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The five most overused gaming trends and tropes

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Games (and, to be fair, movies) tend to lack somewhat in the originality department. Developers find something that works and stick to it, and frankly it’s all gotten a little monotonous for me. I don’t mean broad strokes such as FPS (or what my dad calls “walking gun games” #dadjokes) or elves and dwarves in fantasy games, but more the various gimmicks, styles and trends which show up consistently in those genres. This is a list of my five worst, but there are many, many more. So, I show you mine you show me yours. Deal?

Spontaneous Regeneration

Okay, I have to admit, kicking a first aid kick with a steel-toed boot while getting shot in the back with a rocket launcher isn’t exactly the most realistic portrayal of healing, but it does beat the hell out of sitting behind a tree for 7 seconds.

The good old days of collecting health and armour are gone, now every modern soldier is apparently also Wolverine. The bad-ass Hugh Jackman variety too, not the hobo in yellow pyjamas.

I will admit that a game in which you take 50 damage and have to take two weeks off for a virtual recovery isn’t ideal (if I wanted to wait several days every time I died I’d just play Counter-Strike), but surely someone can think of something a little better.

Worst offender: Call of Duty

Just walk it off, giant-ghost-building-man.

Just walk it off, giant-ghost-building-man.

Motion Controls

Come on guys, it’s time for a little honesty. Yes, we all really liked Wii Tennis for about four days. We all wanted the Kinect to have more use to us than it does the NSA. We probably all want to forget about the Playstation Move. But we all wanted motion control to be good, we really, really did.

But it’s not, is it?

It’s awkward, it’s boring, it’s for the most part poorly utilised and it just all seems like too much effort. We want to sit on a couch, controller in hand, TV to the front. Almost everything that’s attempted to mess with that formula has ended poorly – just ask Nintendo how that whole tablet screen-in-your-controller thing is working out for them.

Worst offender: Pretty much all of them

But honestly, mostly this.

But honestly, mostly this.

Tutorials

Seriously, who actually ever wants to play one of these? Even if you don’t know a damned thing about the game, these are generally overly long, tedious and straight up boring.

They’re also generally unskippable. No, I really don’t need you to teach me to jump, crawl through a tunnel and shoot little cardboard cutouts.

Hell, even if it takes me seven clips to barely nick two of the cardboard men, somehow I’m still ready for a highly specialised tactical mission minutes later.

I suppose as long as there’s something sturdy to hide behind, I’ll be okay.

Worst offender: DotA 2

blah blah blah NO ONE CARES

blah blah blah NO ONE CARES

Inaccessible NPCs

Okay, let’s get one thing straight – when Half-Life did this it was cool. It’s every game after that killed it.

These are the people you see sharing coffee and a joke behind the office window. The group of people huddled together singing songs in a sealed room as you roam a post-apocalyptic wasteland. That creepy ghost girl fingerpainting on that mirror in blood.

And you. Trudging along without even so much as a nod of appreciation for your hard efforts in saving the world and all of its inhabitants.

It was interesting when we first saw it in Half-Life, seeing the environment and its various interactions playing out around us. It was original and it added to the immersion.

Now it’s kind of just annoying, just a bunch of people who can likely help us who can’t be bothered to open the door or so much as acknowledge our existence.

Worst offender: Half-Life series (but they’re still allowed to do it)

Yeah, maybe next time you'll open the damn door.

Yeah, maybe next time you’ll open the damn door.

Magic, Magic Everywhere

I’ve never really been much of a fantasy guy. Or, to tell you the truth, that much of an RPG guy, except for a few gems that really take hold.

One thing I have noticed, however, is that basically every character from the barbarian type to the legit mages can shoot fireballs out of their asses. It doesn’t really matter if you kill things with an axe, magic is everywhere and thus you’ll absorb some of it.

It wasn’t until I read a fantasy novel like Game of Thrones that I realised magic can actually be a lot more awesome when it’s not so heavy-handed. For those of you familiar with the TV series/novels, you’ll notice that magic is rare and revered, something unique and special.

In games it often just feels like lazy design – when possibilities are infinite as they are with magic, it’s easy to come up with a new spell or ability. Pick the stats you want for it, then attach some arbitrary animation. Done.

I’d like to see a game that makes very minimal use of magic, so that when we do see it, it’s a pretty damned big deal.

Worst offender: Diablo series

Moar magic!

Of course i can shoot lightning. You mean you can’t?

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  • Heinrich Rall

    Have to agree with the magic one. If you read the diablo books, it is clear the ability to do a little bit of magic is a huge deal. Not at all like the games characters.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Oh wow that’s interesting, I’ve never read any of the literature to be honest. Weird there’s such a huge discrepancy though.

  • Alex Rowley

    For the magic one you might as well say guns are trope for gaming :p

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      A gunless FPS, you could be onto something…

      • Alex Rowley

        Isn’t that what Mirrors Edge was supposed to be?

        • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

          I think that was more a funless FPS

          ZING

          • Alex Rowley

            Haha! You can knock it all you want but that game was damn fun.

  • Nordkiinach

    Right about the magic!

  • Stan Smith

    So much truth in that last point.

  • PicklePod

    One other thing might be that most characters are too, idk, verbose. Most modern military shooters are a culprit. You hear some badass over the radio telling you to go to grid Zulu x-y-z yankee two-four-three-niner, or go to a hill within a place where you forgot the name, and it all does’t matter because they give you a big arrow telling you where to go, so you just follow that path. Maybe if you did need to listen to them and look at a map, it would make things like the story a bit more memorable, a problem which was brought up at GDC.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Yeah, the storylines behind these big FPS titles are just so poor lately. I find myself just tuning out most of the time and never really finishing the campaigns due to lack of interest. It’s all just a long string of military cliches and one-dimensional dialogue.

  • Delano

    Your point about magic sort of reminds me of Harry Turtledove’s novels. He postulates a world where magic is governed by natural laws and whose application requires extensive knowledge and resources. It’s studied and applied much like theoretical physics and generally isn’t available to laymen except for some odd “do-it-yourself” books which are often inaccurate, dangerous and result in much hilarity.

    Your idea is sort of implemented in a mod for Minecraft called Thaumcraft. It adds magic to the game, but it requires a lot of resource-collecting and research before you can actually do anything useful. The use of magic is also highly dependant on location, requiring the player to tap into nodes of sorcerous energy that are randomly generated around the world.

    I kinda agree with you about tutorials. It depends how it’s implemented in the game and whether or not it treats the player like an ignoramus. I personally think that the best designs are tutorials that are seamlessly woven into the gameplay; it can assume that a player understands the basics, but starts off slowly nonetheless so they can adjust. Anything esoteric that requires special knowledge must also be approached cautiously: gamers prefer to actually *do* things instead of reading endless pages explaining how.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Haha, sounds like I need to check out those books, they sound pretty cool. Is it an ordered series or separate stories set in the same world?

      As for tutorials, I forgot about those ones that basically give you commands and instructions while you’re actually playing the game, that seems definitely like one of the better ways of doing it.

      • Delano

        Turtledove has several unrelated series which involve magic, though fans have speculated that they do indeed take place in the same world at different eras.

        The one I was talking about is simply called Darkness and is six books in length. It’s heavily inspired by World War 2 and discusses magic prominently, especially with regards to its usage in warfare. There are sorcerous analogies to spying, the development of the atomic bomb and even the Holocaust (using magic to kill off oppressed minorities).

        The other books include Videsseos (ten in the series) and take place in a world that’s a mixture of ancient Rome, Greece and Babylon. Here, magic is poorly understood and cannot be used in warfare (characters explain that magic is rendered unreliable by human passion, of which plenty is to be found in love and war).

        • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

          Think it’s time to hit the Kindle store ;)

  • Rick de Klerk

    On the subject of magic, I always enjoyed the Dark Sun D&D campaign setting for that very reason. The abusive use of magic blighted the world and the sun, leaving Athas a barren desert, and as a result magic users were rare and vilified.

    I think it’s also why I prefer settings like Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. I don’t mind magic so much unless it’s used as deus ex machina or when there’s a break between what the games story says is alright AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME for narrative purposes and what’s alright during the game.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      That’s kind of a cool take; having magic seen in that way rather than everyone shitting bricks everytime you set something on fire.

  • Conor

    I’m in two minds about your point about tutorials. I do hate having to complete them. But for online games like Dota2, I want people to be forced to learn how to play the game, before they actually play. Otherwise you’d have even more clueless fools ruining the game than there already are. #Russians

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Yeah, I guess it’s a question of if you make them skippable people who don’t have a clue would skip them anyway. If I’d never played a MOBA I’d actually want to do the DotA 2 tutorial, but I’m sure some people would just mash Esc. Thing is, with proper matchmaking those people should all end up playing with each other anyway ;)

  • http://www.thefmformation.com/ Schmidy

    I’d love to see a game like Skyrim with regards to your note on magic. I’ve never played and doubt I will play as a Mage (the only thing I tend to use is heal), so a game that has magic as a rare thing would be awesome!

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      I don’t know why it’s so rare really, it would seem easy to have trees of skills that are more human/race-specific, rather than just yay lightning bolts

  • rooislangwtf

    I think there should be tutorials, but they should be optional and not so hand holdy.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Seriously, OPTIONAL. I don’t need to be taught how to play a standard FPS :<

  • Matthew Fick

    I’m with you on the health systems trope. It reminded me of what I think is the best health system in video gaming. In Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, getting fired at turns your screen red and raises the RISK of getting shot. Hiding in cover lowers the risk. So of course, when the screen is completely red, you take a single bullet to the face and die.
    So basically, instead of taking cover to heal, you’re taking cover to lose some of the heat. Same system in practice, entirely different in theory

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      At least it makes a lot more sense. Taking cover to avoid enemy fire is actually logical.

      I wouldn’t mind seeing a new system entirely though, or even a return to the health bars.

    • Alex Rowley

      I miss Brothers in Arms:(

      • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

        Very underrated I thought

  • SangSang

    100% disagree about the dota 2 tutorial point. I think you(the writer)is the last person i would want to play in a dota game with.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Haha, I’m a little rusty so you’re probably right there ;) My issue isn’t really with the tutorial itself though (it’s not bad at all), more the fact that there’s no option to skip it. I prefer it when games leave decisions up to me rather than force the virtual babysitting.

      • SangSang

        I appreciate your reply and looking at my comment i was a bit out there. I just feel dota is a game that needs a tutorial because it really is a complex game where lots of people need to know the basics before venturing. We dont want a new person affecting 9 other peoples games because they really are absolutely clueless.

  • WaDisMaD

    Remember Goldeneye on the N64? You had to pickup health pack’s and bulletproof vests and that was fine, I ended up finishing the game on hard. It was tough but not impossible. Now fast forward to Goldeneye on the Wii. As you play the game you realise that your health also regenerate if you hide behind something, and that is fine with all the games nowadays being like that. After finishing the game I saw there is a classic mode option, so I tried it. It was hell though as nails! It is exactly the same game only difference is you must pickup health pack’s, and just because of that the game is a lot harder. That made me realise that today’s game’s actually made us soft, helping us to much with regenerating health and to many check points and other things like that.

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