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When Gaming Loses Its "Fun" Factor

(Note: This is actually a smaller version of my article on Bityard, a web site that I write for. But it definitely applies here. I don't know if it qualifies for an "I suck at gaming" entry, and frankly I'm not trying to get that; but it's a rant that I think all of us have felt at one point or another.)

I'm a true, first-generation gamer. I've been gaming since the days when the Atari 2600 was brand new and I haven't stopped since then. Commodore 64, Sega Genesis, NES, and so forth � I've owned a lot of consoles and spent tens of thousands of hours gaming. Nowadays, my PC will blow away most �gaming� PCs out there and I own each of the current-gen consoles.

Having taken this past week off, I spent the majority of my time catching up on several games that I bought and never played. I also rented some games that I've been meaning to try out. Unfortunately, one of these games has made me realize that some game developers are sadists who think that punishing gamers is lots of fun (for the developers, not the gamers).

Before I continue, let me just say that anyone who excuses what I'm about to discuss as �simply being challenging� is wrong and somewhat arrogant. Countless thousands of games are challenging and fun at the same time without crossing the border into �frustrating�. But ths is not one of those games.

The new �Bionic Commando� game from Capcom, which I've been playing on my Xbox 360, is a great third-person action game. You need to have good reflexes and a sharp eye to defeat the various enemies and swing with your bionic arm from one area to another. The sound is nicely done, although the continually repeating music can get annoying after a bit. The graphics are the normal levels of gray that have sadly permeated the first/third-person gaming community as of late; but Capcom has brought forth the look of a devastated city with realism I've never seen before in a post-apocalyptic game. And the physics engine is top notch. In just about all ways, this game is fantastic. I found myself oddly satisfied every time I find a new way to dispatch an enemy and gain those in-game accomplishments and precious Xbox Live achievements. I've also gotten a lot better than I thought I'd be at swinging on the bionic arm.

But the frustration level about this game forced me to shut the console off on more than one occasion.

My frustration didn't come from being too difficult. �Mega Man 9� is incredibly difficult, but it's still fun. No, in this case my frustration with the game comes from one of the most annoying things that the developers at Capcom think is just such a great idea.

Imagine this scenario.

You fight your way through a number of baddies, gaining accomplishments and achieving goals, whether it's killing fifty enemies to unlock a new weapon or dispatching a boss character in a way to gain an Xbox achievement. You're near the very end of the level; but you miscalculate a swing from one building to another and subsequently drown in the flood that now covers the city. It's time to load from the last save point. Unfortunately for you, the last save point was the beginning of the level and all of the in-game accomplishments that you achieved are gone.

Imagine another scenario in which you spend a significant amount of time defeating a boss when you realize that you need to kill him with a jump kick in order to complete an accomplishment and gain an upgrade to your weapon. After diligently making sure that you dispatch him in the right way, making the battle last much longer than it needed to be, you get killed by a lucky shot from a low-level grunt. Thanks to the timing of the last save, the accomplishment that you spent extra time trying to get is gone and you have to go back and defeat that boss again.

The lack of an in-game, manual save function is killing the enjoyment of this game for me.

To the developers, I have to say this: as much as the graphics and gameplay of �Bionic Commando� are absolutely fantastic, you're still a bunch of sadistic bastards. When I have to restart a level several times because you think it's great to make your save points excessively far apart and you refuse to implement a less frustrating manual save function, that's not challenging - that's annoying and overbearing. That's something that actually made me shut the console off in frustration. That's something that a game should not be doing.

This is by no means the first time that I've run into this. When Bityard was 32 Bits Online, I wrote a review for a third-person shooter called �Oni� from pre-Microsoft Bungie. I really enjoyed that game. The levels were intriguing; the hand-to-hand combat in which you could break spines and snap necks was ingenious for the time; the techno music perfectly matched the futuristic, city-based levels.

But as with �Bionic Commando� the save function was unbearably frustrating. What the folks at Bungie thought would be great was to save your game for you after every major fight. That meant that, more often than not, when your game was saved your health levels were painfully low. What's worse, that meant that you often were too weak to make it to the next save point because health was not easy to find; so you'd have to go back to an even earlier save game with the hopes that you'd have enough health this time around after the battle that you could progress onward.

I slammed Bungie in my review for that to the point that their developers personally responded to me. Not surprisingly, they decided to hide behind the �challenge� excuse, which is an excuse that I'm tired of hearing. Again, a game can be sufficiently challenging without the need to frustrate the player because of having to revisit, re-revisit, and re-re-revisit areas over and over again because of the lack of a manual save function.

Games like �Saints Row 2� have it right. You save where you want, when you want, right from the options menu. There are even checkpoints within a mission, so you have the option of starting from the beginning or from the last checkpoint. Even then, the missions don't make you play for ten minutes before finally throwing a checkpoint at you.

And for any of you who are about to make a claim about how people who want manual saves are �not up to it� or we �don't have what it takes� or whatever excuse you prefer, the fun in any game is the journey. You travel your journey the way you want, and we'll travel the way we want. That journey should not involve going around in circles multiple times. Besides, some of us have jobs and families and can't spend 40+ hours a week playing games (or in the case of �Bionic Commando� spending hours just to get past one level) in our parents' basement like you can.

For genuinely retro games like �Mega Man 9�, I can understand having to start from the beginning. That's the way that games used to be. To have a save function in the middle of a level would have been out of place. Frankly I'm not sure how that could have worked in a 2D side-scroller anyway.

But for modern console games that have rich, detailed, expansive worlds, the removal of a manual save option is pure arrogance. The option should be there, but if you don't want to use it then you simply don't use it! Having it as an option does not in any way reduce the challenge or enjoyment of the game. Unfortunately, this is too basic a concept for the developers at Capcom to understand.

I have to return �Bionic Commando� to Blockbuster tomorrow. I'm actually glad that I didn't outright buy it. No one should have to pay $60 for a game that makes him want to shut the console off.

As a working father of three, I have other responsibilities that demand my time. I'll leave Capcom's sadism to the basement dwellers who apparently have nothing better to do than waste hours playing the same damned level over and over and over again just because they got killed near the end of the level or they met their demise five seconds before they reached a ridiculously distant save point.

It's too bad, too. It really is a great game.

The original article is posted here.
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About John Bone of us since 1:15 AM on 11.26.2006

As one of the oldest members of Dtoid, (I'm already over the big 4-0) I've been gaming since the Atari 2600 was a brand new item, and thousands of my teenage hours were dedicated to gaming on the Commodore 64 and messing around with the new 300-baud modems. (That's .00003 of a megabit per second, for those of you who only know broadband.)

I'm proud to say that I'm a member of the first-generation of gamers, and I still use my PC and each of the three current-gen consoles regularly -- and not for "casual" games. Bring on the hard-core FPS and 3PS! I want to shoot something!

So, I give a big PHUCK YOU!!! to anyone who thinks that video games are for kids! As far as I'm concerned, they haven't been for kids for over 20 years.

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