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Thankgiving: Notable Gaming Gimmicks (AKA Cranberries)


Something was missing from this last Thanksgiving. Well, okay...a lot was. We're not on speaking terms with my wife's family, my father is down in Florida living it up for retirement, and my super busy mother in Indiana was...well, too super busy. As a result, it was just me, my wife, and the kids. We tried to do what we could, but something else was conspicuously missing that I almost missed: cranberries.

Not everyone likes cranberries, but if you were to have a Thanksgiving without them, you'd notice. It's not as important as, say, the turkey, gravy, or stuffing, but you'd still notice if it was gone. Now for a lot of us, we'd probably breathe a sigh of relief and shrug it off stating that nobody really eats that crap anyway. Nobody? Yeah, nobody. Well okay, nobody but me, I guess.

That's exactly the same way I feel about a lot of gaming gimmicks. Anymore we've attempted to do away with some of these, but in a way, they've also helped shape what a classic game IS and how it works. Allow me to go through some of the more recognizable ones for you. Keep in mind that I don't necessarily like all of these, but feel they still have their place and should never have gone the way of the dodo.


I'm petrified of heights. I've gotten better over the years after a few bad incidents from my childhood, but I can't help but think videogames may have accidentally played a part in this. Think about how many oldschool games feature cliffs a plenty to fly right the fuck off of and into the large, dark ocean of death. Oh, it doesn't matter if you're getting ready to go down a set of stairs in a second...if you even DARE to drop down into that pit of wonder, you're right and truly fucked.

The problem here is now we have games that either don't have pits, have way too many checkpoints to compensate for pits (aka castrating the trap), or simply give you a little damage and send you back to the original platform. Look, insta-death can be annoying, sure, but to get rid of it entirely? Nah, I don't think that's a good practice. Any good platformer will have some trial and error, regardless of whether it's in 3D or not.

The problem lately is there's been no happy medium unless you're referencing a Mario game. Even the more recent Ultimate Ghosts n Goblins features the ability to just checkpoint back about 10 steps prior to the accident. For fuck's sake, a GnG game is bending over backwards for you! Shame on you, gaming community.

Quick Time Events

Dragon's Lair! No? Aw, come on. Anyway, Dragon's Lair was a game that was eventually ported to just about any platform ever (some worse than others) that featured the artwork of Don Bluth and relied entirely on QTE. Now, to some, that sounds retched. To me? It's fucking awesome. Dragon's Lair, Braindead 13, Space Ace...awesome, awesome, awesome. And yet, some people can't get enough of bashing QTE.

Don't get me wrong. It can be overdone and it can be done pretty terribly in so-called action scenes that could have just as easily been done by the player, but most of the time they come out wicked awesome and with all kinds of crazy, over-the-top effects. I know that these days the player just wants to be in charge of their shit and create the scene theirselves, but seriously, can you take a look at scenes like this and say they're garbage?

Real Bosses

For any oldschoolers reading this, I want you to think back to the original NES Castlevania. Think of the bosses. You have the giant bat, Medusa, the mummies, Frankenstein's monster, Death, and yes, Dracula. All of these bosses had individual attack patterns, exploitable weaknesses, and so on. This is what I mean by "real bosses." To the current industry's credit, a lot of platformers still feature decent bosses...but seemingly only in platformers lately.

For example, I loved Deus Ex - Human Revolution and I'm currently loving the shit out of Skyrim. But the bosses? Dreadful. They're basically just more powerful versions of the grunts with maybe one gimmick going for them and that's it. And you might say that's because they're first person games and you can't have good first person bosses. Uh, not true.

Several games come to mind to counter that idea such as Riddick, Condemned, and even Duke Nukem 3D. Sure, in D3D all you really had to do was get some circle strafing going on, but here's the thing. That's the way a FPS final encounter is supposed to go down. Throw in some fancy moves like dive tackles, shields, teleporting, and whatever else, and you have yourself an awesome, classic battle.

But no. Lately, the game industry is content with making their bosses...well, not very bossy. I always get the impression that the bosses of the game left minibosses to do their dirty work and went on a vacation somewhere without letting their employees know they'd soon be under siege by a gun-wielding good guy.

Life Bar

Auto-recovery is the new standard when it comes to life and death, but there's a problem. The idea behind auto-recovery is first and foremost that you're supposed to take cover, get into heated firefights, and they never have to worry about placing medkits in various locations. Plus, hey, that's not very realistic. Yeah, but neither is auto-recovery. You're telling me if I get nailed with a hail of bullets all I have to do is hide behind a concrete barrier for a few seconds, then I can just "walk it off?"

I understand medkits don't make much more sense, but they do, at least to a small degree, make sense in a game. This is a health kit. It makes me more healthy when I feel sorta dead. Dumb, but again, that's effectively what a videogame teaches you. The problem is, and this is what a lot of auto-recovery supporters like to lean on, that you get hit with so much as a hail of bullets and that's it, last checkpoint.

So the idea is the enemy is super tough and super efficient, so you HAVE to rely on cover and...well, there's no reason for exploration. Now F.E.A.R. tackled this in an interesting way. There were logbooks and various powerups you could find if you poked around. There was a LITTLE hint of auto-recover, but mostly you relied on medkits, which you could use at any time.

This was a good setup because it encouraged exploration outside the normal game. Beyond achievements, there really is no reason to stray from the virtual path the game has given you in titles like the Call of Duty or Battlefield series. Granted, they're not as diverse of a shooter as they attempt to be, but that's besides the point.

A Real Ending

The last RPG I beat was Torchlight. And the ending sucked. It was basically "congratulations, here's more shit to do." To be fair, that's kinda what the original Super Mario Bros. did, but that was OVER 20 YEARS AGO and on an extremely outdated console. Lately it seems like endings are an afterthought with developers, if you'll excuse the pun. This has got to stop.

Final Fantasy 7's ending made no sense, but it was long, pretty, and you felt like shit was wrapped up well enough. FF6's was better and made more sense. FF4's felt like they were trying to end a soap opera, going on about what people were doing now that the evil menace was finished and so on, but I appreciated it all the same. Modern Warfare 2? Non-ending. Bad Company 2? A little better, but still a very short non-ending with a long credits roll.

The point of BEATNG a game is the payoff. And the payoff is supposed to be the ending, not an achievement, not the ability to say you beat it. As we know from our own experiences and those recorded by AVGN, NES endings were...a mixed bag. Sometimes you'd get something cool, other times you'd get the shit. You still felt accomplished, but you were always hoping for that super awesome ending.

Nowadays it's almost not worth beating a game. Often the final boss is cheap, not tough, the final level even cheaper, but again not because it's legitimately tough, just cheap all over. You finally beat the boss and "whoops, you caught us with our pants down...uhhhh...here's the ending." Sometimes I wonder if the developer ever plans on the gamer actually finishing the product, which is entirely doable because of all the pussy shit they use to dolly up their games now.

I actually dread beating Skyrim because I also wasn't impressed with Oblivion's ending. It doesn't help because of my unnatural obsession to start a game over and also not want to beat a game for fear that I'll never pick it up again. So now it almost feels like the gaming industry is telling me I've been right all along when I know I haven't been.

I guess what I'm trying to say is shut up and enjoy your fucking cranberries.
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About gunsageone of us since 2:58 PM on 04.11.2008

I've been gaming since 1987. I used to be a big Nintendo fanboy, then Square jumped the shark, so I followed. Eventually I realized neither Square nor Nintendo were the only companies out there worth following and my collection more or less speaks for itself now. I love to meet up with people on XBL, though I haven't done much online with the Wii. I've also been writing game review articles since 2004 on the old Project Wonderboy, then Morphine Nation, and now back to the new Project Wonderboy and various other sites.

I also help out in writing for a local videogame store website (VGMX). Not much else to say, really, when it comes to gaming. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I would say I'm experienced.

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