to game players”

    Many of us don’t see a problem; perhaps I’m not as well read as you are, however, I’ve never stopped playing a game I enjoyed because the story or dialogue was poor.

    If I had the choice between a game that sacrificed story for gameplay, or one that sacrificed gameplay for story, I’d choose the former. Granted, one that sacrificed nothing would be ideal, however, this isn’t an ideal business, and it rarely happens.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s