People value a game extra from knowing that it's AAA, and it's easy to see why. When a game has hundreds of professionals putting years and millions of dollars into it you'd expect the end product to be of higher quality than something made by a small team with a small budget. But surprisingly often the AAA games are just worse than indie games.

Since I was ten, the more I've grew older and developed more wisdom about game design and (in the last couple of years) about psychology, the more disdainful I've become of most AAA games. And likewise I began to see through their mess of plotholes and uninspired storytelling. I started to wonder how it was even possible to come up with the piles of garbage the industry does, or at least to do so while being an intelligent enough human being to be able to create such a massive work in the first place. Lately, I think I've come to understand.

The problem with AAA stories, as Shamus Young's reviews of Mass Effect and other games have helped me realize, seems to be that they're not thinking about it from the perspective of writing a story. They're thinking about it from the perspective of writing a game. It's not "What would our characters do next?" but "What type of mission should we send the player on next?" or "We want to give the player a moral choice, what's the most obvious dichotomy without thinking about whether it makes sense in context or whether we have to break characters' motivations to make it happen?" In particular the scene he criticizes in the Asari ark mission in Andromeda where you're on a spaceship and need to turn off power to a device to use it for something else. The Asari there says "I tried pulling the plug, but... nothing". Because a bunch of professional writers don't know that power can't flow through an outlet if there's nothing plugged in? But no, that's not it. They just wanted an excuse to make the player fend off a few waves of enemies while the Asari technician finds a way to power off the device. They didn't care if it was logically consistent. When you understand their thought process, you can see how it's possible for a reasonably intelligent person in real life to write this kind of egregious plothole.

And similarly, they're thinking about their game mechanics from the perspective of writing a story. They add mechanics purely because they fit with the flavor without considering how it impacts the experience of playing.

Ironically enough, one of the best possible examples is the hollowing mechanic in Dark Souls 2, which shrinks your health bar each time you die. They must have felt the need to add this because in-universe when an undead dies they respawn at their bonfire slightly closer to hollowing (going insane). This was always part of the lore but Dark Souls 1 didn't reflect hollowing in-game and that was good so the designers ruined their game mechanics in favor of reflecting the lore.

Or the undodgeable bullets in Assassin's Creed 3. They thought that because you can't dodge a bullet in real life, the player shouldn't be able to dodge them in-game. They didn't consider how mind-bogglingly stupid that is when you're designing a game and not a cinematic, and not because they don't know it's mind-bogglingly stupid when you're making a game and not a cinematic, but because they lost sight of which was which. They must have got a lot of negative feedback, because in the next game they added the human shield mechanic, which is totally unrealistic but clearly makes for a better game.

Another particularly clear example would be the QTEs in The Force Unleashed, since they just restart if you fail. There's no reason to impede the player's progress with a QTE if there's no consequence for failure. They just think it's cool to have the player press some buttons ordained by us to finish off the boss. The QTE sequences did play some pretty well-choreographed cinematics. And that befits an epic duel between a forbidden Sith apprentice and a surviving Jedi. But once again, if the cinematic is the only good part about a game section then just play it as a cinematic.

The reason indie games don't usually have that kind of problem is because they don't have the budget for fancy graphics, so their interfaces during combat tend to be abstractions rather than a literal depiction. That makes them less tempted to make this type of mistake.



This page was last modified 2020 May 08, Friday, 00:56 (UTC)