Why We Shouldn’t Be In Charge of Video Games
If there’s one thing that gamers are not short of, it’s opinions. Every announcement, every trailer, every piece of DLC, and every plot point in the gaming world becomes a magnet, attracting an onslaught of opinionated iron filings. And every gamer is right; they know how they could have done it better. Mass Effect ending? Cue a million angry forum posters spouting about why it was shit, and what the game should have done. New Call of Duty map packs? Of course they are badly designed and priced wrongly, and every 12-year-old from here to Tiananmen Square could have designed a better map.
While opinions and feedback have their place and can be valuable to the industry, the “I know best” attitude is for the most part frankly unwarranted. Here’s why: if we were in charge of video games, they’d be shit. To discuss that point further, rather than trawl the internet looking for inane arguments about how games should have been done, I’ll talk about a handful of seemingly cool things I would do if I were in charge of video games, and then tell you why in reality they are absolutely terrible ideas.
Since its release in 2010, Kinect has remained an underused gimmick resource on the Xbox, with little else to its repertoire than shitty Wii rip-offs, fitness programs and dancing games. There have been a few interesting attempts to integrate it into ‘core’ games like the head tracking in Forza, and the voice interaction in Mass Effect 3, but these remain sporadic in the context of the entire Xbox gaming catalogue. I had an idea for a piece of integration that would be hilarious, fairly simple to do, and could be integrated into pretty much every sports game on the market.
Here’s the scene: you’re playing FIFA, you’re 1-0 down in the 85th minute, and it’s an important game. Then, out of nowhere, you hit a perfectly weighted through-ball on the counter attack unleashing your striker one-on-one against the keeper. Holding your breath, you dink a finesse shot in at the bottom corner. GOAL! Then, Kinect kicks in. As you leap from your seat, the sensor deftly captures your celebratory body movements, duplicating them via your on-screen striker. You wave your arms, you go nuts- all shared gloriously in 1080p for the simulated audience (and perhaps your online opponent) to see! This functionality could be added to a variety of games; Madden, NBA, Tennis, NHL, and more.
Sound like a good idea? Nope. It’s terrible. Firstly, Kinect is simply not good enough to do this. You have to wave like an over-enthusiastic auntie just for it to sense your existence, no good for heat-of-the-moment bursts of elation. Also, how would you interact with team mates? A huge part of goal celebrations is how the player congratulates and is congratulated by the team. What are you going to do, hug the air like a mental patient? There is a reason developers aren’t putting things like this into mainstream games- it’s stupid and it doesn’t work.
Smartglass/WiiU/Vita for Maps/Killstreaks/Tactics
With the announcement of Xbox Smartglass, we now have a sudden common ground between WiiU, PSVita and PS3, and Xbox. We now have the ability to augment mainstream games with a secondary touch-screen interface. While this will no doubt spawn a whole new range of game mechanics we’ve never seen before, there is also the possibility that it will have applications in games we know and love today.
An immediate example would be maps and item management. Imagine that while playing Skyrim your iPad/WiiU Screen/Vita had a live map showing your current location, and a list of your favourite items so that you could quickly tap it to switch, without pausing the game and sifting through menus. Or how about having a galaxy map on Mass Effect on your touch screen, so that you could order Joker to plot a jump no matter where you are on the Normandy? Then, when visiting locations like planets or the Citadel, the screen shows a map and current objective.
Finally, on Call of Duty, imagine calling in your killstreaks by tapping the touch screen, rather than opening that imaginary laptop. Do these all sound like pretty decent ideas? NO! They are horrible ideas. Think about it, managing your items in Skyrim with a second screen would be a horrendous distraction, having to constantly put down and pick up the controller is just not practical. It would just barely work with WiiU, given that the screen and controller are integrated. Even then, the average CoD-head knows that precious milliseconds can mean the difference between life and respawn, so groping for an iPad to call in a helicopter is a ludicrous notion.
That Adaptation You Really Want
Star Trek is the greatest science fiction franchise in human history. It pains me deeply that not one great video game has been created that fully captures the feeling of the series. What pains me the most however is that there is a game that proves such a concept is possible: Mass Effect. If you took the mechanics and over-all style of Mass Effect, but set it in the Star Trek universe, you would have the perfect Trek game. Imagine replacing the Geth with the Borg, the Solarians with the Vulcans, the Krogan with the Klingons, and so on. Make the overall threat a Borg invasion of the Alpha Quadrant and… voila.
Sound like a good idea? You can probably think of adaptations of your own that you’d know how to make a fantastic game from. Wrong! It’s a horrible idea that would end in disaster. Millions of dollars are poured into game adaptations by the brightest minds in the game industry. Adaptations don’t fail for lack of trying or underfunding (well- not always). There is a deeper, more fundamental reason.
Video games tell stories in a completely different way to books or movies; movies take a story and play it for you, and books challenge the reader to imagine a world. Video games visualise enough of a world for your imagination to still be able to interoperate it individually, and give you freedom to interact with it according to your personality. These are three fundamentally different narrative methods, which is why transposing narrative from one to another has such a high rate of failure. No- you really don’t know best.
That Sequel You Want
If I were presented with a choice between world peace and Timesplitters 4, I’d really have to think about my decision. The Timesplitters franchise was the one that introduced me to FPS gaming and especially FPS multiplayer. I cannot for the life of me fathom the reasons for the series’ demise- we have reached a point where we have gone an entire generation without another Timesplitters title. For shame. If the gaming genie could grant me one wish, I’d ask for Timesplitters and start rubbing. And I’m not talking about a lamp. Can you think of a sequel to a seemingly dead franchisee that you’d love to see make a comeback? One where you think that the owners of the IP are mad for not investing in a sequel?
It is the worst idea I have ever heard. Franchises end for a reason- they run dry and lose relevance, fading into the recesses of nostalgia. And that’s where they should forever remain. Think about it – publishers love sequels because they are usually a source of sure-fire money! That’s why Activision shite out another Call of Duty game every November. If the publisher refuses to do it, it’s because they know it won’t sell. If they know it won’t sell, there will be a reason- it has lost relevance, there is another game now that does it better. Case in point: Duke Nukem. Nuff said.
So next time you are about to make a forum post or Tweet about how a game should have been done, remember that it is only your non-professional opinion, and it is probably absolute nonsense.