7 BS Gaming Traditions That We Put Up With
Game developers are overworked, underappreciated folks with little job security, and the following flaws and odious mechanics are in no way all their fault. In many cases, the fault is ours for demanding things never change.
As a support group, can we talk about the industry we all know and love? There's some BS we really gotta address, and the first step in resolving a crisis is admitting there is a problem ...
WASD Is Lousy and Outdated
PC fans love to brag, but hardware benefits aside, they are burdened with one sacred cow that is a vestige of a bygone time. That being the PC-default WASD set up. Unlike console controllers, PC's main input device was clearly not designed for monster slashing.
Crammed into the unholy left side of the keyboard, hemmed in by an oversized-space bar, your hand is stuck in no man's land next to tilde, tab, caps lock, and shift (not to forget the utterly useless fn key on laptops), which can't always be remapped even when using third-party rebinding software. Control is hidden out of view, and, god forbid, you accidentally brush the Windows key while trying to hit aim or you pop up the start menu.
In defense of the random guy who popularized it, you only needed seven buttons in 1997. Good for him. Today, the number of keys necessary to memorize is closer to 60.
Simply moving WASD over to the right, to RDFG or YGHJ, you double the number of usable buttons within fingers' reach, ideal for hotkeys without taking your eyes off the screen. Are video game companies encouraging that? Nope. And, in the cases of beloved games The Walking Dead or Dead Rising 2, they don't allow you to rebind. It's easier to hack NSA files than a Capcom game's config.ini.
Boss Fights Are an Afterthought for Most Game Devs, and It Shows
Comprised of gimmicks, stun attacks, and repetitive, one-kill strikes, your best bet against bosses is abusing cheap attacks and exploiting the terrain. If they cheese combat, why can't we? Simply put, bosses are usually the low point of video games.
Sure, FPS classics invented a new genre and popularized online gaming, but with it came mind-numbing final battles: circle strafing (DOOM), leisurely walking in circles (Quake), or jumping in circles (Half-Life). ID Software's map designer straight up copied the building plans of his local YMCA jogging track when he made the underwhelming Chthon, reimagining the basketball court full of old men as a pit of lava:
If only getting an open court on a Tuesday was that easy.
Post-2000, creators were fixated on the glowing orange spot. You roll around for five minutes learning a telegraphed attack, rinse and repeat. Deus Ex: Human Revolution's devs couldn't be bothered, outsourcing boss battles to outsiders while they focused on the real game. Fans complained because it broke their pacifist build, not because it was a super-generic boss battle. We were already too numb to care. By 2010, game devs grew enamored with quick-time events, running those into the ground too. The dull yet infuriating two-minute-long button-mashing fests felt more like a stenographer gig.
Admittedly, Shadow of the Colossus and Dragon's Dogma incorporated intriguing twists. Though, at its core, the concept has not discernably advanced in 30 years since Mecha Hitler collapsed into a pile of goo in Wolfenstein.
Contextual Controls Destroy Immersion
Over time, controls have grown less intuitive and less empowering. Take 2016's Hitman. You can scale cliffsides and climb downspouts, but only if the game tells you to. Want improvised platforming without the game nudging you toward a set piece, leading you by the nose? Too bad; your feet are glued to the ground unless programmed otherwise. You can't jump because you aren't provided a dedicated jump button, taunting you with Mario and Luigi cosplay outfits to rub it in:
Developers once strived for meaningful interaction, janky as it was, compare that to Spec Ops: The Line, where you can't fart without a screen prompt. Do you know what's better than being told to hit x to enter a code? Finding and entering the code manually. Do you know what's better than having one button to perform three tasks? Three buttons to perform three separate tasks. Or, perhaps you like accidentally climbing a building while sprinting after a target in Assassin's Creed games. Just kidding, no one likes any part of AC's tailing missions.
Shenmue is an exception. But outside of Sleeping Dog's hilarious executions …
… the whole prompt shtick rarely translates successfully to other IP because a meme memorializing your shoe-horned mechanics does not count as "success." The greatest use of button prompts in any game is, ironically, a practical joke lampooning them.
Savor that thought the next time a game barks at you, Hit E to "jump in mass grave."
Waves are the Worst Way to Create Difficulty
Half-Life and F.E.A.R. were renown for brilliant AI, baddies screaming panicky obscenities at each other and retreating in confusion. Instead of forcing a tactical approach to combat, waves are all about quantity, not quality -- quality being an alien concept to AAA studios nowadays.
What works in Space Invaders doesn't work with a third-person shooter, infinitely-spawning cannon fodder feeling more like a glitch than gameplay. While we're on the subject of arcade games, Pac-Man remarkably has more sophisticated AI than Metal Gear Survive, where enemies amble forward blindly, programmed to absorb attacks like a punching bag.
With waves comes the obligatory headache that is arbitrary spawn points. Skillfully done, endless mobs are a slight annoyance, enemies arriving orderly in helicopters, motorcycles, or cars, etc. Badly done, it looks like Cyberpunk or Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, reinforcements spawning out of nowhere like clowns jumping out of an invisible VW Beetle when you turn your back, or worse, they materialize out of thin air in the form of an acid flashback:
This upbeat Nazi-killing game has suddenly taken a disturbing turn into a Keith Richards' daily-life simulator.
Starting Weapons Don't Have to Suck
Carved in stone somewhere is the rule that the first weapon you get must be garbage, immediately to be ditched. Jedi Knight II: Outcast took it to the extreme, with every weapon that isn't the lightsaber being a steaming pile of shit (and you had to wait three freakin' hours to get it).
DOOM is fun ... just not when you're using the pistol. If you shoot something in the head five times and the enemy is still alive, the concept of a gun has failed. Our hearts go out to anyone who suffered through the Makarov in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy, or was forced to use this monstrosity when out of shotgun ammo:
Less deadly a weapon than a very impractical fly swatter.
Say it can't be done? How about an OP crowbar? Or a bow and arrow that shoots ropes to climb, exploding arrows to kill, moss arrows for stealth, and water arrows to short-out armored robots? Dead Space's starting implement, the Plasma Cutter, can be upgraded to the point that you can complete the whole game with it. The sledgehammer in Red Faction: Guerilla – a multipurpose, incredibly fun, and satisfying tool -- is a beast you will never want to put down:
To a man with a hammer on Mars, everything looks like a nail.
So, developers, skip the butter knife or water pistol. We play games to enjoy our free time, not waste it.
Level Gating is a Con Job
Anyone who's played The Division is intimately familiar with level gating. Progress is tied to how much damage you've inflicted, and content gets locked off until you farm XP to increase a convoluted gear score, turning a hobby into a job.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint, made by the same company that designed The Division (Ubisoft), picked up and ran with this stat-based mechanic from hell. The numerical difference morphs your assault rifle into a pea shooter as soon as you cross an imaginary line. Why would an arbitrary level difference render bullets fired from the same model gun less powerful when fired at the same enemies? Good question. The answer is simple: microtransactions. Makes you pine for the halcyon days when GTA cordoned off the map with easily bypassed obstacles.
When cheat-spawning tanks was synonymous with fun, not someone hacking multiplayer.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla's appeal soured quickly when players discovered that it too turned into a grindfest, similar to its predecessor, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, chocked with suggested experience levels to enter new parts of the map and microtransactions to save time. Hmm, another extortionate Ubisoft game. What are the odds?
The 4K vs 60 FPS Ultimatum is a Lopsided Trade-off
Big-budget publishers push graphics at the cost of everything else, framerate hardest hit. 4K, while nice to look at when there is no motion whatsoever on-screen, sucks up resources that promote throttling. Erratic FPS can directly affect your input and don't think developers don't know. The sad reality is that there's hardware enough for a decent frame rate and nice graphics.
Should you scoff that a stable framerate is not as important, we respectfully disagree. Try looking at a racing game in 1080p and see for yourself if you'd rather have 60 or 30 frames a second ... or in 4k and a frame drop to 15FPS:
All the beauty of hi-res graphics, with the framerate of your great grandma's zoetrope.
In an act of bad faith, 4K was intentionally misnamed to fool consumers into thinking that it is quadruple the quality of 1080. The marketing worked. The result being the standard FPS for console games for the foreseeable future remains a choppy 30 frames per second. An industry that hypes games on fake cinematic trailers doesn't see that as a problem. It's a selling point. Prerendered clips sell games.
Don't fret. Take a cue from Sony. Instead of thinking of stuttering as a hindrance, think of it as an extra second or two to appreciate stunning photorealism.
Top image: Square Enix