By Daniel Shaw:
This is supposed to be a jolly time of year, and yet here I am feeling more like a disgruntled onlooker of Black Friday lunacy. I suppose I have no else to blame for this but myself. I started this list as a fun little exercise; almost like therapy. I’m sure I’ve come close to giving myself a dang concussion from the amount of head banging on my keyboard. Like ol’ Ebenezer, I’m being haunted by a legion of hobgoblins that are my own creation. But this is it. The big ones. These may not bring the game to a screeching halt or seem like such a big deal at first, but as anyone who’s underestimated a Carolina reaper will tell you: just wait . . . just wait.
Here are my final four Gaming Gripes of Christmas!!!!
4) Stamina Meters
What is a video game? No, I mean it, what is a video game? “Well, Daniel, a video game is a series of code and complex programming which—” Stop. I’ll make it easy. Games are just like books, movies, comics, and radio; escapism. We use these forms of media to put aside the real world for a short time and relax. If that’s the case, then I’d very much like to meet the one responsible for introducing the Stamina Meter so that I can introduce them to my fist. Cropping up mostly in adventure games, a stamina meter represents how much energy the character can exert before their strength gives out. It’s so sad how far we’ve gone from the good old days: when you told Mario to jump or sprint, he’d do so and he wouldn’t stop until you won or died. Today he’d run out of breath within seconds! Imagine if Sonic the Hedgehog was stuck with something like this. The most famous speedster in gaming would be interrupted every few seconds to take a breather.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword imposed such a stamina meter. How was it? It was intrusive, infuriating, and inconceivable with how many ways it could screw you over! You’re about to finally climb Death Mountain but whoops, you just happen to miss the cabbage growing on the cliff face that refills your stamina meter. Adios Muchacho! Your grip fails and you finally see what life is like for Wile E. Coyote. Why does a video game character have to run out of breath? Why take us out of the experience by shoving a slice of real life back into the mix? Because the best parts of The Oregon Trail always involved your party members dying of typhus and dysentery. I guess this just seems to be the norm these days, so if you can’t beat ’em join ’em. Maybe we can take it even further! How about when Link lands from a jump, he could roll his ankle? Or maybe when he travels to the Gerudo Desert he has to apply SPF 80 sunscreen to avoid getting skin cancer? NO, NO! For ultimate realism! When Link sustains so much as a scratch from an enemy, he leaves it untreated, gets an infection and dies? UNLIMITED REALISM!!!!
3) Escort Missions / The Sewer Level
Yes, I know I’m cheating a little with fitting two into one slot. However I stand by this because we’re talking about irritation from a stage format. Have you ever been buried deep in your work, actually making progress and looking at a possible early end to your work day . . . and then boss asks you to show the new guy the ropes. Welcome to the escort mission. Our objective involves taking a VIP from point A to point B while fending off random attacks and other stage hazards. Naturally our VIP’s sense of urgency would encourage them to move as quickly and intelligently as possible, right? As Kevin Spacey once said: “WRONG!” These will be some of the slowest moving characters in any work of fiction.
And, oh, does the worthless NPC rear its ugly head once again. Nothing demonstrates the desperate situation of being pursued by the Nazgul like casually trotting along in a Conestoga wagon. Thank God NaughtyDog gave the NPCs in The Last of Us functioning brains. There they actually fight for you and retrieve ammo; now THAT’S earning that parking space! The other wet blanket in any game would have to be the sewer level. Whoever said a sewer would make a great location to play around in would probably also suggest laudanum as a pizza topping. Every now and then you get a game that takes a sewer or cistern and actually turns it into something worthwhile. More often than not, however, it’s just a dark, gloomy maze filled with rats, bats, and alligators. And it’s boring. OH God, is it boring! Not only that, I often have to turn up the contrast on my TV because the lighting in these areas is so godawful. It just slows everything to a snail’s pace as you spend hour after hour trudging through this thing. Not to mention that the enemy variety is going to suck just as hard; it’s a disappointing list of clichéd critters. YouTuber SpoonyOne put it best when he said, “There’s nothing worse than possessing great weapons and magic and acting as glorified pest control.”
If you recall, I referred to season passes as “the gateway gimmick.” Well, micro-transactions are the insidious strategy that they inevitably lead to. A micro-transaction involves an in-game purchase using real money to unlock an extra perk, item, or even whole portions of the game. Mobile games that are played on devices such as phones and tablets are filled with them. For example, Star Trek: Trexels is a mobile game in which you build and customize your own Constitution Class starship; i.e. the Enterprise. You assign tasks to the crew and navigate each section of the ship. Sounds like fun, until you hit the dreaded pay wall and have to buy 500 dilithium crystals (which translates to $5) in order to progress. For years gamers took comfort in knowing that this practice was at least quarantined to an iPhone. Not so anymore. Micro-transactions have now seeped into major mainstream titles and have begun sapping as much money from their customers as possible. Progression is still possible in the traditional manner; however, the publishers offer purchasable upgrades and special items in order for you to progress faster and easier. Multiplayer games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the recently resurrected Star Wars: Battlefront have all suffered tremendously from this practice. Players trying to gain experience and level up the traditional way are being trounced by other players who have purchased the best weapons. It’s unbalanced, unfair, and it’s entirely by design.
My own experience with micro-transactions almost prompted me to take the publisher to court. One of my longest-running fandoms is with a game series called StarCraft; a real-time-strategy game in which the player balances an economy with a standing army. After over ten years, developer Blizzard announced that a sequel was in the works, and I was absolutely excited. I purchased the collector’s edition for over $120 and enjoyed an utterly amazing game that surpassed all expectations. The only issue was that it required an active internet connection just to play the single player campaign. I got a bad feeling about that but decided to put it out of my mind. Years later, I decided to reload the game onto my PC and binge once again. Once I got past the third stage, I came face to face with a pay wall. An automatic update to game (made possible by the constant internet connection) required me to pay $20 to access the rest of the game.
1) “Pull the Lever?”
What is this? For real, what the hell is this? It’s like a picture with a hidden Easter egg that, when found, can’t be unseen. After all this time I finally see this stupidity for what it is, and now I can’t help but rip my hair out every time it pops up. Play Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, or any number of RPGs and you will encounter an innumerable amount of door switches. It’s a mechanic that’s salt and pepper to any adventure game involving a puzzle to be solved. Almost every time, you’ll walk right up to it and the game will ask you “Pull the lever?” Pull the lever? Pull the—YES, pull the damn lever! I can’t continue the game if I don’t. What else am I going to do? Turn the game off and go sit in the corner?
Turok 2 was insane with its level designs, as each one took several hours to complete. However, it made the experience so smooth by having door switches that you activate simply by walking up and touching them. If you’re going to pause the game for a second or two to pose this question, at least give me another viable option. I walk up to the switch and it could say: “Pull the Lever?” versus “Obtain your degree in Nutritional Anthropology?” Nobody comes home from work and wonders to themselves, “walk through my front door?” Why should that be done any other way? Imagine if in Raiders of the Lost Ark Indy pauses by the map of Tannis because a sign reads “Place Staff of Ra?” Well, I was originally exploring this ancient tomb because it needs dusting, but I suppose I can complete this puzzle and acquire the sacred relic. Screw you and your stupid question! Why would I not want to pull the damn lever?! Obviously, my only other option is turn off the game and go learn calculus! GOD DAMN IT!
Well there it is, my friends. It was tough, but we made it. I can’t promise that newer, more-frustrating gripes won’t spawn in the years to come. If they do, as Tom Joad once promised, I’ll be there. We’ll walk the path of gaming and couch potato-ing with honor and vigilance, never forgetting that we paying customers have a voice. So whether it’s the holiday season or ordinary time, stay true and be a good neighbor. Thank you for reading along with me this December and Merry Christmas!