Friday, May 24, 2013

What All Modern Games Should Have

Originally written on: Dec 13, 2009

There are some things that I think more developers should include or not include in games regardless of the genre. Some of these ideas have long been enjoyed by PC gamers, but why should console gamers be left out?

1. Unlimited saves, replays, characters, etc.

It would be great to be able to save and create as much as the player wants with the only limit being hard drive space. If I'm right, limited saves are as old as the NES era. Yet, some modern games and even whole franchises still limit players to 1-3 save slots (Pokémon, Zelda, Metroid), limited video capture (Brawl, maybe Forza 3), limited customized cars or characters (last-gen Need for Speed), and so on.

2. User-created content

Few console titles have map editors or similar capabilities. Some titles that come to mind are LittleBigPlanet, last-gen's TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, Far Cry 2, and Forza 3's design editor which were executed well. Halo 3's Forge is decent, though it would have been perfect with a geometry editor. I feel that more of these tools should be available in games with the ability to share, rate, download, and search content. Imagine user-created dungeons in Zelda with custom puzzles or custom weapons and maps in an FPS. This would, of course, help combat the DLC plague that has resulted in HD games having content purposely kept out at launch to be charged extra, often at inflated prices.

3. Fully customizable controls

This includes analog and trigger sensitivity, button combinations, and motion control when applicable. If I want to, I should be able to accelerate a car by holding a controller's back/select button as counter-intuitive as it may be. I should be able to choose not only whether or not my controller vibrates but also how strong the maximum vibration is.

4. Free DLC and patch compatibility when buying new

As previously explained, paid DLC has resulted in decreased value among HD releases. If a game does not have paid DLC, players know that when they buy the game, they're getting the full package, and any DLC that comes is actually to add to the experience rather than to complete it. However, games should also be open to patching to fix exploitable glitches and other bugs.

5. Difficulty levels or scaling difficulty

People often complain about games being too easy; in rarer cases people think a game is too hard. To fix this, there should always either be various options for difficulty or a system that recognizes how well a player is doing and scales difficulty accordingly. In some games it's nice to be able to change difficulty midway, such as outside of battles; although players should be rewarded for playing on higher difficulties. Both forced hand-holding and artificially increased difficulty through tedious hindrances or mere health and damage modifiers are poor difficulty balance; instead, gameplay elements, puzzles, and item placement should be more demanding on higher difficulties. There should be more and harder objectives and enemies depending on the genre.

6. Originality

Combining concepts already done before in a unique way is fine, but I respect games that boldly tread new ground even more. But even combining previous ideas in new ways is better than a rehash or a sequel with nothing more than new levels. This also includes enemies, too many of which are generic in gaming.

Yet, it is worth mentioning a trend I've been seeing with games that take original routes. Some developers seem to think that if a game is original, it doesn't need to succeed in other areas. Many ''original'' games I've witnessed sorely lack in AI, graphics, sound, depth, and other areas.

7. Variety

This covers everything from game modes, unlockables (artwork is the least exciting thing to unlock), enemy and level design, weapons, vehicles, fighting styles, and so on. In a racing game, each car should feel unique. Ditto for fighters in fighting games and weapons in FPSs. Some racing games have artificially inflated car numbers by having 18 Skylines that consist of only three different models; and SoulCalibur IV has an entire section devoted to clone characters.

8. Full camera control

Players should always be able to rotate and zoom in and out when selecting or viewing something, no matter what. Why I can't see color schemes in Super Street Fighter IV on the character select screen, or why I sometimes can't see cars clearly in racing games is beyond me.

9. Quality voice acting

If there's voict acting, it should be done professionally. A recent example of sub-par voice acting is Metroid Prime 3. I almost fell asleep while playing due to monotone dialogue and equally dull music in some areas such as Bryyo. Other games badly need voice acting, like the Zelda franchise, at least as an option.

10. Fluid animations

Various games have stiff, robotic movements that take players out of the experience.

11. A good plot

Of course, this is only when applicable. Some racing games, for example, are best without a plot. I like Midnight Club 3's plot in that it was all about racing, rather than the direction Midnight Club LA tried to take. But if a game does have a plot, why settle? This is one area where I want to particularly stress something that needs to change: the overabundance of white male protagonists.

I'm white and male, but if all heroes of a game are the same race and gender with everyone else thrown in as supporting characters, that gives the false impression that other races and genders aren't capable of achieving anything. Customizable characters are good, but for named characters, there need to be more female and/or non-white main characters. I'm sick of females getting kidnapped and waiting helplessly for the male knight in shining armor to come save her.

Also, plots should be original and unpredictable. If you can accurately predict what will happen next, it greatly reduces the overall experience. Plot twists that players don't see coming are nice, but even better are branched plots, or at least multiple endings. Games are about the player acting upon the game world, so freedom in a game's plot is impressive. Although in some cases the good/evil gimmick is starting to grow stale since it's being thrown into some games without much thought or effort. The Mass Effect trilogy has the right idea, though I wish ME2 had more impact of the players' decisions in the first game.

12. An amazing art style

Good graphics are great. A good art style is even better, especially if it's unique. Some series, such as Metroid and Final Fantasy, are known for having exceptional art style. The visuals help set the overall tone and atmosphere of a game; but this includes both the number of polygons and how they are used.

13. Repalyability

When I hear that a linear $60 game is only 4-6 hours, I take it off my radar, at least until I can find it for $20 or less. Depending on the genre, a game should have a lengthy single-player mode regardless of whether or not it has multiplayer, but other features help extend play time as well, such as an unlock system, multiple difficulty settings, and different endings.

14. Overall polish

Some games stand out because everything comes together so well. A game is a compilation of all its parts. A successful overall concept can be made even better when the little things add up that show that developers really put time and effort into making a game as good as it can be. Some ideas that come to mind are numerous options, extras like cheats, balance, post-release patching, alternate skins for characters, unlockables, offline split-screen play, and AI opponents. BioWare recently fixed some of the issues in Mass Effect 2, and Bungie has been providing excellent online support for Halo 3 since its launch. This is the kind of dedication all developers should have.

15. Something to do while the game is loading

This includes while looking for servers and for a match to start as well. I should be able to read codex entries, change weapon classes, look at my cars and read the stats, or whatever the case may be. I like how Super Smash Bros. Brawl lets you hit the punching bag while waiting for a match to start. Stuff like that makes load times more bearable.

16. Active recording

How many times have you been in the middle of playing when all the sudden something awesome happened that you wish everyone could see? Every game should have the option to record as you play including the ability to record by default. Players should then be able to transfer the files to a computer for editing, posting, or whatever. There should also be an option to take hi-res screenshots from replays that would also be uploadable. Players should be able to choose starting and ending points of a replay before the upload.

17. Playlist options

It would be great to filter out unwanted gametypes or maps or to have the option to jump into a match with a specific gametype, map, or both. Dedicated servers with a list of servers to choose from would be ideal, but if playlists are used instead, the more options the better.

18. Idle videos

A small number of games have a video play after not pressing any buttons for a set time at the main menu. Halo 2 is the perfect example of this. It can be a trailer or a random CPU match like many fighting games do, but simply putting the introduction cutscene to the campaign is lazy.

19. Separate pause menus

This is mostly still a problem in fighting games, but in split-screen, when one player pauses it should only pause that player's screen unless the player also selects Pause Game. Players should be able to view movelists at the same time whether or not the game is paused; and players should be able to choose characters and cars at the same time. Perfect Dark on the N64 even gave each player their own menu.

20. Possible controls

Again, this is mostly the case in fighting games. I understand putting more effort into powerful moves, but some of them are ridiculous. Some fighting games don't even have movelists for all attacks. The only franchise I can excuse for not having a movelist is Smash Bros. since it's the same for every character. But regardless of the genre, difficult or unnatural controls hinder the experience. Since I already covered customizable controls, this point is for combinations of inputs regardless of how they're mapped.

21. Meaningful choice

If there are five weapons I can use, it's generally better if each one has a reason to use it instead of each one being an all-around better choice than the previous one. This also prevents items, weapons, characters, vehicles, and other elements from becoming obsolete like Link's slingshot after he acquires a bow. This also includes plot and dialogue choices. "Yeah" and "of course" aren't very meaningful dialogue choices; the first two Mass Effects did a great job of dialogue.

22. Freedom and control

Very few people actually like invisible walls, quick-time events, and other moments when control is taken away from the player, exploration is limited, and progress is linear and narrow. The appeal of games like Skyrim is that there's so much freedom to explore and use several abilities and skills to approach any given situation. Bayonetta also has tons of gameplay options that keep combat fun and rewarding, with every mistake being the player's.

23. Alternate game modes

It's great when games have a game mode that lets you jump in and play using any weapon, vehicle, character, and so on regardless of your progress in the story. The Cave of Ordeals is a location in the Twilight Princess that functions like this, but I'm thinking more along the lines of Mission Mode from Ninja Gaiden Black and Quick Race and Arcade from numbered Forza games. Being forced to use vehicles you own in a campaign takes away from variety and isn't very fun when players just want to pick up a controller and race using a specific car, even if it doesn't count toward the campaign's progress.

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