There are, we're told by many an afterschool special, several different kinds of love. From the days of toga wearing acients who used different words to define different kinds of love, we've bandied about the concept of love with delicate trepidation. There was Eros, which is the love one feels reading the Victoria Secret catalog. Philos, which is the love one feels for a friend who gives up the last piece of pizza, and the last beer. And Agape, which is the love one feels for someone who deals with our steaming heap loads of crap and doesn't push us down the stairs. Surprisingly, there's no Greek word for the love one man develops for his electronic entertainment.The thing about love, good and true love, is that it is not as unconditional as they say. Or, rather, it comes tempered with a healthy understanding that the object of affection is every bit as flawed as he from whom the love grows - which, I assure you, is not a disturbing euphemism. So, while I've made it pretty clear in the past that I love playing, writing about, reading about, and occasionally bitching about video games, there are a good number of things in games that just cheese me off.
In no particular order, here are five (among many more) of gaming's worst habits.
1) Save Points - I thought I'd start with a controversial one. Some people take a sense of pride from completing Knives In Your Face IV on ballbuster difficulty with only two saves, but please keep your masochism off my hard drive. You want to limit the number of saves you have in a game, then I encourage you to set your own arbitrary house rules, and be sure and notice how many people give a damn about your accomplishment. As for me, if I want to save after every third polygon then that's my prerogative. Save points stem from a time in gaming where space was dramatically limited, but have become an arbitrary means by which to artificially extend gameplay. While a few games have developed a save point system not eye-pokingly frustrating, by and large the practice has outlived its usefulness and now seems to be more a tool of creating in-game tension where developers failed to produce genuine tension in the first place.
2) Casual Gamers - Perhaps another controversial point, but I'm sick of developers aiming at the lowest common denominator. In the MMORPG genre, in particular, I'm pretty firmly convinced that the 'casual gamer' has dragged innovation to a teeth grinding, locked seatbelt halt. Everytime I hear MMORPG developers go on about making a game accessible to the casual gamer, I know that means that the developer is just going to rehash concepts from every game that's come before, dumb down the interface and rules system, and pepper the landscape with random spawns and uninspired missions. If Everquest has taught us anything it's that the casual gamer is just as capable of carving out a niche in any game as everyone else. Maybe it just takes a little longer. Perhaps it's not casual gamers that actually chaffes my chaps, but the developing house that uses those gamers as an excuse to toss around cliches.
3) Would You Like to Pre-Reserve? - Um, no. I'd like to stroll into your fine boutique, and simply purchase your wares without having to make some kind of appointment. I'm pretty tired of shops that create an artificial dearth of product and then have the temerity to chide me, your friggin' customer, because I didn't have the foresight to get an IOU. I'm not sure where stores stumbled on the basic concept of having inventory first then selling that inventory to customers in exchange for monetary remuneration, but they need to get their retail anagram straightened back out. Here's the scoop, guys, I walk in to your store on the day a game comes out. If you don't have it, then I buy it somewhere that does ... and I start shopping there instead. Don't pretend like you're doing me a favor by not having the game I want, because I know the definition of the word 'favor'. You're not a bank or a charity, so when I walk in there with money, I want to walk out with more than a receipt and a well intentioned promise.
4) Cheating AI - I've played some very good, very complex games where the computer can defeat me casually and at will without resorting to cheat codes, so I'm pretty impatient with games that take the easy way out. There's a reason I don't play online games against cheating opponents, so I have to wonder what neuron isn't firing in the minds of designers that implement cheating AI. For instance, if I'm playing Madden, and by the rules of the game I'm devastating my opponent by thirty-five points, it means that I've played at a higher level than that opponent, and I pretty much deserve the pleasure of that victory. I didn't see the refs whacking Jamal Lewis' legs with bamboo canes in the second half of Baltimore's shellacking of Cleveland last weekend, so let's just stick to the rules we agreed upon from the start, shall we?
5) Gamespy Matchmaking Systems - I thought of a few other pet peeves I might have put in my top 5. Jumping puzzles is such a cliche that it's universally maligned, as are first person shooter crates. I thought about the copycat syndrome best illustrated by the recent glut of poor tactical shooters in the Rainbow Six vein. I even considered the hoary old console war angle, but these are all patently obvious. But, Gamespy's anemic online matchmaking system which has already brought more than a few high profile games to an online standstill is the one thing that I see more often and understand less. Neverwinter Nights, Command and Conquer: Generals, and even Rise of Nations are just a sampling of games initially hobbled out of the gate because of poor online implementation. With failure after patch laden failure under their belt, I can't imagine why companies keep depending on Gamespy's matchmaking system? I'm sure it probably has something to do with money, but I have so little of it that I probably wouldn't understand.