Four Gaming Clichés That Absolutely Need To Die

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A few days ago, news broke that Max Payne 3 would require ~35GB of storage space. That's a huge number; even Rage, released last year, came in at a hair under 20GB. If you've followed game development at all, you've undoubtedly come across figures showing how the cost of developing a next-generation title has risen at an geometric rate over the past 20 years.

Up and to the right, with a business model driven right into the dirt.

Much of that increased cost has gone towards creating art assets, with another sizeable chunk for hiring actors to do voice-over work. It's not a question of whether better graphics are something gamers want (they are), or if Max Payne 3 is gorgeous (it is). The cost curve is unsustainable over the long term, particularly given the trend towards handheld gaming.

What all of this suggests is that the game industry is in desperate need of an overhaul. Gamers aren't going to accept $80-$100 games, especially not with mobile prices in the 99 cent - $4.99 range and with food and gas prices on the rise. Attempts to seize the used game market and turn it into a profit source are liable to backfire and won't generate enough revenue to solve the problem in any case.

There's been some confusion on the point of this story, so I'm inserting a paragraph to address it directly.

If the long-term cost curve isn't sustainable and better art/special effects/voice overs are primarily responsible for rising costs, game developers need to find more sustainable ways of building better games. Unlike investments in art, which may only be useful for 1-2 titles, investing in building better games through improved AI routines, imaginative storytelling, and finding ways to make gamers feel more a part of the story can be carried over from engine to engine or even between console generations.

Solving The Problem One Headache At A Time:
As part of our positive approach to the problem (our therapist says it's a necessity), we've put together a list of some of the industry's most annoying game play clichés, from scripted sequences to impossibly incompetent NPCs -- and how they might be solved. Hopefully *will* be solved, because some of these techniques are older than dirt.
Tags:  Gaming, graphics, cliches

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rapid1 2 years ago

I like Diablo III! Is it complicated well no, do I get to kill a lotta stuff yes, is it fast paced relative, is it fun yes, is it large in size as a file NO not at all from what I have seen. Anyway I am also playing Skyrim and SWTOR but it (DIII) is only a beta for now with limited access!

inspector 2 years ago

So many true points here. Although i do look at graphics for a game i also look at the game play. if its no fun and boring, it can be the best graphics there is but i won't be getting it. I like a balance to be good :). that's not to say i won't buy a game because the graphics suck though.

AKnudson 2 years ago

I agree with rapid, take d3 as the example. the graphics are good, maybe great but they haven't sacrificed gameplay. they try to hold to the original ideas behind D2 but hey the treasure pygmy's? those are awesome, not to mention the random scenarios like the jar of souls. The game industry needs more immersive game play. I loved SWKOTOR (starwars.) I played the game for 3 days straight beating every level and earning every possible side quest. the side quests and the hidden caves, plus the dialogue challenges were fantastic, like when you have to try and convinve Bastilla to help you defeat the last boss, if you convinced her she helps if not watch out. Girls hit hard.

ZTimpson 2 years ago

hahaha that game is alot of fun!

"A few days ago, news broke that Max Payne 3 would require ~35GB of storage space."

that is going to require an xbox up grade for alot of people i know! i love graphics but if it kills the gameplay, in my opinion its a waste! don't sacrafice making the game a movie over gameplay!

diablo is awesome along with skyrim

AKnudson 2 years ago

Yea did you get a chance try the Diablo 3 open beta that happened this last weekend? i got into the beta and the game play is amazingly fun, i have won the game with half the characters, the monk, Wizard and barbarian.

ZTimpson 2 years ago

no I havent yet! I have been so busy with school! :/

boiker 2 years ago

I get your point about the cliches making gaming boring for predictable but for some games that is okay. If all these features are implemented it could result in the 80 dollar to 100 dollar games that you fear.

CDeeter 2 years ago

This is such a great article, and I totally agree with you regarding the unbreakable glass and stupid npc logic.

Dave_HH 2 years ago

My favorite Joel quote FTA -

"I'm wearing pieces of dragons I killed, I've got a demonic horse, an undead assassin helper monkey, and I can fling giants off a cliff with a well-articulated belch. I have a second deadly companion who follows me around as a pack mule. You have a broken sword and a badly-stained pair of pants."

LOL, priceless.

TManns 2 years ago

I find it interesting that you start off with a comment about how gaming is getting increasingly more expensive and how that just won't do, and then you go off on "suggestions" to make gaming better. However, most of your suggestions would have the side effect of massively jacking up the price of production. Lets break it down.

--Scripted Sequences--

Sure more advances scenes as you suggested would be great, and a few games that do things like this often create a very immersive experience. You can't ignore that the extra planning for each and every scene would sink more time and money into handling each extra scenario the scene can play out to. You create more scenes so you create potentially more art, sounds, dialogue, and more to debug and playtest. Yes it works great, but it doesn't achieve the goal of making games cheaper or easier to make.

--Conveniently indestructable objects--

Every game that has destructable enviroments has had rave reviews on the features, but you don't dont discuss for even a moment what kind of technical success it is to do that. From a purely software programming point of view this kind of technology is incredibly difficult to implement into a graphical engine. Each game you listed here has gone through many iterations of the technology over several years until it finally got to a believable level of destruction. To make matters work mutable data types can frequently use more memory, and have problems being rendered as quickly as immutable data types. So this creates not only problems with engine design, but further complicates effect run speeds. The best way to balance this is to lower the graphics of some other aspect of the game. All of these considerations would also suggest that including this in every game would also jack the price of development up.

--mandatory success--

This goes back to similar points as scripted sequences. More branches equals potentially more art, sounds, voices, story planning, etc. Added level of complexity adds to development time, and therefore to the cost of the game.

Now don't get me wrong, all four of these items you covered would improve any game they are implemented in. The problem I have is that you somehow seem to assume this makes games cheaper or perhaps that these strategies are somehow easily implemented. Games are immensely complex productions and I believe you've oversimpified that fact.

Joel H 2 years ago


I will adjust the wording somewhat to make my point clearer. I am not advocating for additional eye candy *and* the changes I suggest. My point is that if additional art is an unsustainable cost, better game play is a viable alternative means of making better games. Furthermore, the benefits from such development stay with you over time. 

When a game studio designs Game A, maybe they re-use a significant amount of art for the sequel, A2. Oftentimes, even this is more a general guideline. Having just played through Dead Space and Dead Space 2, I'd note that while a lot of similar art went into D2, the Necromorphs significantly improved from their D1 designs. If there's a Dead Space 3 for a next-gen console, it'll be a ground-up project that recalls the earlier designs but doesn't necessarily re-use their assets. 

Good AI implementations can spread across many games. Also, don't forget that some of the activities I criticize are just plain sloppy. Does it *really* raise cost to find a way to implement dangerous situations or important plot twists without forcing the gamer to stand their like a moron, unable to lift a finger to help? I would argue that it doesn't. It might require rethinking a scene in order to create tension without taking power away from the player, but that's all. 

Let's take a sequence from Dead Space, since that's the game I screenshotted. In the game, you stand there outside a room while the crazy doctor monologues, then kills someone. Then he flees. 

Alternative:  You can fire through the window if your weapons are fully upgraded. Shoot the doctor in time, and he shrieks (burning through the window attenuates most of the beam energy or results in him being hit with shrapnel rather than a fatal storm of bullets), drops the weapon, and flees. The window isn't big enough to crawl through, so you'll have to either hack the door lock or burn through the door. Hacking the door lock takes time or uses a valuable resource. Burning through the lock consumes ammo, which isn't in terribly high supply.

If you leave the window and attempt to burn through the door, the doctor kills the man and escapes cleanly. 

If you stay at the window and fire warning shots, he retreats, hiding behind furniture, and escapes -- but you save the man in question. Having just seen his lover gunned down and having been terrorized by days on the nightmare of the Ishimura, he elects to stay behind and work his way up to the escape pods on the bridge. 

The only meaningful change introduced by firing through the window and hurting the doctor is that he becomes more frenzied, more angry with you. The Hunter (a powerful Necromorph that can't ordinarily die) tracks you more quickly. A few fights are a tad harder. The doctor has some dialog changes. 

The difference is that you, as the player, feel as though your actions made a difference. Even if your only option was to fire through the window and scare the doctor off, even if there was no door hacking/burning, you, the gamer, have the feeling of *doing* something rather than watching something happen. 

Dead space *had* breakable glass. It had timed event sequences. All you'd need to do is have an invisible timer running -- the doctor retreats if shot at within X amount of seconds. Otherwise he kills the man. And you'd need a few lines -- maybe 10-15 -- of different dialog -- and a script option that said "If A Occurred, Then B Happens Now." 

That's do-able right now, in most any title. That's my point. Better gameplay as a long-term investment rather than eye candy.

mikebabcock 2 years ago

Wow, what a terrible article. Not that I disagree with the complaints, but the first page and the points don't actually go together. Every point made actually *increases* development time and costs over the current system. Physics and destructible environments are expensive and hard to implement. Good AI is hard to implement. Story design with multiple branches are more expensive to implement.

Thanks, you just made games even more expensive and kept that development price curve from slowing down at all.

Joel H 2 years ago

Check my reply to Tmanns and the change I made to the first page. I think it'll make the distinction I'm drawing more clear. 

Dave_HH 2 years ago

mikebabcock, that's a load of BS. Good plot development and gameplay mechanics are a farcry (pun intended) more cost efficient than developing physics effects, super-tesselated terrain and magical shader effects. In this day and age, we need a compromise of both graphics glitz (because we can) and gameplay. Joel's article points out that the former has been amped up disproportionately at the expense of the latter.

Joel H 2 years ago

You got me on the first two, but there's not much I can do about a price engine misspelling. 

ACarbonara 2 years ago

Pretty much all of the games with heavily interactive stories have had long developing times. Each (good) Deus Ex game was 4 years in development, compared to the Uncharted games that took closer to 2 years. You can easily cherry pick scenarios and say how they can be expanded, but in real life the complexity builds upon itself. The interactions between decisions mean that the game has to be very carefully planned out.

More powerful systems and advanced technology make eyecandy easier to produce. No amount of computing power can hasten deep game design. Asking for games to be cheaper to buy and to have more work put into them is basically asking for free stuff.

Also, I'm guessing that you are a BIG fan of Heavy Rain.

Joel H 2 years ago


Not at all. I'm arguing for a different focus in gaming rather than pouring money into graphics, generation after generation. There's nothing I wrote that calls for cheaper games or claims that cheaper games would be a result. 

This is a question of what would yield the best games, not a question of how to make games for a lower price. "You can easily cherry pick scenarios and say how they can be expanded, but in real life the complexity builds upon itself."

Except I didn't cherry pick. I took a convenient example, not a pre-selected one. Furthermore, I purposefully gave an example that *wouldn't* modify the game plot beyond using a few different dialog lines. The plot of Dead Space would end exactly the same way as it does now. The only difference would be in the gamer's perception of being able to influence actions rather than being an impotent witness to them. 

kisai 2 years ago

Some of the stuff I enjoyed in pre-3D-accelerator game land, hasn't really come back.

- Ultima 7/7.5/8 - NPC's run on a schedule, attack you if you're being a criminal, and otherwise have an internal karma-stupidity threshold. They also flee if you attack them and they're near death but you don't kill them. Even some of them will forgive you.

- Wing Commander (as stated) had a branching winning/losing tree, this type of branching system is seen far more often in Japanese Life-sim/dating-sim games than in any game that has scripted "scenes." Mass effect comes close, in which you can still win the game even if you pick all the losing branches, but you don't have the "eject" button WC had (eg purposely fail this mission.)

I think the most frustrating thing about FPS games is that they're largely all the same, and can be won with the exact same tactic of "cover and snipe", some are horribly unbalanced for players that don't regularly play FPS games (like Homefront) and some are too easy because you can just brute force your way through NPC's because they're predictable (Mass effect, Halflife2.) FPS games really need to step up the AI. As with the destructible environment issue, it makes a lot more sense to apply penalty to overkill than it does to allow the player to brute force their way through the game.

Very few games have destructible environments, and I understand why we don't get them (not enough memory to maintain state, lack of physics computing power in consoles holding everything back) but I think it needs to be used more often as a way of "failing" certain paths in the storyline. Like for example, throwing a grenade in a confined space, kills the target, and blows out the support column, giving you 15 seconds to escape before the building falls on you. Or breaking windows and doors that don't open without a key, or at all. In the Ultima games, the option to pick the lock, blow open the door or find the key made it more fun.

I do hope there is some stepping away from "scripted mandatory scenes" to "interactive/interruptable" ones, where you can just run on past if you've seen it, and not be subject to 20 minutes of grueling dialog you heard already. If you know that guy is going to die, cut to the chase and try and stop it, or maybe just mercy kill him first if that's your prerogative. I know players that liked how Fable let you do this with mission NPC's and even just regular ones (kill them, marry them, etc) but it had very little extended-outcome (you could murder the town, leave, come back and there'd be new occupants) where as in Ultima 6 or later if you did this, the NPC's were gone permanently.

OSunday 2 years ago

Bless you HotHardware, and Joel Hruska, I don't know how you did it but you seem to have found the holy grail of gaming recipes...

*Chime in Monk Chanting and Choir Music*

This reminds me of all the games I've loved and have had to a certain degree an aspect of control over the story along with a high sense of immersion (The Mass Effect Series, Bioshock)

Omegadraco 2 years ago

I think we can go back to the days of John Carmack games being the hottest thing ever. Look at so many of the FPS games they designed where the AI improved and that was the most impressive thing to games. The graphics were not perfec tand beautiful but the AI was amazing for the time. At this point I would almost be tempted to say that AI has not improved very much since the days of Quake yet graphics have continued to improve as system resources increased.

aivory 2 years ago

i completely agree, the gaming industry needs alot of reworking. especially with the technology changing so quickly and everything become so much more accessible. eventually games should be on e the piont to run nearly if not as efficient as i tunes.

pwrntspd 2 years ago

I think game play is one of the most important reasons why i play games. One of the reasons i dont like the ipad and android games is because the arent enveloping. i want to feel like im there, like im in trouble, like im in the story and its happening for me. Aside from graphics, the way we interact with the game is what makes it interesting and i hope that despite the costs and long term trends that companies will continue to innovate how we play games and what makes them interesting.

ROSaurus 2 years ago

If I may add to the list of gaming cliches that need to die: Amnesia. Dear god, I'm tired of amnesia.

Joel H 2 years ago


I meant to reply to this comment but forgot it on account of memory wipe.

xman6 2 years ago

what game will be the first to break 1TB? I wonder how much of the content is due to bloat-ware coding as opposed to proper software design. I've almost given into the sense of every while i need a new HD for the new games that are out.

Joel H 2 years ago

There are two ways to answer that question.

The first is that, in a sense, it happened a long time ago. The textures that get used in a game are first designed and created, then compressed and mashed. It's a lot like video -- true, uncompressed video streams are absolutely gigantic. They dwarf our ability to process them in raw form (at least on consumer-level hardware). The human eye can't easily discern the difference between compressed and raw footage, particularly if you're sitting 6-8 feet away from the screen. Hence, video compression. 

The second answer is "Not for a damn long time." Max Payne is 35GB. That's just 3.5% the size of 1TB. Art takes artists and programming and a lot of other things that go into creating a game. A game with 1TB worth of textures and levels wouldn't just be gigantic, it'd be larger than any video cards or CPUs could reasonably access. Forget dozens of hours -- you'd be talking thousands of hours at current levels of detail. 

There's no simple way to scale human effort in a manner that would do that level of storage justice, and tremendous amounts of work has gone into making games smaller and reducing the amount of memory they need to run. In gaming, bigger typically isn't better -- the focus is on creating small, highly efficient data structures. That's why Carmack's virtual texturing technology was a big leap forward for creating certain kinds of detailed terrain. 

If you step outside the game world and start talking about creating virtual models, then terrabytes of information make more sense, but even then you aren't talking about all of that detail necessarily going into making a pretty picture. 

We may never get to the "1 TB of textures" point. I'm not sure it'll ever make sense to go that route given the inherent challenges to manipulating and loading so much data. 

FreeJet 2 years ago

I played a game the other day,
It followed script as if to say,
You make that move and come what may.
But May did come and so did June,
And in the Sky rimmed up the Moon,
But I played on as if a loon,
Entranced by Worlds that made me swoon.
As time went by, the Sun came soon.
So even if things happen right,
The Games of Clones and Elders might,
Have thought it out before the fight.
But I take comfort in my plight,
And seek the time to play tonite.

scott.stellmon 2 years ago

Thanks for addressing this. Gaming is about to drive itself over the cliff...

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