Friday, 11 November 2011


There is a problem with video games today. Something very, very recent, as in the last couple of years. Maybe even more recent than that. I don't notice it in the SNES era, or when games moved into the third dimension, or even when the Playstation 2 and Gamecube were still relevant things. And no, it's not the first-person shooters.

Egoraptor recently made a video about how video games tend to hold your hand too much, to the detriment of the game. The idea being that they're actually not conveying necessary information in a way that doesn't hinder the experience. He spends 20 minutes explaining how the Mega Man series did a great job at letting the player learn through playing the game, with very little consequence. I always loved Mega Man X, but I never really knew the importance of how well the intro stage was designed until he ran through it point-by-point.

Also, this happens.

He called this "Conveyance". This is when the game communicates the player what the game wants you to do, without bashing you over the head with it, or slapping your wrist for deviating from the "ideal" path. Mega Man X taught the core mechanics, and even some trusty tips on the side all through playing the very first stage in the game. No tutorial. No loading screen with the controller setup. Nothing intrusive.

The challenge for game designers today is an unenviable one. They have to convey a lot more to the player now than they did in 1991. But lately it's like they're not even trying. What I speak of is worse than some "Navigator" warning you not to eat that nuclear warhead. I'm not talking about a poor attempt at dialogue between the developer and the player.

What we have here is a failure to communicate... at all.

Quick, what do Dragon Age, Dragon Age II and Deus Ex: Human Revolution have in common?

If you guessed: "They all spend hours and hours bombarding you with useless trivia and history lessons that don't affect you, and fail to communicate any of the important things you NEED to know with regards to playing the fucking game", then you are a psychic. Which is apparently the only audience game developers are aiming for these days, because a lot of games demand no less than a constant telepathic connection to decipher just what the fuck you're supposed to do.

I've mentioned Fragile Dreams did this at one part, and it very nearly killed the game for me. In Deus Ex, it DID kill the game for me. But let's talk about the Dragon Age series.

In both Dragon Ages, I missed out on important party members. Why? Because I skipped them? Because I didn't do their quests before it was too late? Or was it because both games did a shitty job at telling me how to get those characters? If they told me at all.

In Dragon Age, there is a Qunari called "Sten". Apparently you can recruit him. I knew there was a Qunari team member, but I didn't know it was him. I also didn't think the town he's in was only temporary. If you do enough missions, the game swallows the town up from the ground and you can never go back. If you want Sten and Lothering is destroyed, Sten dies and you have to start a new save file if you want him.

In every loading screen, the game assaults you with history information about long-dead Elven clans and some shit. None of it is relevant. None of it ever affects you. But at no point did the game make even the slightest effort to mention that you would lose your chance at recruiting an important member of the story, or when it would happen. And it's not like towns just collapse all of the time, willy-nilly. My friends inform me this is the only major town that falls. And because it does a piss-poor job at making this known to me, I missed out on Sten.

And I'm not playing through that fucking Fade part again.

In Dragon Age II, every party member is earned by a quest you pretty much have to complete, so they're unavoidable... Oh, except two of the most important characters in the game. One of which appears in a location you never have any reason to visit and is far out of your way, does not stick out in any map and gives zero indication that it is important that you go there. Another character just randomly pops up in what looks like an unimportant side-quest, so I skipped it. I thought I could come back to it, and there was no indicator that I could not.

Again, the game tells me about the history of Kirkwall and it's former leaders and the strife between classes and mages and Templars and smugglers and elves and all of that useless bullshit. But it almost never told me where or how to accomplish the parts that actually, directly affect the player. The game has a codex that is packed to the brim with useless, world-building shit I don't care about. But very rarely does it ever tell me in plain terms what, where, how or WHY the fuck I should do something!

"Oh, maybe they're optional characters", I thought. "Like Yuffie and Vincent from Final Fantasy VII. I like having them as an option, but they're not crucial to my enjoyment of the game."

And then I get to the second act and find out that Isabella is the most important player in the second act.

Bioware, why the fuck is Isabella an optional character? Are you guys incapable of making one product without throwing in some brainless, game-destroying flaw? Is this some nervous tic you can't get rid of? Do you know what it's like to play Act 2 when she's not there? Did you think losing 14 hours of progress and having to start over from scratch would make us enjoy your game more?

"A chick with big boobs in a video game? Guys don't want that!"

This isn't like Yuffie and Vincent. Imagine if Aeris were an optional character. Yeah, the major female protagonist.

Let's say you didn't do the vague subquest to get her that is never explained anywhere, and she just isn't in your party. You just help yourself in the slums, you don't really save anyone at Shinra HQ, they never go on a date at Gold Saucer. You watch a guy twiddling his thumbs by himself instead of allowing himself to be vulnerable in front of a sweet and patient young lady.

Finally, you get to the Tetra's creepy home place, you get to the pedestal on the water, and... Sephiroth is just sort of standing around for 5 minutes. Just tapping his foot while really sad music plays for some reason. And he turns and says:

"Man, it's almost like there was supposed to be something important and shocking, something that would really impact video games at this part.... Oh well!"
You... *sniff* YOU FORGOT THE MAYO!!

Okay, so Isabela isn't exactly a virginal character like that. But that's still pretty irresponsible game design right there. She's the critical presence at that point in the game, it makes no sense to leave her recruitment such a mystery and screw over so many people like that.

And while he's not as important, all of this applies to Fenris, while we're at it.

"A pretty, white-haired swordsman with a dark past? Girls don't want that!"

If they had just given their recruitments individual quest icons(like EVERY OTHER CHARACTER IN THE GAME), this wouldn't be a problem. I would know where they were, and could seek them out if I wanted. But instead the game felt I should know more about Dwarven ancient history than this. There really is no reason good enough for conveyance this terrible.

THIS SHIT HAS GOT TO STOP. Game developers, if you're running out of time, this is not the place to cut corners. How about cutting back on the graphics budget? I think if Minecraft can be as huge a success as it's been, despite looking like Lego diarrhea, then maybe, just maybe people don't really give a shit about what a game looks like? Or that maybe you don't NEED 12 billion ass pixels and high-dynamic pixel-buffer ass light bloom? I'd rather have a game that didn't make me want to kill you.

Just something I've been thinking about. Here's Egoraptor's cartoon on the subject.



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