The Details In Gaming

This year we are set to be bombarded once again by a whole foray of similar looking games, with each development studio having their own ‘ground breaking’ twist of either some sort of war-like FPS, save the world action adventure, or ‘immersive RPG life-sucker’. Obviously they are all going to be received in very different ways and appeal to slightly different audiences each time, but yet the adverts that bamboozle our eyes often present these games in an almost identical fashion to their competitors. Do they not even look at their rivals?

Sadly games are still marketed to the general public in a grotesquely crude and patronizing manner, but hopefully this will change as people become more familiar with the industry and basically give it the credit it deserves.

But back to the issue of individuality (each game gets its own flavours but the core structure is fairly constant); I find that it is the little things that reviewers and marketing monkeys tend to overlook that often sell the game to me, or give it that something that makes it stand out and identifiable. The important details like the reloading animations in gun games (e.g. Call of Duty’s lightning quick sleight of hand vs. Killzone 3’s crunchy gun surgery), the quality and awareness of the composers music that accompany the experience (Red Dead Redemption and Enslaved are both brilliant examples), or how the character moves about on screen in a third person game (remember, the game will actually consist mostly of watching them jog purposefully into the screen).

It might seem a strange thing to consider at first for some of the more casual gamers, but gaming is essentially an interactive cocktail of creativity, and consequently something of an art. We shouldn’t be embarrassed the fact we sweat the little things, as I’ve said they tend to be the things that help us distinguish one game from another.

While we attach a lot of value (maybe superficially on occasion) to clearly noticeable factors such as the quality of the graphics (oddly people struggle to precisely define what good graphics are), replayability and available depth of gameplay, these things are accounted for very easily and the answers tend to be fairly useless after 30 reviews.

For example, the popularity of certain multiplayer games might be so successful simply because of a few details that provide an addictive rush of satisfaction when you beat other people online. One such example is on Uncharted 2, when you get a kill online a kind of whistle-bell sounds the instant you get the point, it’s a small thing but going back to the campaign afterwards, the kills don’t seem nearly as enjoyable (the game is fantastic enough that this doesn’t matter much- thankfully), even the co-op survival mode (with the whistle bell noise) feels more rewarding when played back to back with single player.

Another observation we could make is the way FPS games are all starting to adopt an ‘instant pop-up point’ counter for every kill gained. Black Ops, Crysis 2, Homefront, Medal Of Honour, Killzone 3, and Bulletstorm all feature a rewarding flash of numbers for beating opponents. Killzone 3 has taken this mechanic and made it a little more pleasing to the eye by having it rapidly scroll up to the total you’ve earned, subtly creating the impression you could have got less points, and that the points score is playing catch-up with your shooting skill. Bulletstorm however has gobbled up the idea of ‘instant pop-up points’ and totally expanded it into fresh territory to devastating effect. People Can Fly have hit on to a winning idea with their stupidly in your face ‘well done’ animations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more games start experimenting with this sort of thing – apparently killing someone isn’t enough for us anymore.

On a slightly different but equally interesting note, gamers appear to have been conditioned to feel (or maybe we’ve conditioned the games) what is an appropriate amount of ‘killing’ before an enemy should die. It’s a bizarre thing but we all notice when enemies (online or offline) seem to be able to absorb what we somehow feel is too much damage, and it irritates us right? Consider how popular Call Of Duty is, and then how many seconds of gunfire players can normally endure. Obviously when we are playing offline we can expect the damage required to be complimentary of the fantasy being presented, so it does vary a bit, but you recognize the point.

Developers could perhaps pay more attention to loading screens (sometimes they can be too long and plain) because they are the things that break up the gaming experience, and game menus (navigation, accessibility, and creativity) – Treyarch should take note how the PS3 version of Black Ops still asks you to calibrate your T.V every time you start it up. I would also urge studios to look at things like the game modes they slap into their multiplayer and the noises that fill them.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you find yourself noticing how little things are impressing you? Or are you oblivious to it all, and just think it doesn’t make any bloody difference? What keeps your favourite games off the second hand shelf…other than the fact they’re your favourites.