It’s 2012. Our cell phones are more intelligent than us, we can download more hours of pornography than there are hours in our lives, and flying cars are right around the corner (maybe). And yet video games still have the same flaws they’ve had for years. Flaws that should have been fixed long ago, like…
10. Not Letting Us Pause Cutscenes
Quick, grab your DVD player remote. Go ahead and get it from the other room if you have to, we’ll wait. No, don’t tell us you don’t own a DVD player. Go buy one and put the frigging remote in your hand. We’re not finishing this list until you do.
…okay, got it? Do you recognize the pause button? Of course you do, you use it all the time. Unless you’re a game developer, that is. To them it’s like an indecipherable Egyptian hieroglyphic.
Sometimes things happen during cutscenes, game developers. The phone rings, or we need a bathroom break, or that guy we keep locked in our basement makes a break for it. If we can pause the game at literally any other moment, why do you insist on holding us captive for the cutscenes?
What’s worse is that if you can’t pause them, you can’t skip them. So every time a boss fight ends with him ripping your spleen out through your mouth you have to listen to his five-minute evil speech before trying again.
There’s no excuse for that. Game developers don’t have to overcome some great technological hurdle to add pause and skip buttons. They don’t have to hire a specialist, or slay a lion in hand to claw combat. They just have to not be lazy.
Now, there is one “valid” reason cutscenes can’t be skipped, but it’s really just a different brand of stupid. We’re talking about…
9. Using Quick Time Events
Once upon a time, quick time events (where you have to quickly press a button that pops up during a cutscene) were a novel idea. They added variety to games, in small doses.
But, much like how it’s okay to eat a spoonful of whipped cream but not okay to spray an entire can into your mouth, QTEs have become overused. Now gamers can fight their way through hordes of zombies, terrorists, or dreaded zombie terrorists, only to get stuck in a cutscene because they can’t press Y fast enough. So they have to sit through the same scene over and over until them enter a dozen random buttons, all the while wishing they were shooting zombies instead. We want to play Zombie Terrorist Murder 4, not freaking Bop It.
The theory behind QTEs is that they force gamers to pay attention to cutscenes, but all we’re paying attention to is how much we suddenly hate the game. We’re certainly not enjoying the scenes—there could be a lesbian orgy onscreen and we’d be too busy trying to anticipate when the next button will pop up to appreciate it.
And then God of War 3 actually did that, and it was retarded.
QTEs are rarely hard, but if it only takes one mistake before you’re forced to start over then eventually you’re going to screw up. And there’s nothing less fun than having to sit through the same cutscene again and again, growing more frustrated each time you fail. At least some game developers are finding innovative ways to use them:
8. Making Us Waste Our Time
The millions of gamers who played L.A. Noire happily examined crime scenes, interrogated suspects and swapped lead with criminals. What didn’t make them happy was searching every square inch of 1940s Los Angeles for hidden film reels. These collectables, which only existed for the sake of being collected, were rightfully ignored by the vast majority of gamers. So why were they even there?
It seems you can’t make an open world game without hiding countless flags or pigeons or dildos for gamers to hunt down. But how many people actually bother with them, and out of those people how many don’t use a guide? And out of them, how many have a mental disorder?
These collectables are frustrating because there’s no need for them to be pointless. Make flags in Assassin’s Creed unlock concept art. If we shoot every pigeon in Grand Theft Auto IV, send us a live pigeon in the mail. Hold our families hostage until we find every film reel. Do something to motivate us.
At least they’re optional, so we can’t complain too much. But we can complain about games that force us to waste our time. The latest Zelda game, Skyward Sword, makes gamers perform more tedious errands than they have to run in real life. The recent Resident Evil: Revelations, has players run back and forth through its cruise ship setting so many times they’ll be able to draw a map of it from memory. It’s okay to be a little lazy, game developers, but do you have to be so transparent about it?
7. Not Letting Us Save When We Want
Hardcore gamers would love nothing more than to be able to play for hours at a time. But life gets in the way—jobs have to be attended, errands have to be run and child services gets uppity if you don’t feed your kids every day. The good times have to end.
Only they can’t end, because the game’s save points are stretched further apart than Siberian prison camps, forcing you to keep playing so you don’t lose your progress. You’re not having any fun and your kids won’t shut up about their rumbling tummies, but you just grit your teeth and push forward because you’d lose even more progress if you quit now. The next thing you know, it’s three in the morning and, when you get home from work early because you were fired for sleeping on the job, you discover your children are now wards of the state.
You don’t want that, do you, game developers? No? So then let us save our freaking games whenever we want to.
Now before you run off to the comments section and complain that anyone who can’t handle the challenge of sparse save points sucks at video games, consider this. First, nobody cares. Maybe you’re better at video games than we are, but we’re probably better at holding down jobs and contributing to society. So get over yourself.
Second, there are ways to do this without making a game too easy. Let us suspend gameplay, so we can quit whenever we want; but send us back to a checkpoint if we die. That way the nerds can still brag about how extreme they are, and the rest of us can ignore them and go on with our lives. Everyone wins!
6. Having Brain-Dead Enemies
Video game technology has advanced by leaps and bounds—except in the area of artificial intelligence, where enemies are as brain dead as they’ve ever been. Skyrim is the perfect example. It’s a complex RPG where gamers must think carefully about how they develop and play their character. It’s also a game where every enemy has the mental capacity of a goldfish that’s suffered head trauma.
Yes, you just saw someone evade detection by hiding right in front of his enemies. And in Skyrim, that’s nothing. Imagine you come across two bandits. You hide in the shadows and kill one with your bow. The other will ask “Is someone there?” and glance around the room for all of ten seconds. Then he’ll decide he must have been imagining things, and he’ll stand next to the body of his fallen comrade like nothing happened.
Depending on how you play the game, that’s not an exception to the rule—that’s every fight. We actually had to quit playing Skyrim, because it made us feel like we were slaughtering the mentally handicapped.
But at least the AI in Skyrim doesn’t blatantly cheat, as they tend to do in every fighting, sports and strategy game ever made. Anyone who’s played a game of Civilization and had Gandhi fire nuclear missiles at their empire before they’d discovered mathematics knows that.
We understand that writing good AI is hard. We tried to program a computer to write TopTenz articles for us, and all it did was call us racial slurs. But there has to be a middle ground between “vegetable” and “omnipotent.” Otherwise we’re going to have to play with other humans, and who wants to do that?
5. Using Terrible Minigames
Here’s a word that will strike fear into the heart of anyone who played Mass Effect 2: scanning. That awful minigame, which had to be played if you wanted to get the best ending, was about as entertaining as being a traffic accident victim.
We’re guessing you didn’t watch all four minutes of that video, because it’s boring. And if watching it once is boring, you can imagine how mind numbing it is to have to do it again and again and again. It’s impossible to believe the developers didn’t realize it was tedious, so why did they include it?
There’s no law that says minigames have to be terrible. A quick, simple one is a great way to mix things up. But “quick and simple” minigames are few and far between, while “frustrating and poorly explained” ones reign supreme. How many lock-picking minigames have you seen, and how many of them aren’t a colossal pain? (We’re betting countless and zero, respectively). We could probably pick locks in real life thanks to all the virtual ones we’ve had to crack.
It’s a problem of diminishing returns, because what’s fun once won’t be fun the 100th time. The hacking minigame in BioShock is a neat little puzzle at first, but by the end of the game you’d rather let a turret shoot you full of holes than go through the hassle of hacking it. The whole reason we’re playing shooter games is because we’re too impatient to solve puzzles!
4. Using Terrible Actors
We can’t deny that video game voice acting has come a long way. Gone are the days where companies would ask their drunken janitors to step up to the microphone and mumble as many lines as they could before they passed out. They hire professionals now, and it shows. So why do we still have to put up with voice work like this?
That was from Human Revolution, one of the most critically acclaimed games of 2011. Acclaimed despite the fact that they directed an actress to pretend she was a Klansman doing an impersonation of a black woman. If you can sit through that without cringing, you should check to make sure you aren’t a neo-Nazi.
And it’s not just bad voice acting—technical advances in games have actually created new problems. Games can now hold thousands of lines of dialogue, but developers can’t afford that many actors. We don’t mean to pick on Skyrim, but it’s set in a vibrant world populated by hundreds of characters who sound like they’re part of the same extended family. Nothing kills your immersion in a fantasy faster than realizing only 12 people voiced it.
And then there are celebrity actors. Again, we’ve come a long way from the era when a probably stoned Christopher Walken was considered a big draw. But while we sometimes get Martin Sheen we’re more likely to get Ice-T, whose guest appearance in Gears of War 3 sounded like he was supposed to be recording for a Grand Theft Auto game but wandered into the wrong studio. The following link is NSFW, as is virtually any link that involves Ice-T in any way.
We don’t need every voice actor to be an Academy Award winner, but we do need to get through a game without laughing at their work. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Apparently it is.
3. Using Terrible Writers
Of course, you can have the best actors in the world and they’ll still sound awful if their script isn’t any good. Yet many developers consider finding a good writer to be on par with finding a good bar to hit up after work.
There are well written games out there, but for every mainstream game with a compelling story and engaging dialogue there are a dozen that sound like they were scrawled out on cocktail napkins. The vast majority have yet to rise beyond the “a soldier shoots evil aliens” level of storytelling, and we’ve been stuck there for decades.
Take the Gears of War trilogy, for instance. They’re thrilling shooters, but their dialogue consists entirely of angry men grunting and swearing. The third game tried to break new ground by introducing a couple of angry women who grunted and swore, but it wasn’t the narrative revolution they were hoping for.
We’re not saying every video game needs to be a literary masterpiece. Mario rescuing Princess Peach doesn’t need to be a metaphor for rescuing the American dream, and when we use a chainsaw to cut an alien in half in Gears the chainsaw doesn’t have to symbolize the military-industrial complex. There’s nothing wrong with a simple story.
But there’s a huge difference between simple and dumb. Resident Evil: Revelations has your sidekick announce “me and my sweet ass are on the way!” Rage has a story that consists entirely of John Goodman telling you to shoot people he doesn’t like. Even attempts at satire, like Bulletstorm, are about as witty as YouTube videos of guys getting hit in the balls. Following link, once again, NSFW.
It says a lot about the state of video game writing when the cleverest way anyone could think to satirize it was adding “dick” to every line.
2. Talking Down to Us in Commercials
Dead Space 2 is one of the best horror games ever made. It received universal critical praise, sold millions of copies and set a gold standard for the genre. So why did its marketing campaign revolve around how much our mothers would hate it?
Seriously? They had access to hours of action-packed footage and they made an ad out of middle-aged women cringing? That’s what was supposed to motivate us to buy the game? With all due respect to our mothers, we don’t care what they think about our taste in games. And we certainly don’t find the idea of traumatizing them with our latest purchase to be appealing either, because we’re not immature.
Dead Space 2 was rated M, which meant anyone under 17 shouldn’t have been allowed to buy it. Yes, we know ratings aren’t always enforced, but the image of a 15 year old trying to shock his mom with a video game is the saddest attempt at teenage rebellion we can imagine. The average gamer is 37 years old. Is it too much to ask to be treated like the adults we are?
1. Treating Us Like 14 Year Old Boys
Speaking of Soul Calibur V, let’s take a look at some of its characters.
At least they got rid of Taki, presumably because she died of complications from back problems.
Forty-two percent of gamers are women, but it’s often hard to believe that. Developers still seem to think their audience consists entirely of horny teenage boys who play games because they’re too scared to talk to girls.
The problem is that it’s not just dumb games like Soul Calibur that equate women with breast delivery systems. The Mass Effect trilogy will go down as one of the greatest in gaming history and, by virtue of having the option of making the tough-talking, ass-kicking protagonist a woman, it will also go down as having one of the strongest female leads in the medium.
And yet it also has characters like Miranda. You’ll see less of her face than her ass.
And it has Jack, who has eschewed clothing for some kind of harness:
And then there’s the Asari, an all-female race of slim, perky aliens with a reputation for sleeping around. They’re sexually adventurous bisexual space girls, basically. You can even make them dance for you in bars.
We’re not saying all female characters should be sexless. Sex has its place in entertainment, and also we like boobs. But when a character’s single defining personality trait is how hot they are, then you have a problem. Not only is it a ridiculous portrayal of women, it’s insulting to men, too. The implication is that we can’t get through a video game, even a great one, unless there’s plenty of T&A to motivate us. How about motivating us with some female characters we can care about on an emotional level? Then when they show us their boobs it will mean something.