Video games are good, it’s true. I wouldn’t dedicate 45 hours a week writing about them if I thought they were crap, but there are some days I wish I had chosen a different profession. I occasionally wonder if I should have been a bed tester instead, or whether I should harvest off all of my organs and sell them on the black market.
We’re clearly spoiled by the quality of modern games, but there are some infuriating things in this industry that just refuse to die. Humour me for a few minutes as we wallow together in despair and count down some of the worst offenders.
Long and boring lore dumps
It was a time of conflict. Assfart was under siege from the Helgar in the Boundless War – a battle that had raged for centuries. Flanked by their enemies, the Knights of Assfart made a sacred vow to fight to the last man, protecting King Herbert Derbert against the invading forces. The Amulet of Oomba Loomba must be protected at all costs, or the Blight of Sorrows will taint the sacred land of Umby Pumby once more.
This is what your lore dump sounds like. You can’t make someone care about your world by just saying words at them – you have to make people care through discovery, as they piece together the universe by themselves. Starting a game with a lore dump is more of a turn-off than your significant other eating a pack of pork scratchings mid-coitus.
Joking about boring mechanics and adding them in anyway
See how I just highlighted something bad by doing something bad? I can get away with it because this isn’t a video game, but don’t make a game where you’re like “fetch quests are bad, hur, hur, now fetch me ten lemons”. The joke about it being bad only lets us know that you know it’s bad and you did it anyway.
Out of bounds warnings in open world games
It pops up all the time in video game marketing. “We have the biggest map we’ve ever created. It’s fifty Skyrims. You see that mountain over there? You can shag it.” But what is the point in all these massive, open worlds if missions restrict our movement?
There’s nothing worse in an open world game than finding what seems to be a clever, scenic route to your objective – perhaps a stealthy infiltration point – only for the game to tell you that you must turn back. If you don’t exit this zone fast enough, you’re booted back to the last checkpoint. Mission failed. If you want the player to tackle things a certain way, just make a linear game. Cheers.
Guys in armour and bullet sponges
This design decision crops up all the time in shooters: rotund dudes who can take more punishment on account of their extra heft, people wearing welding masks so you can’t headshot them, and massive zombies who throw yellow bile at you while soaking up all of your ammo.
We’ve seen it. It’s been done. It’s bad. Stop doing it. I know it’s easier said than done, but difficulty in shooters can be tweaked with level design, enemy abilities, and smart AI. It doesn’t always have to just be an enemy with a bigger health bar.
Instant-fail stealth sections in non-stealth games
Some of my favourite games are stealth games. I love hiding in the shadows, listening to NPCs chatter, dangling from pipes, stalking across rooftops, and crouching behind waist-high cover. But I love doing this in stealth games – games built with these mechanics at their core.
If you try to add stealth mechanics for a single section of a non-stealth game, it’s just going to fall short. Plus, most good stealth games allow you to improvise when you’re spotted, they don’t make you start the entire section again. Stealth sections in non stealth games need to make like a sneaky protagonist and deposit themselves into a bin.
Not everything that’s bad in video games is the fault of the people who make the games themselves. No. Every online game ever made suffers from a terrible disease: humans. Whether it’s people voting to kick you from a game of Rainbow Six Siege because you had the audacity to be the last team member standing, or some bellend playing music down their headset, online gaming is a hellscape.
The worst offenders in this space are children. These tiny humans are everywhere, distinguishable by their squeaky voices, their awful language, and the fact they scream to their mum mid-game to say they don’t want dinner. Stop buying your kids 18-rated games. If you’re a kid reading this, never ever use your person voice in a game again.
People who harass game developers
While we’re on the subject of terrible humans, let’s talk for a minute about people who act as bad outside of video games as they do inside. If a developer exists on social media, it doesn’t give you the right to do their heads in because your favourite character got nerfed. Developers have lives outside of games themselves so give them a bit of space and direct your ire to a customer service account or a support forum. Be polite. Don’t be a dick. It’s not hard.
Also, for god’s sake, stop calling developers lazy. It’s fine to criticise games, but nobody makes a decision in triple-A game development out of laziness. Games are massive, complex things and the people working on them dedicate years of their existence to making them as good as they can be, often working ungodly hours to hit deadlines. Developers are people.
Early Access triple-A
“We want to shape this game with community feedback and mould it to suit our players.” A few big names are taking this approach to game development lately, spurred on by the success of some Early Access hits on Steam and a community that thinks co-development is a pro-consumer move. It’s not.
Remember in the PlayStation days when games were just released and there was no such thing as a patch? We still got massive, 40-hour RPGs, but the games were finished. I’m not against games being improved, but when we’re getting full-priced games like open world racer The Crew 2, which won’t have proper multiplayer until months after launch, it’s getting silly.
Choosing a character build before you’ve played
Do you want to be a powerful mage or an armour-clad knight? When this choice is offered before I’ve had chance to experiment with the different playstyles it makes me want to have a little cry. Don’t make me start a game with one character only to have me quit out hours later because I feel like I could have chosen a better build.
Fluid classes are the way forward, and that’s why I was so happy when CD Projekt Red announced Cyberpunk 2077 would let you pick and choose skills from each discipline. If a game lets you grab skills from different classes, it also encourages experimentation, giving the player more agency and adding in more variety in the moment-to-moment play.
Honestly, that’s enough now.
Hitting us in the face with the butt of a rifle
I have lost track of how many times I’ve walked through a door in a game, triggered a cutscene, and been smacked upside the head with the arse-end of a rifle. I get that you want to have your villain talk to us for a bit, but please find a different way to do this. Oh, and stop stripping us of our weapons and abilities while you’re at it. It’s been done to death.
Trying to be apolitical
Games are made by diverse groups of people and shaped by their views. Even if it’s not done consciously, games have political undertones. It is inescapable. It’s not just the French company, but Ubisoft always says its games are apolitical. The developer even said it about The Division, a game in which a virus is spread on banknotes during the busy Christmas season in New York. A virus! Spread via capitalism! Not political at all. Neither is the fact that the only thing that can save America is the First Amendment.
I get that the people in charge of marketing games don’t want to alienate potential buyers, but don’t insult our intelligence by saying games are apolitical – they’re not.
Autosaving before unskippable cutscenes
I care about the story in games, and lots of other players do. But we don’t care that much that we want to watch the same cutscene 20 times. If you must have bad checkpoints, at least make the cutscenes skippable so we don’t have to sit through them every time we want another shot at that annoying boss. It also puts us off replaying your amazing shooter.
Rubber banding in racers
We’ve all been there. You’re leading the pack for the entire race, you’re miles ahead, the wind is in your hair, the sun is in your face, a tree is in your bonnet. Balls. The finish line was right there. Luckily, I had this massive lea… Oh, the other cars flew past me and over the finish line.
Rubber banding in any racing game that isn’t Mario Kart is bad and you should feel bad for even thinking about adding it into your game.
Inventory management is important in some games. Survival horror titles use limited space to good effect, forcing you to make choices. In massive RPGs, however, it just adds an inconvenient roadblock that gets in the way of the good stuff. A game is a series of interesting decisions, the saying goes. Is it really an interesting decision to have to clear your backpack of loads of cutlery so you can pick up a new sword? I don’t think so.
Minigames for compulsory tasks
Hacking and lockpicking minigames are fine the first few times you do them, but doing them over the length of a 100 hour RPG is taking the piss. Make minigames optional and don’t tie them into your main mechanics, please.
Announcing games too early
Oh wow, a remake of Final Fantasy VII? Colour me excited. Oh, it’s been three years and there’s still no word on anything about it. Oh, I’m now a pensioner. Oh, I’m dead.
Bonus entry: List features on games websites
What grinds your gaming gears? Is it annoying characters in fighting games, or perhaps games journalists who don’t know the difference between Nero and Dante? Let us know in the comments.