Because everyone knows that you can make $$$$ when you vandalize other people's property!

People ask me if I'm excited for the future of gaming.  I would have to say that tentatively, I am.  I like the fact that in games today we can show a range of emotions and abilities that would have been impossible a mere decade ago.  However, there are some things that have made our gaming exploits more lazy and simple, sometimes obviously for the better (remember the days before auto target?) but generally, we have some issues with the extent of interactive environments.

Nothing is impervious to EXPLOSIONS!

When we first heard about the idea of interactive environments, it was mostly through sandbox games like the Sims or Grand Theft Auto.  Basically, people who played these games did all sorts of things, many of them sadistic or cruel, simply to see what they COULD do.  I remember a friend of mine who gushed to me about how she got two guys to kiss in the Sims.  Apparently, in the previous one, heterosexual relationships were the only possible combinations, and even my (otherwise totally morally opposed to immoral behavior) husband said that he was guilty of putting in a pool and then removing the exits just to see if he could get ghosts to appear in his Sims game.

Don't you hate it when they REMIND you that you're in a fake world?

And obviously those of you who remember the days of "well, I guess I can't blow up this rock with BOMBS because the game says that only THE SPECIAL LIFTING GLOVES that I can get in this temple over THERE will allow me to move the rock" game logic.  I mean who knew that gloves > bombs, amirite?  

And obviously when you get to the limits of the game world, it's pretty much just like running up against the backdrop in a movie studio- it's impossible to ride off into the sunset because the sunset is just a big painted border that reminds you that you're just pushing buttons and thumbing around a joystick.  So the limitations can be infuriating, especially if you like exploring and the game promises you an "open world" that truly satisfies you.  One of the reason everyone loves all the Elder Scrolls games and the Fallout series is because the games are so massive (and downloadable maps and stories add even more) that you can't help but feel like you're in a new world that truly draws you in.

In some ways, it's great that we can at least interact in the world of the game more fully than ever before.  But unfortunately, it can also lead to very frustrating situations as well.

Did someone ask for a sword to the face?  Yes, yes I think you did.

There has been much ballyhooing about how certain enemies in Skyward Sword are really hard to kill because they require specific sorts of tools and strategies to put them down.  Now, most of us are familiar with the "Zelda Logic" that most LoZ games tend to encompass.  Even in the early days of these games, you often had to use certain tools to defeat certain enemies (this is especially true with big bosses), but otherwise, you could hack pretty much anything with your sword and it Did The Job.  

Unfortunately, some game designers did not exactly get "the memo" when it comes to some more open world games and made it humorously easy to destroy pretty much anything with your basic weapons.  I remember in Okamiden that, just like in Zelda, you could destroy pretty much anything with your basic attack moves.  Unfortunately, when you can do that, it significantly reduces the amounts of times you're going to use your other weapons or items because, let's face it, it's easier to smack things with the thing you have in your hand at the time than to mess around with your inventory, especially if you're not allowed to pause while doing so.  

Because even though you probably won't use it, WHAT IF YOU NEED IT AT SOME POINT?!

Obviously, many games have "quick choose" slots, but even this can be frustrating, especially in games like Skyward Sword, where you use B to both select and use the item you've placed to B or, if you hold it down slightly longer, it switches to a pick screen while you're still trying to play the game (ie: it does not pause).  I can't tell you how many times I've tried to select a secondary item that I have to use to fight a boss or a special monster only to get my butt handed to me just because I accidentally held B down too hard and accidentally went to the other quick menu and selected something completely useless.

I'm sure you can understand how that feels.

So basically you're often bashing things with swords or fragging people with your favorite gun or whatever, and that's that.  But doesn't that get boring?  In creating a more open world, it can be somewhat less fun or intuitive if the solution to complicated menus and usage of secondary items is simply to make it possible to use your primary weapon on most things.  If anything, it significantly decreases the immersive nature of the game world itself, and in that case, why do you really need all that extra crap except for one or two times where the game FORCES you to use them?

Ocarina: You're doing it wrong.

But let's face it, just because something is stupid doesn't mean that we're stuck with it forever because hey, that's what the gaming companies are making, so deal with it.

Honestly, what we need is a more intuitive approach to using our various items.  I don't really advocate making it it utterly impossible to get through an area unless you do something very specific, but I do like the idea of making several ways of getting through an area, such as when my husband took the "stealth" route in the Deus Ex game or when you can choose various dialogue options and weapons upgrades in games like Mass Effect or Fallout in order to shape your character more.  Really, though, it needs to be more like this when it comes to weapons as well.  You shouldn't only need a specific item for one thing, we should use them for several, or even be able to come up with uses that are kinda out of left field but still legitimately effective.  

Let the Rube Goldberg Machinations begin!  Now to get the bad guy to stand under the big, red X....

The truth of the matter is that we don't all play games the exact same way.  And one of the eccentricities of the human race in general is our desire to figure out new and interesting ways of doing things.  Sure, we may all have similar goals- save the princess, save the world, destroy evil, you know, the usual stuff- but we want to do it in our own way and with our own brains making the decisions.  One of the main reasons that video games are as popular as they are today is due to the inherent nature of being able to be whoever you want to be, and controlling a world where you're more than just a helpless pawn in a giant systematic machine that no one feels they have any real control over.

You know what they say about the size of a man's gun, right?

Let's face it, when it comes to a game, we want more than just

*Whack with stick-enemy dies.*  

*Whack with stick-enemy dies.*  

*Whack with stick a couple of times-somewhat stronger enemy dies*

*Whack with stick and use some dungeon-specific item that you just got in some gimmicky way-boss dies*

kinds of game mechanics.  As the technology gets better, we want smarter AI that hides or runs out of reach when they see us coming,   We want weapons that are easy to use with a measure of customization and better item inventories that don't detract from gameplay but also don't leave us as sitting ducks fumbling with item choices while our enemies mow us down.  And the good news is that we're seeing a lot more of this in games.  But the bad news is that, if we're given the option to whack everything to death with a stick, then what use is it to use any of the other items at our disposal?


I leave you with a happy picture of Link and Zelda and also a couple of questions for you to ruminate over.

Do you feel that the focus on expanding the universe of a video game works at the detriment of using more than just a couple "favorite" weapons and pretty much just mindlessly hanging onto the rest of your inventory?  

What are your thoughts on games that "force" you to use a specific new item or weapon for a set time after you get it and then basically makes it so it's fairly optional to ever have to use it again?

And do you enjoy the "open world" experience or are you more linear and conservative in your game world preferences?

Do you have a particular "dominant weapon" that you prefer to use for pretty much everything in your favorite games?  If so, what is it?

And finally, I wish to thank all of you for reading my blog, and hope for all the very best in this new year of 2012!