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May 13, 2016

My Top 12 Criticisms On Gaming

I was at first wishing to do something a little more joyful, but then I decided to go the other way. I assume that if you read this blog, you’re interested in video games, right? I mean, you’re probably a fan of Nintendo and whatnot, and maybe you also know a lot about the other consoles in the great console battle. That’s what I assume, anyway. And so, it is likely that you’ve run into a number of trends in game development, or in gaming in general, that you simply cannot stand. You see a game use any of these and you just go “Urghhhhhh… again?” Or worse even, what was up to that point a good game becomes intolerable in your eyes. These are the gaming clichés that have worn out their welcome, the missions that annoy the players rather than encourage then, the characters who serve no purpose… we’ve all run into stuff like that. The good games may contain a few instances of these gaming tropes, the bad games may contain dozens of them.

Obviously, my gaming experience will taint this Top 12, so if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might know a few of my pet peeves. I will try to remove most tropes related to storytelling, as those can be found in just about any story, beyond the realm of video games. However, everything else is fair game; game development, gaming communities, trends, gameplay elements… I’ll try to keep the rage to a minimum. But I’m sure you’ll agree with me on more than a few elements on this list. Hell, you could basically consider this list “12 common complaints directed at video games, that I’ve seen, and that annoy me, ranked from what I consider the least bad to what I consider the worst”. Obviously that title would have been too long for Blogger. Remember that these are my opinions, you’re free to disagree; Heck, if you’ve got something in video games that really annoys you, and it’s not on the list, feel free to discuss it in the comments! In fact, please do, I want to hear what irks you in gaming today. Alright, let’s get this started.

12. Rubber-band AI
How it is supposed to work.
A problem that mostly applies to racing games and mini-games. When it comes to racing games, I’m very much in a “love it or hate it” mindset, many factors can tip the balance of my opinion. I know for a fact that AI, in video games, is very difficult to program, and thus there’s always a chance of having something too easy or too difficult for a human player to go against. Rubber-band AI is the practice in which the AI of CPU opponents in a sport game is programmed in such a way that in case of potential defeat against the player, these opponents will become harder, better, faster, stronger… and smarter.
The problem with this method is that there has to be this fine balance that very few games actually get right; when faced with possible defeat, the adversaries either stay relatively weak, or become so persistent and dangerous that you become the hopeless one. You know, I don’t mind when this practice is fair. However, some games combine this with what is called “cheating”, which computers can very easily do against human opponents (a particularly blatant example is in many Mario Kart games, where karts who are about to lose often reach impossible speeds or take impossible shortcuts if that means beating the player). Rubber-band AI is not supposed to feel like the computer is cheating. It's meant to add difficulty without having to resort to cheap tactics, the idea is to have the CPU opponents act like human players do when they don’t want to lose; they give their all. That doesn't equate to cheating, human players who are about to lose don't suddenly gain infinite mushrooms or get inexplicably faster! Rubberband AI can be done well. I just don’t see it done well very often.

11. Escort missions
Well, exc-......
You know what, you're not even worth me doing that joke.
I think I heard you groan right now. Yes, you know what this is. Your character has to escort a very important person from a place to another, sometimes across dangerous terrain, or under enemy fire. Simple, right? Well… not so much. Obviously, the person you’re saving doesn’t have the vitality of the hero, and may go down in only a few hits, so saving them from the various attacks is harder than it seems. Second, frequently these NPCs are programmed with the intelligence of lemmings. If you’ve ever seen an escorted character jump straight into what’s very obviously danger, you know what I mean. That’s of course if they’re not outpaced by slugs. Or worse even, they get in your line of fire. And then there’s the ones that nag and whine and just act like jackasses all the way through as you save them from peril to peril.
Makes you wish you could just shoot an arrow in that NPC’s face. And you have to move your little ass around killing enemies left and right for the ingrate jerk princess Ruto or for the stupid Parallel Bird. Advice to future game developers, if you create an escort mission, you damn better know what you’re doing. Avoid he common escort mission traps. Do not attempt this if you don’t have the talent to do it correctly.

10. Disappointing final level/Boring level designs in general
Games take time to create. Hundreds work on a single game at once, and even with that many people, sometimes creativity runs out. It happens. There is also the mindset that not all gamers will play all the way through a game, thus some developers will put less effort in the later levels. Even though that’s the worst leap in logic on a developing standpoint. Just because less people will get to the end doesn’t mean the end has to suck. And yet, many players feel disappointed when they reach the final level, or the final world, or the final dungeon, or the final whatever, because it’s just not up to par with what came before. This is an aesthetic problem, but it can go beyond that: When  you add level design to this and, suddenly, even the platforming becomes tedious, either too difficult or just plain boring. Both extremes have been seen. And that’s of course when the ugly aesthetics aren’t making up most of the game in the first place. When it comes to level design, some games… just don’t have it. Maybe they don’t know how to give every world a new look, a new feel. In a perfect world, games would stay creative till the end, but this isn’t a perfect world. This is an entirely subjective point, so your examples may differ greatly from mine, but I can think of a few cases: Castle Oblivion in Kingdom Hearts re:coded, or Bowser's castle in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

9. Too brown, too grey, too dark
Another point of criticism regarding aesthetics: The idea that, in order to be realistic, a game has to be brown, gray or dark. The webcomic VGCats coined the phrase “Real is brown” to refer to this phenomenon that plagues an awful lot of first-person shooters on the Sony and Microsoft consoles. And the PC games too, of course. Some Nintendo games also suffer from this, though I don’t see it as often. That’s of course when the game doesn’t also go the “dark” route. You know, darkness works in many games, especially the horror genre. It must not hinder the gameplay experience, however. Nobody likes to wander around in the dark wondering where to go, what may be ahead, what their toes might smash into if they step forward. Story of my life, my poor toe, again this morning it bumped on something.
“Real” doesn’t have to be the same boring “gritty” colors. Real can be beautiful. Don’t make your game look like crap with the argument that it’s meant to look more realistic. That’s a bogus argument. There are some technical reasons to go for those colors, due to lighting and whatnot, but realism is not a good argument. My world isn’t brown. The wall behind me is some kind of ugly hospital green, but it sure isn’t brown.

8. Lack of balance
This one’s for all the competitors out there. I am not much on the competitive scene of games, but sometimes a game’s lack of balance can be felt even in single-player mode or between friends. Most games with competitive scenes have seen this happen: The Yu-Gi-Oh! card game had to create archetypes just to counter the overused decks that won all the time, with recently the Performapal/Performage archetype destroying everything in its way. Smogon’s ban lists have to be consistently updated as the Pokémon series changes and evolves; the Mega Evolutions, for the most part, were integrated pretty well, but then the PvP was flooded with Mega Kangaskhan. I can’t speak for most games on the Playstation, Xbox or PC competitive games out there, but there is one other example of a horrible balance I can think of: Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS. I played that game. I… am not a fan of it. I’ve barely even played in Multiplayer mode, but I am convinced that I would despise it when items are turned on. Some game series evolve constantly, so the balance has to be re-done every time something new appears, and sometimes one too many One-Hit-Kill items, one too many overpowered characters, one more stupid stage with an NPC fighter, can be just the thing that ruins the fun.

7. Too easy
For all your rope-burning needs, we offer you...
the easiest Burn The Rope level ever made.
Though this is more of a parody than anything else...
You know that I like a good challenge every once in a while. I won’t enjoy games that are too insanely difficult, but I can enjoy a game that is difficult but doable. I don’t chase down the many Kaizo Mario out there, the I Wanna Be The Guy, these fanmade impossibilities, but there is the other extreme: A game that is way, way too easy. You breeze through it without a problem. Not a lot of gamers enjoy games that are too easy, and I can understand why; after all, we play games to be entertained, but also for that feeling of accomplishment we get from achieving something difficult. This is a flexible point on the list, as not everyone has the same idea of what’s easy and what’s difficult, and thus two people can have very different opinions on a game’s difficulty. But the point stands; if you think a game is too easy, you’re going to lose interest in it pretty quickly. That’s why I enjoy bonus missions, postgame additions, all these little things that go towards 100% completion that are often more difficult than the regular game itself. But yeah, some people don’t like when a game is too easy, and I agree that this can be an issue. Now excuse me, but I have to go back to New Super Mario Bros. to chase that one Star Coin that requires a Mini-Mario jumping around platforms in a room with giant spiked skewers coming from all sides!

6. Little to no postgame
Talking about postgame, a good way to increase the longevity of a game is to add things to do once the main game has been beaten. Story Mode over? Good! Now what? Collecting three Star Coins in every level? Do we have some bonus dungeons? Now that we’ve got the National Dex, how many Pokémon do we still need to find? Do you want to get all Gold medals? A multiplayer mode? Trophies, stickers? Are there achievements to complete? Can you unlock content from the developers showcasing concept art, a Sound Test? Postgame missions can increase your playing time on a game by a few hours, or by dozens of hours. As long as there’s something more to do after you’ve seen the ending. Most games I’ve played for this site have postgame content. It’s a little extra that makes you want to go back to a game, even after the end. No postgame means there’s nothing to encourage you to keep playing that particular game. And especially when other games offer more in that regard. For some, it’s a minor issue, for others it’s a deal breaker. And of course, it depends on the length of the main game itself, the Story Mode as we call it. And this brings me into my next point…

5. Too short
How expensive are games now? On the Wii U, games go from 50 to 80 dollars? It goes around that price range for Playstation and Xbox games too, if I’m not mistaken? I mean, there’s the bargain bins, the cheaper titles available, but we can all agree that modern games are not cheap. Thus, one of the most infuriating problems with certain games is that they just don’t offer nearly enough for the price you pay. Imagine, if you will, paying fifty bucks for a game that is completed in four hours. Can you imagine that?
And yes, I do mean taking out all the bonus content. There is such a thing as offering too little to the audience, and the gamers have every right to be pissed at a game that can be beaten in a few hours. Obviously, this will not apply to all games, especially the ones that offer great postgame possibilities or an interesting multiplayer mode (since all consoles these days are connected to the Internet and allow this). But there are still many examples out there. And we need to stand against such practices.

4. Grueling experience grinding
Not every RPG has a peninsula of power
All video games are difficult to make. Even the worst piles of digitized dung out there took a lot of work. Yes, even Anubis II. For role-playing games, it’s even more than that, because we expect a long story, a wide diversity of enemies, beautiful landscapes and appealing characters. And of course, a system that is not annoying when it comes to the basic RPG elements. A character with a slow experience-gaining curve will take forever to level up. That, in itself, is not always a bad thing; some RPG worlds are, after all, interesting enough that one wants to keep visiting them. Making a character too slow to level up, however, can make him annoying after a while. Another general rule is that enemies are enemies, bosses are bosses, and not every fight has to feel like the lives of all the characters are on the line. In the more extreme cases, the RPG world absolutely wants you dead no matter how far you’ve gone. Stun, Freeze, Burn, Rub, name it. Making your party stronger isn’t just long now, it’s also very difficult. And of course, while the new enemies do give more experience than before, it’s still a long and slow process. This is the RPG single-player equivalent of balancing a game for fairness (and to avoid forcing them to spend not hours, but days level grinding). Thankfully, some RPGs do have ways to go around this problem; but a player’s experience of an RPG, or of a game in general, decreases quite a bit when what was a game suddenly turns into a chore. That’s the thing developers must avoid.

3. Faulty or terrible mechanics
Developers must also avoid mechanics that work poorly, or sometimes, not at all. Obviously some games have a lot of material, and you can tell the people behind it went to great lengths to give you something good. Then you see that one item that everyone hates because it screws up the gameplay, and then it becomes obligatory for a mission! There’s a rule to this point: It’s a mechanic so bad that the community around the game near-universally agree on; almost everybody hates it. And if it’s in there, it’s because the entire development team thought it was a good idea; that’s the sad part. Tripping in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, not being able to call your horse Epona from anywhere in Hyrule at the start of Twilight Princess, roaming Pokémon, backtracking in general, trade-with-item evolutions in general (especially those that requires hard to find/unique items), the Spring Mushroom, Ztars, rolling the Star Ball, the fucking blue shells, Mach Speed sections, vanishing and reappearing block platforms in Mega Man… I could give examples all day. In general, it’s not enough of an annoyance to ruin your fun of the whole game, but it’s definitely that part you won’t be looking forward to if you decide someday to start a new save file.

2. Too much luck!
Gee, both images here come
from Mario Party. I wonder why...
If you have read this blog for any period of time, you knew this was coming. It was obvious. I have a deep hatred of games that rely on luck, and almost entirely on luck. Most of it stems from my nearly-cartoonish lack of luck in a lot of things (and before you ask, yes, it affects me in all kinds of ways even outside of video games). Of course, games rarely leave your fate to Lady Chance all the way through. There’s usually a mix of strategy and luck involved to make things fair-well, fairer. But sometimes, your strategy will not be enough, especially when the odds are more favorable to the CPU opponents. Which, by the way, happens frequently. I mean, all of us Pokémon players have tried catching a Pokémon only to make it faint with a sudden Critical Hit. But that’s not bad, because while Pokémon leaves a number of things to chance, very few of them are so important that they’ll be a bother for long. On the other hand, take things like Pop-Up Pursuit or Mario Party, where one unlucky turn can really screw your chances up, and those range from 15 to 90 minutes, sometimes, more, often with no way to save in the middle of a match. Look, my advice is simple; if your game relies so heavily on luck that players get screwed over no matter what strategy they use, scrap your work and try again, you did something wrong.

1. DLC, microtransactions, oh my!
The obligatory “Game companies think we’re just money waiting to be spent” tirade. And yes, it’s a problem in gaming today. Like many examples on this list, there are ways that this gets done well. If you sell trophies or figurines or level packs for Skylanders or Disney Infinity or LEGO Dimensions, Hell even the Amiibo… Look, I personally won’t buy them, but a lot of people do. Therefore, make sure the content these new products offer are actually worth the price you’re asking for them. A new level for 30 bucks? Aw, Hell no. Make it worth that price. I guess the best Amiibo are the ones that you can use on more games, but since I don’t collect them, I can’t say.
I didn't think I'd be going back to the Angry Joe well so
quickly, but here it is.
Then we get into microtransactions, games where you almost need to bribe your way to victory. Microtransactions always work the same way; pay to get new items or some special in-game currency that you can then use to buy new items. I’m not so much complaining for this type of game on Facebook, at least when microtransactions don’t become necessary; on home console, microtransactions are just terrible. ESPECIALLY on a game that shouldn’t need it. Pokémon Shuffle, Pokémon Picross, those were made like Facebook games already, and while it is very irritating to be forced to wait 30 minutes to get a new life or be able to solve a new Picross (I just want to play Picross, is that too much to ask?), I can understand the business model; those games are offered for free and you can beat them without ever paying. (also, Pokémon Picross has a 40$ limit). However, it appears like microtransactions are past the stage of “growing trend”; now it’s like they’re everywhere. Need I even start discussing the fucking season passes? Do I have a money-growing tree in the backyard? No. I struggle to find a job, I can barely pay my smartphone at the end of the month. Do I look like I have money to waste? I don’t. It’s an event when I can buy a 20-dollar second-hand Wii title at EBGames.
There is no development advice I can give for this one. Who am I kidding, I am not a developer in the first place. I can’t even pretend to know what it’s like. However, I can tell you this much: Game development, I can understand if you do it partly for the money. Video games are a business, after all. But video games are also a form of art. And if you do it only for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. And we can feel it in the finished product, we’re not stupid. Game development without passion, with only the paycheck in mind, is a soulless venture. And I guess that’s all I had to say about this particular point.

Well, there you go, this concludes this very long list. I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you didn’t, I won’t blame you, those twelve points tend to ignite something in us, they remind us of bad times with games. But we power through, because we love gaming and we won’t let stuff like this put us down. And I guess that’s what really matters in the long run.

Alright then, see you next week for something perhaps shorter, perhaps longer. Following the review chain chart, next week is probably going to be a Kirby game.