Editorial: Grumpworthy

Skyrim: As much fun as peering through a helmet with a shield in front of my face sounds!
Skyrim can be played in the third person, but it was never designed for it. And I tired, trust me.

I must be in a grumpy mood this week, LusiScrooges, because I have been mulling over game mechanics I never really liked and wish would just go away. There are plenty of things that some games do that I do not like, but sometimes those things infect otherwise fine games or ideas. At times I will go into a game knowing about these unsavory qualities and hope that it is overshadowed by the better aspects the game has to offer. And at other times I find my distaste for these game mechanics only after finishing the game or spending enough time with it. The worst part is that this list seems to be ever-growing as lazy game development likes to copy a good idea and turn it into something worthy of loathing. As development costs soar and AAA games struggle more and more to make a profit (despite an ever widening playerbase), corners get cut and successful ideas get cribbed in a software environment all too saturated by the “me too” business model. Thankfully the internet provides a wonderful platform for armchair game “critics” like myself to shake their fists and shame the lazy developers. Granted not all of what follows are necessarily overused, but they certainly are things I currently do not enjoy in a game.

First person combat is something I sort of understand but it just does not work in practice. If I am to do anything from the first person perspective in a game I only want it to be firing a gun and driving a car. If I need to wield a melee weapon or, even worse, jump around on platforms, then it must be from the third person where I can confirm key things like depth perception and the location of my feet. What the first person camera offers is a very “immersive” perspective that allows me to feel close to the action. This is useful for games predominantly featuring gunplay since these games demand accuracy and this perspective affords me an unobstructed line of sight on what is in front of me. But if I must swing a sword or defend myself with a shield, then this perspective’s limitations make gameplay frustrating. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim therefore was a bit of a problem for me. Knowing that first person melee combat would make things like determining my reach with a sword to be pretty annoying, I spent most of my time firing elemental magic spells at enemies as a mage. Conversely, Bethesda’s Fallout series, which focuses much more on ranged combat, is one of my favorite series of recent memory. And though the Fallout games do feature some melee combat, I was able to put up with smacking a few radroaches with a baseball bat when most of the game I was shooting guns at dudes either in real time or using the fun VATS system. And Skyrim is hardly alone in insisting on a first person camera for a melee focused game. Recently I bought Arkane Studio’s Dishonored, which happens to have been published by Bethesda, and though it does offer many ranged solutions for taking out the opposition I still find myself engaging the enemy a lot with my offhand dagger. It is not enough to be a problem (this game has other problems), but I would not count it as a positive.

But I don't get anything for being in between because not blindly going all-out is for spineless wimps.
When talking with your crew members in Mass Effect, I can be a super nice guy, a super dick guy, or something in between.

While still on the subject of Bethesda, another gameplay mechanic that I have grown tired of is one our own Gyme has recently written at length about. Go check it out! Morality systems were once something I took no issue with because, like many things introduced in the previous generation, it was shiny and new for a while. However, it became apparent to me that these systems were all quite similar and rarely made a game’s ending change in a meaningful fashion. As Gyme mentioned, Bioware’s Mass Effect series is one of the more popular examples of a morality system in a WRPG, however it falls into the same banal trap all morality systems do which is to over simplify things into a black and white, good or bad, context. Initially, the idea of gaining “good” points for being good and “bad” points for being bad sounds interesting. But, since the developers often do not want to be stuck in a grey area and have to labor over if a given action should be “good” or “bad”, I often find that my choices are either to be the best and most considerate person ever or to be a total ass wipe. I can either give that annoying reporter lady in Mass Effect the story she wants or I can literally punch her in the face. If memory serves, I can also ignore her but I get no morality points either way for this. It could almost be considered a losing option because things unlock the more of a “paragon” or a “renegade” I become. Choosing to be a sensible person is not exactly made an attractive option.

Finally, and to my greatest chagrin, is something I like to call “easy creep”. Easy creep is that slowly increasing presence of easier elements in games. Doubtless over time games have become easier to complete. There are many likely reasons, the more cynical of which would propose that it is to sell me post-game DLC and to lessen the likelihood of me selling the game back at retail. However doing so comes at the expense of a good challenge, which is something this medium holds as a distinction apart from other mediums like literature and film. Once a point of pride, the difficulty of games has become more of a nuisance in the eyes of developers and seemingly some gamers. One of the better examples, and perhaps a bit unexpectedly, of easy creep in modern games is From Software’s Dark Souls. The game, touted as being notoriously difficult, hardly qualifies as much of a challenge to beat. If I simply move ahead cautiously and do not plunge face-first into unexplored rooms I can easily win. Just putting on the heaviest armor and tanking everything is enough to get through the game. To see just how easy the game is and has become, then look to its predecessor Demon’s Souls and at Dark Souls‘s pre-patch release. Demon’s Souls regularly punished the player for being unskilled, actively making the enemies and environments more difficult the more the player died in that area. Face tanking was also out of the question and only a limited amount of items could be brought to an area based on the character’s item burden stat. All of these things were removed in Dark Souls. Post-patch, Dark Souls gives an experience boost from all sources, more enemies drop experience, item drop rates and the drop rates of a key item called Humanity were all greatly increased and more merchants started carrying more items. I beat Dark Souls before this patch and still found it an easier time than the earlier Demon’s Souls. In fact the only thing that could have made Dark Souls any easier would have been regenerating health. Look for it in Dark Souls 2!

So tell me, readers, what popular or unpopular things in games do you despise? They can be gameplay mechanics or just a general observation or trend in games. Maybe it is something games no longer do anymore. Maybe something I mentioned here is something you enjoy. Discuss it in the newly (re)improved comments section below, where you can follow posts for comments and replies. So the next time your phone rudely chimes during the moment of silence at a funeral and everyone turns to look and see who the impolite person is, just think: Lusipurr.com!

19 comments

  1. Mel, is being able to cone out with thoughtful and well-written articles every week a benefit from selling your soul to Lusipurr? I never actually signed the contract, so I just figured that’s why I couldn’t go do it.

    I’ve never played a game with a “morality system,” but it sounds pretty lame. Well, Shin Megami Tensei main series games gives you dialogue options for Law and Chaos, so I guess that counts. AND pre-dates Western developed games, SO THERE! But maybe Ultima had something like that, so I dunno.

  2. I mailed Lusipurr a shoe sole, it was the best I could do. But thanks!

    And the proliferation of morality systems seem to have come and (sort of) gone with the previous generation. It may have just been an easy thing to do that added weight to what all the NPCs were talking about because suddenly game devs all had the disc space for copious voiced dialogue. And in some games it added an easily crafted form of replay value. Did it all as a good guy? Now do it again as a bad guy!

  3. Your glowing spiritual essence in a jar in my closet says otherwise, Mel.

    It also says, “Please! Release me! End my torment!” But that’s off-topic.

  4. Sounds lime it would have been a nuisance anyway.

  5. I read and comment almost always using my phone, and have to monitor the autocorrecting carefully… sometimes it comes out worse than a random, nonsense consonant would have.

    The contract most specifically stated “eternal soul,” and as a sole believer in such things, I would not part with such a thing as that. You can be sure, despite any word play intended to worm out of the deal, that Lusipurr has ways of obtaining what is contractually obligated to him. Although, his lordship’s spiritualist power does seem to influence the soulless shell of Mel to write well.

  6. I like being a Mel shell. Lots more room in there for useful things rather than a noisome soul or somesuch. In fact, getting rid of it may or may not have cured my sleep apnea! What a bargain!

  7. I still have Matt Dance’s soul, too.

    And I always will.

    Forever.

  8. Tell it to the Judge. My soul is the Lord’s, and I’ll offer as proof my distinct inability to produce interesting weekly content, as well my penchant for contractions. Besides, I have an old soul that’s been through the ringer a few times and is a little bent out of shape – wouldn’t you rather have some younger, fresher, more malleable ones?

    Also had an idea about the end of the year drawing. What if, instead of EVERYONE who donates $5 or more getting an equally random hat chance of winning, the person who donates the most throughout the year does? The trick is, donation amounts are never mentioned, so it’s a gamble for the readers to decide how much they should contribute versus the others. The way it is now, where one has the same chance of winning by giving $5 a year as $50, smacks of Communism, and lacks the incentive of free enterprise. Of course it would be unethical to change it for this year after having promised it for the past 50 weeks, but if you change it next year I think you’ll find a lot more boom-mike money in your Paypal account.

  9. Great article, Mel. I agree that Demon’s’s” Soulss’ was harder than Dark Souls. I platinumized both and the former took roughly twice as long. I don’t see why you would be upset about higher drop rates, though. Is there ANYTHING fun about trying to get an item with a drop ratio of 1/256? I would gladly accept a HUGE increase in difficulty if it meant the boss would just dr the freaking item the first time you defeated it.

    OK. I have a couple to add. They are both quite popular but I wish they would go away. The first is a free camera. At first, I could see the appeal of getting the angle you want but the thing is, nearly EVERY free camera in games is just way too close to the back of your character’s head or points too far downward. Kingdom Hearts and Kingdoms of Amalur come to mind as the worst offenders. Some games have pretty good zoom range and let you pull the camera way back when you’re outside. This is desirable to me. I see the character all the time, so I don’t need to be able to view them in great detail. Especially in RPGs where there are no platforming sections. I want to see the world around my character instead. That’s the content worth looking at while exploring. But even these good cameras totally suck when you get inside of tight spaces. Programmed camera angles is the way to go. Lords of Shadow, Metal Gear 3, and Tales of Vesperia all have VERY solid cameras. Also, the more the camera moves, the more blurry the graphics become. Plus there all kinds of cool effects that can be created with programmed camera work. Wow. I went on about that longer than I expected I would.

    The other is “battle music”. I don’t like having a theme for general battling for the following reasons. 1) You end up hearing that song ALL THE TIME! 2) You can’t enjoy the music of the environment you’re in very much. 3) It interrupts the current audio and then gets interrupted itself when the battle is over. Not every battle is a total freaking surprise so having sounds suddenly cut in and cut out just breaks immersion. I’m all for boss battle music and I’m fine with battle music in areas that don’t have BGM, but there is nothing more annoying when you’re in an area that has awesome music but you can’t listen to it because every 10 steps you are forced to listen to the battle theme.

    Rant over. Thanks for the article, Mel.

  10. Yes. Someone please get this man a mic boom! I was very happy to hear the sound quality of the previous podcast and I want it to continue.

  11. Mel, is being able to cone out with thoughtful and well-written articles every week a benefit from selling your soul to Lusipurr?
    Tell it to the Judge. My soul is the Lord’s, and I’ll offer as proof my distinct inability to produce interesting weekly content, as well my penchant for contractions.

    Speaking as one of the writers whose drowsy words and lethargic topics speak (snore?) for themselves, I can say with some authority that the inability to come up with engaging topics isn’t proof Lusipurr doesn’t have your soul. Sorry, Matt, I think you’ve just been lying to yourself this whole time.

    You’re like one of Kuja’s Black Mages who can’t help but say “can’t” instead of “can not.”

  12. @Zoltan: There indeed were some things in Dark Souls that were changed for the better after the big patch (I don’t recall the version number. I’d look it up but that would be dangerously close to “research”). However, the drop rates could be helped a lot in the original pre-patch version by holding more Humanity and one could keep more Humanity by not dieing and losing it. That said, I did not platinum this game or Demons’ses Soulz and I’m not really sure how close I’ve come either.

    And I never really thought about camera systems outside of their use in the early Resident Evil games. Free cameras ARE kinda annoying. Especially if the camera control isn’t to your liking. (That is, inverted or un-inverted. Being stuck with the one you don’t like is torture) Also, not having to worry about the camera gives the player something else to do with the right analogue stick.

    And battle music is another great one. That stuff really does wear you down after a while. I find that even environmental music can get that way after a long enough time. I’ve been playing Final Fantasy 14 and some of the locational music has gotten so worn out to me that I’ve taken to muting the music when I’m in well trodden areas. The ambient noises are nice and relaxing anyway.

    @Tim: Hi!

  13. @Mel YO!

    Throwing in my on-topic two cents, I found Dragon Age II to be a far better morality system than any of the Mass Effects or Fables. Instead of attaching each response to a “good” and “bad” spectrum, DA II responses offered alternative tones and personality types (as I recall, the main three were “diplomatic”, “aggressive,” and what I liked to call “charmingly sarcastic rogue”)- even better, while consistent response choices would stack and solidify Hawke’s personality type, each Act offered the opportunity to alter his main personality. That way if you played the charming rogue at the beginning of the game, you weren’t locked into his personality all the way through and changing it didn’t cut you off from any real bonuses.

    If I had anything that annoyed me about modern games, it’d be the consistent trend in modern military shooters to completely deadpan their racist/nationalist ridiculousness. Has anyone here rented Call of Duty: Ghosts? I usually play CoD games as a guilty pleasure, but that plotline required such a level of myopic national pride to make sense that I could barely keep my skeptical eyebrows on my face.

    “Oh really. We can’t understand why dirty South Americans would want to blow up our giant space death ray?”

    It was a perfect “Are we the baddies“? moment.

  14. Hah! I heard about COD Ghosts’s very very silly plotline, but I have not played it. I tend to get every other one, since I find the ones made by Treyarch to be a lot better. And Ghosts is only reenforcing that idea for me.

    And it sounds like Dragon Age has a nice take on the morality system. Perhaps its biggest faults in other games is the mostly binary nature of it. This inherently means you’ll only really deal with things in a very superficial way. But what if a game used the classic D&D alignments of Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, etc, etc, to give at least a more RPG sense about the morality systems? This would probably mean a lot more work for the developer, but maybe they can shave a few bucks off the graphical department’s budget and dump some of that cash into character development.

    I might still rather be rid of a morality system, though. Because, frankly, if I must be told whether my actions are good or bad then either I’m an idiot or the game thinks I am. Let the actions speak for themselves without some stat point reminding us that we did a nicey-nice or a stinky-bad. I can tell the difference and plots in games could always use the added subtlety that kind of restraint would lend.

  15. Mass Effect would definitely be improved by adopting Dragon Age II’s far more complex and nuanced system (its only notable strength, really). In the first – and best – Mass Effect, I was making conversation choices as genuine reactions to the situation and characters. As the series progressed, I was largely making strategic choices to bolster my paragon ranking. Boo.

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