Give Me More Expressive Actions In Videogames, Please

By Graham Smith on January 8th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Which end do the bullets come out again?

Receiver is a first-person shooter made in just seven days. It takes place on a set of grey rooftops sparsely populated by turrets and flying robots. Your goal is to collect cassette tapes from randomised locations, and each one contains a nebbish voice coldly reciting instructions and explanations of the game’s hard-boiled scifi setting.

It’s austere and £3/$5, yet it’s also one of my favourite roleplaying games. Not because of a character creator or a stats sheet or quests. Receiver doesn’t have any of those things. It’s one of my favourite roleplaying games because it has a lot of buttons. A needless amount.

I want all games to have more needless buttons.

I’ve played Receiver for about half a dozen hours, and it’s impressive the ways in which it wrings atmosphere and character from its limited components. The game has been updated and expanded slightly since the original build, created for the 7-Day FPS challenge, but it’s still a tight package.

If you’ve played the game, or you play it for the first time after reading this, it’s the guns you’ll notice first. In each life – and you’ll die a lot – you start with a random type of handgun, a random number of magazines and bullets for that handgun, and a random chance of having a flashlight.

What sets these pistols apart from other games is that you control each function of the weapon via a distinct button press.

If I was to put it simply, I’d say that in most games you press R to reload, while in Receiver you press Q, E, R, T, Z and V to feel like a world-weary cyberpunk hero.

The game simulates your enemies in separate parts as well.

But let’s not put it simply.

If you want to reload one of Receiver’s three handguns, then you press E to remove the magazine, and then tilde (`) to holster the gun. You press Z multiple times to slip any spare bullets you’ve found into the magazine. Then you get your gun back out, press Z to insert the magazine back inside, and hit T to load the chamber. Before you can fire, you’ll also want to press V to turn the safety off or cycle between firing modes, and pull back the hammer with F.

This greater fidelity of simulation is normally described as “realistic”, and it extends to the game’s violent machinery, each of which is simulated as individual components: motors, cameras, ammo packs. But realism is not why these systems are interesting. If anything, in the case of your guns, abstracting your actions to individual button press feels less realistic. It’s a reminder of all the little ways in which pressing a button is not at all like sliding a bullet into a magazine.

Instead the button presses help you embody your role within the game in a way that’s fun and exhilarating.

To begin with, you’ll spend a lot of time looking at the in-game help screen. Eventually you’ll start slowly poking at the buttons, and you’ll make mistakes.

You’ll drop magazines on the floor.

You’ll eject perfectly good bullets off rooftops.

You’ll die because you tried to fire a weapon before loading a bullet into the chamber.

But then, over time, you’ll start to get better. You’ll remember which buttons to push and when. Within your first hour of play – and it doesn’t take any longer than that – you’ll be handling the weapon in your hands from memory.

Stairs are their natural enemy.

You’ll feel expert. You’ll feel like exactly the kind of person who might survive in the science-fiction world described through Receiver’s cassette tapes. The type of person who might run across rooftops, fighting machines.

At that point, each action becomes expressive. Loading a bullet into a chamber before attacking something isn’t just functional anymore. It’s business-like. I think a lot about the way games feel, but Receiver is one of the few games where individual actions have a tone.

The tone changes depending on the situation. When that electric robo-bastard is crackling away around a corner, trying to get at you, and you need to reload, it’s terrifying. Fuckfuckfuck-remove the magazine-fuckfuckfuck-put new bullets in the magazine-fuckfuckfuck-drop the magazine on the floor because you pressed the wrong button-FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK-die.

In other words, there’s now an actual in-game distinction between panicked reloading and deliberate, calm reloading. The physicality of the weapon simulation expands the player’s vocabulary.

Alright, look at this.

Shame it's a film about dismantling an empowered woman.

Die Hard is a pretty violent movie. John McClane kills a lot of people in it. But the poster isn’t Willis firing at some European mercenaries. He’s not even aiming. It’s him with his back against the wall, looking pensive, listening, his gun up by his face. He looks stressed out, but ready for something, and that’s cool enough.

Receiver’s more complicated gun handling gets you a couple steps closer to living that role than most games – you can arguably hold your weapon pensively in it – but it’s only enough of a taste that I’m hungry for more.

The last ten years have given us a few innovations as far as re-creating the staging and choreography of action scenes. Gears of War’s vacuum-like button for throwing your back against cover is one. Blind-firing over and around cover is another. Bruce Willis did those. I like doing them, too.

This is also, as a slight aside, why Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s “look at weapon” button is so funny to me. It’s not that it’s a slightly forced way to justify custom weapon skins. It’s that it’s an expression of affection. I imagine every Counter-Terrorist and Terrorist smiling dimly to themselves as they gaze upon the pretty colours in between doing murders.

Turrets express very little.

Please don’t think this is just about guns, either.

Firstly, because in Receiver’s case, the same applies to your need to keep tapping W if you want to sprint. Second, because I don’t think it needs to even be limited to only practical actions. Receiver is a nighttime cyberpunk fantasy set on a bunch of cold grey rooftops. I want buttons designed solely to help me inhabit that role. I want ‘Press J to take long drag on cigarette’. I want ‘Press K to look at city skyline and deliver brooding soliloquy’. If idle animations are the way game artists communicate character in between moments of player input, then I want player input to be able to communicate character in the same way.

It would hurt consistency between different games and their control schemes, but it wouldn’t matter. You could treat a lot of these buttons as optional extras, there for those who want to perform their role a little more fully. Bonuses for the people who want a button to extend and retract Adam Jensen’s face-embedded sunglasses as well as his fist-chisels.

In any case, having to read the key bindings screen in Receiver is a small price for what you get in return.

, .

73 Comments »

  1. Malleus says:

    I’m with you on this. I remember when I first tried Red Orchestra 2, my biggest “YEAH” moment was when I found out that you can manually bolt your rifle. :)

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      P7uen says:

      Ooh matron!

    • Shade399 says:

      YES! I was just about to come down here and post that same comment. Bolting it had a more solemn feel for me. Playing the first campaign mission for the first time, completely overwhelmed by the horror of it all (for the first time in a game) and bolting the rifle while positioning the sights over the poor sod running across the field in front of me felt terrifying.

  2. wild_quinine says:

    I want all games to have more needless buttons.

    Flightsims and Arma, away!

    • communisthamster says:

      Incidentally, the way Arma handles soldier animations means you can have client-side mods to access some of the weirder hand signals; by default you can only salute and arms-behind-head surrender, but with the mod you can also have the tacticool “flap hand signalling move forward”, “hold hand up signalling stop”, “point at that thing over there” etc. Arma multiplayer with positional audio gives great feeling of being a virtual avatar in a world with other virtual avatars but that mod really adds some salt and pepper.

      • TimePointFive says:

        There is no better shooter on pc than Arma tooled out with ACE, ACRE, and JSRS. Even the functionality to rest your rifle on a squaddies shoulder in the Invasion ’44 mod was amazing

    • guidom says:

      Like in DCS. So many buttons! Because sometimes you really need to use the windscreen wipers.

  3. aliksy says:

    I liked this article. Interesting point I think I agree with, and well written.

    • SomeDuder says:

      It explained very well how this kind of game can be interesting for some people, but I just cannot see the fun in it. I’d quit out of frustration long before shooting the robot. A 5-button mouse and WASD+space is all I need for my first-person shootiness.

      I doubt this game would even be worth mentioning if it had the regular control scheme.

      • Pedanticjase says:

        Yeah I came into this article expecting to outright hate it but I can see the merits of making games a bit more analogue.

        However I also don’t have infinite time to adapt to esoteric controls schemes either.

        I have played receiver and it is cool to see how different guns work mechanically the part where it’s a actual game (which you paid for) isn’t very good. Then again no one else would try such an experiment.

  4. KDR_11k says:

    I like games where seemingly standard actions aren’t just single button presses but procedures that you have to master. It’s why I wish Steel Battalion Heavy Armor wasn’t junk and why I love Chou Soujuu Mecha MG, a DS game with the most implausible control panels for your mechs on the touchscreen. An early transporter mech is controlled with a puppeteer’s cross that you move around to move its hands, a gunslinger mech requires dragging each bullet from the ammo storage into the revolver’s chambers one by one and the coal powered transforming steam train requires shoveling said coal into the burner and turning valves to direct the steam to its subsystems.

    Also A Boy And His Blob on the Wii is famous for its extra button: The hug button.

    • Nathan Grayson says:

      I want all games to have a hug button. Imagine confronting some enraged villain who’s ranting about how the world did him countless wrongs, and then just interrupting him mid-sentence with the warmest embrace of his life. I will call it CODHUGS, and it will make billions.

      Alternatively, an RTS where you can boost unit morale with hugs, or a Deus-Ex-style cyberpunk adventure with augmented hugs, or a grand strategy in which you can create a bustling hug economy, or or or or

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        Harlander says:

        I’d play the hell out of a game about cheering people up in the cyberpunk dystopia.

        PRESS K FOR KINDLY WORD
        PRESS H FOR HUG
        PRESS T FOR NICE CUP OF TEA

        (That said, “set in a cyberpunk dystopia” is a bullet-point that always greatly increases my likelihood of purchase..)

        • LionsPhil says:

          I think “hug” is out-of-place in that list; it’s far too much human contact for the British psyche to handle. Perhaps PRESS U FOR SUBTLE STOIC NOD INDICATING SOME DEGREE OF FELLOW HUMAN UNDERSTANDING WITHOUT GETTING ALL WEIRD NOW.

    • siegarettes says:

      Also by the same company, in Double Dragon Neon you can use the cardinal directions on the right stick to perform a variety of high fives with your co-op bro, including a fake out.

  5. Metalfish says:

    As someone who frequently lowers their rifle and ponderously strolls around before nonchalantly sitting near the LZ whilst waiting for the evac chopper in an ArmA mission, this strikes a chord. My fellow warriors might check their gear, or stand rigidly pointing their gun at nothing in particular, but sometimes they’ll see me taking a superfluous breather, looking around by actually moving my head like a human being, and they’ll join in.

    It’s oddly magical when everyone does it automatically: a bunch of relieved soldiers waiting out the calm before the next assault, rather than a bunch of stiff avatars momentarily powered down.

  6. Rally.Plane says:

    If you want there to be more games with “More Expressive Actions”, then please consider being more acrid with things like gone home.

    • Ada says:

      But Gone Home is incredibly expressive… The way you slowly pore over your family’s belongings, trying to make sense of what’s gone on in your absence… It’s beautiful.

      • kyynis says:

        Favourite moment: Note from mother chiding Sam for not turning lights off behind her, just like her sister… WHICH I WAS TOTALLY DOING UP TO THAT POINT. Afterwards I tried to make a point of not leaving lights on. Little bit of busywork with no payoff, but it felt right.

  7. Synesthesia says:

    Fantastic piece Graham. I wholeheartedly agree. This is why i still think ARMA is the best RPG i have every played.
    Cresting a hill at night, to see that dimly lit chopper, kicking up dust while my chums get into it, lone tracer fire across the sky… only that time, only in that mission, only with those players.

  8. N'Al says:

    Hrm, not so sure about this. I read/heard an interview with an ex-Looking Glass employee some time ago where he mentioned that if LGS had created GTA their carjacking mechanic probably would’ve been something as complicated as this. I can’t imagine GTA benefitting from something like this at all, though, so it really depends on the game (from the sounds of it it works well in Receiver after all).

    I do very much appreciate the little touches in Metro:LL that add to the atmosphere (wiping visor, charging flashlight, pumping pneumatic weapons) after all…

    • GameCat says:

      NDS GTA: Chinatown Wars have neat minigames everytime you’re stealing parked vehicle. You must manually wire the cables, use screwdriver as key or do few other things (all on touchscreen) to get your car running. Of course when cops are chasing you it can be a very tense moment.

    • The Random One says:

      The thing is that GTA is very neatly designed around the idea that it’s very easy for players to commit grand theft auto (oooooooh, that’s what the name means). A game where that action was meaningful, suspenseful or failure-prone would be a different game. It might be better, but it might also not even compare.

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    People used to look at me funny when I said that Far Cry (the first)’s ability to select single, burst or full auto marked it out as being so satisfyingly different as a shooter. It made me feel much more ‘businesslike’, or maybe skilled, when quickly bumping a key to switch to single shot, and taking out HOW DYA LIKE THOSE APPLES guy with a couple of taps to the forebonce. I know this about way more than guns though.

  10. Phendron says:

    I was looking for a way to adjust your cyber eyeglasses as well in DX, considering how much they were featured in the trailers.

    One of the great moments of pointless interaction for me was the first time I picked up a can in Half-Life 2 and threw it at the head of a Combine soldier. I love little things like those, stuff that developers might take for granted but gamers remember.

    • altum videtur says:

      In fairness, “pick up that can” was designed from the get-go as a moment that would stick out and stay with everybody that played the game. Valve is perfectly aware of stuff like this; it’s why when a round starts in Team Fortress 2, all the characters scream out war cries at the top of their lungs. It’s something that gives the experience “oomph”.

  11. jellydonut says:

    Why no comment on the new loading system in DayZ standalone, then?

    It’s not as elaborate as Receiver, unfortunately, but it’s getting up there.

  12. pilouuuu says:

    These are some really interesting mechanics. It’s funny how games have been created for more than 30 years and games are getting simpler with the idiotic “Press X button to do every thing” instead of having something more physical and visceral.

    If this turns out good it could be a great game to play with the Oculus Rift (and maybe some kind of VR gloves or a good Kinectic-like system?).

  13. Psymon says:

    It’s quite a feeling when you can reload the gun in a few seconds from memory.
    I had to use cheats to complete the game though.
    Not enough ammo and more bots every time you enter a new room makes it one hell of a challenge.
    But yes, the level of control is marvellous :D

    • oyog says:

      I agree with this wholeheartedly. That moment when everything finally clicked after playing for an hour or two was just so astoundingly satisfying. I’ll have to go back and play again. I didn’t know Wolfire updated with more guns.

  14. Luomu says:

    >I want ‘Press J to take long drag on cigarette’. I want ‘Press K to look at city skyline and deliver brooding soliloquy’.

    Interstate ’76 had “press P for a poem”

    • jonahcutter says:

      The f-key in Cargo Commander is another example. Superfluous to gameplay, but adding so much to overall experience. And it even responds to repeated, chained pressings with a bit of a changeup.

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        VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        As I’ve never played Cargo Commander, could you describe what the key does?

        • Stompopolos says:

          Fuck you! FUCK YOU! Fuuuuuuuuck yooooooou! Go fuck yourself! Fuck you, fuck you, fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou!

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      >I want ‘Press J to take long drag on cigarette’. I want ‘Press K to look at city skyline and deliver brooding soliloquy’.

      Like… Dinner Date? http://store.steampowered.com/app/94000

      (I would not normally self-promote, but your desire is something which literally happens in Dinner Date.)

  15. Baf says:

    It’s been pointed out before that Dungeons & Dragons has lots and lots of fiddly rules about combat, but healing — which, in the real world, is at least as complicated — is abstracted to “cast a spell and roll some dice to see how many hit points to restore”. This says a lot about what the players in D&D are expected to be doing. If combat were abstract and medical treatment were complex, it would be a very different game.

    Anyway, your observations here made me think of that.

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      jrodman says:

      Hmm, I’m not sure if it could satisfy my power curve fantasies though. Or maybe it could, perhaps I could level up as a surgeon and stuff and take feats of suturing and triage. I sort of like the sound of this, actually. The only problem is I’m too squeamish for the PC conversion.

  16. Tiberius says:

    I loved the gameplay of Vanquish, but the most memorable design decision was implementing the character as a chain smoker. He smokes in every cutscene and is chided for it. However, when pressing all the random buttons to figure out what some unknown did, there is one that causes him to take out a cigarette, light it, take a big draft, and toss it over his shoulder. Even in the middle of combat.

    It turns out that the enemy robots use heat sensors to detect you, so chain smoking is one of the easiest ways to stay alive on harder difficulty settings because the cigarettes you flick away actually distract their targeting systems, giving you vital seconds to aim up your head shots. It is incredibly charming, gratifying, and is the only time I can truly say that being a chain smoker makes you feel like a badass.

    • grom.5 says:

      Ow Fuck yeah.

      Clover/Platinum games is one of my favourite for this kind of reason. They just think “What can make you cool and make the character alive”.

      In Vanquish it’s to be allowed to smoke when you’re under heavy fire. Like all this mess is just a boring game. One of the most simple, but best characterization of a character.

      Same in Okami (yeah, console game, sorry). You have the option too pee on your opponent in a fight, and it’s useful ! Because you shamed him, so you get one object…

      I think they have also stuff in Madworld but I don’t remember…

  17. Zenicetus says:

    The reason that tons ‘o buttons works so well in flight sims (and old school space combat games) is that many of the commands reference functions that are shared between games. Every modern fixed wing aircraft has commands for flaps and landing gear, the piston props have a mixture command, and so on. Space combat games have a set of common targeting commands like “nearest enemy, nearest friendly, target under cursor,” etc. What you learn on one game can be transferred to another similar one. And if the key mapping isn’t exactly the same, you just set up a custom mapping on your HOTAS rig.

    Most games aren’t like that. I’m an older guy so it probably takes me longer, but it’s usually only about halfway through a game like Dishonored or Witcher 2, before the unique combat movements start to feel fluid and automatic. I’m only about 10% through my first playthrough of AssCreed IV, and I’m still at the clumsy stage of trying to memorize all the different commands for land and naval combat. I’m still doing stupid things like jumping over to an enemy ship I’m boarding, and starting combat with fists instead of blades because I haven’t hit the right !$#%& key. I’m talking about combat here, but the problem applies to any game with unique movement and action ideas, unless it’s really stripped down to just a few basic functions like Portal.

    So I don’t know how useful an idea it is, to just add more buttons to games without considering the learning curves, and ability to transfer skills to the next game. What’s the point of adding more buttons if they’re unique to a single game, and there are so many that you don’t really burn them into muscle memory until you’ve almost completed the game? And on the other hand, we don’t want to straight-jacket game developers by requiring that they use a common set of commands like flight sims, because that limits creativity. There’s a balance in there somewhere, between unique functions and having too many of them.

    • soldant says:

      Exactly. There seems to be some sort of ridiculous notion that more buttons = complexity = depth, when really that last part doesn’t follow the rest. ARMA benefits from a number of buttons, just like flight sims, because there are legitimate uses for them. Adding in buttons to do other actions without purpose turns the game into a giant quicktime event.

      All of those keys in Receiver works because that’s the entire point of the gameplay. Adding all of that into ARMA would make reloading a big quicktime muscle memory event which wouldn’t benefit the game and would turn it into a mess. The rest of the article reads like “I want more atmospheric moments in my games” which has nothing to do with keybinds and everything to do with world building.

      There’s no reason you should need 3 keybinds to open a door, turn on a light, or turn a valve. That’s adding keys for the hell of it, and they can combine easily into a USE key without any loss of function. The problems with amalgamating keys comes when you try to do it with actions that don’t contextually go together (like Mass Effect 3 binding the dodging/rolling key to the Use key – that was dumb).

      The fact that flight sims use every single key on the keyboard is no justification for every other game to do it too.

  18. Jenks says:

    It was written 2 days ago but Gamasutra put this on their RSS about the same time you posted this, weird.

    http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/BrendanVance/20140106/208092/The_Cult_of_the_Peacock.php

  19. Iain says:

    nebbish

  20. studenteternal says:

    I am a little put in mind of demon\dark souls gestures. Yes they were there as a limited communication, but I can’t be the only one that would use gestures to strut a bit after taking down a boss solo.

  21. DatonKallandor says:

    Here’s why we haven’t seen awesome complex control systems like Receiver expanded upon:

    Consoles. Gamepads. Not enough buttons.

    We’ll never get a big Zombie Survival Game or Team Deathmatch Extravaganza with the added depth of a Receiver-like complicated weapon handling system, because you can’t put it on a gamepad.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, that’s one reason the X:Rebirth release was such a disaster (but not the only one). They tried to come up with a “console-friendly” design, which meant that everyone who had ever played a previous X series game, or any space combat game since Wing Commander for that matter, went looking for “target next enemy” keys and couldn’t find them. Because they wouldn’t fit on a console controller.

      • soldant says:

        Actually there’s a thumbstick button which apparently does absolutely nothing which would have been perfect for “target centre” or “target nearest” bind. Also the UI is still atrocious to use on a gamepad. Also X3:AC works fine with a 360 controller by design and has the requisite binds. So the “it was made for a controller” excuse doesn’t hold water.

        Hell, with a bit of inventive binding and the use of modifier buttons, you can just about run some of the DCS games, provided you’re patient and can learn it all. I used to play Blackshark with a PS3 controller and I had all the major things bound to the controller.

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      xao says:

      I think it’s more fair to say that too many developers refuse to use all the potential commands on a controller. Consider the XBox 360 controller. Something as simple as using the triggers as command modifiers gives you an easy 24 commands issuable by buttons. Toss in the dpad (primary directions only, as the 360′s dpad is.. imprecise) and the thumbstick clicks, and you can get 48 potential commands without ever hitting a menu or requiring command chains.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        The Playstation controller has even more potential with all of its pressure sensitive buttons. I loved how in Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 you tap the Square button to shoot, hold it to aim or hold someone up, and slowly let off to put the gun back down.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Nah, it’s because of a lack of creativity. There was that asymmetric cowboy shooter released a few months back that was designed around three players on one PC, one with the mouse, one with the keyboard and one with a joypad. Each character was designed around the control method. The joypad guy had a six shooter which you had to reload by thumbing bullets into the cylinder with the right thumbstick. That simple motion was ridiculously immersive.

    • BazBake says:

      Using just the face buttons and not combining them with the select and start not included, the DualShock has 12 buttons. That’s more buttons than are necessary to play receiver. Throw in the analog stick buttons and you’re up to 14, about twice as many as you need to carry out the majority of tasks in Receiver.

      Most buttons are wasted on controllers for the sake of simplicity. A Zelda game usually assigns one button for each item so you don’t have to go to an equip menu. You could just as easily scroll through items with two directional pads freeing up two extra buttons. And do Zelda games even use the select button? The analog stick buttons? In the end, it’s mostly just simplicity for the sake of simplicity to control what players can do, not to focus them on specific tasks.

  22. jonahcutter says:

    A side observation about the Die Hard poster: I love the “12 Terrorists. One Cop…”. That movie shows what a complete, intense, satisfying action experience can be without a huge body count. Each baddie Bruce Willis defeats is distinct and feels like an accomplishment. When he takes out one or two, he generally has to retreat to lick his wounds for a bit. And there’s only twelve of them.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Having recently gone on a Die Hard Trilogy binge (one movie every day!) I gotta agree here. And add that those movies hold up unbelievably well. Unlike the current crop of action movies, Die Hard isn’t about explosions or shooting people or death. It’s entirely about people and how they try to get what they want. Every goddamn character in these movies is multidimensional. You see one and you think “oh that’s the asshole policeman who doesn’t take the main character seriously, I know this character” – and then they surprise you. Because nobody is just a cliché – they’re always more than that.

      If only we could get a video game with that kind of depth to it. Maybe one where we will actually feel bad at the end, not because in a twist it turns out we were the bad guys, but because everyone was kind of bad and kind of good in equal measure. A shooter where we feel sorry for the antagonists and protagonists in equal measure.

      • LionsPhil says:

        One of the most horrible things the new Die Hards have done is make some people retroactively paint them all as dumb action films.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I agree with the idea that we shouldn’t need to kill hundreds of baddies for a game to be good. However, Die Hard was only a two hour movie. Bruce Willis was killing someone every 10 minutes, on average. What are you going to do in a big-budget game where players expect something like 15-20 hours of gameplay? Put 12 bad guys in a game like that, and you’ll only be pulling the trigger every hour and a half. Hence the idiotic padding with waves of enemies in things like the new Tomb Raider, or Bioshock Infinite, so you have something to shoot without too much downtime in a 20 hour game.

      Some games can get away with limited gunplay, like L.A. Noire where the gunfights are more of an interlude to break up the investigations. Maybe a game in the Mafia series could pad it out that much between shooting galleries. But it’s not going to sit well with most gamers if you put a gun in their hand, and they only get to use it every hour and a half.

      • jonahcutter says:

        I agree in that it wouldn’t be easy to pull off. It would take some real inspiration and perseverance from the devs.

        Some games do go partially in this direction. The Hitman series. The Deus Ex series. Yes, there’s still plenty of nameless henchman you can wade through if you choose to play that way. But it’s also possible to just take out a few important npcs, and leave the rest.

        DayZ is super popular, yet you spend the vast majority of your time in it not using the weapon in your hands. And that works immensely in its favor. It really is just a huge deathmatch arena. The tension comes from what is going on in your own head during the endless minutes between the brief encounters with other players (well, and the lethality of combat in the ArmA engine). My guess is, if the map was 1/10 the size, not many would have ever given it a second look. There’d be too much combat for it to be anything notable.

        Now if someone could create that ongoing tension within a narrative structure, where violence is always implied and possible, but each actual outbreak is rare enough to stand out as important, that’d really be something. The Hitman games can be played this way. And they’re amongst my favorite games of all time (except the misbegotten Absolution). But there’s no real narrative to them (again, except for Absolution, which is as a shit Hitman game).

        • Shieldmaiden says:

          I really liked Sleeping Dogs’ focus on fisticuffs over shooty-bangs for that reason. It felt more plausible and it gave the gunfights a real “Woah, shit just got real!” vibe.

      • BazBake says:

        Shadow of the Colossus did exactly this in 2005. Mindless violence against endless mobs (often respawning in the case of Call of Duty and Battlefield) to slow you down from one keystone to the next is easier than designing separate set pieces.

  23. Universal Quitter says:

    “I want ‘Press J to take long drag on cigarette’. I want ‘Press K to look at city skyline and deliver brooding soliloquy’.”

    Sentences like this are why I come here, RPS.

  24. Runs With Foxes says:

    The gun mechanics deepen the simulation so they contribute to the gameplay (like frantically reloading, as you say). A button to smoke a cigarette or look at a sunset is only an aesthetic addition. It’d be more interesting if they impacted on the game’s systems in some way. I’m all for deepening the simulation.

  25. kaffis says:

    Yes.

  26. zachforrest says:

    KOTOR had the excellent option to flourish your saber/pistol. Much appreciated

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      I loved that, twirling my lightsaber when closing for combat.

  27. Wulfram says:

    The detailed gun mechanics don’t really seem attractive to me. Probably because I know I’d mess up a lot and thus not feel like a badass at all.

    As for needless buttons, I remember KotOR had a twirl your lightsaber button that I pressed a fair bit..

    edit: I post too slowly

  28. geldonyetich says:

    What, add gratuitous depth to games? And miss the chance to earn the passing fancy of casual gamers’ wallets? Not in my quadruple-A game studio!

  29. Shieldmaiden says:

    I totally agree with the article. However I am the kind of person who runs around Skyrim without a helmet on because no adventurer runs around with a helmet on unless they’re about to go into battle. Helmets are a pain in the butt. I love the Dawnguard armour for the same reason; it looks like armour an adventurer would wear. Good protection, easy to put on and take off and you could go for a walk in the woods wearing it. Nobody is going to hoof it across miles of mountainous terrain in clanky plate harness.

  30. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    This is a lot of what I loved about the early Mechwarrior games. Almost every single button on the keyboard did something, and as a small child my brother and I spent days and weeks fumbling around learning what every single one did. But by the time we’d mastered the controls, we could make a 100 ton Atlas dance with a ballerina’s grace. And it really did add to the tone of the game an incredible amount when you’re taking fire from three enemies and you’ve lost the left half of the mech to an ammo explosion and you need to hit six buttons at once. There was just so much you could customize and so many tweaks you could make with the keyboard that it really was easy to imagine your 106 keys controlled an equally complicated real mech.

    I’ve been a bit disappointed that Mechwarrior Online hasn’t really captured this feeling, even though I recognize the need for simple, fluid controls for a multiplayer shooter compared to a singleplayer sim. There are small bits that I really appreciate (period lets you adjust the brightness of your in-cockpit lighting) but overall, you don’t need more than a handful of keys besides wasd and the mouse.

  31. Highstorm says:

    “I want ‘Press J to take long drag on cigarette’. I want ‘Press K to look at city skyline and deliver brooding soliloquy’.”

    One of my favorite mods for Skyrim is Dovahkiin Relaxes Too. It simply has your character do a context-sensitive animation based on the environment around them, at the press of a button. Stand next to a fire and you’ll warm your hands. Press it while looking at a bar stool and you’ll sit down and have a drink. It’s completely pointless, but it adds a lot to my immersion.

  32. bad guy says:

    GTA2 has a burp/fart button. It’s a stroke of genius.

  33. yezo says:

    Nice article, except of Receiver being 7 day-old piece of laggy Unity marvel.

  34. Dave Tosser says:

    Red Dead Redemption’s Ma’am Button. You go up to someone and press the Ma’am button and Marston tips his hat or whispers a kindness. Ride into town, hitch your horse and stroll over to the saloon as your spurs go jingle jangle. As you pass a lady or a drunkard on the steps, press the Ma’am Button and offer a greeting.

    If your Marston happens to be a bit of a dick on account of all the bank robberies, murder and tying nuns to traintracks he does, the Ma’am Button instead becomes the Insult Button. Go look at the Red Dead Redemption wiki for a list of all the things he might say depending on the player’s Honor.

    Saints Row’s taunts, Vanquish’s cancer sticks, Dark Souls/Fable gestures, controls in things like Mechwarrior and flight sims, hand signals in Arma and OpFlash, swinging your saber in KotOR, smoking reefers in Gothic, giving someone the finger in GTA or Mirror’s Edge… They’re often silly and pointless, but I love them.

    Too often our only means of interacting with the world are either shooting or pressing F to stuff invisible cakes into our health bar. If we could make neat gameplay mechanics and world interaction from this, we’d never have to suffer Bioshock Infinite’s stage play emptiness again.