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Rules For Games: Do & Don’t #3

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Six months ago I took over the world. My decrees for gaming are the result, and all developers and publishers are obliged to follow them. You can read previous entreaties here. Since they only began half a year ago we haven’t seen the results yet, but any day now. Here is a third instalment of that which must be obeyed.

DO: let me choose my game settings from outside the game. I want to play games in a window, at the resolution of my desktop. The reason I want to do this is because anything else would be mad like a crazy person. So defaulting to showing it to me at 640×400 in EGA at fullscreen is perhaps not the way I want to kick things off with your game. First impressions count. When those first impressions are of seeing the name of your game overlapping the edges of the screen, looking as though it’s made out of LEGO, while IM windows are flashing demanding to know information from me immediately that I can no longer click on, it makes me think you’re a bit of a dick. And you know how you then insist that I restart the game to apply those settings? DO YOU SEE?

DON’T: launch your game with an unskippable cutscene. It seems so crazy that I even have to type those words, let alone that so very many games might do it. Since you’re bound to be breaking the rule above, I’m inevitably watching this video at some embarrassingly low resolution, when all I want to do is get the bloody thing into a window. What I don’t want to do is be required to sit, transfixed at my machine, when I’ve clicked to load. I may well be making coffee. Did you even think about that? About my coffee? You can even give me one of those pointless screens saying, “Press any button to start” as if I’m on a PS2, before getting to the title screen proper, if it means not putting your opening narrative before an options screen. What are those screens for, by the way? Stop it.

DO: let me pause cutscenes. It blows my little mind how few games offer this option. Doorbells and telephones wait for no man, and if I’m trying to follow your half-arsed attempt at a story, it’s not going to help if my takeaway arrives midway through Anthony Gunnington explaining to Ladyface Helpme that he has to punch fourteen aliens or the evil Gorgal will blow up the universe. This is especially bad on the few occasions when the scenes are worth watching, as I’ll then stumble into the next sequence clueless and annoyed. While some games do make them accessible from the menus, obviously many don’t, and it’s hardly the same. A pause button. Do it. Or I’ll blow up the universe.

DON’T: install DirectX without checking which version I currently have. Nor a .NET framework, whatever that is. And yes Steam, I’m mostly talking to you. Just what are you doing? You know how you could know I already have the latest version of DirectX installed? BECAUSE YOU INSTALLED IT YESTERDAY. That’s how you could know. Or you could, I don’t know, check for the version number and notice it’s exactly the same as the one you’re now insisting on installing without even asking first. Especially if I’m playing the demo for a 2D puzzle game from 1989. Oh my goodness.

DO: have your in-game volume sliders work. It’s beyond all my understanding – and I have over sixty-three understanding – why I can drag the slider down to a fraction of a millimetre from the bottom and still not be able to hear the TV show I’m watching on the other screen. I shouldn’t have to use Windows’ in-built volume controls to SHUT YOU UP. Especially YOU, Popcap. It’s like your volume sliders go, 10, 9, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 0. Your games do not demand my full attention, as brightly coloured as they may be. I might want to enjoy an evening of Peggle and light-hearted crime procedural dramas, and I need to hear the quips.

DON’T: make it difficult for me to quit. In fact, since I’m telling you how to do your jobs, you should add this new requirement. A quit button. I know, it sounds cuckoo-crazy, but bear with me. From anywhere in the game, I want to call up the menu (by pressing “Escape” – not by looking at a device strapped to my wrist, tabbing through three pages, and finding the four pixel button for the options) and then choose “Quit to desktop”. I do not want to quit to the main menu. I do not want to quit to the level selection screen. I do not want to quit to that insane screen that asks me to press a button to start. I want to quit the game. Completely. In one go. I don’t, because I’m some sort of insanely fussy old pickypants, want to go through each of those previous pages one by one, until I’ve eventually climbed back up enough ladders to see the crack of daylight that is escape. Yes, you can ask me if I’m sure, in case I select the wrong thing because you probably haven’t bothered to add mouse controls to your 360 port. And then, PING!, I’m back at my desktop ready to continue with my day. Leaving a game shouldn’t be more of a challenge than a boss fight.

DO: let me have as many save slots as I want. Because you’re on PC! You’re free! The most a save is likely to take up is about 10MB. My hard drive is, like, lots more megabytes than that! Millions of them! There is no reason in the whole wide universe why you need to restrict me to eight. I might want to keep my earlier saves without having to hand copy them from which ever stupid folder you’ve secreted them into that you won’t tell me anyway. Is it because you hate gamers? You work so hard, for so many months, and by the time your game is done you just feel nothing but contempt for your potential customers? “How many saves shall we allow in the PC version? We’ve got room for infinity of them.” “THREE. And store them in the Recycle Bin.”

DON’T: give me a fight I can’t win. I’ve faced the boss for fifteen minutes, I’ve painstakingly shot out its legs, arms, wings and eight of its eyes, and now I’m going for the final blast! His stupid, stupid face. BLAMMO! Cutscene! The monster is alive and disappearing down a hole… waitwhat? No! Absolutely and emphatically no. All of the no in a big pile all at once. If you’re going to make me go through some tedious extended fight, let me bloody well win it. If your story relies on this baddy mysteriously surviving having his energy bar completely emptied, his body hideously destroyed, then perhaps your story is a big stinking piece of old underwear.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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