It’s about time everyone in the games industry did what I tell them.
So starting today, here’s the first of my Do And Don’t guides. Obey them, developers. Live longer.
Do: let me flush the toilets and turn on the taps. Scenery, in any game of any genre, shouldn’t be painted on the walls. And so many games before have put in a nice toilet flushing noise. Since all games do insist in including a toilet, as well they should, then all games should include the splishy sploshy noise of flushing it.
Don’t: tell me that you’re a game any more. You want to capture something of Brechtian estrangement, break down that fourth wall with mallets and wrecking balls, because you think it’s a fresh and original approach. It’s not. It’s been done a lot, and it’s probably a sign that you’re not confident enough in your own creation. If you feel the urge to winkingly acknowledge to the player that they’re playing a game, then you need to go back to work to create a more convincing world.
Do: feel free to let me quick save. I know, I know, you’re very proud of your checkpointing, but as it happens I don’t really want to repeat any fight in the game seventeen times because of your difficulty spike. And sure, you could consider it cheating, letting me blag my way through sections. But I sort of bought your game, and arrogantly feel like I should now be able to enjoy it as I wish. Perhaps that might be to opt out of quick save spamming. But perhaps it will improve the experience if only you’ll let me.
Don’t: show me an unskippable animation when I die. It doesn’t matter how elaborate you make this, the maximum number of times I’ll ever want to watch it is none. And if your load times are horrible, this becomes infinitely more awful. If you’re only ever playing your game with God Mode on to test it, switch it off occasionally to see how the rest of us will suffer when we play. YES! I KNOW! I DIED! SHUT UP AND RELOAD! JUST BLOODY RELOAD! That is how the rest of us suffer when we play.
Do: let me carry more than two guns. Just when did we all decide that we weren’t okay with that element of unrealism in gaming? Sure, it can be set in the retro-future on a spaceship made of time, but god forbid we holster an improbable number of weapons. Especially if you’ll then let me carry hundreds of bits of ammo for all the weapons anywhere. Where am I storing those? In my magic trousers? And if so, why can’t I stick a pistol and a rocket launcher in there too? I want to stick a rocket launcher in my magic trousers!
Don’t: leave diary entries by one person scattered over miles of corridors, buildings and countries. That’s not how a diary works. A diary tends to be all in one place. Most people, when journaling their lives, don’t tend to scribble it out on the nearest scrap of paper and then leave it wherever they wrote it. Because that would be utterly insane.
Do: feel free to hire a writer to work for your team from the start of development. Many really are amazingly talented, and their skill with coding is extraordinary, but this doesn’t always naturally lend itself toward crafting fine narrative. It does, however, mean that we end up with characters called Dirk Bluntly, who say things like, “This is the last time I’m going to take any more of this!” Which we don’t want as much as people apparently believe.
Don’t: do anything to us in a cutscene that we could easily prevent during the game proper. It’s extremely unlikely that the enemy is going to capture Tanker McTankerton by pointing a gun at him menacingly. Because that’s what everyone else did on the way there, and he blew them all up with his grenade launcher. Which he likely would do here as well, if only you’d flipping give us the controls back.
Do: however, let me do anything amazingly cool my character can do in a cutscene. If the best I can do is jump the height of a brick, then that’s what he’s limited to in the scenes too. If he can cartwheel up a wall, fire lasers out of his eyes, and turn into a spider, then I have to be able to do those things too. In the game. In real life would be good too.
Don’t: have flying baddies in your game. Sure, there may be examples of the odd few that have worked. The rest haven’t. It’s so, so unpleasant. Like a lovely walk in the woods ruined by the constant assault of gnats in your face. Fun, people. We want to have fun. Not be constantly irritated. Fun.