The Constants and Variables of Everyday Gaming
As long time gamers, we are accustomed to certain clichés in gaming that have existed in the gaming world since the dawn of time – or at least since the release of Pong in 1972. These clichés have pretty much always existed and will surely live on for years to come given that if they were to disappear, we as gamers would feel scared and we would inevitably revolt and demand the return of explosive barrels.
It is easier to understand what I am trying to say if you imagine that all games are made in the BioShock universe…I’m sure that clears things up. As we discovered in the beautiful BioShock Infinite, there are constants and there are variables.
Games are no different and if you look hard enough you will find their lighthouse.
Some examples of these “constants” are:
1. Explosive Barrels
Ah yes, the explosive barrel. I mentioned this little guy already probably because he is the most well-known and overused cliché of them all. These unstable containers are home to liquids so volatile that they will seemingly explode once hit with a single bullet or in some cases after a good smack with your knife after hitting the melee button. I am so confident that this would never happen in real life that I almost dared anyone who reads this to go out and find a barrel or an oil tank and smack it around a bit with a pipe before I was advised not to by my lawyer.
I recently went back to play Far Cry 3 in preparation for the next installment in the series and I am nearly convinced that there are more explosive containers on Rook Island than local inhabitants.
This constant is also one of the most likely to never go away as the explosions that result after committing barrel genocide help create a very cinematic experience and also allows the game to flex it’s graphical muscles.
Oh tutorials how I hate you with every fiber of my being. “Hold right stick up to look up and right stick down to look down” and “Press the A button to jump” always sour the first 5 to 30 minutes of a game for me. I have been playing games for so many years now that if I jumped into a game I never heard of I would most likely require only 5 to 10 seconds of figuring out the controls with some exceptions in the case of a funky game mechanic such as time reversal in Singularity.
Of course I am looking at this from a very personal perspective and there are kids (and some adults) out there who are playing a game for the first time and have never fired a virtual gun or jumped over a knee high wall. Some games do it better and allow you to turn off tutorials before you begin the game while some games like Portal 2 and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon do it right with the tutorial in the latter being activated as a prank on your player with some instructions asking you to “Press A in order to demonstrate your ability to read”. However this may be troublesome for people who can’t actually read and are stuck at the start forever.
3. Stupid AI
Humans have yet to discover how to create a fully functioning Artificial Intelligence, which is either a good thing if it turns out like the Johnny Depp computer in Transcendence and tries to destroy all of humanity or a bad thing if we could somehow create EDI from the Mass Effect series.
As a result we are left with enemies and companions alike who will stand in your way and refuse to move such as Fawkes in Fallout 3 or the guards in Thief 4 that will walk from one side of the street to the other for hours on end simply to stare at a wall. These simple enemies obviously exist because real life guards and bandits would not forget how your player character just shot them in the face with an arrow but instead they would hunt you down mercilessly and therefore make any kind of stealth game impossible to beat.
4. Escort Missions
By this I do not mean you get to play as an escort dating rich men for big money but instead you get to lead a confused and non-combat trained companion to safety.
This obviously ties in with my previous entry but I felt these were annoying enough to deserve their own category.
Whether it be allies who disappear and glitch into a wall or small children that for some reason are vulnerable to gunfire, escort missions either need a major overhaul or they should be avoided completely.
Notable examples of escort missions done well however include Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite who is a capable ally you come to rely upon when playing on harder difficulties due to her tear opening abilities and also Ellie from the Last of Us who is a character that you will bond with and never feel like she is a burden preventing Joel from surviving.
5. Gimmicky Weapons
There are so many games out there that require the player to master a wide array of weaponry but how many times can we fire an M14 in a game and not have it feel like the last 2 games we just played?
Developers of games containing firearms must ask themselves this question a lot and that is why some shooters try to stand out from the crowd and so we get the Gravity Gun from Half Life.
Many people love this gun and I must admit finding some form of pleasure when I cut a zombie in two after firing a saw-blade at him.
Wolfenstein: The New Order has to be one of my favourite games this year but I hated when the game was trying desperately to have me use its “Laserkraftwerk” contraption. It wasn’t until the weapon was fully upgraded that I felt it was actually useful in combat but that didn’t stop the game automatically equipping it on me every time I died and respawned.
Games that do it right are the Fallout games that throw in so many gimmicky weapons such as the “Rock-It Launcher” and the “Nuka Grenade” but have them be entirely optional and fun alternatives to an assault rifle.
6. Shiny Activatables
If ever you needed evidence that game developers think we are stupid…here it is. I can’t think of anything more patronizing in games than having a glowing red button lighting up half the screen or in the case of L.A. Noire having clues not only shine a little bit but walking over them causes your controller to vibrate and a cute little chime plays over your speakers.
There are pros and cons to this category with many gamers feeling that games have gotten too easy and some gamers believing they just don’t have the time anymore to spend hours looking for a meaningless collectible or a button under a desk.
These are just some of the things I’ve noticed in my many years of gaming, have I missed any?