Things We Need More of in Gaming

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

Reach Space

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

Alan Wake

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

Nathan Drake

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.

Less Realism

Final Fantasy 9

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.


Guardian of Light

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!

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

6 thoughts on “Things We Need More of in Gaming”

  1. Totally agree with some of these. Space combat on Reach was amazing (The lead on that mission worked on Crimson Skies) and made me long for the great days of Rogue Squadron. I agree with number 2 but I still love Alan Wake. I’m also tired of the cookie cutter protagonists and games like Halo Reach (I keep mentioning it too) are doing great with the expanded color pallet and fantastic art direction. I think something we need more of are thought provoking single player only games like Bioshock and others that weave in deep philosophical undertones and outstanding characters into a 12 hour or so campaign. Less of the multiplayer is a necessity mindset.

  2. Nice post. I agree with most of those points especially the one dealing with story. Also, there is definitely room for realistic games AND fantastical games too. Bring on the fantasy!

  3. Great list man, I think you really hit a lot of points that have been bugging me as well. I grabbed a game called “VVVVV” yesterday, and man has it been fun going back to simple days again. I love me my brain breaks.

  4. Great article and well-made points.

    1) Yeah, I really enjoyed Long Night of Solace’s space combat. Plus, I loved saying “Can’t let you do that, Seraph!” every time I blew up a Seraph. I also loved Battlefield 1943’s aerial dogfights in Air Superiority mode, so I’d love see more space/air combat in games, at least if they’re done well and aren’t just Starfox clones with an inflated price. And this’ll probably never happen, but if we could have an EVE-esque MMO involving space combat (and maybe cut down on all that bewildering techno-jargon and whatnot), then that would make for a supremely awesome space game.

    2) Dun haz worriz, Eddeh! i r maek gud gaim stroeez fer u 2 injoi! Seriously though, the inbound generation of gamers who will enter the industry will definitely have some excellent talent, and I’ll be one of the (hopefully many) good writers that are in the industry. Once writers understand that a game’s story cannot conflict with the interactivity (plot-holes are inexcusable, honestly) and that they need to involve the player into the decisions, emotions, and themes that the characters experience, then I think we’ll see games that are truly works of art, and are even better than just a good game combined with a good movie that’s told in cutscenes on the side. You can have your cutscenes once in a while, but the story needs to infiltrate the gameplay as well, whether subtly or overtly.

    3) Memorable characters are something that just needs to happen correctly. It takes a lot of contemplation, story time for development, and a bit of luck to pull off a character that’s well-made and will resonate with players for years to come. I think that once writers and developers understand how to write game stories, they’ll naturally also try to expand on the conventions of the protagonist, and will create unique characters that the players can easily relate to and understand without having to rely on the blank slate or the Nathan Drake rip-off stereotypes. For one of my game concepts that I’m working on right now, I admit the protagonist is a brown-haired lightly-bearded American 20/30-year old, but he’s not a wise-cracking guy or whatnot. Frankly, the story wouldn’t tolerate the player’s proxy being wise-cracking, and he’s not too complex that players would not not really connect with him as the protagonist, while still being shaped by the story and environment into an interesting character that, therefore by experiencing the same things as the player, the player can relate to. I think that involving the character’s development and/or rationale with things the audience can experience too will make for better protagonists: when the stories really influence the character (dynamically or statically, in a flashback or throughout the game, for better or for worse), it makes the character more unique, believable, and enjoyable, and honestly it makes the whole process easier when trying to write meaningful dialogue and have the character react to events and experiences in a sensible way, as well as making it simpler for the player to sympathize and understand the character.

    4) Yeah, I am sorta getting tired of hyper-realism, and honestly that’s because of realistic shooters. It’s cool and all, but at the end of the day I want a game that functions well and, for competitive games, is well-balanced. I don’t feel like giving you guys another wall-o’-text as I bash MW2 with merciless nerd rage, so I’ll give you guys a more general breakdown:
    Graphics: I like looking at photorealistic graphics. It’s always impressive when a developer can create amazing visuals by finding the vibrant or subtle-yet-pretty colors of real life and having smooth and lifelike animations especially for dialogue scenes, but I always enjoy original art styles more, even if it is simply because the game will be more memorable when I just glance at it. What I CANNOT stand is dirty brown, gritty grey, gunmetal steel, and the occasion splatter of gory crimson colors populating an entire game’s color palette. I love ya Gears, but I don’t want to keep seeing that crap in other games. I mean I can put up with it in Gears, but it’s not a smart trend to adhere to for other games. Now, recently I’ve seen more games go for brighter and unique art styles (games like Enslaved and the game about Enoch or whatever) so that’s a nice sign that perhaps developers will go for more creative art styles and possibly even blend photorealism with unique art styles – basically having vibrant colors and interesting visuals while also having the characters and environments being textured and animated realistically.
    Gameplay Mechanics: Realism can also affect gameplay mechanics. In some cases, you can’t add a cool feature or tweak an item or ability a certain way because it wouldn’t be realistic. I wouldn’t say it’s a very common issue, but I’d rather play a game than input commands into documentary. The example I’m thinking of is really just realistic modern shooters in general. For the most part, they have to make the shotguns tear up entire rooms and the sniper rifles one-shot-kills-to-the-left-pinky-toe because that’s pretty much how they work in real life. The fact that if the UNSC from Halo faced off with the modern armies of the world, our modern world’s armies would win (considering space ships aren’t terribly effective when our armies are limited to terrestrial combat) goes to show that the weapons and equipment in Halo were made in such a way that it fit the game’s criteria for certain weapon niches and effectiveness degrees, whereas games like MW2 or BFBC2 have it so the normal assault rifle is able to kill in few well-placed shots at a wide variety of ranges – even far off, as it can in real life – and this affects how the game works altogether. Most weapons can kill in a few shots or even just one, so naturally this can make combat frustrating when your life or death is the difference of one bullet. While it’s not BAD gameplay, I personally enjoy games that have more challenge and strategy and intuitiveness than just aiming a rifle and firing a burst. This hyper-realistic modern combat style of gameplay is really the only game style that military FPS’s can have or else it’d kill the necessity to be authentic & realistic, and this is why people view FPS’s as unimaginative and repetitive. I want innovation in future games, and if that means abandoning a dead horse genre, so be it. I don’t hate military shooters, but they’ve been made to death and their gameplay is too specialized to effectively accommodate for so many different games.

    5) I agree that simplicity is usually better – whether it’s in art, writing, movies, or games. While gameplay intricacy isn’t bad by any means, when in doubt, make the game simple. You can add some cool new feature or expand the existing palette of features or items, but make sure the player is not alienated by lack of explanation or difficulty to utilize or even by its contrived implementation into the game (aka a gimmick). I don’t want games to stagnate by being overly-simple and non-innovative fixes of nostalgia and pretentiously advocate 8-bit retroculture & bare-bones gameplay design, so innovation should always be valued even if it does complicate the game a little; just remember: all in moderation. Create a foundation of simplicity and familiarity so players can start from somewhere when they begin the game, and then add more layers. Incorporate new features seemlessly, perfect established features, and engage the player in this new experience.

    Phhheeewww. Well you guys certainly know how to squeeze walls-o’-text from me. I really do like explaining my ideas in depth to you guys because you’re worth it. 😀

  5. Space combat a million times over. How do we not have a new X-Wing game? Sure, Rogue Leader was shit, but that’s because someone thought it would be a great idea to have ground combat. The Old Republic has spaceships, but in rail-shooter segments.

    Listen, I would pay out the ass for a new X-Wing game. Just remake the first one and I will be happy.

    As for new protagonists, I am a sarcastic guy with short brown hair and stubble. Why do you hate my generic looking brethren? Is non-denominational Western looking white male not good enough for you?

  6. The last time I had fun on a space combat game was Starlancer for the Dreamcast (I didn’t play the Gamecube Rogue Squadron games) and I miss that particular genre as well. How can somebody not be working on a Wing Commander reboot? What happened to all those licenses?

    I really agree with the comment about better stories. Do developers even bother to hire dedicated writers or do they just let the programmers and artists flesh out the game’s story in their spare time? Obviously games with a ton of dialogue (ie-any Bioware game) employ actual writers, but I’ve always gotten the impression that most games are not written by professional writers and that’s why they usually seem like mediocre to bad fan fiction.

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