Moosa’s Musings : Things (Almost) Every Game Should Have

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Moosa

Should you be able to quick-save whenever you want, in every game? No.

Should every story have Tolstoyian rich stories and characters? Yawn. Of course not.

It’s difficult to apply the working concepts of one game, one medium or one genre on to another. But sometimes it does feel like what one game lacks, another succeeds in and vice versa. No game is perfect, but learning what works can improve the medium. Here’s a list of things I think almost every game should have. Or if they’re being left out or treated like a bleeding clown giggling in a funeral home, then developers need very good reasons to leave these out.

1. Regular save points

ressave

Some big offender(s): Final F&*&ing Fantasy IX, X, etc., Resident Evil and Silent Hill’s static plate/computer/type-writer nonsense.

No one wants to repeat levels or sequences in a game, unless they truly love every moment – but then your love for the game kind of bleeds into every aspect, making it redundant which “part” you loved most. Indeed, then it’s not about completing the game as it is about playing it. This is how I feel about LIMBO. Most games, though, you are trying to finish more than relish. So how horrible is it to battle through a zillion Fire Demons, slay three Ice Dragons, score a touchdown, solve a random puzzle sequence, and convince the princess and her sister to sleep with you, only to (a) meet a ridiculous boss who kills you or (b) have the game freeze on you.

Now sure. For many (a) is what makes the game fun, challenging and so on. But what excuse is there for some of the later Final Fantasies’ relentless 15-minute, unskippable movies, which were only intros to the hardest bosses… like ever. Then when you’re good and dead, you go all the way back to some distant land and start again.

This is not fun. This is repetition. Of course, this can be solved by having something like, I don’t know, say… THE ABILITY TO SKIP MOVIES, JAPAN! The point is this: it’s not hard for developers to know that this particular boss is going to be difficult, so having a save feature of some kind just before would also solve this. Not doing this is horrible for the player, but also an indication that the developers just stopped caring about your enjoyment.

(B) is more a problem for us PC gamers, but it of course plagues everyone. We can’t predict when our consoles will decide we’ve had enough fun today and go off the grid. Or, more often, the games and consoles just don’t agree: “Crash to desktop” must be one of the most Googled problems in the world, after “How do I get these blood-stains out my clown suit?”.

Winners: Any game that has quick-saves; God of War 3.   

2. A good and/or fun story (depending on genre)

Kirkwall

Some big offender(s): (Almost) every sports game, ever made. Call of Duty (all of them, except the zombie ones). Dragon Age 2.

Oh look, I’m talking about “story” again. Yes, I know. I like good stories OK? Blame my abusive childhood or sister, or whatever cliché you want. The point is something needs to: (1) get me to care, (b) tie the game’s events together, (34E) propel the characters, and (4) guide the progress of the whole game. This applies to Mass Effect, Call of Duty, Bioshock, God of War, Duke Nukem, whatever you want.

That’s what a story does.

Now do you see why story matters? It’s not just some sticky remains of someone’s nerdgasm that they’ve pasted onto the game: it’s a deliberate mechanism to guide us into, through and forward. There’s a reason games have people whose only jobs are to write the story. It’s obvious when developers either don’t or have done a poor job of it.

I think Call of Duty is one of the worst offenders because it masks a lack of story – or a ludicrous one, I can’t tell – behind spectacular small events. Lots of little moments of brilliance: think about Modern Warfare, where Price tosses you a handgun in slow motion to kill Imran Zakhaev, or the sequel with the space-scene. Call of Duty is brilliant at small moments of adrenaline genius. But does it have a story? Hmm. This doesn’t mean Call of Duty should have one, by the way. Perhaps that’s what makes the games enjoyable to its audience (aside from something called Malta Player or something).

That’s a good excuse right there. “Screw story, we can do a million Michael Baygasms in your face!” Not quite worded like that. But still.

Dragon Age 2, however, has no excuse. It’s as boring as its background, as lifeless as that empty husk of city your character spends the ENTIRE game in. It begins well enough, but the best moments of the game end when the doors of the city close. Dragon Age developers kind of gave up, said “Screw it, let’s play Modern Warfare” and added some action sequences in the game to mask the lack of ingenuity. There was nothing driving me forward, I didn’t care about my character or the others. Dragon Age 2 was built from the brilliance and history of the first Dragon Age. And we’re talking about the gaming’s equivalent of Philip K. Dick or Neil Gaiman here: In other words Bioware.

Winners: Bioshock, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, almost any of the Sierra point and click games.

3. Passable voice-acting

jill

Some big offender(s): Resident Evil, Resident Evil, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and, er, Mortal Kombat (?)

“Stop! Don’t open… that door!”

Yeah, see that ellipses there, to mark a break in that sentence? Do you see how awkward it is? Have a listen to it performed by an actor of, er, Shakespearian proportions.

We all love bad performances so terrible they’re amazing: YouTube’s views for people less talented than a half-eaten piece of chicken in formaldehyde are in the millions. But what you don’t want is incongruity: When a game, like say, um, Resident Evil, is one the one hand trying to scare your pants into different colours, but on the other has laugh-out loud moments of idiotic acting, it grates against the skull like a zombie’s teeth. Of course, gaming companies have moved beyond Capcom’s English voice-acting policy of grabbing a random American Tourist and holding his/her family hostage, until the lines are delivered.

Sure, not every game needs performances like Mark Hamill’s Joker as in Batman Arkham Asylum (and no doubt the beautiful, brilliant, perfect game that will be Arkham City); but we also don’t want voice-acting that will make it into a YouTube countdown clip. It’s not that hard to find decent actors. Like having badly placed saved points, it’s an insult to the gamers when you can’t be bothered to reflect for two minutes on whether you’ve employed someone passable or suitable for Resident Evil games. And by the way, what the hell is a Jill Sandwich you sick bastard?

Winners: Kane and Lynch (the best and most unappreciated display of voice-acting in modern gaming), Batman: Arkham Asylum (the cast from the animated Batman series was bound to be a brilliant), Mass Effect 2 (half of Battlestar: Galactica was there and friggin’ Martin “I smash mirror in Apocalypse Now” Sheen was there)

4. The ability to block and jump

pokemon

Some big offender(s): World of Warcraft (apparently), The Witcher 2, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Dead Island, Pokémon

There’s a tiny piece of land and you need to get on the other side of it. To any normal person, you’d raise your leg a little higher. But no! YOU CANNOT! DENIED! You must find another way. You must journey around. You must conquer a zillion monster puzzle-quest ninja fighters to get through it. Because the developers couldn’t be bothered to just put a jump ability in. Oh, yes, you can summon dragons and shoot lasers out your eyes and woo three Siamese-Twin beauty queens at the same time, but no: You can’t jump.

Read  Believe it or not, Just Cause 4 actually has a story to go with all of its explosions

Or: You’re being attacked by a doctor, cop, criminal or zombie and you want to block. Really? Real men don’t block. Real men take it like… well, real men.  It doesn’t matter that you have a large melee weapon. You can raise it only to hit, not raise it to block. What did you say? “Blocking is just a matter or raising a weapon AND KEEPING IT THERE”? Don’t teach me about blocking, kid. I’ve already made a map the size of Turkey for you to play in. Stop bothering me. Love, Techland.

OK: So in some games, jumping helps control where the characters are allowed, making it easier to have control over the whole environment. Not every game is Skyrim or Oblivion (I will be repeating that sentence in the next point, too). Developers don’t want you to go everywhere that you can see. Mass Effect and Deus Ex: Human Revolution do this: give the illusion of bustling, big cities and worlds but limit you in different ways. Sure, Deus Ex does have jumping but it would not have worked in Mass Effect. Again, I’m qualifying myself: there are some games where it doesn’t work, but sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to limit jumping.

As for blocking… well, there should be a general rule that every first-person game where one wields melee weapons should have a blocking feature. Seriously: How could one wield a melee weapon only for dealing damage as opposed to preventing it? That’s what makes melee fighting different and fantastic. The wonderful Condemned series utilised this very well, because it was almost entirely melee combat (I keep wanting to say Mielie Combat). Dead Island, though, does not. And for no good reason.

Winners: Games with jumping and blocking. Duh. Or maybe the ultimate winner is Mirror’s Edge, for jumping, and Condemned for cool blocking movements.

5. Decent length (not Skyrim, but not Kane and Lynch either)

KL

Some big offender(s): Both Kane and Lynch and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Fallout 3. I’m sad to say LIMBO. And Fable 3, I believe?

Yes you’re reading those offenders correctly. My favourite bromance games, Kane and Lynch, which to me remains the best display of voice-acting I’ve ever encountered, is too short. Famously, too short. And Oblivion is too friggin’ long. To an unhealthy point of being too long. It is good for a game to end, since having a great ending adds to a games quality.

Now, I know many people who love the fact they can go on almost forever in Oblivion. It would be great to see what would happen if someone played every part of it and managed to get so good at the game, they could manipulate almost the entire game to his or her will. Well, it would either be scientifically very interesting or in any other sphere very lame. I’m leaning toward the latter. Anyway, the point is some see this as a virtue of these types of games. I’ve never been convinced that having 800+ hours in a game is a good thing. It’s never made sense to me.

Human nature is such that most of us become bored or unappreciative of anything when we encounter it all the time, for a significant amount of time. It’s why the idea of marriage is idiotic, even if you’ll end up with Megan Fox or Brad Pitt. Or whoever you find amazing and beautiful. Time erodes wonder just as it does everything else. Things become stale, mundane. And games are meant to inspire and deliver wonder.

If you are still feeling wonder and awe in your 1500th hour of Oblivion, good for you. I’m not saying you’re an idiot or stupid or wrong. I’m saying merely that I personally find it difficult to remain transfixed by one game for that long and I see no reason to do so.

On the other hand, I would not want something like Call of Duty or the upcoming Battlefield 3 to be, as one magnificent person in charge said, “12 hours of meh”. Six hours can work if done correctly, just as 1500+ hours can also work if done correctly. It just seems to me that it’s harder to do the latter and also against the grain of most people’s ability to sustain interest, wonder and enjoyment. Or maybe it’s just me and my intense antagonism toward marriage?

Winners: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 and 2, GTA IV, Bioshock 1 and 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

6. Not Being Boring

Mindjack

Some big offender(s): Mind Jack, The Witcher 2, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,

The worst offence of a game! Really. Gaming is one arena that’s meant as a counter-weight to (if you’re lucky) a banal everyday existence. The idea that games should be ultra-realistic to the point where we can’t tell the difference is an idea that is inherently stupid: Unless you’re Charlie Sheen, why would you want your life mimicked? And if you are Charlie Sheen, why would you need to?

Games are escape pods, from the mother-ship of everyday life, landing on alien worlds where we become marines, or criminals, or ladies in leather. Imagine emerging into worlds where a mop is thrust into you’re hand or you’re tied to a cubicle punching out figures and balances.

If a game is boring, it has committed suicide. Being tagged with boring is a death-sentence from whoever views it that way. I won’t play The Witcher 2 because I got bored of it, so quickly: despite it’s gorgeous graphics and great story-line. But being boring is one of the most subjective opinions about a game – unless that game is Mind Jack. In which case you are just wrong if you think otherwise.

Oh, also: sport’s game. Seriously. What’s the point of reviewing FIFA these days? There’s only so many ways you show men in shorts kicking balls, while invisible men watch over and NARRATE WHAT YOU’RE WATCHING ANYWAY. Ugh, sports. Don’t get me started…

Winners: Almost any game that isn’t Mind Jack, turn-based combat, FIFA, or those early RPGs where you played like 7 people and you moved around in first person view, and each had their faces on cards on the bottom of the screen.

Do you agree? What games did you hate, love, or think deserve to be the offenders or winners of these important gaming elements?

Last Updated: September 15, 2011

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