Take the "Video" out of Video Games
why video games suck
I like having fun as much as anyone else, and I take my game-playing seriously when I'm in the zone. So what's the problem? A lot of people I encounter--even my friends--are up in arms about the state of video games and how nearly everything is crap. After hearing so many arguments about this and that, it gets quite a bit tiring, and I honestly can't help speaking out on the matter.
Let's review the biggest complaints:
All the new games are crap.
The problem with this statement is how wide-reaching it is. No one is going to like everything [or that is a very rare person, indeed], which means that some games by necessity are going to seem flawed or undesirable. Furthermore, the pickier your own tastes are, the fewer games that are available that will to appeal to you.
This isn't limited to games only--at least half of all things are crap: cars, music, television shows, clothing designs, toys, flavours of ice cream... you name it. There's such a wide variety of things out there because there's such a wide variety of tastes out there. Certain companies will make a product that you like but the Joneses don't like, and other companies will make a product you don't like but the Joneses do like. This way, everyone gets a shot at finding something they like.
Buy the things you like to show your support, and don't buy the things you don't like. It's really that simple. You can't complain that Madden 2024 just came out, because obviously enough people liked the previous twenty-eight or so releases to justify making it. So what? Let them have it. If you don't like it, DON'T BUY IT.
To make matters worse, not everyone buys what they like. Pirating something is a fine way to decide, "Okay, I don't like this, so it's good I didn't waste money buying it," but if you do like it and don't buy it, you're telling the company that made it that you don't support their product. Naturally, this will mean that the aforementioned Madden 2024 will come out because the people who liked it bought it, and the people that made the game you like went out of business because no one bought their products. Regardless of how you feel about pirating, BUY WHAT YOU LIKE so the companies will make more things you like, instead of more crap. In particular, try giving the smaller companies a chance, as they're more likely to have fresh, innovative games than the "stick to the same formula every year" big fish.
Games are too easy.
Games are designed to reach the largest possible audience, so just because you have developed a higher skill level than others doesn't mean it should cater to you specifically.
There's a secondary layer to this, in that more games are now trying to focus on multiplayer gameplay instead of devoting everything to making a good, challenging one-player version. This is NOT a bad idea, because game players--via one-player games--have learned to hole themselves up in their rooms alone, television and console a-blazin', where they can shun society and develop bitter contempt of anyone who doesn't share their beliefs. Can you honestly tell me this is healthy behaviour? At least if these gamers are forced into a multiplayer setting, they'll get experience cooperating with other people, if even only between similar minds, and I can tell you from experience that playing a good game with someone else is loads more fun than playing alone.
Games are too hard.
Contrarily, there are games designed with the more advanced player in mind, and the idea is to truly earn the title of Champion at having beaten a very hard game without cheating. It's a delicate balance trying to get just the right amount of difficulty, but even with adjustable difficulty settings, you will find those who will complain because they can't beat the easiest setting on the first, second, or even third try. These players lack the kind of patience to truly appreciate a game, and I can't honestly feel any sympathy for them.
Ultimately, it boils down to either, "This game was boring," or, "This game pisses me off because it's taking me five hundred tries to get past the boss and I really want to see the ending!" Both of these scenarios are unfortunate, but I personally prefer to play a hard game and eventually get better at it than a boring [contemptuously easy] game that I'll never play again.
I'm sick of all the cut scenes and pre-rendered graphic fluff "screenshots" unrepresentative of the actual game.
The complaint especially with RPGs [Final Fantasy and its ilk] is that the newer ones emphasize the cut scenes more than the actual game play. This is the problem with plot-driven games, that there's less game and more video. At that rate, why make it a game at all? It's basically an interactive, multiple-storyline movie where the choices that influence the storyline are just slightly more hidden than in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sometimes it's not even that, and the "game" portion is actually just filler between highlights in an exceedingly linear story, because every alternate plot direction means that much more coding for the programmers to do.
Have you ever wondered how game companies like PopCap and Reflexive can churn out games left and right? The games have no plot, or very little of it. Any game may be played within the span of an hour or two--and even for free, online--and the most coding the programmers have to do is the main gameplay and changes in level design. They don't need a team of a hundred 3-D artists rendering photorealistic cities and things, because they use simple, even cartoony 2-D artwork mass-produced by a handful of artists, with the focus on how the game plays rather than how it looks.
There's hope, though--eventually these companies will realize how much they're spending on graphics for games that people will play ONCE before moving to the next, and they'll eventually lower the bar again and make shorter, cheaper games without so much of the visual fluff. Actually, companies are already doing this--churning out short but fun "budget" games left and right--and it's only the big major offenders that haven't gotten a clue, yet, though they certainly will.
WHAT'S WITH LOAD TIMES?!
With the advent of the CD-ROM as the basis of a console, loading times in games became a huge issue, mostly because now we have the technology to store LOADS of game data on a single disc, but no processing power to manage it all. The problem is that data storage is relatively cheap, but processors are fairly expensive. When my brother and I first got our PlayStation, I asked him why all the load times--why couldn't they use something like Zip Disk technology--and he pointed to the price tag on the Zip Drive. At the time, it was $100 for the lowest-end Zip Drive, which would consequently add $100 onto the price of the console at an already too expensive $150 [at the time].
Even computers with loads of processing power will have some loading time if the game is too memory-intensive, because it's putting everything into memory. Keep in mind, though, that once the game starts, it's uninterrupted gameplay! After all, would you rather your game load between levels... or during them?
Note: I'm aware that certain games have unacceptably poor load times, even considering the hardware. This is the direct fault of the programmers, and yes, those such games are crap.
There aren't enough save points/the save points are too far away from the boss!
The problem with save points and extra lives is that too many of them [particularly in games with infinite lives] lend to an extremely lazy mindset: "Why can't I just start from where I die and brute force my way through the game instead of force myself to improve my skill?" There are even games like Giga Wing where you can brute force your way through the game without actually fighting anything, due to having infinite lives. Yes, you'll finish the game, but your score will be zero. Is that really a satisfying experience?
Of course, while Infinite Lives means that any inept newbie can beat a game, save points are just a crutch... except in life simulation or exploratory [adventure] games where the game is designed to be played over many days, if not weeks or months, and the save points are very reasonably accessible in these types of games. Most action games even have "speed run" followings now where the idea is to finish a game in the least amount of time, so a game that might take fifteen hours to finish on average could be finished in fifty-five minutes or less. There's no excuse for complaining about save points instead of slowing down and concentrating on the game--if you've played through a section seventy times and still can't beat the boss, you're focusing too hard on wanting to progress and not hard enough on actual skill and strategy.
Truthfully, the only real issue with save points are in plot-driven games, the plot being the biggest thing taking away from the game. However, take the plot out of the game, and you've already solved most of the complaints I've heard! Most of the truly timeless games are plotless, anyway: Pac-Man, Tetris, Monopoly, Scrabble, SimCity, Dance Dance Revolution, etc. Who needs a plot to have fun? Sure, an RPG is fun to play now and again when I want to do just a little more than sit back and watch a movie, but I wouldn't want to subsist solely on RPGs alone.
The camera angles are terrible/make me motion sick.
This is actually an issue for me, because I get easily motion sick. As a result, I can only play racing games or flight simulators, as far as 3-D games go [and I've tried playing FPSes, only to collapse in stomach pain]. The problem is the emphasis on 3-D at all where two dimensions work perfectly fine, and how unnaturally the interface tries to replicate movement in three dimensions.
This is perhaps the main complaint I have with games, with the worst offenders being RPGs. I understand games like Blackjack or Slots having a huge random factor, but why, in other games, is the success of my action dependent entirely on a random number? If the only options I have are Fight or Run, and Run will only leave me vulnerable to death, why is it effectively left to chance whether I die in the next turn because the random number generator says I swung my sword and missed instead of killing the enemy?
Thankfully, there are the few games like the Seiken Densetsu series [Secret of Mana/Legend of Mana] that, despite having an RPG-like play mechanic, allow action-style fighting. I control the character directly and either hit or miss by my own effort--if I miss, I can only blame myself.
In the end, of course, the ESRB adverts are right: You've gotta play the game that's right for you, but there's no way to find out which ones are right without trying them. [Refer again to the first point.]
EA bought the license to exclusively make NFL games!
Initially, I heard this and was annoyed because it was a clear monopoly. Then I realized it's really no different from, for instance, Neopets exclusively selling Sony the license to make Neopets console games--they don't have the resources to develop them themselves, and maybe they only wanted to have to supervise one company's work, since they have too many other things to worry about in the meantime.
In EA's case, other companies are still allowed to make football games. It's just that only EA gets to have John Madden as the announcer and teams custom-designed to look like actual NFL players instead of totally made-up ones. What's the issue? Is it so important to have competition from five different companies making a football game with the current year's line-up? Just how many different versions were you planning to get, anyway, that more than one company making a football game with characters that look like existing pro stars is so important to you?
Exclusivity is how they get you to buy consoles you otherwise wouldn't need. This has been a tactic from day one of consoles [and in any other market, for that matter, as with Target-exclusive Polly Pocket dolls and so on], so complaining about EA doing this is like complaining that only Nintendo gets to make Mario games... and why wouldn't they? He's their mascot, to do with what they like! If they choose to license out their mascot, it's their decision, but not one I figure would be as profitable.
Personally, I hate consoles. I'd be much more happy being able to play all my games on my computer [and, these days, I feel that I do...], instead of having to lug my Super Nintendo out of the closet just because I feel like playing Super R-Type. Having lots of consoles take up a huge amount of space, you know! However, I recognize that companies want to make money, so they do what they feel they need to do to earn my business. What do I do? I buy what I like, and don't buy what I don't like. Yes, it's really that simple.
Small little other nitpicky points.
I also hear about little nitpicks that, in the end, sound more like trying to find fault in anything than actual reasons to be concerned. The thing these naysayers can't understand is it's absolutely impossible to make a perfect game, from idealization to finished product. It's regularly been said of Sonic Team that they can't finish a game, because they run out of time to finish it--the games they do release are only a fraction of what they intended to make.
If game quality is ranked from the usual scale of 0-100, with 100 being perfection, then a great game is probably a 90, good games are 80+, the games that most people buy are at least 70, crap games are between 50 and 70, and under that isn't worth mentioning, are still in development, or are scrapped without finishing. For monetary reasons [either the boss wants the game out NOW or they simply don't have the funds to do more], 90 is probably the most a company is given time to finish, so shortcuts here and there are going to be a given. Picking out the flaws that made it through is the easy part.
So, what makes a truly great game, then, as opposed to merely a decent game? Well, here's my input:
The games most people think of when they think of games are the types that you would find in an arcade--stick a couple of quarters in Tetris and play for ten minutes, then walk away when you're done. [Repetition is a huge factor in this, as people like to find something they like doing and do it over and over again.] Games like RPGs and "point and click" puzzle games [King's Quest] don't function well in arcades, because they require so much more time to complete and can really only be played once all the way through before having a diminishing returns in terms of interest. They're fine as far as being the game-equivalent of crossword puzzles, but they don't last in the long run as far as games that keep people coming back for more.
Is that game riding a recent fad or based on a newly-released movie or television show, or is it something your kids would enjoy playing twenty years from now? A lot of people--myself included--find certain game types that they like and stick with those forever, because they never get old.
Believe it or not, some people like to play for score. Being able to change difficulty settings from, say, Normal to Easy means that little Billy can play a game even at age five but will be able to crank up the challenge once he gets older and still get a satisfying experience out of it.
Emphasis on skill/strategy.
Tetris is a great game, because it's both a puzzle and an action game to work your brain and reflexes. Final Fantasy VII is a terrible game, because it can be beaten by running around at random and always selecting "Fight" in battle, with very obtuse puzzle elements on occasion to make you bored out of your gourd. There is a direct correlation between how closely a game matches your own skill level and how enjoyable it is--a game that's too easy or hard is going to make you hate it [see above point], while a game that tests you just enough is going to be pleasant and exciting.
If a game targets a very specific audience, anyone not in that circle will probably not find it as interesting. Niche games do have a strong following from those that like them, but these games are going to ostracize anyone else. However, this does go two ways, as games within a niche will be so targeted that everyone within that niche will more likely adore the game than not, as the creators are less likely to be the big guns concerned with profits and more likely to be the fellow gamers who want to share their visions with their compatriots.
If I wanted to summarize, the heart of the offense lies in games having plot. Cut scenes? BEGONE WITH YE! Voila, the end of crap games! This is merely my opinion, of course, but you should have known that already.