Friday, August 15, 2008

The Best and Worst Aspects of Gaming

A friend of mine wrote a short entry about elements in Games that click for them, and it was such an intriguing premise that I thought that I would also take the plunge on that line of internal inquiry.

What I love in games:

Sandbox design elements: If you've read this blog for any length of time, you have noticed that there are certain games that I've mentioned more than others, particularly Grand Theft Auto. When I was a kid, I had always wanted to play an open-ended, automotively-based game, and that is what Grand Theft Auto provides me, and there are scores of other games that also feature the ability to just explore and do things outside the main mission structure of the game that makes them playable even after completion (Mercenaries, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Bully).

A Quality Narrative: I used to play a lot of Square/Enix roleplaying games because when I was younger, I was looking for solid and overarching story lines in the games I played. However, after I got a Playstation 2, I discovered that strong narratives had moved beyond the confines of that small subgenre of games. I've played platformers and flight sims that are presenting interesting characters, engaging plots and even some wonderful moral ambiguity in the story telling.

Multiple ways to solve a problem/puzzle: The first game that I remember that had a feature like this was Maniac Mansion... where depending on the people you took into the house, you can win the game in a variety of different ways. Of course, I didn't really come to admire this trait in a game until I started playing the Hitman games. I was reading a thread on the IMDB about the Hitman: Blood Money where people were talking about their favorite hit, and even on the same mission, no one did the same thing(I hadn't approached them the same way either)... they had all figured out a different way of accomplishing the goal with the materials at hand. This even comes into play with games that allow for both stealth and gun-blazing tactics to finish missions.

Character Customization/Role Playing Elements: I made these two items one entry because they are related to each other. I am talking not just the ability for the character you are playing as to get better at tasks by gaining experience and/or permanent power-ups, but to do such simple things as creating new characters or adorning preexisting characters to make them more personalized. I also place such features as being able to pick what you are going to take into the field in mission-based games like SOCOM in this category.

Stats: Now, this one may seem like a weird one at first, but hear me out. Since my library is generally pretty balanced, I do have quite a few sports titles as well, and one of the things that I always appreciate when the people who designed them actually gave thought to the presentation and record keeping of the stats that you and the computer are racking up over not just a game, or a season, but over a career. This means the use of situational stats too, because to me, that enhances the experience for me greatly. (Truth be told, I have reams of statistical information that I've written down from the various Football and basketball games I've played over the years).

And things that seriously bother me in games:

Purely digital controls in the Analog age: I am looking at Tekken and King of Fighters in particular. I remember playing fighting games when I was in my teens with the 8-way joystick, and somehow you are telling me that Namco and SNK couldn't get their act together enough to make their fighting series compatible with the analog sticks. I mean, Namco was able to get it right for Soul Calibur by giving people the option to use either control scheme if they chose. And really what puts this into clear perspective is the fact that in its Arcade Classics packages, Capcom was able to make their entire library analog controller compatible. There are very few games that I am willing to accept a purely digital approach, so in most cases, it is a really bad idea going in, even if it is meant to convey some sort of nostalgia to a console game that used that control scheme.

Finicky Puzzles: I think we've all experienced this one. You know, when you are playing a game that won't allow you to advance because you didn't do the steps fast enough, or in a multiroom puzzle, you didn't do the steps in the exact order the designers intended you to do, despite the fact that there is no logical reason why they must be done in that precise order. Or my favorite... puzzles where the solution is determined by the placement of an item, and it has to be positioned pixel perfect to be solved or to even move to the next step.

Needless Back Tracking/Repetitive Gameplay: In an effort to make their game seem longer, some game developers set up their world so that as you advance through the plot, you must keep plowing through waves of the same enemies while going through areas you have previously explored so you can get to a new area with a recently acquired key or other such device. And of course, everyone just loves grinding through those kinds of situations for hours on end. I'd rather play a shorter game than have to deal with that kind of design decision. (Now, if a designer makes areas available for exploration outside the main plot for people to collect unlockables and such, that is a different matter entirely).


Bart said...

Posts like this make me wonder if I was somehow cloned without my knowledge. :D

Lee said...

"Purely digital controls in the Analog age"

Oh you are so right about this and both games that you mentioned are guilty as sin!

MC said...

Bart: Well considering you are using a Simpsonized image of yourself for your personal icon, I think it is entirely possible.

Lee: That's the reason why both of those games ended up in a drawer far too soon.