The Monday ‘Joe: Just One Change

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

We all have our nitpicks about particular game genres, be they our favorites or ones we happen to play often. We may even have nitpicks about game genres we don’t touch very often. Whatever the case may be, a small part of us thinks about things that irk us in games and how those same things would be better if they were removed or improved upon.

So here’s this week’s question:

Pick a game genre. What’s one improvement you would make to it and why?

Joshua Moore: I would pick the fighting game genre as there are so many ways it could be improved. The number of times I have said, “Why the fuck didn’t they do this or that?” in regards to a fighting game are countless, and if I had a penny for every one, I’d be a rich man. Games sometimes lack things as simple as rematch buttons (BlazBlue), tutorials (tons of games), good online play (a ton of games), etc. I look at this and wonder what the developer was thinking. You see, fighting games have a thing known as a loketest (location testing) in which the game is brought to big events so that good players can try it out and give feedback. Somehow, things like this never seem to make it through as feedback for this phase. I’m willing to bet it’s because these are rarely things seen at the test, so no feedback can be given for it.

If there were one thing I would change about the genre, it would be that I’d like developers to really put some thought into the practicality of things before they release a game. There are small ways a game can be improved that don’t take a lot of effort. For instance, very few games have tutorials worth playing through. I think the only game to have pulled everything off well was Skullgirls. The game has good combo formulas and a great tutorial for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. It could’ve included a few more things, but it still went above and beyond what other games have accomplished. For what it was, Skullgirls was definitely a big effort to make the perfect fighting game. Unfortunately for me, I don’t like the art style, speed, or movement in the game. But I do appreciate what it tried to do and I wish others would do the same.

Another game, Persona 4 Arena, has tried to make the inputs and basic mechanics as simple as possible to help people unfamiliar with fighting games break into the genre. I applaud this effort, but I also hope for a good tutorial aimed at beginners. There are tons of concepts like oki, meaty attacks, and spacing that most games don’t generally cover in a tutorial. I’d like to see that covered and more. I’d also like to see practical things like a rematch button, which I know it won’t have, and I truly hope the online is better than in BlazBlue. BlazBlue is notorious for telling you that you have the max possible connection and then lagging pretty badly. Often, this is the fault of the other player, but not always. Sadly, BlazBlue has better online gameplay than most.

There are also nuances with gameplay that are often overlooked, but that’s beyond the scope of this writeup, so I won’t go in detail. Let’s just say that good game balancing takes longer than most developers give time for it, and a lack of good balance often causes the game to suffer.

Mohamed Al Saadoon: If had to pick, it would be real-time strategy games (RTS).

I’m a fan of all strategy games, including real-time ones. Some of my fondest memories involve playing Command & Conquer: Red Alert and Age of Empires II back when I was a kid, but over time, I gradually moved over to the turn-based spectrum due to one very annoying thing I saw: der klickenfest. By that, I mean the RTS genre’s excessive obsession with reflexes rather than strategy. Micro-ing ,macro-ing, clicks per minute, and memorizing build orders become more important than actual strategy. Watching professional StarCraft matches resembles a schizophrenic display of lasers and alien squelching noises.

Developers should give more autonomy and allow you to focus on the bigger picture. Some games try to do this: World in Conflict, for example, removes base buildings, which are a large source of micro-ing, and hands you only a limited number of units to accomplish your goals. Unfortunately, this introduces micro-ing with unit abilities, such as firing special rounds of ammunition, or launching grenades or smoke screens, as well as repairing and resupplying units. Wargame: European Escalation does a wonderful job with realism, but again, it fails when you have to manually resupply your troops by sending trucks to them or ordering them to go back to a forward operating base to re-arm and refuel, a tedious task that should not get in the way of your command of your units.

I think the best solution to this is an obscure series called Airborne Assault, and more specifically, the latest installment of the series called Airborne Assault: Conquest of the Aegean. You want a hill taken? Grab a bunch of units, assign rate of fire and level of acceptable losses, and order them to the hill. The AI battalion commander will take over from there, arranging his units in the best manner possible, ensuring supply lines get taken care of and arranging artillery support without you lifting a finger. To me, all strategy games should have that level of autonomy and allow me to gauge the big picture rather than get bogged down in small details.

Until then, I’ll continue to refer to most RTS games as RTT (real-time tactics) games.

Nathan Wood: At first, I was thinking of tackling the genre of MMO and how I always found the fighting and animation departments lacking to a severe degree when compared to other genres. But then it hit me to go with something a little less traditional. My suggested improvement isn’t held to one traditional genre but to the growing number of games that have started the realistic sub-genre. For so many games to be attempting to reach the pinnacle of realism that is possible within a video game, something I think the industry is leaning too much towards anyway, very few seem to actually nail the little things. It’s in these little things that either make or break a developer’s attempt to provide that ever elusive ultra-realistic experience.

This most recently came to my mind when I watched a trailer for the upcoming Wii U title Zombi U. Now, the game looks good and I’m certainly interested in what the final product turns out to be, but I was slightly annoyed when the word realistic popped up. But for a game that is allegedly so realistic, doors open without the character using their hand and flashlights are turned on by what appears to be the power of thought. Sure I’m being nit picky, but if one is going to gloat about how realistic a particular game is, you have to have compare it to real life, which are fairly high standards. Realistic first-person shooters have been another big culprit in this department. One particular thing lies in how the ammo counter works, in that it carries whatever bullets left in your magazine into the next. Look at all that realism! And Skyrim, another game that was hyped up as being so realistic. Is the act of opening a jar, which opens of its own accord, to a menu system all that realistic to you? Because it doesn’t to me.

But at this point, the word realistic has become nothing more than a buzz word to capture people’s attention by developers, and goodness, does it work. But if I had any sway in the direction gaming took, I think we need to move away from realism. Not entirely, of course; it does have its place within the industry, but I generally use video games to escape from the real world, not to be hampered by rules because it may be unrealistic or impossible. Either that, or absolutely nail the little things that make up a realistic experience because it can be jarring to go from seeing all this realism only to reach a door that swings open while you call out, “Hey, Ma! Look! No hands!”

Crystal Steltenpohl: I would love, love, love for MMOs to get away from fetch and escort quests, or if you’re going to do it, find a way to make it more interesting. They are the worst and I hate everything about them.

Fetch quests can be more interesting if you give a variety of ways to find the items. I don’t want to slay a gazillion rats just to find five cloth rags for a purpose I’m not invested in. Make me go to different places or kill different animals, or hell, let me be able to find them without having to kill anything sometimes. Some MMOs make those quests more interesting by having you collect multiple things at once, which is okay, but that usually means I’m killing two types of monsters instead of one, and they’re in the same area anyway oftentimes. Not particularly interesting.

Escort missions usually suck because the AI sucks. Okay, NPC who obviously isn’t strong enough to return to camp on his/her own, let’s walk real slowly and attack everything around you because that’s intelligent and not frustrating at all. If you’re going to make the escort attack everything in sight, at least make it so s/he doesn’t die all the damn time. Another option is to make it so s/he doesn’t attack things. Or, better yet, maybe this type of quest is something we can leave in the past and never, ever do again.

Connor Horn: The genre I would change is first-person shooters. At their core, FPS games can be pretty fun; games like Half-Life became sensations for a reason. However, the problem with modern-day FPS games is that they come with unfortunate expectations: dusty brown settings, modern military fixtures, dime-a-dozen skeleton plotline, and a complete inability to challenge convention, all of which make for a decidedly worse game.

That’s a shame, in my opinion. Despite their functional simplicity, FPS games still have a lot of room for creativity and expansion, but for some reason, the industry doesn’t want to take risks when it pumps out a new FPS every year. This is unfortunate because it’s when people start thinking with their brains and not their pocketbooks that we get gems like the Gravity Gun. Even guns that aren’t strictly guns have created enjoyable experiences in FPS-esque titles, such as the Portal series or The Ball.

Ultimately, I feel like the desire to create generic multiplayer pick-up-and-play experiences instead of interesting narratives or exciting innovaitions have more or less killed the genre. That’s a sad thing for gamers because if the 1990s and early 2000s taught us anything, it’s that a good FPS title can be one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences out there.

Christopher Bowen: I could go on and on about the things that I’d like to see fixed in the sports genre. However, with one really serious player and other smaller ones that I feel are going to be gone within five years (Take Two with NBA 2K, Konami with Pro Evolution Soccer), there’s no point in pissing in the wind.

Instead, I will focus on Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). Why the Japanese ones? Because they’ve turned in a direction that makes me uncomfortable to say I enjoy them.

What’s ironic about JRPGs is that their influence is western. Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy all have their roots in the medieval fantasy tales of old, as if they were video versions of Dungeons & Dragons. For years, they expanded upon that, and as a person who is into that type of story, that was a great thing for me in my youth. Eventually, they broke ground in science fiction, but the storytelling and art direction—key elements for these games—were still uniquely theirs.

Now, the backgrounds are largely the same, but the games themselves have basically become anime in their own right. This would’ve been just fine in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but today’s anime is pretty bad. A load of issues have hit the industry all at once, and while this isn’t about what ails the anime industry, the fact is that they now feel they have to cater to the worst instincts their fans have. The focus on fanservice is insulting to my intelligence, and as an intelligent man in my 30s, it’s embarrassing to watch; there are only so many panty shots and bath scenes with “convenient” censorship I can watch before I get frustrated and put in my old Gundam DVDs again.

Unfortunately, too many of today’s JRPGs cater to that same market because they’re guaranteed purchases. That’s fine to the crowd with the pimples and the questionable knowledge of what an actual female body looks like, but the days of a JRPG being accessible and enjoyable to the average player seem to be gone. Instead of a good, solid story, we’re getting games like Record of Agarest War; 100-hour quests with “optional” side quests that you will do if you know what’s good for you; and so much unneeded fanservice that even a twelve-year-old going through puberty is going, “Oh, come on now.” That’s sad because the game that shipped with extras that included an oppai mouse pad didn’t need such tactics, and such overt sexuality didn’t come into play during the course of the game.

I can’t even say that JRPGs in 2012 cater to the lowest common denominator because that implies that they’re doing it to get the biggest audience. Bulletstorm did that and so did Duke Nukem Forever. Modern JRPGs are digging to a level beneath even that by trying to get the fringe geek, the kind of person who sleeps on a pillowcase with their favourite anime characters stretched across them in their night gear. Until this changes, the genre will forever be niche and remain in the realm of socially inept dorks. Adults like me will no longer need apply.

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The Gaming Bus staff consists of some of the brightest minds to enter the field of games journalism, bringing perspectives from all over the world and from all genres.