Getting the Basics Right

Because I’m not a game designer, I will act like everything in this article is super easy to do.

Modern videogames do a lot of things right. The so-called AAA blockbuster games are more cinematically engaging than ever before and despite the at times stagnant annualised releases of mega franchises, there are new and exciting things to be found within big releases all the time. And of course the indie game development scene continues to serve up some real gems.

However, all types of games to this day are guilty of not including some simple practical features that surely must count as rudimentary by now. In my book including these miniscule but super-convenient features makes your game just that little bit better, no matter what, even if their presence won’t fix any major problems with game design. What’s more, they require little to no creativity to execute. I’ve noticed enough of these regular and baffling omissions to write up a decent-sized list. It’s certainly a subjective list but I’m sure I speak for a lot of people on some of these in particular. And sure, there are some modern games that nail all of these bread-and-butter inclusions (or at least all the ones they can), but I still find it more than a little weird just how rare these games are.

I’ll admit that some of these entries may be harder to execute in practice than they are on paper, but from where I stand it’s hard to see how they could be any more difficult to implement than any other aspect of making a game. Also, about half of these things are specific to a certain console.
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1. Include an hour counter.

Really, this is the feature that inspired me to write this list. It is the one basic thing that I see most frequently left out of games these days and surely one of the absolute easiest things to fix. Being able to tell just how long you have played a game helps you judge its worth and makes conversations about said game involve a lot less guesswork. This is especially handy for RPGs, which tend to involve a great deal of time sinking, but a counter really should be included in every kind of game, because really, where’s the downside? The likes of the Pokemon franchise have been doing this for decades but the best recent example of great usage I can think of is Tales of Graces f, which not only has an overall time counter at your fingertips whenever you bring up the menu, but boasts a second counter right underneath the first to gauge the length of individual play sessions. Top form, Namco Bandai.

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2. Give us a subtitles option.

Sure, some people hate reading them, but others just can’t do without those words on the bottom of the screen. There’s no doubting that subtitles can be handy in certain circumstances, such as when sound isn’t available or when there’s some particularly terrible voice acting on show, so why not just throw them into every game with spoken lines? Just give us the option to turn them off if we feel like it. Oh, and please, for the love of all that is good, let us skip a cutscene we’ve already seen. Please.

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3. Regular autosaves!

Autosaves were one of the great innovations of the early Playstation era, as they take one less worry from the minds of gamers, allowing them to be more immersed in an experience. Most big games in recent times have included autosaves in some way shape or form, and those that stick with manual saves tend to either make save points frequent or make saving possible at any time. But there are still games that space save points way too far apart, whether those saves are automatic or manual or whatever. Remember Me sticks out in recent memory as an example. And while we’re on this subject, every strategy RPG needs a quicksave option. Needs.

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4. Make your controls re-mappable.

Well-thought-out controls are a very, very important part of sound game design. They can honestly make or break a game, so I can understand a developer wanting to protect his or her choices if the controls come out well and they “just feel right”. But that is still a subjective statement, and cannot possibly hope to please every type of gamer. Too many games these days alienate left-handers, physically disabled players and complete newcomers when it comes to controls. The more accommodating control options, the better, but ultimately every game should really allow for the complete rearrangement of button functions. If nothing else, this will open up plenty of new drinking games.

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5. Give us at least some degree of visual customisation.

This one may seem like a bit of a stretch, considering its the only entry so far that you probably won’t find on an “Options” menu. However, so many successful games these days offer the ability to customise the apperance andor feel of a character or vehicle or level that it seems like kind of a no-brainer. Gamers will look more favourably on your product if it will allow them to change even the tiniest of things to suit something resembling a personal preference of theirs. I mean, people freaked out at the ability to change the colour of Link’s tunic in the N64 classic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They will take anything. Even the Pokemon series is doing character customisation now. It cannot be all that difficult.
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6. (PS Vita only) Let me take unrestricted screenshots.

Without a shadow of a doubt one of the coolest inbuilt features of the Playstation Vita is the ability to take a screenshot at any point during gameplay and save it to be easily transferred via USB cable to a PC or just shared via Twitter and such right off the bat. It makes Vita games by far the easiest to review of all platforms in my opinion and it’s just a damn cool feature to have in today’s share-happy internet society anyway. So why are there a handful of games out there that prohibit screenshots? It’s likely a minor legal issue sometimes, sure, but I have no doubt there’s an element of oversight involved too. Games like Super Stardust Delta and Virtue’s Last Reward offer a simple solution to any legal concerns by implanting an automatic watermark in the corner of any captured shots. They realise that screen capturing is a fantastic feature and if you ask me it should be a given whenever I boot up a Vita game.

GR_Upside

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7. (Xbox 360 only) Make us pick a storage device. Every time.

This is no joke. I know some people may disagree with me on this one, because it can be annoying to have to negotiate that big white box every single time you go to play a game. However, Microsoft has convenient and flexible storage solutions down to a fine art, particularly when compared to the other big console players, so the company really should flaunt the feature even more often than it already does. The ability to dedicate a USB stick of your choice to essentially becoming an old-school memory card on steroids has awesome practical uses essentially equivalent to an offline cloud, as long as you save pretty much everything you do onto said USB (including your gamertag). Hosting things on other consoles is painless this way. So when a game just assumes I want to save to the console hard drive, it’s a real pain to have to go through several menus and then watch the piece of data in question transfer over. So by all means, give me that white box any day of the week.
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8. (3DS only) Utilise StreetPass!

The 3DS has a hugely underrated competitive advantage over its nearest rivals outside of stereoscopic visuals and a ridiculously strong stable of exclusive titles – StreetPass. From the ability to gain extra weapons to fighting the meticulously trained team of a random person you literally passed on the street to viewing a number of uniquely furnished homes, StreetPass unequivocally extends the appeal of most any game and encourages players to have their 3DS’s with them far more often than they would have otherwise. Everyone wins. Nintendo is generally really good at adding unique and fun ways of using StreetPass into their games, but in recent times its complete absence from the likes of Project X Zone and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros worries me a little. StreetPass functionality is an excellent way of sweetening the appeal of not only individual games but the 3DS itself and so must be included in as many titles as possible, if you ask me (yes, even if it’s “shoehorned in”, so to speak).

AC_Raincoat
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9. (PS3/Vita only) Include a Platinum Trophy.

Come on. It doesn’t matter how small your downloadable game is; you shouldn’t have a trophy list that doesn’t end with a juicy Platinum. Statistics show there are so many Playstation gamers who care about Platinums that sales of any given game are actually influenced by whether or not there is one present. And playing Jetpack Joyride for literally hundreds of hours to unlock absolutely everything the game has to offer should not just reward me with a measly Gold Trophy. That isn’t justice.

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10. (Wii U only) Enable off-TV play.

This may actually be the hardest thing on the list to actually get working development-wise, but nonetheless it is a feature that should be near-universal when it comes to Wii U titles. Unless your Wii U game absolutely requires dual-screen gameplay, it should have the ability to be played on the gamepad only, with the TV off or on another channel. This is especially true for ports, which nearly always seem more tantalising on Xbox 360 or PS3 when lacking the pseudo-portability feature, but it really extends to everything that releases on Nintendo’s struggling home console. Make no mistake; that off-TV option is the primary reason I’m even playing the stone-cold classics Super Metroid or Earthbound at all. It’s a real strength – use it.


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Get on it, developers – these are free brownie points in the bag!

I’m hungry.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, this article is nice, my sister is analyzing these things, soo I aam
    giing to leet know her.

    Reply

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