For this week’s Debate Club, Steve suggested we each simply state what we each feel is the most annoying trend in gaming. By the end of his piece, though, he threw down the gauntlet and suggested that there was no way I could come up with a bigger offender than the one he chose (bad AI). So I decided to accept his challenge, and I feel I have done just that.
Without question, the worst trend in gaming today – and for awhile now – is the lack of polish in far too many games. From unsteady framerates to environment clipping to shoddy collision detection all the way to game-breaking bugs and glitches, we see many of these things in far more games than not, and I find that to be completely inexcusable. Am I saying games need to be perfect? Of course not. But I am tired of playing a top-tier, AAA game, and I fall through the floor or my otherwise lifelike character does some janky animation when he runs too close to a wall or I pass by a mirror that actually doesn’t reflect my character or I shoot a window with a shotgun and all it does is plaster stickers of bullet holes all over it. All things that could’ve been ironed out with a few more months of development, or maybe fewer resources spent on that obligatory multiplayer mode nobody is going to care about because the game isn’t Call of Duty, Halo, or Team Fortress 2.
This isn’t a phenomenon that we are forced to suffer through in any other form of media. When you see a Hollywood movie, even one that didn’t cost $100 million to make, there aren’t scenes where the actors don’t move their lips but dialogue comes out anyway; scenery doesn’t just appear out of thin air 10 feet in front of actors as they walk down a street; less important characters in the movie don’t have a worse resolution than the main characters, or are all played by the same five generic-looking actors. When a band is recording an album, if the drummer misses a beat or the sound levels are a little off and the vocals are way too low in proportion to the guitar or the keyboardist is playing off key or someone in the studio sneezes, they don’t just say “Well the album needs to be done my March, so I guess we don’t have time to fix any of that.” Books rarely ship with typos. However, all of these things are either comparable to or are exact descriptions of things we just kind of accept in video games. Are video games not worthy of that last pass of polish and refinement that basically all major studio produced, commercially-released movies and albums and books do?
I fully acknowledge that this is more likely an issue with publishers and fiscal years and Christmas deadlines than it is a lack of talent or work by developers. I also realize that not all franchises have the luxury of a Zelda or a Metal Gear (two of the most consistently well-polished series of all time) to take all the time and money they need to be pristinely polished to a diamond-like sheen. That still doesn’t make it any less disappointing when other games don’t come anywhere close to that. WHOEVER it is that makes the decision(s) as to how much time a game needs to be well-polished, or be realistic about what to cut back on for the trade-off on being well-polished rather than striving for something they can’t quite achieve on a consistent basis throughout the game, I wish they would make those decisions in favor of overall polish. I respect ambition and aiming high as much as anyone, but not as much as I respect having a clear, realistic, achievable goal and absolutely NAILING it.