Games are unique, beautiful snowflakes. Or, sometimes, horrible, misshapen snowflakes that make grown men cry.
That being said, just like every meal can be improved with bacon, there are certain things that every game should have. These are those things.
Disclaimer: Yes, I do realise that not every single thing can be unilaterally applied to every game – Tetris doesn’t really need a storyline and Super Meat Boy wouldn’t benefit from a quicksave feature. So, you know, adjust accordingly.
An Emphasis on Gameplay, Not Graphics
Now I may have essentially dedicated an entire column to this opinion in the past, but my point stands.
The way a game plays should be the absolute priority for any developer; what’s the point of driving a Ferrari when it has the engine of a Citi Golf?
Even today we see console games capped at 30fps, which developers will try to tell you is perfectly fine. It’s not. It feels bad and sometimes it even looks bad, and we could do without that extra-shiny water and a smooth, fluid gameplay experience thank you very much.
The focus on gameplay shouldn’t refer only to the tradeoff with graphics either. Any new release will always have a few bugs or glitches that make it through the beta test, but stuff like shoddy controls, bad camera adjustments (in third-person titles) and game-breaking clusters of dodgy code are inexcusable.
So stop worrying about the way the leaves sway in the wind and worry more about why driving this Jeep feels like handling a three-wheeled Go-Kart in the throes of an epileptic fit.
Okay, I’m going to get this one out of the way because I know it’s going to be a tad controversial.
I’m a multiplayer guy, so I’m naturally biased. I know the campaign purists who have every game Bethesda has ever published will tell me that a great single-player experience doesn’t need to be diluted with a tacked-on multiplayer mode, but I don’t buy that.
Because it doesn’t need to be “tacked on” at all. I often hear developers say that they didn’t include multiplayer because it “didn’t fit the style of the game” or they “wanted to focus on a solid single-player experience”. All I really read from that is that they were too lazy/cheap to develop a solid multiplayer component.
I was bitterly disappointed that the latest Wolfenstein game didn’t have a multiplayer option. The sheer carnage and insanity of some of the weapons in that game (combined with fluid gameplay and some very pretty graphics to boot) seem perfect for a solid deathmatch experience.
According to Bethesda, multiplayer wasn’t in Machine Games’ “thought process”. Apparently charging full retail price was, though.
I believe that any game can have multiplayer, if done correctly. Not every FPS has to have a deathmatch option, just as not every RPG has to have co-op. There are many different ways to allow you to play a game with your friends, and I’ve never found a game I didn’t enjoy more playing with others than by myself.
Dedicated Servers/Modding (More Broadly, Giving Consumers the Product They Want)
This one is for the PC crowd, particularly for multiplayer FPS titles – dedicated servers. I don’t know a single PC gamer who enjoys the matchmaking system over a server list, and yet publishers continue to insist that this is what’s best for us.
It doesn’t matter that we’ve spent the last 6-7 years quite vehemently stating the opposite; they know what’s best and what’s best is having no control over who you play with or what you should be playing.
If I log on to Titanfall for a 3am game, I don’t have a clue which of the European servers I should select, nor which mode I should choose to search for. There might be 70 people searching for a Capture the Flag, and 3 people searching for a Last Titan Standing.
I literally have to try and get lucky clicking the “correct” game mode – there’s no transparency. With a server list, I can simply jump into whichever game has the most people.
The real advantage, however, is the community gets to make their own rules about how they want to play. Using dedicated servers you can effectively police hackers, ban weapons, play specific maps, play competitive/casual games, create quirky new game types and even introduce mods which completely change the gameplay experience and add years and years of longevity to the game.
I’ve stated before that I still play Call of Duty 4 regularly, and it’s because of the dedicated servers – I can literally play hundreds of variations on the game. Hell, the other day I played “Hide and Seek”, and spent my time as a steel barrel trying to look inconspicuous under a palm tree.
The broader message here (and this is for the console gamers as well) is this: give the people what they freakin’ want. We like matchmaking’s convenience, but we need the flexibility and transparency of a dedicated server list as well. Give us both. We’ve bought the game, we’ve communicated a need and for you to metaphorically cover your ears and make loud noises is ignorant and stubborn.
Oh boy, I’ve been ranting too long and am heading quickly into 1K word territory. I’m losing you, aren’t I?
Quick, save this and come back later. Haha, nevermind you can’t. You’ll have to wait for that checkpoint over there at the bottom of the page.
You thought you’d jump on for a quick ten minutes while you wait for your friends to pick you up? That was silly, wasn’t it? Enjoy walking these ten minutes through the mountains again when you come back.
And watching those two really long cutscenes with the shoddy voice acting. You know, those ones you can’t skip.
Jumping/Non-Lazy Invisible Curtains
Okay this might be a little out there, but it seriously irks me when I can’t jump in a game. Don’t tell me that I can slay fifteen minotaurs and do a barrel roll with a halberd in each hand, but I can’t quite bring myself to step over that knee-high wall over there.
This also happens, however, in games when you can jump. The developer doesn’t really want you to go into that area over there without cutting down those three thousand-year old ancient guardians first that will bring down the mighty wall, letting you pass.
Except that “mighty wall” could be scaled by a toddler who hasn’t yet learnt to not poop in the things he’s wearing.
If you want to give me that not-quite-sandbox feel in your totally-not-linear-but-actually-linear game, at least make an effort to make it look truly impassable. Having wide-open fields that I can’t access because my character is hurtling into a tiny picket-fence like a stubborn showhorse does not an open-world experience make.
If you’re going linear, just be honest about it.