Time to evolve!

Games have been around for a while now, you don't need me to tell you that. However, we still see some artifacts of yesteryear in current-gen games that often leave me wondering if they're there just because, well, they've always been there. Can't we have a clean sweep and get rid of some of the old gaming staples? And yes, I said "yesteryear", even though I hate that word.

Title Screens
Obviously every game needs a title, but a title screen where I have to "press start" to continue? What is this, a mid 1980s arcade? Sometimes it isn't even start but any button press, but worse still, sometimes it is required to stretch out your hand and reach for that badly placed start button just to get to the menu. Often the title screen is a disguised loading screen, which is fine, but I am then still asked to press "start" to continue when loading is done. When am I ever likely to think "nah, I think I'll just look at the title for a tad longer"? It's double-wrapping nobody needs anymore. Why can't your main menu and the title screen be combined? Sure, it isn't a big issue, but it is a stupid one.

Continue? 9...8...7...6...
Yes, please. Why ask? Why give me a set of lives...and then another few sets of lives? Why not give me all those lives at once? Or better still, allow me to choose how many lives I want to take with me when I start, if that is the kind of game you're making. The idea of a "continue" screen made a lot of sense in the arcades, where the player needed time to rifle through his pockets for another 100 Yen coin, but on a home console? What's the use in that?

Attract Modes
Worse even than the title screen is the game that after a period of inactivity jumps to an "attract mode". In the old arcades this usually happened to be a demo of the game in action so a passerby would be "attracted" and lured to the machine. These days the same could be said for demos in kiosks and stores but in the final home product? Granted, they are quite rare these days but you still occasionally come across them. Usually they end up being some kind of edited collage, quite separate from the actual game's introductory sequence, but just something you might see as a commercial for the game. And it serves no purpose whatsoever. Considering the impatience with which I rap on the ”start” button at the sight of any title screen it is unlikely in the extreme I'll be sitting there staring at it for a few minutes for any attract mode to kick in.

Manuals
Are these really necessary these days? I can hardly remember the last one I actually read. Usually, after a brief battle with the plastic wrapping I insert the disc and while the game boots up I cast a glance over the manual, flipping the pages for a few seconds, before putting it back in the box. In the "old days" when space was at a premium and graphics were blocky, a manual could help you understand the gameplay mechanics and illustrate the enemies and protagonists a little better than 4 by 4 pixels could. Part of my addiction to the early Ultima games came from the excellent manuals and bestiary which really helped make the on-screen blobs seem like real characters and monsters in my mind's eye. These days, with the multi-buttoned controllers, a tutorial stage is pretty much the standard, which leaves the manual for...what, exactly? Manuals only serve to give the game case a pleasingly expensive weight, fooling you into thinking you're getting your money's worth.

Paradoxically, for an industry so dynamic, some things take a long time to change. The issues above are mostly left-overs from a time they were actually needed; they have since been accepted into the general game design lexicon, for no other reason than the fact we're used to them. Occasionally one daring developer will try something different, but it's usually not enough to break the clichés. And to be fair, none of the above is really crippling in any way, but it sometimes just strikes me how much of a game is simply there because we expect it to be there, rather than it being truly necessary anymore.

37 comments:

  1. Counter point for attract modes:
    WindWaker.

    Counter point for Manuals:
    This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I want a full color, crisp clean manual with my games. I hate those flimsy pointless little "booklets" that come with EA games. They have no info whatsoever. I wish every game came with a manual as well designed and colorful as a nintendo game's manual. Although lately Nintendo's manuals are padded with extra languages, but the care that goes into them is a nice touch.

    Everything else I agree with wholeheartedly. Continues are a silly momentary hindrance anymore. Title screens aren't so bad, its the annoying technology logos that can't be skipped on some games. I couldn't care less that you used renderware, I just wanna crash some damn cars already.

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  2. EVOLVE? EVOLVE? NO! We need to intelligent game design. Get it? Get it? Hahaha, skeptical humor. :D

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  3. Yeah, pressing start to play is pretty senseless. I quite like how I can boot up GTA4, walk away, and it starts up the game and loads the last played save automatically. So take heart in the fact that games can evolve past these artifacts. Not that I expect a trend.

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  4. Replacing manuals with information provided in-game is fine—if I can quickly access that information whenever I want to refresh my memory (without losing any progress in the game proper), and if I can easily navigate to the specific topic I want. I can forget things long after playing through an opening tutorial stage (especially when returning to a game after a long time away), and I'm not going to want to replay any more of it than is necessary, for any longer than necessary.

    It can be done; but pausing and flicking through a paper manual is actually pretty convenient (provided the manual is intelligently designed).

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  5. I'm gonna have to disagree with you on attract mode. I've actually been pleased at the evolution of this inclusion. In the arcade, it was a way to show off your gameplay and suck the customers in. Home console games already have your money (or your rental fees), so developers have changed it into a way to show off their work in a way that keeps the title/menu screen from burning itself into your television if you wander off before starting up. Persona 3's attract has a music-video quality to it, which is also the only place in the game you'll hear that particular piece of music. (FES is no exception, and alternates between.) I've actually left a game running before to see if it includes one of these.

    As for manuals... I still read them, because I've been burnt in the past by not doing so. Modern games are moving away from their necessity, but I know from over six years of working in a game store that people still want the manual. (It also helps if you forgot the tutorial's instructions on how to block, for example.)

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  6. what's your stance on Doom-style "attract mode behind main-menu"? :)

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  7. Attract modes sometimes show off secret hints. The best example I know of is Metroid Fusion. Shows off the use of shinespark (technique never explained in the manual or in game... I believe) to reach hidden areas. I think a Resident Evil one showed me where to find the mansion map.

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  8. Agreed with all of them. However, I think most of these stems from how people view game: an entertainment art or an entertainment software. A software needs mauals, tutorials, ... but a movie does not. But about title screen; even movies has them these days. Why should games get rid of it?

    Any pointers on outdated features on actual gameplay and game design side?

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  9. Attract modes are very useful in smaller shops which are not important enough to receive a demo kiosk - they can just pop a game into an Xbox plugged to the biggest TV they have and it will "attract".

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  10. I happen to like attract modes a great deal. Super Metroid had multiple attract modes, including one that demonstrated how to do a Crystal Flash, an excessively secret maneuver. (And the Shinespark has already been mentioned.)

    There is also an excellent reason for a Press Start to Play prompt in a game: it allows the system to seed a pseudorandom number generator by counting cycles from start up to button press.

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  11. Title screens still are good. Only the practice to dictate a buttons sucks.
    I should press start? Guess what, I'll press B!

    Continues really just annoy.

    Attract modes in console games still are useful to show off some tricks and secrets, like others already said. An alternative is to cycle the intro.

    Removing manuals only is good if it's are more a brochure than a manual anyway.
    By the way, has anyone of you actually used those blank pages for notes?

    What annoys me in some games:
    Unskippable credits
    Sometimes I want to skip to the end screen, especially when the scrolling ones with every subcontractor and their pets begin. For example when we played a game a second time.

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  12. Damn, I can't believe I missed the opportunity to make some "intelligent design" jokes here. :(

    As for "old fashioned" gameplay designs, I am actually in favour of taking a few steps back, as I explained in a recent post on 2D platformers. I feel games become too complicated too quickly with too much bad design, whereas in "the good old days" control was a doddle and focus could be spent on actual gameplay.

    Okay, so maybe I'm wrong about "attract modes", as people are coming up with some good points. But I still can't remember the last time I let one kick in. Staring at a title screen for an undetermined period of time makes little sense to me, let alone on a handheld console.

    Peter Park, of course games should have a title screen, but why not combine it smoothly with the interface? These days a lot of games are getting all artsy and have semi-interactive intros with credits and the title in them anyway when you start the game for the first time. Add the fact I bought the game, have the box sitting right there in front of me - I KNOW what the game is called, thankyouverymuch!
    But even that isn't my real problem - it's just the "press start" thing, a left-over from the "Player 1 Start" buttons in the arcades.

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  13. I like attract modes myself - I'm not too good at games and it takes me a while to warm upto them, so I usually show my friends what the game is meant to be played like using the attract mode. Games like Disgaea even showed some intermediate and advanced strategies in attract mode which was awesome for an SRPG noob like me. And I think an attract mode is mandatory for fighting games, I mean I'll never play at the competitive level, so the youtube videos are useless to me - I'd like to see what the developers had in mind for the gameplay instead. So yeah, go attract mode!

    I think your complaints are valid, so maybe there are alternatives instead of outright excision.

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  14. As someone mentioned, Disgaea and other Nippon Ichi games have useful (and sometimes hilarious!) attract screens. Dead Rising had a secondary "secret" opening cinematic. Looping the intro, however, really annoys me - I saw it once, if I walk away for a few seconds I don't want to have to load it again.

    Continues are useful if they reset your score, which I think most still do. They let poor players see the whole game, but skilled players compete. Personally I'm very happy to see high score lists returning.

    Manuals are great if you're making an awesome one, like a printed foldout map or concept art not found in the game. Very few companies make awesome ones. The number of Nintendo WiFi manuals I have thrown out could probably save several trees.

    But every time I have to press Start, I die a little inside.

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  15. I don't think anyone mentioned this, but I believe Microsoft and Sony require the title screen to pass certification.

    That doesn't mean your point isn't valid, but we need a higher up to change it first.

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  16. hei there,
    long time fan of your blog.
    some points i have to make:

    Manuals:

    - tutorials are not always helpful
    - you don't remember them after not playing for a week or more
    - a good manual is able to deepen the experience and is helpful if your new to a genre/not used to gaming

    Attract Modes:

    - why delete something that does not hurt?


    Continue? 9...8...7...6...

    - depending on the genre, they still are kinda ok
    - fighting games and shmups are more fun WITH them

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  17. something i forgot
    and something that NEEDS to leave is
    the fully RENDERED background.

    like half life 2 for example.
    i have to wait MINUTES just to press start/load my game.
    just paint a pretty pictures or roll a video..

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  18. Its not about getting rid of these things but about using them intellignently.

    I'll start with the easy one, attract reels. If you really never let the game sit on the title screen how do you even know they exist? They are one of those things that you can ignore if you don't want to see so they certainly don't harm anything and they can be used cleverly, as many people mentioned Metroid does this.

    As for title screens, while many are tacky garbage in a well designed game they serve the same purpose as the cover of a book. If books had the index (menu) on the front cover it'd be plain ugly. It allows for the first thing the player sees when they boot up the game to be something elegant. I do agree that the whole startup process for games needs to be majorly streamlined though.

    As for manuals, I don't read many of them much anymore because they are boring and suck. Game manuals used to be filled with beautiful illustrations and generally be entertaining reads, now they are usually black and white and clinical in content. The situation needs to improve I agree but considering the current state of in-game tutorials I don't think we are quite ready to let it go just yet.

    Lastly is the continue screen, I'd go one further and say than in 80% of the games that use them that the whole notion of lives is defunct. Take Super Mario 64, all getting game over did was forced you to run from the castle lobby back to where you were. A lot of games get the lives and continues thing totally wrong. On the other hand look at Resident Evil 4, the screen is well implemented as you lay dead you can hear Ashley screaming and the game really lets you know you just lost, a motivation of sorts. It also serves as a break between attempts, if you are eager you mash A and it reloads if not you can sit for a while. It makes sense as often the reaction to losing to a boss fro the 16th time in a row is to just toss the controller onto your bed and groan.

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  19. i like attract mode, it gives me a look into the parts of the game i haven't been to yet

    hate smashing crates though!

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  20. Yeah, all of these complaints are dumb. It's nice sometimes if you put a game in to show it to people and the 'attract mode' plays while you are doing something, eating or what not, and then you can play. It makes the game look cool.

    It's just funny to hear you whine about 'stretching' your thumb to the start button: what a lazy bastard you come across as sounding like.

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  21. You're so busy looking at the trees that you can't see the forest. The biggest issue in modern gaming that needs to be addressed is the continued existence of the SAVE POINT!

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  22. This is a fine article, but the comment on the attract mode is a bit out of touch. Those modes are REQUIRED by hardware manufactures and are used when the product on display in stores.

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  23. "The biggest issue in modern gaming that needs to be addressed is the continued existence of the SAVE POINT!"


    Oh god not another one of those quicksave-anywhere wussy kids.

    If save anywhere is in a game at all, it should be included in the same manner as other cheats, such as infinite lives or ammo, namely through cheatcodes or endgame rewards.

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  24. The games that say Press Start and so on are usually arcade conversions like Tekken. The reason for retaining these features is to make it as perfect a port as possible.

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  25. Attract mode is pretty much required. Next time you are walking in front of Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku or down the main street of Akihabara all those game you see are in Attact Mode.

    The reason for a continue countdown so so when some player quits playing the game will go back into attract mode therefore advertising the game.

    Sure, it might not make sense for your home version but it's more money and more work to make two versions, one for demo kiosk and one for home. It would require two QA rounds and 2 trips through the console makers TRC and QA stuff as well.

    And besides that, I like Attarct Mode. I can still watch the Attract Mode for Chrono Trigger anytime :-D

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  26. I love attract modes. Sure, when it's some crap video looking like a trailer for the game it's not worth the effort, but I like watching demos of the game being played because such videos often contain game tips or tricks and are fun to watch for a couple of minutes before you start playing or after you finish. Besides, the nostalgia gets me too and makes me imagine I'm in an arcade.

    I like to have a manual when I'm paying £40 or so for a boxed product. I don't really care that I don't get a manual when I buy a game on steam (though it would be nice if there was a manual accessible from the main menu or a separate pdf manual with the game). My peeve with manuals is that some companies (EA!) give you shit quality black and white manuals yet throw in a booklet full of adverts for their other games in full glossy colour on high quality paper. FUCK THAT. Some games have excellent manuals, and it's not just the actual explanation of game mecanics that interests me anyway - I love it when there is information about the game or it's creators, game lore etc. in the manual, and it makes me feel like what I've bought is a little more special when I'm looking at it on the way home or wherever.

    Agree about continues, they are shit. I'm not sure why the Mario games cling on to them considering all the other innovations Mario has brought us. Maybe it's just because collecting a green mushroom, or chasing one and ending up dead is kind of fun. I dunno, as much as I don't like the idea of lives and continues, I think that overall having them in Mario Galaxy made the game more fun in many ways, although seeing the continue screen on occasion was amazingly annoying. Actually, I think in Mario it was just game over and you had to go back to the title screen and reload, which was awful. Mostly I don't like continues though :)

    I agree with Ptolemy about all the logos of middleware, warnings (on all wii and ds software) and company logos that STILL FUCKING PERSIST after you have seen them once. Title screens are fine, but I do see you point about needing to press start, and I do like it when developers make an effort to integrate the title, menu and game as smoothly as possible.

    YMLL

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  27. Check out the manual for the Japanese release of No More Heroes. It's not a little drab booklet but an awesome large page comic!

    Link on Siliconera.

    Sometimes it is faster to flip to a page in a manual than it is to sit through a tutorial in-game. I like having a choice.

    If possible, I wouldn't mind seeing more comic book manuals. Images can convey things a lot more quickly than words at times.

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  28. I feel it's a nostalgia thing for me. Sure, I don't need them, but it gives me a sort of warm'n'fuzzy vibe to HAVE them. :)

    Also, I too loooooooove manuals. When I get games that really excite me, I force myself to read the back cover of the box, then the manual, to savor that moment of anticipation. And don't forget that manuals often contain official game art which, despite the technological advances today, are still often quite different from in-game style. I dunno, they throw out little tips that aren't always in the tutorial either! I think Viewtiful Joe was like that--the tutorial never actually taught you to punch or something.

    -Pam Z

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