The Cardinal Sins of Game Development

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So, as you all probably know, I tend to play a lot of video games, and I have done so for years. At least two decades, in fact. This being the case, I have at one point or another kept track of things that annoy me about the otherwise good (and sometimes not so good) games that I’ve played. Usually I do this in hopes that eventually, the people who make these games will decide that a certain annoying thing has been happening, quite pointlessly, for a very long time and that it’s about time that someone got the bright idea to start fixing these things. Granted, every game is limited by the hardware that it is created for, but at a certain point hardware evolves, and the games that exist on that hardware should evolve as well.

This is not always the case.

In fact, some things have continued so long that over time, small annoyances have become Large Annoyances (capital letters and all), and these annoyances have persisted far beyond the time when the target hardware is capable to fix those annoyances. Additionally, with new hardware generations come new development practices, not all of which are good.

And so, I have compiled a list of what I like to call the ‘Cardinal Sins’ of game development. These are things that might seem like small things, but they are small things that really should have been fixed by now in every game that has come out in the past, oh, five years or so at least, and every game going forward. Additionally, there is at least one thing on this list that is a very recent development that should not be allowed to proliferate under any means whatsoever. I have also gone through great lengths to match each cardinal sin of game development up to an actual cardinal sin, mostly because it amused the hell out of me. Yes, some of them are a stretch, but what can you do.

I should also note that I am not considering business practices, but actual game development practices. While I find the existence of some DLC highly annoying, that falls more into the realm of questionable business practices than actual game development practices.

I certainly hope you are all as entertained by reading this list as I will be in writing it. Warning: this is a rant. There is a lot of profanity. That’s just how I am.

Pride: Unpauseable or Unskippable Cutscenes

Okay. Yes, I agree, your cutscene is awesome. And I know that /you/ know it is awesome. It’s quite possibly the most awesome cutscene ever made because it has motorcycles and swords and shit. However, if you make it so that I cannot pause your cutscene when my cat decides to go batshit and start knocking crap off of my kitchen table, I will hate you forever. Seriously, if you’re going to make your game into a movie, let me pause your fucking cutscene. It’s just common sense. We’ve been pausing movies ever since VCRs came out, and we’ve been pausing /games/ for as long as there have been games to pause.

Additionally, yes, I know that this boss fight is a very climatic turning point in the story, and there’s quite a bit of dialogue leading up to it. This boss fight is also very, very hard, and you have designed it so that nobody can beat this boss on the first try. So please, please, pretty please make it so that I can skip the dialogue leading up to your awesome-tastic boss fight so that I don’t have to watch it every single goddamn time. Seriously. This is one of the best ways to make a person hate the plot of a game. Even if the game is an RPG and you have to manually advance the dialogue, make certain blocks of dialogue skippable for situations just like this.

Envy: No Windowed Mode in a PC Game

This one only applies to PC games, not console games. I realize that in the days of 1024×768 resolution, 32MB video cards, and Windows 98, it was perfectly acceptable for a game to be the only task one should expect their operating system to run at any given time. However, this is the age of multiple monitors, all running at 1080p, and video cards that can assist in scientific goddamn research on their idle cycles. Windowed mode should be fucking standard, and it is completely unacceptable to not include the /option/ to put your game into this mode. 

Now, I realize that I am not a game developer, and that some of you probably are. I don’t know how hard it is to make a game run in windowed mode from a programming standpoint. What I do know is that the DirectX hooks are there, waiting to be used for the good of players everywhere. So please, use them. Your userbase will thank you.

This one is particularly gamebreaking for me, because I am a notorious multitasker. If I run a game, I am also running a chat program, a browser window, and a GPU temperature monitor AT THE VERY LEAST. If I can’t run the game in windowed mode, chances are I probably won’t be all that eager to play it. 

Sloth: Uncontrollable or Bad Camera

If I die because I can’t see what the fuck I’m doing, whoever programmed the camera for the game I’m playing was not doing their job. I know it’s really hard to program a camera that can respond perfectly to every single situation, but if a camera is consistently bad, I will notice it, and not in a good way. If you can’t get your camera right, there are ways to get around this. Make it a fixed camera. This is not the same as having an uncontrollable camera, because with a fixed camera, everything you need to see has to fall in the view of that camera and it falls upon the level and enemy designers to make this happen. But at the very least, give the user a very great deal of control over this camera. MMOs do this quite well. When I played Warcraft, I never said “Man, this camera blows!” (Well, except in Shadowfang Keep, but seriously, fuck that place.) Camera angles are not a stylistic choice. There is a right and a wrong way to do them. Do them the right way.

Lust: No Subtitles or Bad Audio Controls

I will preface this by saying that I can hear just fine. Even though this is a case, I will always enable subtitles in a game. I do this because I care about the plot about a game a whole lot more than I care about the plot of a movie, and I don’t want to mishear something. Plus, it keeps me engaged. So put subtitles in your game. At the very least, you will avoid pissing off an entire demographic of game players. 

Similarly, allow me to adjust the volume of the voices, the background music, and the sound effects separately. Not everyone has a perfectly balanced sound system, and even if you do, it isn’t perfectly balanced for every application. Please, let me micromanage. 

Now, you’ll notice I tagged this one as ‘Lust’. This might not make a whole lot of sense, and it really doesn’t apply at all, except for one special subset of this complaint: the Japanese RPG. Confused? I want you to do something for me. Grab a JRPG with a sound test menu. Go into that menu. Turn up the volume a little bit. Now play all the female combat voices and just try and tell me that it doesn’t sound like the most goddamn terrible and annoying audio pornography that you’ve ever heard. Combat voices in a JRPG are generally repetitive abominations which make me feel as if my ears have been forcibly molested, and there is no excuse to not give me the option to mute them. 

Greed: Required Always-Active Internet Connection for Single Player Mode

Yes, this is like beating a gigantic dead horse made of smaller dead horses that have already been beaten to death, revived, and then beaten again, so I will not belabor this point. But so many people are annoyed by this that it has to go on the list. I will give a concession to game companies and say that a one-time DRM check on game load is, while not okay, at least acceptable on a game with a heavy online multiplayer component. But do not, and I mean absolutely fucking do not, require an always-active internet connection for my single player game, and do not kick me out of my game if my internet connection fails. Yes, I know everyone has broadband. And I reply that Comcast is notorious for dropping connections all the goddamn time.

Gluttony: Mandatory Third-Party Overlays or Matchmaking Tools

This is another one that only applies to PC games. This one is also not actually not a blanket statement, because I tend to be annoyed at this on a case by case basis. I love Steam. I absolutely love Steam. I unabashedly adore Steam, and I will recommend Steam to anyone interested in obtaining their games in a purely digital manner. Steam has an overlay, but here’s the thing. Steam’s overlay is very unobtrusive and is actually quite handy sometimes. 

Now, I’m going to say four words that will immediately drive you into such a rage that you will be unable to form complete sentences for at least twenty minutes. Are you ready?

Games For Windows Live.

Oh, good, you’re back. For those of you who did /not/ immediately rage, I shall explain. Games For Windows Live tries to combine Steam and Xbox, and does it in the absolute worst way possible. It consumes way, way too many system resources for what it does, it pops up with a login every time you boot up a game that uses it, and it forces itself to take priority over things that are much, much more useful. Like Steam. If a game uses GFWL, I will either not play it, or I won’t be all that happy about having to endure GFWL while I am playing it. Another notable abomination is Gamespy Arcade, which, thankfully, has pretty much faded into irrelevance.

Wrath: No Autosave or Badly Placed Save Points

I agree that save points used to serve a very important purpose: they allowed the user access to the portion of a game’s internal memory where their progress could be stored. At the time, the alternative was using a password, and the only time a person ever wants to return to those dark, dark times is to input the words ‘Justin Bailey’. However, nowadays, game consoles are built a whole lot like PCs. This includes having a hard drive. A hard drive that can be accessed pretty much at will by whatever program is running on the console. See where I’m going with this? 

There is no reason to have save points anymore. Hell, even Final Fantasy has learned this. Autosave is the way to go, and autosaves should be handled at reasonable intervals and in as non-invasive of a manner as possible. I should not be kicked back any further than the beginning of the current combat encounter if I die, unless there’s a stylistic or game balance reason why this should happen. 

I do, of course, realize that portable systems don’t have hard drives and as such need to limit their write accesses in some manner. In this case, do not make your save points unreasonably far apart. If you’re not going to let the player perform a full save on a game that, being portable, they might have to shut down at a moment’s notice, at least let them make a temporary save for game suspension purposes. It’s just polite.

Conclusion:

These are my list of annoyances, little things that have become big things the longer they have been allowed to proliferate. This is by no means a complete list, and every player is different so I’m sure other people have other gaming pet peeves. I limited my list to seven because I had a theme and ran with it, as well. I’m also highly considering making a companion piece, extolling the seven virtues of modern gaming: development practices that are so good that no game should be without them.

Until next time, rock on, and remember: if you genuinely enjoy a game, even the major annoyances can be overlooked in the name of fun and awesomeness.

1 comments on “The Cardinal Sins of Game Development”

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