Editorial: Game Mechanics that Need To Die Off

Bonjour, readers! As most of the Lusipurr.com readership is no doubt aware by now, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has hit American shores, and many of the site staff have been marathoning the game since its release. Rather than share my thoughts on the game (SPOILERS: I like it), I have instead decided to discuss a topic that XIII-2 has made me think about: namely, game mechanics, or perhaps the better term would be game elements, that should no longer be a part of modern game-making. So, without further ado, I would like to share my own list of game mechanics and tropes that should fade away.

Unskippable Cutscenes
WORST OFFENDERS: Kingdom Hearts (PS2), Final Fantasy X (PS2)

Thankfully, this one seems to have mostly died out, so I will not spend much time on it. Unskippable cutscenes are a horrible and unnecessary part of any game and should not be tolerated, especially in games with long story sequences. Fortunately, game developers appear to have already caught onto this one, and most games with cutscenes anymore give players the option to skip them.

Unskippable tutorials are just awful.
Unacceptable in 2001, unacceptable in 2012

Unskippable Tutorials
WORST OFFENDER: Megaman Battle Network series (GBA)

This one should be obvious, but far too many game developers still get it wrong. Tutorials be skippable, every time, no exceptions. Games should have tutorials, yes, but these should always be optional. If a game is good enough, then people will want to replay it, and there is no reason for gamers to be forced to sit through a tutorial for a game they already know how to play. Unskippable tutorials, fortunately, also are falling by the wayside, but they are still rear their ugly heads far too often in modern games.

Long Load Times in Games with No Hard Drive Installation Option
WORST OFFENDERS: Sonic the Hedgehog (PS3/360), Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3/360)

Admittedly, I am a bit more forgiving with this one, but load times are still pretty obnoxious. More console games need a hard drive installation option (as long as it is just that, an option, NOT mandatory) to cut down on load times. Nobody wants to sit and wait for a fifteen-second loading screen to be able to play a game. Though I do acknowledge that load times are an inevitable evil of the medium, it is still aggravating to see a game with long loading times and no option to install data to the hard drive in order to fix it.

Insert alt-text joke about reused pictures.
Also still not acceptable.

DRM
WORST OFFENDERS: Spore (PC), every Ubisoft game made in the past few years

Plenty has been said on the subject in the past, but highly restrictive DRM needs to die off. It does not and will not stop piracy, and penalizing paying customers by asking for online passes or by restricting access to the game is insulting to gamers and encourages them to obtain games through less than legal means, end of story. Punishing the people who legitimately buy things is not an effective business model.

Reliance on Save Points, Especially in Portable Games
WORST OFFENDERS: Dragon Quest IX (DS), most other JRPGs

Can we, as a gaming culture, please, PLEASE move beyond save points as a mechanic? Restricting when or how often players can save, especially in portable games, is just asinine. Now I know that many readers out there will point out that most portable games have a “quicksave” feature allowing for one-time saves that exit players from the game, and I ask: Why? Why do we as gamers have to deal with quicksaving in games when a real, multi-use save function is an option? Save points are an outdated mechanic and they need to die off.

Random Battles that are Fully Random and Not Skippable and Cannot Be Dodged
WORST OFFENDERS: Most JRPGs

I love JRPGs, I really do, but this is another mechanic that needs to die. RPGs with random battles should give players the option to turn the battles off, either as a menu option or as an equipable item given to the player very early in the game. Or, even better, enemies should be visible on the field so that the player has the option of avoiding them entirely, or at least attempting to. Random battles were a mechanic that made sense in the early days of RPGs, but should no longer be a part of modern game design.

These six issues are the first ones that came to mind, but I am sure there are other mechanics or elements in games that should vanish. Am I perhaps being too harsh, and these things are simply a part of gaming that must be dealt with? Or am I right to complain like an old man about things over which I have no power? Let me know what your thoughts are, readers, and feel free to share any mechanics, tropes, or traditions you feel should be removed from video gaming!

26 comments

  1. I am most thoroughly disappointed that this list did not include cover based shooting. I’m willing to excuse it in circumstances where it does not comprise the entirety of game play, but there is a point at which realism =/= fun, and for me, that point is right behind a chest high wall.

  2. I’d like to point out that there’s another end to the random battles problem, mostly found in Pokemon games and other similar games: Not only do you want to avoid battles at some points, but sometimes it’s essential to the player to battle in the tall grass. I often walk into the tall grass either expecting to run into a specific Pokemon or to fight many, many Pokemon in order to train up, only to find that the random battles that occurred so frequently while my monsters were near death just…disappear when I’m looking for a fight.

  3. @gwj Overemphasis on realism is a huge one that I missed, actually. Realism isn’t really fun. If shooters were realistic, you’d get shot once and you’d go down. That isn’t fun, it’s aggravating

  4. @Deimosion and gwj: Along that line, I really don’t care for shooters and the like that go for a more realistic feel by covering the screen with blood as you get shot and close to dying. Just give me a health bar. Obscuring my screen is just annoying. Stop it.

  5. @SB On the Pokemon subject: caves. That is all.

    Though Pokemon is a decent example of doing it well, since Repels are so easy to get.

  6. Dan, I think the obvious reason that save points still exist is that they are an easy way to create an intermediate goal in a game. By limiting the situations in which a player can create an unlimited-use save, a game designer can add some difficulty to the game and give the player a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the next save point. You could certainly argue that most modern JRPGs are not at all difficult enough to make it a real accomplishment to reach the next save point (and you would be right). It’s definitely a largely outdated mechanic that is better used in games that require some skill, preparation, etc. to complete a section of the game.
    Imagine how much easier games like FFI and Dragon Warrior would be if you could save in the middle of a dungeon. Those kind of games rely on difficulty to make them worth playing, and without extremely limited save points, they become much easier.

  7. About the reliance on Save Points. Some games require this mechanic, I think, in order to keep the game from being too easy. Take the earlier Resident Evil games. Not only were there specific save points, but a limit to how many times a player could save. Plus, you needed to find a specific item used for saving (ink ribbons), which you could potentially run out of if you weren’t careful. I felt that this added a lot to these games (I’m sure others disagree, and I know the later RE games moved away from this, but they also moved away from a lot of other things). I think if a game in the style of the older RE games were to come again, then this saving system would be a good addition.

    And while I agree that random battles are annoying, I think their acceptable existence is contingent on the battle system, and the speed of that system. If each battle is a chore, worth little else than SOME gold and experience, then yes. Remove them. But if the battle system is fast and any transitions (ideally, none) into and out of battle are equally as fast, then I don’t really see the issue. Especially since (in console JRPGs, at least) I tend to enter into any battles I can anyway. Random battles just gets me involved quicker. Aren’t randoms battles in JRPGs as much a trope or cliche as the obsessive JRPG player who does EVERYTHING and never uses his mega elixirs, or what have you? I just feel like there’s some gray area here.

  8. Excellent article, Dan, though I have to disagree on the removal of random battles for one reason alone: you don’t realize the effect they have until its too late. Case in point, I have always ran from random battles, not because I didn’t want to fight them or was too weak to, but because I wanted to advance the storyline and random battles delayed that. That impatience always cost me in the long run, as I would get to the next boss and be severely underpowered. Not so badly that I couldn’t beat it, but every boss battle would be a tough fight. I guess it depends on the gamer; if you prefer that every boss fight be extremely challenging, then removing them makes sense. I agree with the Pokemon Repel idea, give gamers the ability to basically turn off random encounters for a brief amount of time, long enough to get healed or advance to the next plot point, but erasing them entirely isn’t worth it in the long run.

  9. @Vicks That’s on you to know better than to run away from battles. Give me the choice of whether or not I want to fight them out or avoid them.

  10. I love random battles…

    …as long as I also have the option to:
    a) Auto-Win them by being levelled sufficiently (Mother)
    b) Turn them off (FFVI Moogle Charm, FFVIII Encounter-None)
    c) Avoid them by sight (Mother, FFXII, FFXIII, Blue Dragon)
    d) Avoid them by item use (FFXIII, Pokemon)

    There are so many options for developers to handle random battles properly. And yet, they so seldom do. What a shame!

  11. Provided they’re implemented well I don’t have a problem with random battles. They just need to have a “you can’t get attacked for X steps after a battle” thing to keep them from being grating. I do have a problem with them though if they take a significant amount of time and are with weak enemies (or just completely unrewarding).

    The worst offender for unskippable tutorials should also include FFVIII. Ten minutes to explain junctioning Blind to your weapon adds additional effect: Blind is pretty obnoxious.

  12. I don’t mind quick-saves, but I’m not the kind of person who has five million saves per play through.

  13. @evilpaul Just about all of the FFVIII tutorials are skippable by mashing…Triangle, I think? I forget which button it is, but it is possible to skip most (all?) of them, IIRC.

    @Enrei I never used to be a save-heavy player, but I am now. Keeps me from getting screwed over and having to restart a game if something goes horribly wrong.

    @Lusi, EP I fully agree with Lusi. It’s fully random, non-skippable (or easily avoidable) battles that are annoying.

  14. @Luai/@Dan Maybe instead of random encounters the bosses should be rebalanced?

    @Slab/@Dan Also, you can in fact survive a bullet (depending on the location of the hit) and not simply keel over in pain. Never underestimate adrenaline. Also, I agree with the screen obscuring with corresponding loss of life, but don’t want to see the screen being obscured die out as an actual mechanic (think “screen got turned green because I derped and hit a boomer with an ax.”)

  15. Sorry to double post but I happened to think of another thing about video games that needs to die, and that’s government produced Ahnuld clones with jawlines so wide they give your mother a run for her money running around as the heroes of gritty-brown FPS-es. I’d rather have the more realistically proportioned Dr. Freeman (Ok, so Gordon isn’t exactly realistically proportioned for a theoretical physicist but whatever) of Commander Shepard any day over the walking bags of testosterone that most modern FPS heroes are.

  16. Double posts are allowed here at Lusipurr.com! Thank you for your input!

    *This has been Lusipurr.com friendly bot*

  17. I’d like to point out that even in the most early, rudimentary JRPGs ( referring to of course Dragon Quest) there were items to skip random battles with too easy monsters. I like the basic mechanic as well as the creative solutions to get around them. Earthbound’s auto-win is one of the best. Chrono Trigger’s set up was like, “it’s there, and we suggest it, but you don’t have too,” which worked well. Vive le difference!

  18. Yes, it’s very surprising that that particular Earthbound mechanic has not been copied more often. Especially in games that require you to go back to early locations and don’t upgrade the monsters there. AUTOWINPLZ.

  19. I love random battles, though their implementation in FFXIII-2 really is an ideal best of both worlds.

  20. I liked how in Skies of Arcadia (Ethos, I know you remember) once you got to a specific part in the game’s story, you can then sail in parts of the overworld that don’t have random encounters. I liked that as kind of a veteran’s reward, since that part comes late in the game.

  21. Oh man, Mel. More games need to do more EVERYTHING like Skies of Arcadia.

  22. Ethos, we should just hijack this comments thread to gush about SoA. I could go on and on about how its overworld has yet to be topped, how the simplistic characters perfectly convey the breezy nature of the game, how the ship battles put a fun splash of tactical gameplay into a battle system that is both very standard and yet adds wrinkles of different elements, and how–

  23. I actually enjoyed Skies of Arcadia quite a bit as well. Also, I am a fan of random encounters as long as you feel like you are rewarded for them (like leveling your materia in ffVII or learning new combos in Legend of Dragoon) I do, however think that once you are a high enough level for a certain areas the random encounters should just stop so you can feel free to run around in that area if there are things you missed, etc. Save points aren’t nearly the hassle they used to be nowadays since you find them every ten feet in most games. As for cut scenes, I think if they did it like FFXII where you could pause and then skip it would be good. I feel like a lot of companies make them unskippable so you don’t accidentally hit a button and skip them, which I have done before on some games and it is infuriating.

  24. It’s worth pointing out that Final Fantasy XIII-2 does almost all of the things I suggest for random battles.

    a) Auto-Win them by being levelled sufficiently (Mother)
    Do this in Final Fantasy XIII-2 with the Field Killer fragment skill.

    b) Turn them off (FFVI Moogle Charm, FFVIII Encounter-None)
    Do this in Final Fantasy XIII-2 with the Encounter Master fragment skill.
    Note: You can also use that skill to INCREASE encounter rates, for faster farming.
    Use in tandem with Clock Master, which speeds up the entire game including cutscenes.

    c) Avoid them by sight (Mother, FFXII, FFXIII, Blue Dragon)
    Do this by simply running away from spawned monsterss in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

    The only thing left out is ‘by item use’, which seems unnecessary given the other options and the ability to ‘Retry’ away from battle as well.

  25. I think Final Fantasy XIII-2 has the best of both worlds with regards to saving (anywhere) and random encounters that can be skipped, retried or fought. Also skippable cutscenes and a great fighting system. I’ve just this second earned my Platinum Trophy and it feels like a achievement after 75 hours of amazing gameplay.

    Ummm this is gonna invoke FFVII fanboys furious reactions but i’m sorry FFXIII-2 has just taken over as my No.1 greatest Final Fantasy EVER! The story was involving, you had a cause. The characters were loveable and i bet alot of people cried or almost did in the last cutscene on the airship. 10/10 amazing!

  26. @Mel B: It is a phenomenal game, and certainly something anyone ought to experience if they have even a passing fancy for JRPGs.

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