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A Rant-Filled Rantfest
Published on March 14, 2008 By mittens In Gaming

Following my cohort's lead, I'm going to list some things or trends in video games which bug me in some way shape or form.

  • Poorly-Placed Checkpoints: In games which have a checkpoint save system, the checkpoints are occasionally very poorly laid out; when the player overcomes a particularly difficult/annoying puzzle or makes it through a rough combat scenario not having a checkpoint immediately nearby does not add to the game's difficulty level. All the lack of a checkpoint does is make the game unnecessarily annoying. As both God of War and Ninja Gaiden display particularly well, action games can still be tremendously difficult in situations without resorting to lack of well-placed checkpoints. This also applies to real-time and turn-based strategy games which handle auto-saves poorly. This gripe applies, most recently, to Army of Two's brolicious bro-with-bro killfest.

  • Poorly Implemented Multiplayer: The prevalence of excellent single-player games to simply tack on a very horrifically developed multiplayer component just to get the "Online Multiplayer Support!" bullet-point on the back of the box is simply mind-numbing in its stupidity. The time spent making an otherwise enjoyable game feature ugly multiplayer game modes could have easily been spent polishing the actual gameplay and, in the end, making an overall better game but, instead, the importance of the bullet point tends to win out. The Darkness for the PS3/Xbox 360 is a recent example of a game with an innovative single-player campaign but, yet, horrible and dull multiplayer. What makes this particular case so depressing is that the game's engine could have used additional optimization and polish and it would have resulted in a far more enjoyable and well-received experience.

    The other side of this gripe is poorly-implemented multiplayer features in a multiplayer-focused game where the actual online gameplay can be a riot but the server browser and lack of necessary social features ruins the overall experience. Battlefield 2, for example, was an exemplary online team-based shooter that was heavily hampered by a pathetic server browser (complete with no-ping servers, filters that only worked when they felt like it, and a server list which would not let the player interact with it while it queried for servers), no in-game messaging or, even worse, no friends list whatsoever. A sore point in my gaming 'career' is Rise of Nations which, as anyone who knows me can relate, is a game I worship from head-to-toe like a beautiful Egyptian goddess queen. The GameSpy-driven online components, though, were so bad that I only was able to play two or three games before I become utterly disparaged and cried myself to sleep for weeks.

  • Lack of In-Game Voice Chat: Along the same lines as the above item, there's really no excuse for a team-oriented multiplayer game not having in-game voice chat in today's high-bandwidth laden environment. I mean, I end up in Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, or XBox Live voice chat most of the time whether the game supports it or not but there are still times when I just want to jump in a game with and against a group of random people where I would like to either shoot the proverbial shit with people along with having the ability to coordinate strategies with teammates. I've been playing Company of Heroes a lot lately and it seems like a crime that this game doesn't have VoIP (Voiceover IP) given the complexity of the gameplay. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was released with any in-game voice support as well which, given its action-oriented, team-based gameplay, is nothing short of an atrocity (luckily, developer Splash Damage realized this and has since issued a patch which include very well-done VoIP).

  • No Windowed Support: This is a PC-only complaint but, at this point in time, if a game doesn't support windowed mode or, in an arguably worse scenario, is an RTS which supports windowed mode but does not capture and contain the mouse when the window is in focus, I will still play the game but it will not have legs in its gaming lifespan. In all but a select few cases (Company of Heroes being the most notable) I always play a game in windowed mode due to the simple fact that I'm a social butterfly that loves to talk while I play games. If a game doesn't support windowed mode and doesn't support my monitor's native resolution then the result is simple: I will absolutely not play this game. I hate playing games on an LCD that will not run at a native resolution due to the feeling that I'm looking at an ugly, stretched display of the game. And this makes the graphics programmer that resides within a certain portion of my brain a sad, sad panda.

  • A Limited Camera: Specifically, I hate Real-Time Strategy games that will not allow me a zoom level in a reasonable range. The 3D Command and Conquer games (C&C: Generals, C&C3, and The Battle for Middle Earth 1 and 2 which used the same engine) along with coconspirator Petroglyph (Star Wars: Empire at War and Universe at War) are particularly guilty of this sin. When I play an RTS and feel hampered by the severely limited maximum zoom level of the game it becomes a major distraction for me while I'm playing the game. In Universe at War and TBFME2 this was particularly noticeable as I was a great number of units (in TBFME2) or enormous units that wouldn't fit on a single screen (Universe at War). I understand that there may be technical limitations to a distant zoom level but do whatever it takes to allow me to play the game at a comfortable range. In the RTS genre, being able to get a decent overview of the battle is absolutely key and being unable to see that at a glance at a decent size -- minimaps don't count -- ruins that aspect of the gameplay. Not all games have to have ridiculous levels of zoom like Supreme Commander and Sins of a Solar Empire, though, as Company of Heroes makes up for its fairly limited zoom level by having a completely free camera and a very well-done tactical map.

  • Godzilla-Sized User Interfaces: It's very easy to design an in-game user interface (which is what's it called in an RTS; in an FPS it's more of a Heads-Up Display/HUD) which doesn't take up half of the screen. Age of Empires 3 and Supreme Commander both released patches post-release (AoE3 had its patch on release day) which offered the ability to significantly decrease the size of its UI -- this should always be a priority for RTS game designers. If it's absolutely impossible to fit all of the various controls and buttons and bars and icons in a minimalistic UI then allow the user to decide if they can do without certain things. Look at the evolution of the Supreme Commander UI, for instance, on release, after one patch, and in its expansion (and I'd imagine in a patch to the original game). The current UI is a beautiful thing since I can, you understand, see the game.

  • Post-Release Support: I can't emphasize the importance of post-release support for games enough. It may be a sad state for PC gaming that certain titles aren't "complete" when they are released but, at this point, games have gotten so complex that I'm understanding about titles that seem to lack a certain amount of polish upon release so long as the developers are candid and open about the problems or imbalances a given game has and what they plan to do to fix them at no additional charge. There are so many games I've played that have been completely mediocre on release but, yet, turned into some of my most-played games ever after some quality patches or even after some fantastic expansion packs. Soldiers: Heroes of World War II and Titan Quest weren't actually all that great until they received some hefty post-release support in patches that added a great deal of absolutely must-have features. Sacred, one of my favorite hack-and-slash-games, become an entirely different game solely because of its post-release patches. Other games, Titan Quest included, also become all-around more enjoyable experiences -- whether they needed it or not -- with expansion packs; on the list of these games I would cite Warcraft 3, Diablo 2, Galactic Civilizations 2, Supreme Commander, Sacred, Company of Heroes, Starcraft, and many others I'm sure I'm forgetting.

  • The Rest of the Pack: Here are just a minor list of things which primarily speak for themselves: Bad AI, Lack of cooperative modes (in games which scream for it), Poor endings/ending sequences to otherwise fantastic games, Bad controls, Unoptimized graphics, Lack of system scalability, Unnecessary item collections, Fetch quests, MMO gameplay…

  • And, really, this list would go on if I allowed myself to think about so many of the "little things" that crop up in games which deserve to be so much more than their tiniest of problems allow them to be. Given the development cost of games, tight schedules, and publisher pressures, it makes complete sense that some games may get hurried out the door before they get a chance to be truly "finished" or polished but, if the platform of discussion is the PC, there's no excuse for a lack of post-release support. The most saddening case of annoying features in games is when someone thinks a particular aspect of the game is an actually a design decision like the use of unbearably limited zoom levels in RTS games.

    This was a fun little rant.

on Mar 14, 2008
Although rather pointless where GalCiv2 is concerned.
on Mar 14, 2008
if the platform of discussion is the PC, there's no excuse for a lack of post-release support.

Really? Who pays for this post-release support? Do you sell enough extra copies to pay those people's salaries?

Publishers aren't in the business of putting out great "polished" products, they are in the business of making money (console or PC). Those support teams and customer service features get expensive. Clearly the business side of the game industry is of two minds as to whether post-release support presents additional economic return over the investment it entails.

Lots of time being in business is a matter of managing risk, and weighing known expenses to potential gains.

~ Wyndstar
on Mar 14, 2008
I dunno.

When such a small company as Stardock can provide such good post-release support, I really don't think larger companies have much of an excuse.
on Mar 14, 2008
Large companies must feed a lot of economists. They are even more expensive as programmers.
on Mar 14, 2008
If people would stop pirating games, maybe companies could offer more post release support. Think about that, would be criminals, next time you raise your black Jolly Roger on the internet.
on Mar 14, 2008

I can see why this took you so long! Poorly implemented multiplayer is another huge pet peeve of mine. There's plenty of great games out there that have fantastic single players and then just suck balls when it comes to MP.

And yes, someone needs to fix the MMORPG fetch quests. I got so sick of them in WoW. :/

on Mar 14, 2008
The big game publishers are driven by sales. They're the ones with the deep pockets and they're the ones calling the shots. They don't care about the nuts and bolts. If it were up to the developers, every game would be polished on release and it would take a lot longer to get one out.

If GC2 was a big name release, it probably wouldn't be the same game. We would see *some* support, but not at the level we see now.
on Mar 16, 2008
Sad, but probably true. However e.g. Black Isle has made several excellent games and it was a large company. (Fallout, Baldur's gate series...). Those games were great and polished.
on Mar 16, 2008
Yea, but you need to differentiate big independants from smaller shops bankrolled by big publishers. I think Stardock could be called a big independant with a half million sales between GC2 and Sins of a Solar Empire. They have bigger sales than that with some of their non-game products. They do things a lot different resulting in substantial benefits for the end consumer. I think it's mainly due to the fact they are still small enough to be more quality driven than deadline driven. Once the bean counters are in charge, it all goes to hell.
on Mar 18, 2008
If people would stop pirating games, maybe companies could offer more post release support. Think about that, would be criminals, next time you raise your black Jolly Roger on the internet.

While I'm not defending piracy here but has it ever occurred to you that some of these companies are using that excuse to charge people more? I mean why does any business feel the need to make me pay more for a product just because they lost a potential buyer to piracy? Why do they need to make up, at our expense, for customers they lost? Which in the end they don't always lose. I use to DL piracy but then I realized how much of a pain it was to use these things with the cracks and stuff so I found it less of a headache to get the software (games and stuff) legally and not have to worry about no support, not being able to play online due to blacklisted keys and it actually feels good to own the copy itself.

So I think blaming piracy for companies looking to make as much money possible with the least amount of expenses is stretching it a bit. Sure they are part of the problem, in a way, but seriously, I for one don't buy DVDs at all, I would DL movies on line to watch them, believe me when I tell you if wasn't able to do it before I would have never bought the DVD in the end.
on Mar 18, 2008
I think the all the hoopla these big publishers make over piracy is more a matter or principle than reality. I don't believe it's hurting sales as much as they claim. I bet most people that pirate stuff wouldn't buy it anyway. Sometimes publishers go overboard to protect copyrights with only the end consumer suffering for it. For the music and movie industries, they receive undue preferential representation in US government. Piracy is also a convenient scapegoat when something sells poorly. In reality, they just didn't release something people actually wanted to buy for the price they were asking.