Out There: Is dumbing down ruining videogames?

Out There: Is dumbing down ruining videogames?

Ricky Haggett of Honeyslug, the developer of Vita debut Frobisher Says, puzzle game Kahoots and many more, is angry about Capcom's Ghost Trick. Having been playing its newly released iOS port, he's infuriated by its incessant explanatory text boxes.

"I'm not going to spoil what happens in Ghost Trick, because the game does a perfectly good job of doing that itself. In summary, it has a central mechanic which is neat and clever, the surprise of which is entirely ruined for the player by the game explaining it all with text boxes in exhaustive and repetitive detail."

By assuming the player is stupid, he explains, Ghost Trick makes its opening section slow and boring and removes all the magic from players getting to exploring its mechanics themselves. And then – yes, he goes there – he says Skyward Sword is even more guilty of the crime. Can't really argue with that point.

Yet – and I really don't mean to attempt to tar Honeyslug with the same criticism – Kahoots was hardly without text boxes that break up the flow of the early game. It illustrates the fact that all developers are under huge pressure to ensure all players understand how their games work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a terrifying number of players will turn away from a game as soon as they don't understand what's happening.

But of course, Haggett has an important point – it's a real problem if a tutorial gets in the way of allowing players to experience the deep satisfaction in learning a new game. After all, the fun in videogames comes from learning and mastering them.

What's a really good example of a complete tutorial that lets you feel you're exploring the game yourself? Plants Vs Zombies, as Graham McAllister explained in a recent column. Any more?

Fittingly for the season, Jerry "Game Toilet" Carpenter, the illustrator and game maker with a line in concepts, has designed three minigames based on his fever dreams.

"I think that the feeling is “you keep the community alive” by adding crap all the time. In the short term, this is true. You keep the community excited and people talking about your game – for a few years. But then after that, you’re left with this spammy, damaged thing that really, no one is going to want a part of."

More grumbling about "games these days", this time from Dinofarm Games' Keith Burgun. He's written about degradation in games – what he calls as their tendency to add more to their essential formulae, from new weaponsets to mechanics. And with more features, he suggests, comes more danger that they might break down. His example is fascinating: Team Fortress 2, pointing out that its burgeoning market of guns, abilities (and hats) have broken up the purity of the original game – a purity that in fact was a core part of the original game design.

"In the commentary, you can hear the developers talk about how it was so important that you could identify each class by his silhouette, so that you know immediately, even on a subconscious level, what to expect from this shape. Well, that’s less and less the case now, because demoman COULD mean “cautious, planning bomber”, or it could mean “guy who’s going to charge at you with a sword and chop your head off”.

Or, you could argue that Team Fortress 2 has evolved into simply being a different game to the one Valve released in 2007, rather than a bastardised one. But still, he's surely right that additional content should focus on supporting the original game, not complicating it.

Instagram meets Skyrim in a blog of screenshots taken by shooting an LCD screen. The results look like early explorers' photographs – particularly, as Dead End Thrills pointed out, those of Ansel Adams.

Play Peep is a fantastic Tumblr of visual references (mostly on iOS, by the looks of things) for illustrators, game makers and interface designers. Aren't games awesome?

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