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Top Ten Overused Game Ideas

16
Posted November 13, 2012 by Ciarán O'Brien in Games

We love our games, we really do. From screaming ‘GOOOOAL! SUCK IT, [friend name here]!’ in FIFA to the creeping, cold-sweat-inducing dread we get from sneaking about the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief: Deadly Shadows, the themes, mechanics and gameplay usually work harmoniously together to draw us in and hold our attention in a vice-like grip. But there are just some themes and mechanics that have become so overused that they bore, to paraphrase Garda Gerry Boyle, the hole off you.

11. Fetch Quests

Go to location X, collect Y, bring back to stationary character Z. Or, just to mix things up: Go to location X, murder Y, bring back to stationary character Z. Now you know how 95% of any MMORPG goes, and you can avoid wasting €15 a month for the privilege. This one has a lot in common with point 10 below, only you actually get something out of it. It’s usually a slightly shinier pair of studded leather knickers, but at least it’s something. Still, it’s tedious in the extreme, it takes forever, and it raises serious questions about the game world, such as why the postal system in Azeroth is so fucking atrocious they need level 50 deathknights to do all the work.

10. Collectibles

Developers often wonder how to make their game last longer. There seem to be two solutions. They could add extra content to make the game longer without sacrificing story, immersion or entertainment value. Far more often they go for putting worthless collectible items in hard to reach places and then claim the game is twice as long because of the hours you’ll spend hunting the fiddly little bastards down for the sake of a ‘collect all the maguffins’ achievement. Collect all the Assassin’s Creed flags? That dog won’t hunt, Monseigneur.

 

9. Bullet-time

The Matrix was 13 years ago, people. It’s just not cool any more. The only novel use of bullet time since The Matrix was the recent Dredd movie. It’s certainly not a defining mechanic when every damn game keeps using it in exactly the same way. Max Payne is the only game that’s really tried something interesting with the mechanic by letting you leap all over the shop all John Woo-ey, but over a decade later, it’s still using the same old schtick and nothing new. Everyone else just does the ‘game slows down for a few seconds’ thing, and it usually adds nothing to the experience.

 

8. Really bad comic relief characters

Christ on a stick, they’re awful. They’re invariably designed by committee, and thus all their jokes fall flat as roadkill. Remember Norton Mapes, the fat obnoxious guy from FEAR? With the RTFM belt buckle?Yeah, that’s the kind of gobshite I’m talking about. That idiot Swedish guy from Just Cause 2, oh, how I wanted to slap him to death with his own facial hair. Don’t even get me started on poor Nico Bellic from GTA IV being constantly harassed by his cousin, bullied into going to a strip club to see ‘beeg Amereecan teetees’. We’re gonna lump every damn guard from Skyrim in here too. YOU know why.

 

 

7. Zombies

Every other game seems to be about the zombie apocalypse these days. Dead Rising, Dead Rising 2, Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2, DayZ, Resident Evil, Zombie Panic, Zombie Cooking Mama… give it a rest, will you? Zombies have completely lost their impact from overuse. They’re almost comically wimpy low-level enemies and cannon fodder, and speaking as a dangerously-enthusiastic zombie fan, that’s a goddamn shame. Leave them to rot for a few years, THEN try a zombie game. It’ll sell better once zeds become scary again, I guarantee.

 

 

6. Sandbox environments

Freedom and exploration are fine things in games. Morrowind and Skyrim provide some frankly stunning fantasy worlds for you to explore, and the fact that they don’t stop you going anywhere provides a tremendous sense of adventure. But sometimes actually hampers a game. LA Noir gives you a whole city to explore, but there’s absolutely shag-all to do besides visit a few landmarks. The game would’ve been better if they’d cut out the wandering about and stuck to the linear story. There’s a balance that needs to be struck between freedom and narrative. Too much of one, and the other will suffer.

 

5. Morality meters

These things are all the rage lately. Mass Effect, Infamous, Fallout 3, they all have them, and for the most part, they add nothing beyond a different cutscene at the end. Sometimes they don’t even give you that. Fallout 3 made only the barest token effort at it, starting with ‘Do I blow up this town because some rich idiot asked me to or not?’ and having few places to go after perpetrating/avoiding mass genocide. I want more ambiguous shades of grey, folks. I mean like the Witcher games, not that crappy EL James book.

 

 

4. Overly simple puzzles

These days it’s incredibly rare to find a puzzle that’ll halt your progress for more than a few minutes, even in a puzzle game. The Elder Scrolls games rarely require you to do more than stand there and pull that lever, then that one. The more complex puzzles come with a complete step-by-step manual, usually in the form of bad poetry. How in the hell have these places remained undisturbed for millennia when a nine-year-old could solve their mysteries? Even Portal 2‘s puzzles were never particularly challenging. I blame the lack of Monkey Island style adventure games. Games these days just don’t force you to think like a game dev up to his eyeballs in LSD.

3. Brooding power-armoured dudemarine

Gears of War didn’t create the shaved ape in powered armour with less personality than an autistic jellyfish (Halo‘s miserably shallow Master Chief, I’m looking at you), but it sure perfected it. Hulking slabs of meat with no feelings, who do nothing but kill shit in the face with improbably sized penis extensions, and we are expected to love them. Then when these emotionally stunted simpletons are put in a terribly written ‘emotional scene’, we are expected not to laugh at how stupid they look trying to feign depth and complexity? Heh, pull the other one, it has bells on.

 

2. Damsel in distress

If the video game world were to be believed, 99% of a princess’ job would be ‘getting captured by some evil bastard’. Princess Peach was particularly bad at it, Nintendo have been cashing in on her inability to sort out her own problems for over 20 years. It might be because many game writers project the image that they have yet to know the gentle touch of a woman, but the captive helpless female is horribly overused at this stage. Alyx Vance lacks the resources, training and education of any princess, and yet in the intro to Half Life 2 she knocked out half a dozen Combine soldiers WITH HER BARE HANDS. Power-armoured Gordon Freeman has to hit those bastards several times in the face with a crowbar before they drop. What a wuss.

1. Quick-time events

On a par, atrocity-wise, with at least five consecutive Holocausts, QTEs are the product of a diseased mind and pure unadulterated laziness. Granted, when the entire game is made of them, like with Heavy Rain, they can work, but in every other instance you’re not expecting them, you usually miss them the first time, and you end up not paying attention to any cut-scenes in case ‘press X to not die horribly’ flashes up for a split second. You can’t enjoy a Resi 4 cut-scene in case some ex-military loon jumps out and stabs you because you didn’t waggle the Wii-mote in time. And we like Resi 4.


About the Author

Ciarán O'Brien

Ciarán has been gaming since the days of the Amiga 500, all the way up to the latest tabletop RPGs and wargames. A friendly, gentle soul who wouldn't harm a fly right up until the point where you touch his whiskey.

  • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

    Ah in fairness. If we got rid of all of these tired tropes there’d be no games left!

    As someone who loves RPGS, fetch quests are the bane of my gaming life. Fable III was far and away the worst for them. If you wanted to make friends, get married or have any sort of homelife, you had to resign yourself to spending a good 30% of the game wandering hither and yonder looking for buried books, sourcing specific presents or delivering notes. And there’s no actual work in any of them, because the golden trail/your trusty dog finds the lot for you.

    The simple puzzles in Skyrim nearly killed me. Got to the first claw door, spent ages deciphering the murals on the walls and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, then realised the fucking solution was on the bloody claw itself. It’s a terrible day when I’m putting more thought into the puzzles than the developers. The best I’ve yet seen were in the Silent Hill series – creepy, difficult and original. Though in general I have to say I am not a fan of puzzles; I’d rather just get on with things. Physics puzzles especially grind my gears (pun intended). Sorry, Portal.

    #2 just made me think LEEEEEEEON! LEEEEEEEEEEON! LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEON!

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      Worst. President’s daughter. Ever. I let her die a few times out of sheer frustration at her piercing helpless wails. Although shoving her in a bin was strangely satisfying too.

      I have nothing against these tropes when they’re used properly. Heavy Rain wasn’t half bad and that was all QTE, fetch quests are sometimes good for seeing a bit of the world you hadn’t gone to and so on. It’s just that game devs just don’t seem to know when to say “OK, any more fetch quests and they’ll get bored” or “That’s a stupid place for a QTE, let’s bin it”.

      Portal had some delightful puzzles, and if it had been any longer it would have gotten dull, but the devs there knew it, and 3-4 hours is the perfect length for that game.

      • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

        Oh, I totally understand that Portal is a superb game, but in general I have a problem with physics puzzles, because I have no patience. As for Broken Sword/Professor Layton, let’s just say I tend to end up in a strop because my outside-the-box thinking isn’t appreciated by stupid technology.

        • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

          Oh I wasn’t dissing you for not liking Portal. Different strokes and all that. I’ve never liked Final Fantasy after all but I appreciate that it appeals to people who aren’t me. :p

          I occasionally get upset at a game’s insisting that a puzzle must be solved a certain way. That was actually one other thing I loved about Portal. There were a few puzzles where playtesters found shortcuts, bypassing 90% of the test chamber. Instead of removing the shortcuts, the devs said “Well, if you’re clever enough to figure that out, you deserve to be able to take a shortcut, so let’s leave it there.”

          Yes, I may have a slight crush on Valve as a whole…

          • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

            Yeah, you’d be forgiven for that…

  • http://twitter.com/SerialBlogamist Catherine C

    I had some major issues with Princess Peach as a kid (actually I still do). I remember getting into SO many fights with boy friends who would try to make me be her when we’d play games just because I was the token girl in the group. I wanted to be Toad, dammit!
    I also completely agree with the zombie point – just let it go!

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      Silly boyfriends. Peach kicked ASS in Brawl.

      • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

        I could kill a man from ten paces using Kirby. Mainly because of that wicked somersault blade smash he had.

  • http://twitter.com/Sharrrow Sharrow

    Who ever came up with quick time events needs to die in a fire and as for the person saying, noo take way the above mechanics and we’d have no games, Dude seriously you need to play more games, better games.

    • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

      It’s me, you eejit. And I was being facetious. “Tired tropes”. Come on.

      Quick time events are the devil. Just when you settle in to a nice cut scene break after a tiring battle – BAM! You were supposed to jump to the left! You should have pressed A, loser! Ugh, they are the living end.

  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

    Shite, I just remembered Dante’s Inferno – a game MADE of quickt time events. I feel horribly cold all of a sudden.

  • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

    I’ve just remembered: driving sections.

    Now, I love a good driving/racing game, whether it’s old school Road Rash, a bit of Mario Kart with mates, or a dose of Burnout carnage, but I’m sick of games pausing the action to demand you pass a driving section/win a race/etc in order to progress through the storyline. See Mass Effect, Mace Griffin, Beyond Good and Evil, Rachet and Clank…

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      Oh Christ, yes. Far Cry and Crysis had completely awful vehicle sections. The part of Ocarina of Time I truly hated was where you have to win 3 races in a row to get Epona. But I freaking loved Split Second. Zoomy cars and the ability to make the race track EXPLODE AT YOUR OPPONENT ftw.

  • http://twitter.com/Dan_ONeill Dan O’Neill

    If ya don’t take number 3 off this list I’m gonna… I’m gonna… I’m… gonna… well… do nothing at all really. Maybe cry a little?

    Still though the Master Chief is a legend. A legend, ya hear? That universe is so beautifully created by the games, books and other associated material(Forward Unto Dawn).

    Agree with almost every other point though – Especially number 1, 8 and 10.

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      Damn it, I forgot to put splitting the story up so you can sell some of it seperately as a book or a mobile game or whatever. Made the boss fights in Deus Ex 3 even more stupid and arbitrary because we had no fucking idea who they were.

      I’m not denying Halo is a decent game. Just that Master Chief is really, really boring. Well, most of the characters in the games are. I don’t care if they’re fleshed out in the books, that substance should have been in the game making it suck less.

  • http://twitter.com/ToeMcD Tony McDermot

    Travelling. I know this has been addressed a lot in other things, but honest-to-fuck don’t make me TRAVEL across uninteresting, meaningless landscapes with nothing happening in them in order for me to progress to the next point of the plot.

    Now, as a games developer, I ASSUME that you have built your horse/car mechanics to work. I do not need to prove this over a 4-minute traipse across empty countryside (*GLARES at Assassin’s Creed 2*). I know in some games (read: Rockstar games) they have random events and stuff in your general travelling about, but that’s ACTUALLY worse because if you want to get the next mission/objective/plot point done, you don’t WANT to stop to help a woman steal your horse or give a junkie a lift, because then that’s a whole NEW thing you have to deal with, meaning either a) you stop and put your mission on hold (disrupting narrative in the process) or b) you ignore them and miss out on random events which you might not see again for some time, thus depriving yourself of content.

    Basically, if I want to wander in your sandbox world I will. If I want to just get to the next point, please be sure to include a portal/stagecoach/taxi whatever EVERYWHERE. I’m a busy man.

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