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On Gun Modification (Day 33)

The ability to modify guns is one of those modern staples of gaming that doesn’t often add anything interesting. Sure, you can slap a laser pointer on your M4, but why would you? Or – and this is more often the problem – why would you not?

Gun customisation is something that’s often a bit limited by real-world logic. Sure, you can add a new type of scope to your gun, but it’s usually an arbitrary choice. If they affect stats, one will almost certainly be the best choice; if they don’t, then the choice matters even less.

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Ideally, I think, additions to a weapon should come with a drawback of some kind. It can be a hard thing to balance, but it’s certainly doable.  A drum magazine that adds a bunch of ammo capacity at the cost of making the weapon heavier or unwieldy is a classic, but it can be harder to justify why adding a foregrip is going to make your gun worse.

Most of the time, there’s a best set up. When there’s not it’s usually because the customisation options don’t ultimately matter much. This is like almost any game with a gear system, only guns tend to be much more heavily based in reality, which – to me – gets very boring, very quickly. That’s why I love Resonance of Fate so much.

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Yes, that’s a handgun with five scopes, two silencers and a foregrip. It’s outstanding.

I’d love to see more games take gun customisation to ridiculous heights – why not let me attach another gun to my gun, like Moe from the Simpsons? What about a  bullet-shaped gun that shoots other guns? Oh.

Even Fallout 4, the game toted to have amazing weapon customisation, has a set of upgrades that are clearly better than the rest. At this point it’s not customisation, it’s just a bunch of bullshit to get through on your way to the scope that can see through time or whatever.

What about you? Are there any games with outstanding weapon customisation that you know of? What do you love or hate about the idea? Let me know in the comments!

On Hunting (Day 32)

Hunting is an important mainstay in many modern games, especially Ubisoft open-world sandbox extravaganzas.

It makes sense as a mechanic, right? Sneak up on some brutal creature, have an epic battle then use its skin for a new codpiece or whatever. My problem is how unbelievably boring most games manage to make the process.

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Sneaking around the forest and keeping an eye out for raccoons or bears or Bigfoot or whatever sounds like a good time, but manages to always amount to running around a game world until you happen to stumble into a harmless animal. Then you shoot it in the face, steal it’s skin and maybe go after its kids, I don’t know. That’s on you. Either way, it amounts to a whole lot of nothing that’s punctuated with a small amount of something not particularly exciting.

It surprises me that so many games have gone this route, because it’s rarely – if ever – well received (critically) and is about as innovative as a wet fart. It’s also often tied into major upgrades, so it’s not something that can just be ignored, as much as we may try.

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Now I’ve never been hunting in the real world, so it very well may be about walking around aimlessly until you can kill something for fun. However, I’ve also never helped 24 of my friends kill enormous demons at the pinnacle of a dark temple, but World of Warcraft is fun in spite of that. Realism doesn’t mean much in most games, is the gist here.

The Witcher 3 makes hunting a little less dull by giving players the ability to track their prey. Each hunt plays out like a miniature detective story, which is a lot more interesting than aimless wandering until you accidentally become a master hunter. Unfortunately, that’s just for scripted missions – if you want to hunt on your own, you’ll have to head out here and hope for the best. image.jpeg

Even Monster Hunter – a series about hunting monsters – manages to make the actual act of hunting the most boring thing about the series. Yes, the combat is amazing and yes, I’ve spent thousands of hours in that series, but the actual hunting process was never fun. Again, it’s about randomly roaming about until you happen to stumble into your prey.

How do you feel about hunting in games? Are there any major exceptions you enjoy, or do you enjoy the typical process? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

On Quiet Moments (Day 30)

This is going to be a quick post on a very broad subject, so be aware that I’m potentially missing out on a whole lot of information. Hopefully you enjoy the read anyway!

By “quiet moments”, I’m referring to the moments where nothing noteworthy is happening. Players are moving between areas or catching their breath after something dramatic. Whatever it is, these moments are usually my favourites.

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Battlefield is the series that comes to mind when I think of these – especially the older titles. My favourite moments in Bad Company 2 were simply seeing the destruction off in the distance as I ran to the next point, or just sneaking around with my friends. Taking in the atmosphere and recognising that things are developing without your input is a powerful feeling that I think many games are afraid of.

Some developers seem to feel that players should always be busy and always be pursuing something, and in many ways that’s a perfectly fair assessment. There’s a very real risk of boredom from encouraging these quiet moments – DayZ had some of my favourite gaming memories, but it also had hours of walking in a straight line, for example.

Final Fantasy XV encouraged these moments, with long uneventful drives between locations taking up a solid portion of the games running time. Those moments stuck with me more than most of the plot and certainly more than any side story.

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I don’t know what the secret to making these moments so compelling is. In FF:XV, it’s the characters banter and the beautiful world. In Battlefield, it’s the sense of presence, knowing you’re in a world that is extremely active and deadly with or without your presence – but also knowing that your presence (and lack of it) is making a difference in itself.

How do you feel? Are there any quiet moments that stick out for you, or games that do it particularly well? Let me know in the comments!

On ‘S’ Ranks (Day 28)

Many games feature ranking systems for the players performance – play well, receive a high rank (like A) or perform badly and receive a D rank, which is tragic and you should feel terrible about yourself.

That’s fine, and it makes sense. It encourages players to improve and is an easy way to track progress. What I’ve never quite understood is the idea of the coveted ‘S’ Rank.

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S Ranks are reserved for the absolute best of the best – if an A rank is a score of 90%+, S ranks would be reserved for perfect 100% plays (or even higher, if that’s somehow permitted). This isn’t always the case – the screenshot above shows some damage taken and still awards an S rank, for example, but it’s still an extremely small amount of damage to take (and it’s very easy to take damage in Devil May Cry 3).

I do “understand” S Ranks in the sense that I know why they exist. There’s something special about unlocking a rank beyond the normal maximum – A – even if it’s arbitrary. I know that I’ve played games that cap at an ‘A’ rank, and it’s always disappointed me, for some reason.

What I’m more confused about is the origin of the S Rank, and in my 12 minutes of googling I couldn’t find much (so, naturally, I gave up). I don’t even know if the S is meant to stand for something (Special? Super?).

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According to this Giant Bomb article, S Ranks were developed in Japan because anything below ‘C’ is considered a failing grade, and they wanted a broader range of grades to work with. I haven’t been able to find any kind of proof (or really any form of evidence at all) that this is true, but it’s a better explanation than “I dunno, just because?” which is what I’ve been working with until now.

Do you have any idea? Theories? Evidence? Wild guesses? If you think you might know the origin of the S Rank, please let me know in the comments!

On Survival Modes (Day 27)

Survival Modes are a great metaphor for life – you’re given endless challenges to overcome, but doing so grants rewards (that are ultimately meaningless and then you die). Alright, it’s not a great metaphor, I guess, but you get my point.

For clarity, I’m talking about traditional “survival modes” where you fight an endless wave of enemies, rather than the modern “survival modes” where you have to drink your own pee in Minecraft or whatever.

Survival Modes tend to exist in action-heavy games, especially in fighting games. This makes a lot of sense, especially as a kind of training tool; there’s no better way to improve your “not getting stabbed” skills than fighting infinite enemies in a row while trying to not get stabbed.

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I’m not necessarily a huge fan, if only because I find these modes tend to be too stressful. Knowing I’m eventually doomed to die regardless of my actions is a bit of a crappy feeling (like in the real world!), so I like to avoid it in games where I can.

Having said that, it’s a great way to learn, especially in games with complex fighting systems. If you can only improve via practice, what better practice than as many fights as you can possibly handle?

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My favourite survival mode by far comes in the form of Devil May Cry 3’s “Bloody Palace”. It throws players into arena after arena, and once every enemy is defeated, 3 separate portals to the next floor will appear. There are a total of 9999 floors, and players can take any of these 3 portals at any time – one takes you up 1 floor, the other 10 floors and the final one 100 floors.

This feels like a real “best of both worlds” approach. Want a survival mode you can beat? Take it 100 floors at a time and try to reach the ending (it’s an insane challenge even with the 100 floor boost). Otherwise, take it 10 or even 1 floor at a time to get as much combat as you could want.

How about you? Do you have a preferred survival mode? Do you feel the same way I do (or are you passionately opposed)? Let me know in the comments!

On Unlockable Difficulty Levels (Day 26)

Most games have various levels of difficulty, usually ranging from “Easy” to “Hard”. Some games go a step further and have one or more above hard, usually something like “Nightmare” or, for the less imaginative developers, “Very Hard”. These modes are typically a bit unbalanced (in favor of the game) and are occasionally ludicrously difficult, introducing mechanics like “No Saving” or “One Hit Kills”.

That’s all good and fine – my problem is when developers lock these difficulty levels behind some arbitrary gate. When I picked up Resident Evil 4 HD on the PS4, I realised I had to go back through it on Normal difficulty to unlock the hard mode (in this case, “Professional” difficult).

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This sucks, and I see no good reason for it. Why make the player jump through arbitrary hoops to unlock a suitable difficulty? I’ve played Resident Evil 4 to completion about nine times now, as well as sinking several hours into the bonus modes – normal mode is boring.

Even in games I haven’t played before, the standard difficulty is often catered to a casual crowd, because of course it is – the standard mode is built for the standard audience. As someone who plays an ungodly amount of games, I’m perfectly happy to dive into a higher difficulty off the bat, but that’s rarely an option.

It’s just something I don’t fully understand. Why make players jump through arbitrary hoops just to unlock a difficulty that suits their skill level? Should a setting that properly balances the game be a hidden unlockable? What if you wanted to enable subtitles – should that option be a rare drop from a boss?

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To me, locked difficulties feel like an antiquated holdover from when almost nobody was good at games, by virtue of the fact that they weren’t nearly as common. I guarantee that most people were terrible at Devil May Cry when it released, because it was a new kind of game. On the other hand, a whole bunch of people could have jumped comfortably into DmC: Devil May Cry, because the genre was old hat by the time it released.

I understand that some developers may have reservations about allowing players to dive right into the hardest mode without experiencing the game first, but it’s their decision; some people prefer to do that. If the option exists to lower the difficulty level later, all the better.

How do you feel about locked difficulty levels? Do you have an argument as to why they should exist at all? Let me know in the comments!

On Stealth Kills (Day 24)

This one’s super broad, and as usual I’m only going to lightly touch on the idea. Here, the term “stealth kills” refers to the ability to instantly kill an enemy that’s unaware of the playable character’s presence.

Like anything, the effectiveness of the system depends on the systems surrounding it, so I’m just going to be talking about it in a very general sense.

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I’m of two minds about the system. On one hand, it encourages even violent players to stay hidden as much as possible, only attacking guards by virtue of stealth. On the other, a totally silent kill discourages sneaking by multiple enemies, especially when it’s possibly to silently clear entire rooms.

Basically, I think the ability to kill in stealth games often undermines the stealth itself. In the ungodly amount of time I’ve spent sneaking around in games – stealth being one of my favourite mechanics – I find it extremely easy to default to mass murder if I can do so without raising an alarm.

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It’s often the best method of playing the game in a genre that encourages multiple play styles. Pure stealth is much harder than silently killing guards along the way (since they’re no longer a threat) and killing guards quietly is almost always easier than going in loud.

So I think stealth kills aren’t necessarily a great addition to stealth games, despite the popularity of the idea. Some games – like the tragically underrated ‘Splinter Cell: Blacklist’ – encourage playing with different styles in different attempts, and they’re a fine addition in those cases.

How about you? Do you love or hate them, or feel a sad kind of indifference? Let me know in the comments!