Monday, December 28, 2020

Editorial: Ten Commandments All Videogames Should Follow

 Having spent a little over three decades of my life as a videogamer and a little under two as a reviewer, I think I’m more than qualified to say what games in general do right and wrong. I’ve found fault even in the most revered titles, and have seen good in certain games that mainstream videogame critics didn’t care much for. I’ve constantly evolved my review style and gone through games I had once experienced again so I could update my opinions on them in sync with my evolving style, and definitely feel strongly about certain areas of the titles I’ve played. Here’s a list of a few minor and major things that all videogames in my opinion should feature.

Ease up on the startup screens.

In early console generations, most cartridge-based games didn’t have loading times to worry about, and the degree by which players could enter a game for the first time or reenter the game was largely instantaneous. However, many companies would develop egos that would for some unfathomable reason force players to sit through several-second-long appearances of logos from every company responsible for a game’s production. A particularly bad offender is the Sly Collection on the PlayStation 3, where the player has to sit through company logos preceding the collection itself and each game in the trilogy. Probably the only game I’ve played where company screens are fully skippable is Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity on the PlayStation 2.

Have adjustable difficulty that’s meaningful.

When it comes to the degree of challenge in videogames, one size does not fit all. For some reason, there is intense debate on this question, with mainstream videogame reviewers sometimes gushing over difficult games such as those in the Soulsborne series, whilst simultaneously damning easier, more accessible titles. A simple solution to this issue is simply to have a spectrum of selectable difficulty settings, preferably changeable on the fly within a game rather than fixed from the beginning of a playthrough. Some games handle difficulty in interesting ways, such as The World Ends with You, where higher difficulty settings allow for better rewards from combat.

Have an accurate, easily-viewable in-game clock.

I know this is a rather insignificant feature, but one of the aspects of my videogame review scorecards is the potential range of playtime, since length can at times be a hot-button for certain gamers, and as I conservatively budget my playtime, I like to keep track of how much time I’ve invested into certain games. For some reason, however, certain games make viewing total playtime tedious, such as the Sly Collection on the PlayStation 3, which necessitates the player add all time spent on specific episodes to formulate total playtime. Accuracy is also a necessity, and things such as pausing the game need to stop the in-game clock, and things such as menu navigation require temporal tracking as well.

Let the player pause the game.

This seems like a laughably-simple feature, yet the number of contemporary games that lack this capability is surprising, among the primary offenders being the Soulsborne games, with the player having to quit the game in the middle of a session to “pause.” Even those games that do have a pause feature don’t implement it universally, such as not during standard exploration (the Kingdom Hearts series), during battle with real-time elements (the Xenosaga trilogy), not during cutscenes (Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, and so forth. No player should have to choose between things such as missing an important cutscene, missing a critical phone call, or deciding when to relieve himself or herself.

Have frequent checkpoints and save opportunities.

The save systems of videogames is also a hot-button at times, with most Japanese RPGs utilizing save points that restrict when and where players can record their progress. They’re not so bad when they have consistent spacing, preferably every couple of minutes or so, and another solution some games have implemented aside from standard save points is the suspend save, such as that utilized by Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. Starvation of save points can bear the potential of having players waste potential hours in certain games due to them having unceremonious Game Over screens that come as a result of death. Probably the most ideal save system is found in Saga Frontier 2, which allows players to permasave anywhere, in addition to an easily-accessible quicksave system.

Make all dialogue and cutscenes skippable.

For me, the ability to skip through dialogue in videogames is a must, since I don’t really enjoy sitting and waiting for characters to finish speaking when I would rather just get back to the main gameplay. With the advent of voice acting in videogames, many titles would adopt cinematic styles where the voiced dialogue in cutscenes is totally unskippable, such as in the Kingdom Hearts games. This is very unfriendly towards hearing-impaired gamers who can’t appreciate unskippable voiced dialogue, and the cutscenes too need to be fully skippable so that players don’t have to sit through them again after things such as losing a critical boss battle after a story sequence, akin to later Kingdom Hearts games, and even minor things such as tutorials and repeated dialogues developers should allow players to skip.

Make grinding fun and easy.

This mostly applies to roleplaying games with leveling systems, and “grinding” involves investing time into supplemental battles for want of higher levels and more money to purchase new equipment and consumables. Even some revered games such as Skies of Arcadia offend in this regard, that particular title having a portion where the player has to acquire a lot of money in order to advance the central storyline, and the potential length of battles in the game can make grinding a chore. Happily, some games such as many later Megami Tensei titles make battles a snap, and remasters such as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age include a turbo mode that makes grinding significantly easier and thus make them preferrable to prior incarnations.

Do not force repetition upon the player.

Most games with save points like most Japanese RPGs offend in this regard, but even some Western games such as the Sly Cooper games take this to ungodly levels, with several lengthy minigame and boss sequences that force the player to start from the beginning if they screw up. Luckily, some games such as the Kingdom Hearts series have retry modes that minimize wasted playtime, and titles such as Tales of Phantasia feature puzzles and minigames that are completely skippable after a few tries. Other games such as The Legend of Heroes’ Trails in the Sky trilogy and Riviera: The Promised Land allow restarted battles with lower difficulty in case of death. Particularly in RPGs, repetition can be a hot-button, so developers definitely need to find ways to make their games less repetitive.

Make your game beatable, regardless of the situation.

There have been rare instances in which I found myself totally unable to see a game to completion and view the ending story scenes and credits, and thus had to start from the very beginning in order to take precautions as to not make the same errors that made the game unwinnable for me in the first place. The Fire Emblem series was a particular offender in this regard for me, although I did beat Shadow Dragon and Echoes in secondary playthroughs. There are other games that can potentially become unwinnable such as the SaGa Frontier games, which feature dreaded points of no return that can screw players out of winning either game easily. Regardless of how averse certain gameplay situations become, developers should make sure any player can see their games to completion.

Make sure your game actually works.

Perhaps the most important thing a game needs to do is to be actually playable, and be free of game-breaking bugs, freezes, and others that can potentially cause players to waste their time and have to repeat certain portions of a game in hopes they don’t experience what caused the game to crash in the first place. This especially goes for physical versions of console games, since not every player will have the capability to update them with patches that make them more playable, and since some gamers might not be able to update their games at all, there may be certain points where they’ll find themselves totally unable to advance and finish a game. Developers, remember always to test your games thoroughly before releasing them to the general public.

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