5 things to avoid in XNA/Indie games
In this post I’m going to talk about five of the things I have a powerful dislike for in commercial games. Of course, needless to say, this is just my opinion, but these are the things that I’d like to see a lot less of in games in general.
While I’m not a fan of games that have so shallow a difficulty curve that it’s impossible to move without a dozen prompts explaining which button keeps your character breathing, I at least expect to know what is going on. If I have gone a full few minutes not knowing being able to tell pickups from enemies, and genuinely have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, then something has gone seriously wrong. Instructions should be included where necessary, and explanatory, non-intrusive tooltips only where needed. I myself find it seriously annoying when popups keep interrupting me to tell me what button is which.
Cutscenes/excessive narrative/playing as a character
While this is far less prevalent in Indie games, this is one of my biggest bugbears in games today. It seems that many of them are far more concerned with making a movie than they are a game, and it brings up the cost of production considerably. Besides this, I find it takes me right out of the immersive nature of the game when I’ve been playing it for a while, then suddenly the controls are yanked away and I’m forced to watch as my character does something incredibly dumb just to force the next scene. You start to feel more like you’re helping a character get through his/her movie rather than playing the game yourself. There are exceptions, where the plot is truly exceptional, and actually becomes a reward for completing a section, such as Metal Gear Solid, but by and large, I find the cutscene an interruption to something I was quite enjoying.
Prime offender: Too many to mention – but one that sticks out for me is Doom 3. If ever there was a game that didn’t need to change camera angle to third-person to show your nameless doing absolutely nothing, it was this one. A prime example of breaking tension by removing you from the driving seat.
This can encompass a variety of things. Sections that are only hard because they require endurance, such as a boss that requires you to hit a certain weak point… five hundred times over. Levels artificially lengthened by getting you to run across town back and forth performing meaningless errands. Or my personal favorite – the old ‘take away all your guns’ maneuver, usually done during a cutscene where your character acts like a complete imbecile in order to facilitate this.
Prime offender: Prototype. You’ve built up all these amazing powers, right? Lot of fun, right? Well kiss that goodbye, as a bunch of levels take them away for a while. Just to ‘add challenge’. Which is is all well and good, but I was having fun back there!
Lack of feedback
If I shoot a guy, I want to see it hit him. I don’t necessarily mean a gout of blood or anything, just a feel that something has impacted. Like there’s a connection between my weapon and him. That’s a tactile reward for performing actions, and in a great game it goes all the way from combat to selecting menu items. Through sound and visual FX, you should be able to ‘feel’ the results of actions, not fire a gun and then see a man fall over in the same way as if I hit him with my crowbar.
This is mostly confined to first-person shooters, but I cannot stand it when I have to shoot a man 50 times in the chest with my pistol to finish him off. By the same token, if I get shot, I expect to die. Everyone being able to take a truckload of bullets before finally falling over just removes the sense of urgency and tension in combat. The prospect of sudden death, in my opinion, encourages far more tactical thinking, and is ultimately a lot more fun, as long as the game is balanced for it.
So there you have it, five things I’d like to see a hell of a lot less of in games. But like I say, there’s probably plenty more I could throw in, given the chance. Feel free to have your say on the subject in the comments section!