Iíve decided to continue from my last post with a whole series of posts talking about aspects of video games.
We as humans tend to have a love for grouping and classifying things. What can we say, we love taxonomy. We primarily classify games in very specific tiers or levels, most of which go unnamed and often unconsidered. I have listed them here in as simple a way as possible.
-Macro-Cultural Origin; Western or Eastern
-Base Cultural Origin; Europe and North America most specifically
-Micro Cultural Origin; from individual countries (Australia, Japan, Korea, England, Germany, France, The States, Canada, Poland, Russia, Ukraine etc)
-Gameplay structuring: Turn Based, Real Time
-Non-diegetic Interactivity: player either acts upon or Interacts (adventure games) with the game world
-Diegetic interactivity: How interactive the actual game world is; a gradient from none to very
-Diegetic Relevance: How important said interaction has with the player, world and the narrative.
-Narrative/Spatial constriction: From Open World to Linear.
-Realism: the gradient of which one gauges a game; from arcade to simulation
-Accessibility: a gradient of which a game is considered from casual to hardcore
-Viewpoint: First Person, Third Person, Third Person Omniscient (the sims, strategy games)
-Design Genre: RPG, Shooter, Adventure, Action, Strategy, and any hybrid possible
-Narrative Genre: Science Fiction, Military, Fantasy, Real World Fiction, Crime, etc
-Thematic Genre: Horror, Adventure, Action, Satire, etc
The list can go on forever, getting more specific and anal about little details that ultimately donít matter. The depth of which I have gone into gives all the base points for picturing/describing a game.
For example, take a game such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. It is a: Western; European game; from Ukraine; that is Real Time; in which a player acts upon a world; with limited interactivity; But said interaction has great affect upon the game world and narrative. It is a somewhat open world game; with a heavy focus on realism; and hardcore gameplay. It is a First Person; Action-Adventure-RPG-Shooter; Science Fiction Game; with a Thematic focus on Horror and Adventure.
Each aspect and influence, from the continent and country of origin to the viewpoint in which you play the game from, has an effect on how we envision the game will be. And rightly so since every cultural, national origin and design choice ultimately has a great impact on the game, how its played, how it regarded and what demographic it will appeal to.
While I argue that we should throw down our classifications and allow game design to run wild and mutate into new and various breeds of interactive entertainment; I know people are stupidly adherent to classification and tend to regard real hybrids with confusion and anger (a lot of complaints I hear about Brutal Legend confirm this).
What I instead intend to focus is what said taxonomy says about game design in general. This fill in blank, madlib sheet for games acts in very much the same manner as socio-ethnic prejudice. People, whether aware of the fact or not, have a tendency to stereotype games based on design points and generalize games from where they come from. This tends to affect the widespread appeal of games to the general gaming population who base most of their decisions and views on second and third hand opinion, personal prejudice, massive generalization, and wildly wrong assumptions. Much like how they govern their lives, in fact.
But I digress, as the inherent problem with gaming stereotypes is that for the most part, they are true. Many games that come from Japan and Korea tend to be anime influenced, turn based, fantasy rpg melodramas featuring angsty androgynous teenagers. And since what represents 60-70 percent of the eastern games that reach our western market resemble the above mentioned stereotype, it forms a solid base from which we form our opinions despite direct opposition to the fact with examples such as Dynasty Warriors, Demonís Souls, Lost Planet, Resident Evil etc. Is it right? No. Is it excusable? No! But does it have basis in fact? Yes, yes it does.
But unfortunately, this realization within itself goes on to raise even further questions about the nature of game design itself. The fact that stereotyped games exist and are fundamentally true makes me question the validity of game design, period. This can be easily explained. Game stereotypes exist simply because they sell. People have an overwhelming preponderance towards safe investments because itís easy to pick what you like and never take any chances.
Unfortunately, this has led to a refinement of a Lego snap-together design document that developers use today to build games that sell. It makes marketable games with minimal effort or cost and the expense of orginality. Put plot point A with introduction of Gameplay feature B. Driving segment C should lead into base assault 3A. Street Level fight G should finish with mandatory tank fight R. Finish off game with set piece 42-Alpha. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Modern Warfare 2!
While this may be attributed to the refinement of games into a high concept entertainment business, which leads to the relatively homogenized nature of game design we see now, and this is true, I argue a counterpoint. I argue that even being unoriginal, most game design is simply terrible. This is, once again, the calling card of my old friend, Stupidity.
And yes, it is stupidity. People walk around and say they are lazy or uninspired. I pose the fact that stupidity is prevalent here because game designers are trained to think this way. Itís called super-specialization. Many are trained to think and act in certain ways, using rote process instead of creativity to develop their games. They are, by process of their own education, drained of actual intelligence and creativity. The levels they make are rote and so by the book that if they werenít visually interesting, it would literally look like you were running around a large corridor with some cover. The game features they implement are so mediocre and overused by the rest of game industry, you could strip a game of itís textures and label and they would not be able to tell the difference between one game or another. But challenging someone trained like this causes them to virtually malfunction. They are so used to doing something a certain way that asking them to do something different will stop them dead in their tracks.
People may ask what is the inherent difference between stupidity and simple ignorance in these situations. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge but the ability to learn. There is nothing wrong with that. Stupidity is the lack of knowledge without the ability or willingness to learn coupled with the complete lack of understanding the basics of real design, which should be understood before making any effort.
The best example is stupid level design. The inherent artificiality of levels in games today is a crime. They design spaces to look real with no understanding of how reality works. Take a street level for example. A street is designed for maximum population access and use. This leads to problems in the level design such as frequent side streets and buildings. So developers miraculously solve this problem by making every side street and off shoot result in a dead end, or are blocked off by cars or police barriers. But canít people just jump over the hood? Not if they canít jump!!! There are also buildings that people enter and use. Oh, wait all the doors are locked. The lack of understanding of how spaces and objects work is simply astounding. Is it not possible that people can jump over barriers and cars or break glass to get access to a building?
They either donít understand this or simply donít care. But what really makes me cry on the inside is the absolute brain bending idiocy to not realize the potential of maximizing the use of the street. Imagine using buildings for cover or using them to get to the access point, turning a regular street level battle into a pitched fight across small businesses and roof tops. And what about side streets? Sneaking behind buildings to take out forces without being seen greatly increases the options for the gameplay and replaying. And the barriers? People can get around cars and signs quite easily in the real world, so why is it so damn hard here. What about blocking off an area with a collapsed building or even a huge vehicle like a fire truck or a train? It makes absolutely no sense and there is no reason why it shouldnít be fixed. This literally took me, some university student from Canada, five minutes to figure out and yet it never occurred to these seasoned game design veterans?
But stupid game design is just as widespread and inane. Take for example the over use of the ĎRPGí mechanics in shooters nowadays, using very basic stats levelling system to give Ďoptionsí to the player. Without significant focus on this feature, itís merely a vestigial left over which just artificially pads the game and gives false depth to it. Itís essentially pointless. Furthermore, you donít have to increase the complexity of a game to make it better. In many cases pure simplicity actually provides a more pure and rewarding experience. What about rechargeable health bars and the QTE in favour of gameplay or simple cutscenes? Just because every thing can be interactive, does not inherently mean it should be and what the hell is wrong with a goddamn health pack.
However the worst offender of bad game design in recent history I can think of is Far Cry 2. Donít get me wrong, I really like that game, but for godís sakes, some of the choices made in the design phase of the product are utterly moronic. For example, why are you randomly attacked every five minutes? Why does everyone want to kill you despite allegiances? Why do you take a taxi into the game but have to use a bus for quick travel. Why are the save spots so damn hard to see? Whatís with the crappy widescreen function? Why do all your buddies get into trouble every mission? Why do enemies see you from a mile away from behind a bush? Why does stealth not work? Why is there no real ending to the game? What is with the inherent lack of SDK for PC users? None of these problemís make any sense and could easily have fixed with a little play testing and tweaks. But they released the product as and never took the time to fix it. It makes no sense.
Why is it so hard to design game that visually and structurally makes sense. Is it so hard, and yes I do recognize the issue put forth by deadlines, to take the time and effort to research spaces and designs. Because everyone else adds some half baked gameplay mechanic to pad the length of the experience, doesnít mean you should too. We live in an age where games are rapidly approaching photorealism (not necessarily a good thing but still) and yet we canít expect someone who has the ability to command development tools at a professional level to make a game to give us a visual and gameplay scenario that makes sense? The original Call of Duty for PC had better level design than Modern Warfare. Iíve played mods for age old games like UT2004, Deus Ex and Half Life that show a better understanding of how spaces are constructed and how they can be used to maximise player experience than most games nowadays. And Yes I recognize great design when I see it; Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, Ratchet and Clank, Half Life 2 and Portal, and even Banjo-Kazooie, it is a simple fact that most games are, no matter how good I or many people may think they are, are all just terribly designed.
yes this is a mod for UT2004 called out of hell, look it up
Maybe itís just me but when I see amateurs out pacing the professionals, there has to be something very wrong with the gameís industry.
Next up on the We Should Expect Better Series is (not necessarily in this order):
-Third party Engines
-The business itself
And Finally: Killing the PC (this one will probably be the longest) read