A Gamer's Manifesto

A Gamer's Manifesto
$600 is a lot of money. And by the time I've bought my PS3 and all the accessories and a couple games and a big-ass TV that can properly display them, I'm down for four times that amount. Enough to eat breakfast and lunch for a year. Enough to get a used car that runs. We've put the money down, but now we've got a few demands:

1. Give us A.I. that will actually outsmart us now and then.

Look at the little guy. The one on the left. The one who's just a head.

I mean, let's face it: strategy is all that guy's got going for him. He has no limbs and he's already on fire.

Yet, in Doom III, the bad guys were flailing at us with the same straight-line Ulysses S. Grant calvary charge that failed them twelve years earlier in Doom. Far Cry had bad guys that went into spinning seizures when they got confused; Crysis is better, yet enemies will still stand stupidly by while their friends are gunned down in their field of vision.

These days we get so overjoyed every time an enemy actually shoots from cover in a game that we forgive the fact that real, advanced A.I. is as much an unfulfilled promise as the flying car. Where are the FPS bad guys who can adapt their strategy on the fly? Enemies who themselves have six different guns and switch up according to what the situation calls for? Bad guys who work in teams, who strategize, who create diversions to distract you? Where's the enemy Solid Snake who sneaks up on you with the silence of a ninja's church fart?

"Do NOT duck inside those doors, men! Honorable warriors need no cover!"

Chances of that happening...

Almost zero. One, there's more and more focus on multiplayer for this sort of game. This takes some of the pressure off programmers because in multiplayer, other humans supply their own A.I. Even the ones who are complete morons.

Two, as developers have lamented, the guts of the new consoles are geared to make the gaming equivalent of dumb blondes. It has to do with the fact that both the XBox 360 and the PS3's Cell CPU use "in-order" processing, which, to greatly simplify, means they've intentionally crippled the ability to make clever A.I. and dynamic, unpredictable, wide-open games in favor of beautiful water reflections and explosion debris that flies through the air prettily.

That means a generation of games will likely play just like the last generation. Only shiny.

2. Don't bullshit me about your graphics

How can there still be gamers taken in by EXCLUSIVE SCREENSHOTS of games that are obviously taken from cutscenes and have NO connection with what the actual game will look like? I blame the developers formerly known as Square for this. They're the ones who, back in the day, ran their entire ad campaign for Final Fantasy VIII with shots like this:

...for a game that looked like this:

Now, that was a great game and the actual game looked fine for its time. But stop treating us like morons. Yet, when the 360 arrived years later, sites were trumpeting "EXCLUSIVE SCREENSHOTS OF PERFECT DARK!!!" that looked like this:


Wow! This must be one of those new second-person shooters we've been hearing about where you spend the whole game
looking at the hero's fucking eye.
Because surely from now on they'll demonstrate the awesomeness of their game only with shots from the game, right?

Chances of that happening...

...are directly proportional to whether or not you'll stop falling for it.

3. Nipples?

Speaking of adult games, where are they? Politicians bemoan the bloodthirsty horror of video games, but really the standards are almost Victorian when compared to R-rated Hollywood fare such as Sin City and Kill Bill and Cinemax's Voyeur Safari IV: Dildo Island. You get a little harsh language and some comic-booky sprays of gore, but that's about it. There is an "AO" (Adults Only) ESRB rating for games, but when is the last time you saw it?

We're not for speeding the moral degradation of the modern world, but imagine a Hollywood where only PG-13 movies could get made. Say goodbye to everything from Shindler's List to The Matrix.

Chances of that happening...

We've got one hyphenated word for you: Wal-Mart. The largest game seller in the world simply won't stock games with the "AO" rating. Period. So those games won't sell and developers won't make them. So until they invent new and varied and Wal-Martless ways to sell the games, we're stuck with the AO games found only in our fantasies.

4. And on the opposite side of the nipple coin...

Developers will be shocked one day when they notice that the world is full of women. It's true! More than half of your potential customer base are penisless. They have money. They like doing fun things. And yet, how do you think they feel when they play a game where the heroine looks like this:

Yeah, that's what she wears into battle. Thong-length kimono, no bra for those flopping DDD breasts.

And this is years after analysts told developers that women would happily play games if they didn't feel so objectified by them, and several decades past the point where they should have even needed to be told that. Have you guys ever met a woman? Then why don't you try making just a few games that don't play off of a 14 year-old male's idea of womanhood on the apparent hope that he'll play the game one-handed?

Chances of that happening...

Sadly, the proven money-making designers in the industry are the same ones that have given us Dead Or Alive Beach Volleyball and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (where the main character rampages though a city populated with violent men and sex-crazed street whores). As it turns out, they're all men. The female demographic is seen as something that can be "targeted" by adding features to existing games, such as in-game clothes shopping, in-game makeup application and in-game cute animal pets. Game creators aren't just casually missing the point, they're showing a unified front of stupidity.

There is hope however. Like all industry, it is inevitable that females will eventually forge their place in the world of game design. The female designers will burst on the scene soon enough, heaving their giant bosoms of talent and creativity and brandishing their black thongs of diversity.

5. Don't bullshit us on the difficulty

Gradually tougher enemies, more enemies, mind-bending puzzles, it's all good. It's all fair. But DO NOT try to artificially make your game harder with:

Arbitrary triggers in RPG's. Why isn't the Dark Elf waiting at the Black Temple like he said? Because I haven't talked to every fucking person in town yet. Can we at least write in some kind of actual cause and effect here that might make some kind of actual sense to me? Because I don't get any sense of reward or accomplishment by randomly activating subroutines via mind-numbing repetition.

Ammo starvation. I'm looking at you, Resident Evil series. I have a gun. LET ME USE IT. Don't pretend your game is "challenging" because you only give me four bullets to kill eight zombie dogs with.

Confusing, mapless floor plans. Did you remember when you were a kid and you got bored on weekends, how you would go to a large building, a hotel or a hospital, then wander around for several hours looking for a certain room? While zombies attacked you? Neither do we. That's because, much to the surprise of FPS game makers everywhere, wandering around lost in hallways isn't fun.

If you game wizards are so proud of your sprawling levels and alternate routes, GIVE ME A MAP OF THE LEVEL. If I'm not playing to have fun, then why the fuck do you think I'm playing?

Instant-Failure Stealth Levels. Ack. This brings back horrible decade-old memories of a Goldeneye level where if you tripped an alarm, an infinite number of bad guys poured forth. We knew a man who failed that level 37 times, then got the Infinite Health cheat for it and came back. He intentionally tripped the alarm, the guards rushed out. Laughing maniacally, he proceeded to shoot those fuckers for four hours, killing 1,183 of them - 682 with groin shots - before his thumbs cramped up. Your game should not create this kind of bitterness.

Unnecessarily difficult end levels. I've worked for 50 hours to get to this point in the game. Don't make me watch the "Loading..." screen and then the fucking climactic cutscene 75 times, once for each attempt to beat the last boss. And don't make the method of attack so fucking obscure and specific that nothing short of a trip to GameFaqs will get me through it. Talk about killing immersion...

Speed Cheating. That miraculous burst of catch-up speed from your opponents. CPU tacklers and recievers do it in Madden. I'm also looking at you, every racing game ever made.

Hard games are fine. We like a challenge. But be fair about it.

Chances of that happening...

Remember that all of this is a method for extending the life of a too-short game. So ask yourself this: do games seem to be getting longer, or shorter? And as games get more expensive to produce, do you expect them to have more levels, or fewer?

The shorter the games, the more they're tempted try to extend the playing experience via arbitrary, infuriating obstacles.

6. Don't bullshit us on the game's features

"Marine, we need you to head to the depths of the compound to rescue a scientist that is being held hostage by Satan and his manyfold minions. Here's your pistol and eight rounds of ammunition. Good luck."

What law says I have to start out the game with none of the fun shit promised on the box art? Again, is this not just a cheap way of extending the life of the game? In FPS games built entirely on the anticipation of using gigantic, phallic-symbol weapons, why not start me out with a damned machine gun and 200 rounds of ammo and go up from there?

Racing games pull this, too. Why do I have to spend 40 hours driving a minivan just to get enough money to buy a Honda Civic? Why can't I have access to all of the content right away? What if I don't feel any satisfaction in "unlocking" the game features I already paid real-life money for and just want to fucking race the Ferrari on the box art!

Chances of that happening...

See #6. Though I want to give a shout out to the Metroid Prime games for giving us infinite ammo on the default gun. Think about how your life would have been different if your gun had never run out of bullets, my friend. You wouldn't be in that Mexican jail right now, I can tell you that.

How in the name of Islamic Fonzie did we ever let games get away with "Loading..." screens? The Gamecube didn't even have those, not on the games made by Nintendo. Hell, the 8-bit NES didn't have load screens 20 years ago. Our favorite TV shows don't load. DVD movies don't load between scenes. The animals at the zoo don't load.

Yes, the hardware can do it. But developers don't think it's important.

Think of it this way. When you're bored at work, what do you play? Solitaire. Why? Because you don't have to spend 5 minutes looking for a CD-ROM, 5 minutes watching corporate logos and 5 minutes watching load screens. You click and you play.

Game designers: We're really busy. Lots of us got kids now, and second jobs and mistresses on the side. You want to sell your console games to the millions of people who are lucky to get 30 uninterrupted minutes to play a game? Fix this first.

Chances of that happening...

The problem is a little thing we like to call copy protection. Even the consoles with hard drives won't let us install the game on there, for fear of us then passing the disc on to a friend (especially if said "friend" works the return counter at the store we bought the game from). But surely the video game industry will have to find another way, because every time I see a load screen, I alllllmost have time to start reading a book.

This is why the Wii is sucking away all your market share, guys. They've built it with no-commitment, click-and-play games in mind.

8. No more save points.

When we're on our deathbeds, we're going to wish we could reclaim the time we spent wandering around for save points long after we were done playing every night. Imagine if your word processing program did this, refusing to let you save your progress until you typed six more paragraphs. Or, made you retype your last paragraph six times while zombies tried to shoot your cursor...

The analogy sort of breaks down there, but the point is we shouldn't ever see a "save point" in a game again. Limited saves were invented for consoles that didn't have the memory to let you "quicksave" (where you can save at any time, any where, with one keystroke like on a PC). To keep that physical limitation and pretend it's a gameplay element is like Superman 64 claiming its programmers' inability to render any background scenery was "Kryptonite Fog."

There is not one single reason in the known universe for even one more game where the save point is ten motherfucking minutes away from the boss, forcing me to fight my way down the same hallway each of the 62 attempts it takes me to beat the guy (I'm looking at you, Metroid Prime).

Chances of that happening...

The XBox port of Doom III let you quicksave. It can be done, at least for those of us with hard drives. Surely the gaming industry will hear our concerns and act accordingly!

9. Immersion and the invisible hand of God

If pretty graphics are king, it's time to remember what pretty graphics are for: immersion.

Immersion means soothing to sleep the part of our brain that remembers we're not intergalactic bounty hunters or world-class athletes. And that part of us is rudely jostled awake when our snowboarder bounces off an invisible wall in midair...

Boink. Wait a second! I'm a virgin!

...because he strayed from the race area. I understand you can't have infinite space, guys surfing right off the mountain and taking a snowboard tour of Asia. But put a cliff there. Cliffs are solid. Empty air is not solid.

Almost every game does this. In the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King game there's actually a "run out of a crumbling building" level where stones rain down on your head and block your path. So the biggest difficulty in the level is that you can't jump over a knee-high stone because THERE IS NO FUCKING JUMPING IN THE GAME.

Game makers: it doesn't have to be a jumping game for you to give the characters the basic ability to jump low obstacles that all humans have. And when I walk up to little ledges that are 10-inches off the ground, a ledge a toddler could crawl over, and you arbitrarily don't let me pass because it's not a jumping game, you remind me of what I'm really doing: playing a game. We're to the stage where it should be a minimum requirement in the game universe: rock should act like rock, air should act like air and humans should move like humans.

Chances of that happening...

The new hardware can certainly handle it; realistic physics are part of the chunky graphics stew the new games are so good at brewing. This should only get better, unless, as I suspect, the game makers secretly hate us.

10. And while we're at it...

Let's rid games of all arbitrary barriers.

Don't show my character casting magic meteors that smash mountains in one scene and in the next send me all over the dungeon trying to find a single key to a rickety wooden door that looks like it could be knocked in with a strong shoulder. Make it a magic door, a huge door, fine, but don't make it an arbitrary door that only remains closed because that's what the plot requires.

Also, don't have me toting around 500 pounds of high explosives, 2 different kinds of missile launchers and a nuclear fusion cannon and still make almost every pane of glass I come across totally unbreakable. It was cute that I could shoot Coke cans off the tables in Doom III. But then I shoot the magazine sitting next to it and it doesn't even show scuff marks. Give me environments that realistically react to what I do! Yes, it matters. It's immersion, bitch!

Chances of that happening...

Actually, pretty good. The fact is that breaking glass looks very pretty in a game and it undeniably appeals to the vandal that lurks in the heart of every single teenage boy. Realistic models of entire houses instead of say, just a hallway, are entirely possible now. And that impassible, rickety old door way will soon be the high-resolution, animated, magical force field (a feature that already appeared in Half Life 2, thank you very much).


11. And while we're still at it...

...Let's ban all IAC's (Immersion-annihilating contrivances). These include:

Superimposing shit on the screen. And by "shit" we mean "words." Fatal Frame 2 was one of the most awesomely atmospheric games ever made... until you took a snapshot of the second ghost and the words "CORE SHOT: 396pts!" popped up. Spooooooky!

"Mr. Frodo! Is that you behind ORC HEWER?"

"Cinematic" camera angles. No, thank you. Understand that we need to see what our character sees. As soon as you start panning the camera around Mario for no better reason than to see the pretty sunset on the distance, we lose control. And here's another tip: If you have a single level where the player's character is required to run toward the camera, send the fucker back for more programming because you're not done yet.

Shitty voice acting. When it's good it's great, when it's bad it will haunt your nightmares for years
. Isn't the world full of unemployed actors willing to do voice work in exchange for food or, you know, Heroin? "Do it with feeling this time, Cody, and I'll make the spiders in your brain go away!"

Chances of that happening...

The cameras in 3D games have actually gotten worse (Mario Sunshine's camera system wasn't half as smooth as Mario 64's, for instance) because in the game-making world camera and player controls are decided-on after the game's pretty artwork. When 3D games were new the only question was, "how can we make the controls as responsive and fluid as 2D?" Now it's, "how can we show off these really cool-looking trees? That's what the little sons of bitches care about!"

In short, the first 3D games were designed around their cameras, now they're designed around their graphics.

As far as shitty voice acting, one, voice acting doesn't sell games. Both Eternal Darkness and Grim Fandango had wonderful acting, with accents and everything. Combined, those two games sold 278 copies. So if we really care that the rendered dragon in the cutscene sounded suspiciously like a high school drama student, we're not showing it in our buying decisions.

Also, remember that these cutscenes have to be dubbed in several languages (English and Japanese at the very least) and it's done with ONE set of animated lips. They don't re-draw the whole damned thing just to dub it. So you get the awkward situation where the poor voice actor is trying to match the lip movements to a line that was animated in Japanese and that's probably even harder than it sounds.

12. Seriously, get rid of the crates

The crate has long been held up as an example of lazy game art design, a crutch that game level decorators have been falling back on for fifteen damned years. Come to think of it, have you ever actually seen one of those wooden crates in real life? And did you smash it to see if there were bullets and medicine inside?

But here we use the crate as a symbol for all lazy, recycled game design. Of course there's some innovative stuff out there...

...but for every one of those, there seem to be 30 games that are, for instance, set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic future. I understand that lots of game designers remember the futuristic cyborg movies of their childhood. But remember the only reason those films took place in an apocalyptic future is because it was cheaper to film in a burned-out factory than to build actual futuristic sets.

Games should have no such limitation. Use your imagination, guys.

Chances of that happening...

Well, the technology really is getting amazing now. Look at how gorgeous the textures are on this shot from Half Life 2:

I mean, that's actual wood grain there. That looks like you could reach out and actually get a splinter from that crate. And look at Quake 4 for the 360:

I mean, that crate has been upgraded with a wicked-awesome skull on it. Though I guess it could just be a box full of skulls.

13. Stop the Short-Sighted Business Bullshit

Patents. Did you know there's a patent held by some microscopic software company on spherical camera controls in realtime 3D, and they're starting to level lawsuits against EVERYONE? Did you ever wonder what happened to force feedback, controllers that push your hands around so you can feel the action in the game as well as see it (we're talking real force feedback, not controllers that vibrate like pagers)? Somebody has a patent, that's what. Did you know you can't have mini-games during a loading screen because of patent law?

Exclusive sports licenses. Say goodbye to NFL football anywhere but with EA. That's right, they signed a deal with the NFL saying nobody could make games but them. So every other pro football game, including Sega's, will be back to using fictional teams so get ready to play as the Dallas Zombies with all-star QB Cletus Fuckhat.

Cashing in on Crappy Genre Knockoffs. For every Grand Theft Auto, there is a Driv3r. For every Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic there is a Fight Club: Soup Befouler. This is no joke. A movie goer will bitch about a movie he "wasted" seven bucks on. But to leave $55 at the game store and find out you got a knockoff turd in return? That's some serious customer dissatisfaction, my friends. And it will bite the industry in the ass some day, unless somebody wakes up.

Chances of that happening...

Excellent. I like to think that some day the businesses of the world will wake up and realize they're part of a greater whole, that the energy devoted to cannabalistic infighting means ultimate doom for all. The leaders of the great religions of the world will realize that all of us, Muslim, Christian, Jew, all want the same for humanity. Women will realize it's the pale, studious type they want instead of the quarterback of the football team, and everywhere we walk, bunnies will dance a path for us. Dance, little guys! Dance!

14. Don't use the online capability as an excuse to release broken games

The first time we hear the word "patch" in relation to a PS3 or XBox 360 game, we're taking the console back to the store. Filled with our shit.

But surely the console industry, always more business savvy than their PC counterparts, will avoid making us gamers their unpaid beta testers.

Chances of that happening...

...again depends on how many turd-filled consoles they get stuck with. In other words, the consumer always gets exactly what they'll put up with.

15. Don't use online play as an excuse to bleed us dry

Imagine a world where games are streamed to your console seamlessly and quickly, never having to leave your home to buy or rent games, never a worry about games being out of stock, never having to line up outside of a store at midnight dressed like Samus to get the next hot title. Now imagine developers releasing games a few levels at a time and charging you for each. Imagine games released in "chapters" where you never get to play the final level because the first levels didn't sell well enough.

Awesome! The same CNN story quoted above says:

"Microsoft also plans to greatly expand its online network in its next generation, letting players and developers form their own marketplace, selling in-game content for real-world cash via small micro-transactions. Racing game enthusiasts, for example, will be able to buy a faster car to give them an edge in the game for a slight bit more..."

Finally, we can have a game world where, like the real world, the rich kids have all of the cool stuff! While you're fighting for 50 hours on an XBox roleplaying game to get the +50 Magical Shield of Shielding, some snotty kid just went out and bought one with real-world money thanks to his $150.00 weekly allowance from Daddy!

Chances of that happening...

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