Inspired by yesterday’s post about gaming pet peeves, I’ve been trying to turn that painbow into a rainbow (hooray for Leet World references) and put a positive spin on it. What are some great things I’ve loved about games that are missing nowadays? In an age where all genres are gradually being narrowed into the same thing and folks like me are getting shooter-overload, you’d be surprised at how much good has gone lost from those lovable pieces of old.
Over the last few months, I’ve done and experienced things in games that reminded me of the way things used to be. With titles like Limbo, Guardian of Light, and yes, even Halo: Reach, I was hit with time transportation beams and sent back to remember things that I had not thought about in years. I guess you can say it was like getting an itch scratched that I didn’t even know I had. And once it happened, it felt damn good.
So, here are things we need more of in gaming.
Space Combat / Flight
I am going to talk about Halo: Reach some more and you are going to like it. As soon as I played the Long Night of Solace mission in the newest Bungie title, it was like I exhaled some deep breath that had stayed in my lungs since Starfox 64 and Shadows of the Empire. The game feels more like Halo: Starfox in that mission that it does Halo proper, and it just works. Immediately, I found myself longing for some of those old titles, or perhaps some of the Rogue Squadron games to satisfy that thirst for more space-shooting and lasers.
It’s crazy to think that we haven’t had a AAA title that meets these requirements in years, especially considering they were so popular in the 90s. And from a tech perspective, it seems that we’d be able to do more grandiose encounters than ever imagined before. I remember the first time I played the final mission in Shadows of the Empire, I was blown away by the immense battle, and the fact that I could move around fully in 3D. How could developers raise the stakes now? Somebody needs to bring this mechanic back, and soon.
Stories That Make Sense
OK, let me get this straight. Your wife got sucked underwater by the dark presence that took over the lover of a dead writer. And I’m supposed to let you use the light to get her back? Well hell, dude, why didn’t you say so sooner?
For some reason, many of gaming’s more recent heralded storytelling ventures such as Alan Wake, the Metal Gear Solid series, Heavy Rain and so forth have the same thing in common: they don’t make an ounce of sense when you really break them down. With Heavy Rain, there’s a bit of wiggle room there, but there are plot threads that go completely unattended by the story’s end. It’s my opinion that when it comes to stories, movies can not hope to compete with TV (currently in its golden age) and video games, simply because the other two can offer longer, fuller, more complex and deeply satisfying experiences in just one season or one title.
Here’s a tip for gaming writers: convoluted doesn’t always equal compelling or interesting. Ambiguity does not equal mystery. Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted 2 both have simple stories that are told incredibly well. It is OK for stories to make sense.
Unique and Endearing Characters
Meet your hero, gamers. The modern protagonist is one of two things. Either he is a blank slate for all of us to fixate our angst, hopes and nerdy vicarious dreams upon, or he is a brunette, who’s-scruffy-looking faced smartass. Alan Wake, Nathan Drake and Cole from inFamous are all practically from the same gene pool, and there are many more inbreeds just like them populating our save files. To be clear, I’m not saying Nathan Drake is a bad character at all. He has just become the prototype of the protagonists that have followed him.
I would love to see more heroes who just didn’t fit that bill. One of the things I loved about old RPGs is the great mix and casts of characters, people that you actually cared about and wanted to see make it through their hardships. It sounds dumb, but Final Fantasy VII was the first game to show me that a video game could do this, even if Cloud was kind of a prat. It’s now over a decade later, and all of our characters fit the same stereotypes they always have. Don’t even get me started about the ways that different races are portrayed. And no, I don’t mean orcs and elves.
Give us characters that are bold, leap off the screen at us and that we’re going to remember when we’re jamming on our Playstation 6, checking out the half-tucked shirt of the next Nathan Drake look-alike.
I’m starting to run into some grammatical errors with this post. Yes, I’m saying that I want more of less realism in my game, but it’s my list, and them’s the breaks. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I remember constantly harping on this current gen for the overuse of “next-gen brown”. Drab and gritty was the new name of the game, and it showed up in all of our titles from Gears of War on down.
I get that gaming engines are more powerful than ever. But why not use those mighty hamster wheels to churn out colorful and artfully designed worlds rather than throw ourselves down into the uncanny valley? Some of the best looking games I can remember are games that really didn’t look all that wonderful in terms of polygons at the time of release. Games like Legend of Zelda or Shadow of the Colossus totally fit that bill. In terms of character design, I loved the disproportionate and more cartoony look of Final Fantasy 7 and 9. We have the ability to render things that have never before been seen, but we refuse to go there.
Earlier in this very post, I mentioned the likes of Limbo and Guardian of Light. These are two games where gameplay is absolutely king, and no button interfaces, wonky designs or complicated mechanics get in the way of all the fun that is to be had in those beautifully designed and realized games. Heck, even playing Breath of Death VII this week, which I purchased for one stinking dollar, hearkened back to a simpler time of gaming. And guess what? It was just as fun as playing Halo: Reach was. Minus the teabagging, of course.
I’m not one of those people that is going to rail on about games being too complicated, because as we’ve clearly seen, games are still wonderful even when they are complex. But that doesn’t mean that we should shy away from the simple and entertaining, the stuff that just works. 2D games, puzzles, simple top-down game layouts. All of these things are still as fun as ever to play, so we should embrace that old school flavor instead of pushing it away.
So there you have it. A list of things we need more of in gaming. Agree/disagree? Would you add anything? Go!