By Daniel Shaw:
The holiday season is in full swing and already the shelves are filled with sales for all. And if it’s one gift that keeps on giving it’s the good ol’ video game. Or is it? Like a child of today who’s never known a moment without a screen in front of them, I grew up in world of gaming. It started on the living room floor of my cousins’ house with Super Mario Brothers, and to this day gaming remains one of my primary pastimes. However that also means that in that time I have come to compile a list of certain complaints. No system is perfect no matter how much time and effort is applied, and while I would never claim to be an expert, I feel I have enough experience to call out bull where it festers. SO! In the spirit of a season that is supposed to celebrate good-will toward men and cheer for all, I present to you a mean-spirited examination of some things in gaming that easily anger me.
These are my twelve gaming gripes of Christmas!
12) Quick-Time Events
One selling point of games today is their level of cinematic feel, particularly for the higher-profile titles. Many of these kinetic moments are featured in major action set pieces or a level’s final boss. We’re all familiar with “the boss” at the end of a stage, the last line of defense after going through hordes of enemies. Sometimes the boss is a bigger meany-er version of a previous foe or a brand new baddie who swoops down just before the exit. This can be either the highlight or the most tedious portion of the game, and in almost no other instance is it more of a chore than with Quick Time Events. What’re those, you may be asking?
These events are a series of limited controls presented to the player as onscreen prompts to direct them. Pressing “X” as one character slowly launches a punch allows you to dodge said punch. Failing to do so means you get punched. Clever, right? Wrong. Used sparingly, this mechanic can help keep the flow of gameplay during a frenetic set piece moving. For a boss fight, it just smells of laziness and leads to frustration. Imagine if there was a game set in spooky steampunk London, where Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table dedicate themselves to fighting the supernatural, and in the meager four hours of total gameplay you fight TWO werewolves in disappointing quick time events. Hang on, that’s Sony’s The Order: 1886!!!
11) No Pause for YOU!
Picture this: you’re sitting on the couch or before your computer. You’re playing away the hours on a brand new game that you just got from jolly ol’ St. Nick and suddenly, for whatever reason, you need to get up. “So what,” you say? “I’ll just pause the game,” you say? Well, nice try sucker, because after a few moments of careful searching, you come to the bewildering realization that there is no pause. There is no way for you to stop the game unless the system itself is powered off. What kind of sense does that make?! This is a trend that I’ve only recently begun to notice, and when it pops up I almost immediately take the game back to Red-box.
The recently released Nioh has what appears to be a pause screen; I brought it up, got up to use the bathroom, only to come back to see I was getting torn to pieces. Why would there not be a PAUSE?! Am I to understand that your game is just sooooo advanced and artsy that you couldn’t be bothered to include something so obvious it was standard for PONG?!
10) Bad Camera: Your Worst Enemy
This is the sort of conundrum that many people almost always end up answering themselves: why would you assign an important job to someone incompetent? A functioning camera system may be one of the most critical aspects of the game. From first person perspective, the game is viewed from the character’s eyes; third person follows the character from behind. Now what if this element was not done as thoroughly as possible? Could we see that game? If we can’t see what’s going on, or what our character is doing, then we might as well be playing while facing the wall.
This can get so bad in some instances that simply moving from one end of the room to the other will result in a harsh edit. The shot instantly smash cuts to the reverse angle; the controls suddenly become inverted and you have no idea what’s going on. The game might as well have teleported you to a totally different area. Where else could a lousy camera come back to kill you? Trying walking across any narrow space or precipice overlooking an instant-death pit. You’ll quickly realize that your greatest foe isn’t the goblin horde as the camera auto-shifts around you or begins glitching between angles. You’ll die. You’ll die again and again and again; and each time your journey toward the dark side becomes more complete as you succumb to lobbing the controller at the TV. Fix the bloody camera!
9) Useless NPC’s
For those not familiar with the jargon, NPC stands for “Non-Playable Character”; in other words, any onscreen character that is controlled entirely by the game. These sprites are essential for the player to interact with, get hints and acquisitions from, initiate story beats, and whatever else is needed to drive the game forward. But just because we need them doesn’t mean they get a free pass. Poorly programed NPC’s are the same result as the aforementioned bad camera, and they can just as easily elicit rage.
Case and point: the door blocker. It’s almost inevitable: all games that involve NPC’s that follow you through the stage will block the one and only exit and they will - not - move. To make matters worse, this often happens while a very short time limit is counting down. The control bunker is mere seconds away from exploding or a mad scientist’s latest abomination of nature is about to breach the surface, the door up ahead is our only hope of escape, and what happens? Your “partner” won’t GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!! Kaboom. The base goes up in smoke, you die, and humanity is doomed. All because Kowalski decided that particular doorway was now his castle. There are also occasions when NPC’s will be accompanying the player through combat zones or stealth sections. If the game includes controls to direct the NPC, whatever you do, DO NOT send them ahead. They will always trip an alarm or alert a guard (normally by running right into them). As for providing helpful hints, we need only look at 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the Nintendo; in which April O’Neil declares, “You have my support.” Worthless.
For the sake of brevity, as well as my own sanity, I shall have to pause with these first four grievances. However, I will be back next time with another four gripes to chew on.
See you then!