Comments from a fat-burning Stardock Zombie
Why they worked... or didn't
Published on August 22, 2011 By dream-er In Gaming

So, it's been a very long time since I have posted anything on the SD forums so I thought while I had time, I might try to get back into the swing of things...


So, while I have been preparing for my upcoming school year (a Master's in Game Development), I have been playing through my game library again. This lead to many revelations on the interesting things game developers have tried to make games in common genres different. Some of these ideas have worked well while others... well... didn't.


(Starting another paragraph with) So, I decided to start an open discussion on things that people have seen in the progression of video games that they either liked or didn't like. I'll start it off with a few!


(A note: while I am picking specific features from games, I am not commenting on the overall quality of the games... In most cases, these are some of my favorite games/game series and I am just giving an overall opinion of 1 aspect of the play through).


--- Great Success ---


The Sly Cooper Trilogy (PS2/3) - Feature: Advancement of characters - I know this isn't technically a "game feature" but the Sly Cooper Trilogy is one of my favorite sets of games ever made and I had to mention it SOMEWHERE in this post...

In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus you really only play as 1 character the entire game, Sly Cooper. He's a pretty awesome raccoon with a cane that you can use to whack enemies into oblivion and is a master thief that can land on pin points, hid under objects, pick pockets, etc. You occasionally get to "play" as Murray (Sly's hippopotamus best friend and truck driver) in the driving stages and play as Bently (Sly's turtle other best friend and brains) in the "computer hacking" stages but this is in voice only (it could have been Sly driving or hacking, the only difference is you see Murray/Bentley's head instead of Sly's).

In Sly 2: Band of Thieves, you can now actually control Bentley and Murray on missions (Bentley gets a crossbow and bombs as well as his normal computer hacking missions while Murray is a beat-the-tar-out-of-people brute character who also gets driving/racing missions.) Like Sly 1, you can buy upgrades for all the characters to make them more awesome than they already are...

In Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, you can control other characters throughout the course of the game beyond the 3 main characters of the early series such as the Aborigine Shaman "The Guru" (who can turn himself into rocks or other inanimate objects to avoid detection) and Carmelita Fox (a police officer from earlier games who shoots a lazer pistol).

This overall progression of characters as well as a continuation of a great plot just makes the Sly Cooper Trilogy incredible... To make matters better, after being originally released for the PS2 (with one of the first 3D games [it game with those red/blue 3D glasses for certain 3D levels]), it was re-released on the PS3 in full 3D capability AND they are making a 4th! (If only I had a PS3...) 


Mass Effect 2 (XBox360/PC) - Feature: Ammo Cartridges - Ok, when I played Mass Effect (1), I went to all my friends and said "I am glad a game finally had the common sense to make ammo unlimited." Then I played Mass Effect 2 and went to my friends and said "I revise my statement... Having ammo cartridges is better BUT, only if it is done right" (which I hadn't seen in previous games). Here's how it works in ME2... Each of the classes gets a different gun set (the soldier gets all 4 weapon classes [pistol, assault, sniper, shotgun] while others get additional powers to supplant the loss of a weapon class). While ME1 works the same way, it creates the usage of 1 gun just repeatedly (I was a soldier class and upgraded my shotgun to maximum ownage and a few shots in any room killed anything... including defeating the final boss without taking a single point of damage). In ME2, each ammo cartridge refills a certain amount of ammo for EACH of your guns (you carry all your weapon classes at the same time). While ammo isn't sparce, it isn't too common either. This leads to the situation of "oh, my shotgun is running out of ammo because I am stupid and shooting it across a room... let's switch to the assault rifle for a bit" or "my sniper rifle is out but I might be able to pick these guys off with the zoom on my pistol." The removal of infinite ammo actually made the game better just since it encouraged the use of conserving your shots and actually picking your weapons for specific situations as opposed to just GUNS BLAZING 24-7!!! (which is fun, mind you, but not as challenging and intriguing as a game device).


Sky Odyssey (PS2) - Feature: Controls - Now, I don't play too many flight games on consoles (to the best of my knowledge, not too many exist). Sky Odyssey is one of the few that features traditional Pitch/Yaw/Roll controls on an airplane instead of the standard "turn the stick left and go left." Instead, you (can, if you so choose) control an airplane how its supposed to be controlled by turning the plane on its edge left or right and then "rising" in order to turn. The controls are smooth and effective, which is a pleasant experience in a genre I rarely play due to ineffective controls.


--- Complete Disaster ---


MLB The Show '10 (PS2) - Feature: Road to the Show player running - Now, anybody who has ever played a baseball game is probably familiar with the concept of "you press one button that shows which base and then a second button to say head to this base or retreat to this base." MLB the Show '10 decided, for their aptly named "Road to the Show" mode that this wasn't what they wanted... To familiarize people with the game mode, "Road to the Show" allows you to create a new baseball player at any position and progress through the Minors (AA & AAA) and into the Majors (called "The Show" in baseball). When playing in this mode, you ONLY control your character and other parts of the action are skipped (by default setting which you can change). Now, back to the base running... RTTS (Road to the Show) switches up the common "Base + Advance/Retreat" system to "Push the Left Trigger forward/backward to move your runner forward/backward." Now, this doesn't seem terrible until you realize that "forward/backward" is in relation to the direction your character is facing compared to the camera... So, if the camera is behind the character, looking forward, then up on the LS moves you forwards, back on the LS moves you backwards. If the camera is facing towards the outfield then left on the LS moves you forward and right on the LS moves you backwards. Now, at first this also doesn't seem bad except for 2 glaring issues... (1) The camera moves throughout the course of the play. Standing on first base, a ground ball through the whole between 1B and 2B first starts with you look in towards home plate (right on the LS to move forward). When the ball passes you, however, it is now looking towards the outfield (left on the LS to move forward). 99% of the time, you don't react quick enough and you get stuck in no-mans-land trying to get your character to stop doing the jitterbug and often times get thrown out at second. (2) When you round bases, you generally have to switch orientation of the joystick (lets say forward to left). Getting the timing to round the base without stopping is EXTREMELY difficult and you most often find yourself stuck at a base in a complete stop OR stopping and then rounding the base extremely slowly (prime targeting for getting picked off).



Madden NFL '06 (All platforms) - Feature: QB Vision Cone - Now, I don't play Madden too often (the last one I own is Madden '02 on the PS2) but when this game came out, I really considered buying it... Until I played at a friend's house and had to deal with the dreaded cone... Now, I am all about sports games adding more realism (see: NHL '12 with goalie's being full players who you can check), but in this case, the system was just flawed. The concept was that a QB with a higher "Awareness" rating would be able to see larger parts of the field, making their passes more accurate to WR/TE/RB that they could see. A player could shift this field of view with the right analog stick in order to reveal targets. If a target was in the field of view, you had good accuracy, if they were out of the field of view you had poor accuracy (after all, no-look passes in football aren't common unless you want to throw a lot of interceptions). The issues arises primarily with the fact that the cone for good awareness is too large (Tom Brady gets basically the entire field) whereas poor awareness nets a little sliver on the field. If you're say, a New England Patriots fan then you have no issue with this (since you can basically throw anywhere at any time). Now, as a Detroit Lions fan (one of the few and proud!) and as somebody who plays against friends with the "select your team via 3 random teams", this mode could utterly destroy you, making the game extremely difficult and not enjoyable... It's really not a surprise that it was cut in future versions.


NHL '11 - Feature: Be a Pro Mode - This section will be broken down into 2 features: (1) Skaters and (2) Goalies...

1) Skaters: The problem with skaters lies in the fact that your player is generally always on the ice (my 3 Be A Pro skaters average 50+ minutes of ice time a game... a super-star player like Niklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings averages about 24 minutes per game). This is 2-fold: 1) You are ALWAYS on the starting line (even if you're a 4th line player, you're thrown out onto the ice to start each period). In real hockey, you get the occasional start of a period but generally only the 1st or 2nd line players get to start a period. 2) You can ALWAYS call for a line change. So, you just get pulled and are sitting on the bench... You don't accumulate points (which is necessary to succeed in the game) by sitting on your butt doing nothing. So what do you do instantly? Mash the "get me back on the ice button" and the nearest convenient second. Rumor has it that they fixed this for NHL '12 (you are fast-forwarded in the action and given goals each shift) but for NHL '11 its sure a bummer (that I completely take advantage of to get 250 point seasons [the average NHL high-scorer gets about 100 points for the season]).

2) Goalies: The problem here is that you just don't get enough to do. Even on the hardest difficulty mode I have problems getting 12 shots a game (an average NHL game will net about 30 shots on goal a team). To compound this, if you let in 1 of those 12 shots, your Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (SV%) go right down the tube, making it almost impossible to accumulate points and make your player better. It's also ridiculously hard to be the goaltender but to me, that adds to the fun... Made less fun by a 1 goal win getting me no points


Mass Effect (XBox360/PC) - Feature: Inventory - Now, a lot of games have inventory systems. Hell, even sports games now have "inventories" that you can equip on your team. Mass Effect does a really poor job with the concept though... Early in the game, you accumulate weapons and you're like "well, whatever, I'll just carry all these weapons ALL THE TIME" because you don't realize that there is an inventory cap size. When you do realize this though, its generally at the most inconvenient time ever. This makes you need to go through an inventory screen that is atrocious... Now, lets say that this is just about any other game with an inventory ever, when your inventory list comes up, you see the following information on the screen for every list item: 2D image, Item Name, Count. So, if you have 4 Grand Rifles, you see "Image - Grand Rifles - 4." Seems logical. In ME1 though, you see "Image - Grand Rifle" 4 times in the list... So, lets say that you don't need any Grand Rifles and are clearing space, you have to delete each Grand Rifle individually. To compound this issue, each time you throw away an item, you get blipped back to the start of the list (needing to scroll down again through all the necessary items). It just takes a long time to do anything and could be done much better (like in ME2 where when you unlock a weapon type, you can equip one to each player with no "cap").





So, those are MY thoughts on game concepts that I loved/loathed in my game library. What are yours?

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