Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Video Game Rant

The older I get the less I enjoy new video games. Maybe it's a part of me that is changing, which I don't doubt, but a lot of things in gaming irritate me, and I want to explain why.

Video games are an inferior way to tell a story. Most stories in a game lack any depth or emotion. The first thing anyone attempting to write a story should ask themselves is this. Why would anyone care about this character? I don't have a connection to a character just because they exist. There has to be something more. Either make the character high status or make them emotionally appealing because it is that emotion and intrigue which garners player's to those characters. Just because your character exists and looks cool is not enough for me. As stories go, there have been so few that have ever intrigued me enough to care about any of the characters involved.

Another problem I have with games is how the story is told. I'm playing Max Payne 3 now and the story is awful. I don't know what's going on and nor do I care, but what makes it irritating is the fact that it detracts from the experience of immersion within the environment. In Max Payne 3 the typical level is very short. You run forward, shoot some guys, and then experience a cutscene which you usually can't skip. These scenes are so uninteresting and jarring to the experience that I often quit playing because of it. At best, I'll play Max Payne 3 once and then never again.

I don't play games for a story. I have thousands of books lining my shelves if I want to read a story. I don't need story in my games. I need games in my games. I understand that a lot of people seem interested in games because of the story but I'm not one of them. Not unless that story can show some real pathos and some understanding of the minutia of storytelling itself.  The problem is that many games now force a player into investing in the story.

There are some games who tell good stories. These stories are usually minimal though. Dead Space 1 and 2 had good stories largely because nearly all of the storytelling was optional. You could skip all the cutscenes which makes multiple playthroughs much more enjoyable. One of the banes in modern gaming is the studios reliance on cutscenes for storytelling. Don't ruin the immersion of your atmosphere by pulling a player out of it through an intrusive and needless cutscene.

There are some exceptions which I want to point out. To me, Mass Effect 1 and 2 were great examples of stories I don't care about. What Mass Effect 3 did right was allowing for a more streamlined game without all the dialogue portion.

There are many good examples of how to tell a good story, most of them are from Bethesda. Any Elder Scrolls game is going to have an excellent story behind it and I won't mind sitting through all of the dialogue and cut scenes even on multiple playthroughs. They rarely detract from immersion and often add to it. Fallout 3 is another great example which is largely driven by the emotions inherent in a child going in search of their missing father. Hint to designers, we all have families and there's a reason why so many great films and books center around familial relations.

Another point about storytelling. If you're going to make your villain the epitome of evil, try and explain why they became that way. Some sociopaths might have an innate tendency for murder and exploitive power but most endured abuse as children or other difficulties sending them into the dark side.

The atmosphere is the story. There are no cutscenes in real life and this jarring juxtaposition between an interactive environment needs to be reduced as minimal as possible. Resident Evil, and most survival horror, must understand the relationship between the player and the atmosphere. Not all games need to have a dark sense of dread and looming danger. Bioshock and Borderlands 2 are great examples of games with amazing and fun moods. Part of the problem as I see it, is that the people who are needed to code a lot of these games are not going to be the most expressive, creative, and interesting people. It takes a certain type of person who can both write code and write an appealing novel and most people have one element but not both.

I want to lose myself in a challenging experience of a game. I want to be forced to master those encounters with intricate, pinpoint precision. I want a constantly escalating struggle pushing me to my limits, forcing me to master every encounter, understand every aspect of the gameplay, memorize attack patterns, and then be rewarded for my efforts. This brings me to my next point on modern gaming.

Difficulty is something I want in a game. Needless to say, I start every game on the hardest setting. It wasn't always like this however. In the past, difficulty settings were often non-existent and many of the games were extremely challenging. I grew up playing Battle Toads, Ninja Gaiden, and Contra so my level of frustration and challenge is probably higher than the gamers today who've had a lifetime of Assassin's Creed easy-mode-fits-all. If there is one way to get to give up on your game it's too make it too easy. I want multiple difficulty settings from the start.

My biggest gripe in Skyrim is how easy the game is. For it to be challenging I have to self-impose a new difficulty setting where I don't use blacksmithing, I don't use enchanting, and I don't use stealth. Then the game is a challenge but it seems to be something Elder Scrolls love to do, let players break their game and go god mode.

Shaking camera. God of War 3 is a great game encompassing the majority of things I love about games. Brain busting difficulty, great combat, and great rewards but one thing that irritates me is the use of shaking cameras. It is disorienting and frustrating and I don't feel a sense of grandness or danger from the atmosphere because the camera is shaking. I feel dizzy.

Where God of War 3 goes wrong is in continuing with the dreaded Real Time Events which I've grown to hate. They were a poor novelty when they were first introduced and are terrible and overused now. They offer nothing to gameplay and in the case of God of War 3 detract from the the death animations of the monsters you're facing. Am I supposed to watch for the RTE or watch as Kratos murders a leviathan? Because I don't want to miss the event I always miss the death animations. I wish this fad would die it's well deserved death.

As with most things in entertainment, I'm not entertained by what is shoveled out of Hollywood, the publishing industry, and the gaming industry. These are just a few of my gripes from the current generation of gaming as it seems that the technology has advanced while a lot of the other elements of game design have not kept pace. It is too easy to make a pretty looking game with lots of grandiose cut scenes which add nothing to the game overall. Much of it in gaming and other entertainment is a lot of "sound and fury signifying nothing," as Shakespeare said.


  1. Go indie, and don't look back.

    If you want an overt story, play Aquaria. An interpretative one, try Binding of Isaac.

    Old-school Nintendo Hard? Super Meat Boy.

    Replayability? Spleunky and Dungeons of Dredmor.

    And at 1/5 the price of an AAA title, at most.

    1. I'm in full agreement with you. The fact is that the gaming industry needs a reboot because of all the stagnation going on right now and the reliance on graphics and spectacle over gameplay. The closest thing to a perfect game I've found is Resident Evil 4. Apart from that, the mainstream games I enjoy the most are usually Nintendo games which retain their core focus of gameplay.

  2. You could try Demon's Souls and Dark Souls if you're itching for a good challenge.

    1. I love those games. I should have mentioned them. The difficulty with them isn't as hard as most think. It's a lot of trial and error and figuring out what works. Also, because of the way the leveling works you can always grind monsters until you're a strong enough level so that the encounters because a lot easier.