It’s just going in circles.
I don’t know why, but recently I just haven’t been able to enjoy games unless they’ve got a good storyline. Not games that boast a neat mechanic with a pathetic plot line tacked on to try and provide some kind of reason for the game to progress from scene to scene.
For once I’ve had enough of them.
And yes, I can see that most of you probably won’t have. You probably still enjoy your Marios and your Guitar Heroes, your Burnouts and your Super Meat Boys, your Worms and your Tribes, but I just can’t any more. Maybe it is because as a poor student I have been reduced to playing more Flash games than real games, or maybe it comes from just having brothers and friends who are really into all the storyless, feature-rich grab bags of games that are out at the moment; but I find myself longing for a good story to be told. More and more I find myself agreeing with Levine and seeing games as devices in which a story can be told and an opinion expressed rather than simply a couple of hours of play.
However, my opinion is wrong in this case and I know it!
There are plenty of good games out there which don’t tell stories particularly well and yet are genuinely very good; I’m just not enjoying them at the moment.
So I have turned to the genres of action and adventure. I’ve hankered after Skyrim, experienced Assassin’s Creed and keep checking the release date for Risen 2 because I can not wait to play that game. Looking at myself, I guess I’ve become a little obsessed. However, playing some good storytelling games has really sated my appetite for some decent narrative games (or at least has begun to). Unfortunately for them, my playing of them has brought them under scrutiny from my quarter as well.
And there is one factor of these games that the prevalence of which really niggles at me.
Forcefields and aquagenic urticaria.
Yes, that is right. The fact is that no matter how much of an interesting back story characters seem to have or how much writers conversely attempt to leave characterisation up to us, the protagonist of almost every one of these games has a real problem with walking into invisible walls or being highly allergic to water or, in some cases, both. Games which are built around storytelling, like Fable III for instance, suffer from this all the time and it is intensely frustrating (Fable III going as far to place invisible walls in the ocean).
In games like Mario Kart 7 or Tribes: Ascend this is understandable and in fact it is completely acceptable. These games don’t ever pretend or attempt to tell an engaging story so it doesn’t matter. Their merits aren’t found in clever metaphors and ingenious plot twists but in the action and game mechanics and so this is fine. What does it matter if Yoshi drowns if he strays too far from the track despite his Kart blatantly being able to drive under water, or if a Diamond Sword teammate is prevented from running too far from the battle in Tribes?
Answer: It doesn’t.
In fact, these aren’t annoyances but features in games like this, they allow the action to continue and remain fast paced and enjoyable. That is just good design.
But what starts as good design in games less orientated around story just becomes lazy design in ones with a strong narrative.
The main problem lies in the fact that the creators of games like Fable or Assassin’s Creed, or Overlord and a plethora of other games, made the decision to make the games revolve around a story. The plot then becomes as much a feature of the game as any other mechanic and so is integral to play. The appearance of forcefields and aquagenic urticaria in a game and having no place in the storyline effectively means that one of your features (i.e. the plot) is at best incomplete and at worst broken as these devices have no place in the in game world.
“Ah ha” game developers may argue. “But they are just as required as in Mario Kart or Tribes, we don’t want people straying away from features like storylines and they allow us to prevent this.”
Well sure, I accept that you don’t want people wandering away from the story as much as the fact that you don’t have the time, nor the energy, nor the disk size to create a fully imagined world for your computer game, but that is still no excuse. The brilliant JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles boasted no invisible walls or instant water deaths and it seemed to manage all right. The fact that it was boasting of this feature though, shows a sorry state of affairs when not being broken counts as a plus for a game. If anything, this should be a generally accepted standard, not an exception to the rule!
All that is required is a little imagination and there are many ways to work around the problems presented by wanting to ensure that players stay within a certain area without compromising your storyline. Add a mountain, build a wall, bend the rules of space and time so that the further out they swim the closer they actually get to land. You’re making a video game for goodness sake, you control the code!
What I’m saying is that there is no excuse in otherwise well thought out and compelling games to have problems like this purposely built into the game.
Still, now that I’ve made my point I still have to say that I’ve enjoyed my stint with adventure games over the last few weeks (or is it months now?).
I’m sure I’ll tire of them soon and switch back to RTS and sports games but until that happens I’d quite like to see these games which I currently love improve in ways that are all too easy to implement.