Friday, July 11, 2008

Gaming Trends - Wasting Gamer's Time

Wasting Gamer's Time and Money

I've decided to take the opportunity, while I'm not writing reviews, to write overall game development commentaries in this blog. So, expect to see reviews combined with random thoughts and opinions about the state of gaming.

Checkpoint Saving

In the last decade or so, Game Developers have tried to hone in on a formula for creating a succesaful game. In that goal, developers try sticking to what they think are time tested 'winning' formulas. In fact, I believe that this thinking is, in fact, incorrect logic. Gamers do not want the same-old same-old. For example, it has become common place for developers to write games using checkpoints as the default save methodology. The question is, why has this happened? What has led developers to believe that the checkpoint save device is what gamers want? Why has this become a defacto standard over open saving everywhere?

Is there some logic somewhere that has led developers to believe that checkpoint saving is more challenging than other types of save methods? Personally, I don't know their reasonings. But, what I do know is this. Checkpoint save style is completely frustrating for two major reasons:

  1. There are never enough checkpoints
  2. The gamer wastes far too much time starting the game over from a checkpoint
I don't know about you, but my time is valuable. Far too valuable to be wasting on games that require 15-30 minutes of lost time by continually starting over at checkpoints. It's particularly wasteful when you can go nearly a whole level and have to replay that entire level because of some game quirk. For developers to callously waste mine (and every other gamer's) time forcing level restarts over and over again is just pointless and irresponsible. Worse, I believe game developers may actually think that checkpoint saves actually add to the gaming experience. I beg to differ. Gamers are forced into using checkpoints because that's what developers believe that gamers want and also that it makes the game more challenging. Frankly, neither is true. Checkpoints do not make the game more difficult, it just makes the game more frustrating. Note to game developers, frustration does not equal challenging!

If by some backwards logic that you, as a game developer, think that it makes a game challenging, you're utterly wrong. The only thing checkpoints serve to do is force gamers to start that checkpoint over and over again. Just save the game where we are and let us start exactly where we left off. There is no point to checkpoint restarts.

Repetitive + Sequence Based Gaming

While some of us may remember Dragon's Lair fondly and the hours we spent shoving quarters into that machine, this game had a style that worked only for that type of interactive arcade game. But, again, for some reason, developers have inexplicably latched onto this style of gaming thinking that it somehow makes the game fun to randomly throw in button sequences in the midst of another type of game play.

I should backup just a little, at this point, and explain sequence gaming. Button sequence game play consists of a level where, like Dragon's Lair, you are thrown up a series of button presses that you have a second or two to input. If you don't input that sequence of moves in a certain rapid succession in the right order, then you fail to do what the game expects. That could mean death to your game character, it could mean you fail a mission or it could mean game over. So, you may end up having to start over at a checkpoint.

If a game is designed to be sequence gaming completely, like much of the earlier Resident Evil series, then that's fine. This should also be clearly stated on the outside of the packaging. We'll get to packaging discussions a bit later, though.

However, I am not a fan of sequence gaming because the only thing it serves to do is, again, waste time and frustrate. You have to play and replay the sequence until you manage to get it right. Again, there's nothing at all challenging about this. It ends up being rote memorization + trial and error gaming. Few sequence games vary the sequence by much either. So, if you walk into an encounter that you've previously done, then you'll know the sequence already. Worse, some games store only a limited set of sequences, like Viking had about 4-5 total sequences, so once you've memorized the first button to press, you know the entire sequence. Again, not challenging.

Packaging Issues

Today's games give very little information as to what the game is. Cover art ranges from a screenshot to nothing at all. The back of the box might show you a few screenshots, but never enough to determine exactly what style of a game that it is. Basically, developers have fallen into a very predictable pattern for gaming styles. So, the most basic types of gaming styles today include the following:
  • Fighting
  • Racing / Flying / Simulation
  • First Person Shooter
  • Third Person Shooter
  • Sequence Gaming
  • Puzzle
  • Sports
  • RPG / Free Form
  • Movie Tie-Ins (although, these usually fall into one of the above)
  • Music/Dancing/Specialty Controller Interactive
These are the effective styles available today. There may be the occasional game that doesn't exactly fall into these categories, so a new genre might be required. But, by and large, nearly every game falls into one of the above.

Packaging, then, needs to describe the type of game style that the game falls into so there's no guesswork on the consumer's part. Right now, you pretty much have to visit the web, rent the game or buy a magazine to see a preview of the game. If you're at the store and wanting a game as an impulse, buying a game in hopes that it's a style that you like is a real gamble and wastes countless gamer dollars. Maybe this is a tactic that the game developers like. Maybe they think it makes them more money? In fact, it takes money out of the gamer's hands that they might have otherwise spent on a different game that they would play longer, rate higher and maybe even invest more money into expansion packs. You don't win customer loyalty by tricking people into buying crappy games.

Next Up...
  • How packaging can improve
  • How developers can produce better games
  • Gaming styles that aren't often made
  • More time wasting developer game tricks
  • Improving game loading times
  • Gaming styles described in detail

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Xbox 360 - The Bourne Conspiracy

The Bourne Conspiracy By Sierra

Save style:
Game style:
Third Person Shooter

I'm not quite sure the impetus for this game. Was it intended to be a late (very late) movie tie-in or simply someone's attempt at a new game? I'm just not sure. The quality of this game very easily says, "movie tie-in". But, the extremely late release of it doesn't.


You play as Bourne. The object is to work your way through the levels in a very linear fashion. There are no side quests. There are also timed levels. The idea is, like the movie, to try and uncover your identity.

The gameplay consists of a third person style shooter that you can pick up different weapons from downed enemies. You have a sort-of life meter (the screen gets a red halo). The main problem with this game is that it gets way too hard too fast. Even worse, though, is that these levels were not play tested enough. It can be difficult to find the next thing to do to progress the level further. So, you end up wasting a ton of time running around on the level (avoiding being killed) while you try to find out what it is you're supposed to do or where you're supposed to go.

For example, there's a chopper that, very close to the beginning of the game, begins shooting at you with gattling guns. Come on! I realize there's a difference between real life and a game. As such, the designers should have realized this was too much way too soon. I always get bummed out when designers choose to toss in nearly impossible situations two levels in. You've barely even learned the controls and you're in an impossible situation. Worse, you really don't have time to figure out what to do next because your character keeps dying.

When will game designers realize that loading times do matter? Turok was the prime example of this issue. When Turok dies, you have to way about 1 minute for the level to reload. It's not quite that bad for Bourne Conspiracy, but it's still a long load time. They need to leave the level in memory or copy it to the hard drive so it can be set back up in only a few seconds.

There is no side questing in this game.


Decent, but not outstanding. This game could have easily been on the PS2. So, there was nothing done to make this game stand out visually. The resolution is a bit higher, but it wasn't really utilized.


The audio is, again, decent. Not outstanding.


This game was interesting because it came out so far after the movie... that is, until I actually began to play it. The commercials hyped it up, but the game was such a let down. If you really like very linear games that throw impossible situations at you immediately (before you've even learned the controls), then this may be the game for you. Otherwise, I recommend you save your money for games yet to come or spend it on Oblivion, Mass Effect or Assassin's Creed. These titles far exceed the quality of this game.


  • Graphics: 8/10
  • Audio: 8/10
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (completely linear third person shooter)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 3/10 (don't waste your money unless you are really bored)
  • Replay: 1/10 (won't replay)
  • Overall: 6/10 (severely lacking third person shooter)

PS3 - Gran Tourismo Prologue

Gran Turismo Prologue By Sony

Save style:
Game Style: Racing

At first, I thought this game was to be the release of Gran Tourismo. Unfortunately, it isn't. This release is an interim release until Gran Tourismo 5 is released. Okay, I want to start by saying that this is weird. I mean, yes, it's great that the developers want to give people a taste of things to come. On the other hand, I'd rather have the complete full-featured release. As such, I find this release hard to review simply because we know that it's incomplete.

That said, onward.


I find the driving aspect on Gran Tourismo Prologue to be reasonable. The driving works well enough, but in some ways seems a bit sluggish. That may depend, also, on the car. The real issue, however, is not that much with the driving aspect. The problem I have with this game is that they start you off with so little money. So, you have to buy some cheap garbage car to begin. Progressing through the levels is tedious and time consuming. Mostly because you have to keep racing the same track over and over just to get enough money to buy the next decent car. Don't expect to get a fancy racing sports car without many many days of play (or unless you cheat).

Also, I really don't relish the thought of starting completely over each and every time with a new release of Gran Turismo. Granted, I'm not sure how they could go about pulling in Gran Tourismo 4 (GT4) game saves, but it would be cool if they could somehow do it. I'd like to be able to at least keep some of what I accomplished in GT4 (i.e., the money).

The next main downside to this game is that it suffers from the same flaws in GT4. That means that you still have to do the same types of tasks in GTP that you had to do in GT4. Thus, you still have to earn your license by competing in races. You also need to compete in races to get money to buy new cars. But, as I said, they give so little money at the start of the game, you end up having to buy a car, then sell it, then buy another and keep doing this until you can win all of the races that need specific cars.


The graphics on GTP are fluid and awesome. The game looks superb. But, even as great as it looks, it still suffers from the same gameplay flaws as previous GT releases.


This is probably the weakest part of the game. It really needs some better music and the whine of the vehicles really gets old fast. But, that's how it goes with racing games.


This game is reasonably fun to play for a few hours. The flaws are basically the same flaws that exist in previous release of GT. I'm really wanting to see them do the game up in a better way that's more than the previous games. Overall, I'm more interested in the final GT5 to be released than this half-baked interim release. It's fun to see, but the cost is a bit too high to justify an unfinished game. At least the price was $40 rather than $60 which is at least some consolation, but not much.


  • Graphics: 10/10 (Amazing)
  • Sound: 8/10
  • Gameplay: 8/10 (too much like previous GT games)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 3/10
  • Replay: 2/10
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (I want the full game)