Monday, November 30, 2009

Ludicrous Video Game Tropes, vol. I

Entertainment generally demands something from us: if not a complete suspension of disbelief, then a partial or selective suspension. We accept all kinds of silly conceits to enjoy movies, television or books. Genres and media tend to have their own conceits because the familiar pill is easier to swallow--we accept that the male and female stars of an action movie will get it on eventually as a result of their trials together. We accept that a misunderstanding or revelation near the end of a romantic comedy will cause the characters to throw away everything they've built together, only to re-discover at long last why they were together in the first place. These aren't negative things, except in the sense that they're predictable and derivative. Which sounds pretty negative, I guess. My point is, these familiar themes emerge for a reason: they're convenient ways to resolve problems when you're designing something. That doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy a chuckle at the worst of them.

Holy Crap Melee
I'm going to ask a straightforward question: given no other information, would you rather be shot or stabbed? The answer is pretty obviously "stabbed." The question gets even easier if you're looking to minimize your damage taken per attack; single bullets kill people all the time whereas a single stroke of a knife is considerably less threatening (though obviously both can kill you). Now why, pray tell, does a swipe from my digital hero's Combat Knife deal vastly more damage to my enemies than a gunshot? If I offered my enemies the same choice I gave my blog readers, they'd take their chances with the gun. They'd take a bullet to the head from that pistol I grabbed in the first level any day of the week. Hell, a cigarette is more damaging to the health of a video game henchman than the average round from a firearm. In the Halo and Call of Duty games (where the mighty Knife is eschewed for a simple Melee Attack function), you're better off swinging your gun like a club than actually shooting it. Think about it: in video games, bullets shouldn't be accelerated to 500mph and launched out of a gun. They should be used as ballast to increase the weight of the gun, so it has more stopping power when you beat your foes over the head with it.

Locked Doors
If there's one thing level designers like better than constructing mighty underground lairs, it's filling those lairs with locked doors. Let's be real here: I am a can-do badass with a heart of gold. I am toting around all kinds of weapons and explosives and equipment, to say nothing of my years of Badass Training. Where's my imagination? I can think of a half-dozen ways to get through a locked door in the absence of high-powered weaponry, and I can think of seven ways to get through the door if I had that weaponry (I'd use the butt of my gun to knock down the door. Duh). When I write the dialogue for a game, it'll go something like this:
Hero: God DAMMIT, this door is locked! (Starts banging his fists on the door in time with the words) It NEVER! GETS! ANY! EASIER!
Sidekick: You know, when I worked in an office building all the doors came unlocked when the fire alarm was triggered. You just picked up that flamethrower and we found all that napalm ammo in the bathroom.
Hero: You shut your mouth! Look, I've been in dozens of these situations. I've probably encountered 200 separate locked doors in my time, all with different key cards that I looted off my fallen enemies. I found every single one of those keys and we're going to do the same now.
Sidekick: You want to at least try the flamethrower--
Hero: Fine! You want to try the flamethrower, wise guy? (pulls out the flamethrower and begins to smash it against the locked door) See? It's useless! You're useless! You're all useless!

Supplies in Bathrooms
Not just bathrooms, either, but any location with totally out-of-place powerups. Good thing somebody saw fit to stash this box of shotgun shells in the toilet! I know when I'm putting together an ammo stash, I prefer to keep it near as much running water as possible. Fallout 3 painted a grim picture of a post-apocalyptic future, but I'm pretty sure the apocalypse was inevitable given that everyone was already stashing ammunition and weapons in their offices. I swear there are more 10mm bullets than paper clips in the average Washington, D.C. file cabinet. I'll call out Dragon Age too: in a game about moral choices, why is it completely acceptable to steal from people in polite company? Hey bro, that's a pretty sweet chest you got there. Mind if my Bard picks the lock and we take whatever's in there? Ugh, just a Leather Cap? It's cool, we got XP.

More installments to come, featuring perennial fan favorites such as Ventilation Ducts and Obnoxious Wingmen! I'm planning a big post later in the week entitled "Mute Assassins: The Silent Killers." Thanks for reading.

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