The Crate

While visiting (which is occasionally good, but usually not so much) I finally found a link to an article I read years ago making fun of crates in computer games.

Anyway, the first link is to A Gamer’s Manifesto, another article I’d read before and liked (or was it something similar on somethingawful?) and here’s my summary:

Better AI: actually I don’t think that AI in computer games is too bad so much as too single-minded. The best AI I’ve ever seen was in the 1985 game Elevator Action. It was actually “Artificial Stupidity”. If a bad guy was able to move to you or shoot at you in a really obvious way then that’s usually what they did (after a certain delay based on current difficulty). Otherwise, they just “did stuff” — like go in and out of doors, pace back and forth, or stand around smoking (well, that’s what it looked like). They didn’t run directly towards you, bump into an obstacle, and jerk spastically — nope, to do that you need 4GB of RAM, a quad core CPU, and a 24 core graphics card.

I keep getting into discussions with folks about the A* algorithm, etc.. A* is great for automating movement orders in wargames — I want my armored division to take the crossroads, thank you for assuming I want to take the shortest route and showing it to me. What it isn’t useful for is shooters and RPGs. Even genius security guards do not keep perfect mental maps of the buildings they guard in their heads which they then create optimal paths through and update on the fly. All you need is NPCs who will try to attack you (when appropriate) if doing so is fairly obvious and (b) do something vaguely reasonable (or which looks vaguely reasonable) otherwise.

Bullshit Game Graphics: it’s annoying and an easy shot to take, but who cares? I remember being annoyed as a kid that comic books would have these really beautiful covers and then the comic inside would look worse than my doodles. That’s the “free market” (“perfect information” doesn’t even extend to comic books, that’s how broken its assumptions are), get over it.

Mature Themes: mature themes will always be a huge deal for the critically minded, and never terribly popular with the unwashed masses. See previous point. (This is why possibly the best TV show created by NBC in the last ten years had the lowest ratings they’ve ever seen. And this is no surprise, it screamed “cancel me” from the first five minutes.)

Less Stupid Sexism: of course I agree, but there’s plenty of non-stupidly sexist games around, and there’s plenty of stupid sexism in every other media type (SpikeTV?).

Bullshit Difficulty: stupid mazes, ammo starvation, and idiotic quest requirements (yes you must kill 14 orcs and 6 orc sergeants, not 13 orcs and 7 orc sergeants, and no we don’t care that the town will still be surrounded by orcs afterwards) are all just bad game design, and plenty of games don’t have them.

Bullshit Game Features: see Bullshit Game Graphics, above.

Loading: market forces demand game developers compete on vividness, and vividness pushes the hardware and software. It’s nothing to do with copy protection, it’s technical simplicity, QA simplicity, time to market.

No More Save Points: sometimes save points work well as a game design feature, but when they’re an excuse for lazy programming, I agree.

Immersion: this is a big one. Good games feel unrestricted, even though they may be very restricted. E.g. Tetris is extremely restricted, and so is Chess, but the restrictions are established at the outset and not violated. The first example the writer gives — snowboarding — is another thing entirely. A game designed to provide the experience or illusion of snowboarding that has you run into invisible walls is clearly violating the established concept, which is very, very bad. There’s nothing wrong with FPS games where you can’t jump, unless the games are filled with puzzles that could be trivially dealt with by stepping over small obstacles. It’s not the lack of some ability that ruins immersion, it’s the lack of some ability combined with having your face rubbed in it that ruins immersion. Again — the Tim the Enchanter (or Fred Mightythews) questing for the key to open the rickety wooden door is a beautiful example. World of Warcraft is full of this kind of ridiculous quest — yes, I can kill three dragons single-handed, but I can’t get this outhouse door open.

And while we’re at it: this is just crazy talk. Games are products that need to be designed, built, tested, sold, and supported. Putting in “arbitrary” restrictions is a necessary prerequisite for shipping the damn thing.

And while we’re still at it: overstated, but on the right track. Telling someone they have a total of 9435 hit points but they’re currently at 6705 is just stupid, stupid, stupid. To the extent that you need to provide feedback to players and some of it will be visual when in real life it would be visceral, OK. But treating a person like some kind of space shuttle is just wrong, and it creates completely the wrong kind of game experience — unless accounting was really what you were after.

Get rid of the crates: yup. See above.

Stop the short-sighted business bullshit: OK more crazy talk.

Don’t use online capability as an excuse to release broken games: what excuses should we use? Let’s face it, game development is expensive, broken games will be sold in a desperate effort to recoup losses, and any available excuses will be used to cover collective asses.

No more jumping puzzles in FPS games: humbug. Just do them right or don’t do them. Same for everything.

Vertical consoles: shrug.

In the end, there’s quite a bit of pointless or unrealistic whining fleshing out what could have been a great article. But, food for thought. Do take a look at the barrel article — it’s science!