Friday, 20 March 2015

Press X To Read This

I wrote this for Forces Of Geek earlier in the month and I know it's can't only be me that would like button prompts to "Get the hell out of games! ...and don't come back either!". 

There's a huge dislike of quick time events and button prompting within the games industry and all of the gamers I know (myself included) agree that they are simply unnecessary unless you are in a tutorial or training mode or alternatively, you're playing a game like Dance Dance Revolution or Rockband where the game itself is one big quick time event.

So why is it that many modern day games feel the need to include them?

Dance Dance Revolution Supernova or Dancing Stage SuperNova is an example of the ultimate quick time event!
Personally I believe it comes down to the popularisation of gaming and its recent acceptance by the masses as a valid medium of entertainment (took them long enough!). Previously, playing video games was only something a minority of people did and even then, that was determined by how much disposable income you had and in its beginnings, how old you were.

These days games are not just for kids and almost all households have some form of gaming console or PC within their walls, or failing that an iPad or phone on which they play games.

Now the games industry is accepted and continues to grow exponentially, it seems as though modern titles have started littering our screens with button prompts and quick time events because now it's assumed that not every gamer understands the language of games that comes from years of experience.

Many new gamers are being catered for with easy to follow instructions.

Titanfall has an intensive training mode or training simulator, allowing for minimal button prompts once in-game
If someone is new to gaming, it follows they will take longer to acclimatise to the controls and developers don't want to exclude anyone. If you can't work out how to press a button that translates to 'jump' or you repeatedly forget which button to use then on-screen prompts ensure you can still get through the game also...sort it out yeah? It's not difficult! Though, I suppose developers hearts are in the right place, inclusion is (in most cases) a positive thing.

However, not only does this patronise new gamers, it is incredibly frustrating for those of us who have been playing games for years or in my case...decades. Games never had to utilise hand holding techniques when I was young, you were thrown in and expected to work it out. Sure, there were a lot less buttons on our controllers back then but trial and error is a very active learning tool.

I remember pressing all the buttons to work out the controls myself in Alex Kid in Miracle World. It's not complicated.
Today, we have in-game tutorials or training modes in which you can get used to the controls of a particular game. These aren't necessary for everyone but I'm glad these modes are included, surely this means on-screen prompts are unnecessary during the game? Don't get me started on games that do have training modes yet still insist on flashing up button prompts during gameplay, they infuriate me.

They defeat the object of having a training mode in the first place and seeing an image pop up on-screen telling us to "Press X to perform silent takedown" or "Press A to fire" or whatever, detracts from the gameplay and you suddenly become aware that you are playing a game, simply responding to a program with a set of pre-determined buttons. It's ruining a lot of modern games for me. Except Deadpool, this game is an absolute parody of modern gaming and features some hilarious button prompts.

Companies love the word 'immersion', they hound us with the word constantly whenever new games are announced, they want us to be totally immersed in the games we play so it makes no sense why our screens are full of words and helpful reminders telling us how to continue to stay immersed. It's completely absurd and makes very little sense. It's the equivalent of watching a film and being bombarded with text explaining the visual language.

We know the visual tropes in films, we know what makes a bad guy in a film is facial hair, terrible eating habits and looking dramatically different to the rest of the cast. We don't need text alongside it. If video games are also a visual medium, why do we need button prompts and footnotes telling us what to do?!

Batman was paying his respects way before the Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare funeral controversy...
Sometimes prompts exist for the sake of existing and don't add anything to or develop the story. Grand Theft Auto V puts the player in various situations that are obscene and ridiculous but it also tries excruciatingly hard to make its players feel as though they are living the game, with mobile phone apps that tie into the game and mini games that are disguised as real activities.

This weird simulation allowing the player to take part in sports and leisure activities like cycling or yoga is utterly bizarre. You follow button prompts and how well you perform is dictated by how well you can press a the correct controls. Even controlling your breathing while taking part in yoga. Yep...breathing.

So, the activity of yoga which is meant to engross you in the lifestyle of nouveau riche, retired criminal, Michael does the exact opposite. You are simply following on-screen instructions to complete a pre-programmed task. When you boil gaming down to that basis, it's kind of depressing.

We don't want to feel as though we are being spoon-fed and yet more and more, new games adopt the notion that we all need help and it's quite simply, patronising. I recently discovered that the Thief franchise seems to have evolved backwards.

I've only played the fourth and newest instalment and was surprised to learn that in the very first game, the controls were left to you to work out and in the following games visual prompts we added - still hand holding but at least there was no text on screen to distract you, but wait...the series evolved to combine visual and text prompts along with quick time events.

This is what I see when I think of Thief. Pressing a button constantly to pry open a window! Crime is SLOW!
The fourth game? Well it may have abandoned quick time events (huzzah!) but there are button prompts everywhere. It's rather infuriating when you have to bash X repeatedly to open a window...and I do mean every window. Being a thief is boring.

On-screen prompts during gameplay are not the only bugbears I have, another more recent phenomena is the inclusion of quick time events during a cut scene.

During these scenes, developers throw in quick time events because they know many of us might skip them or quite often we idly watch them but don't pay full attention. Adding quick time events forces us to stay on our toes and keep alert or spill hot coffee everywhere because you thought you had time to take a sip.

One particular cut scene which has been at the centre of some controversy recently is Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare or as I like to call it Call Of Duty: Kevin Spacey (God, I love that man!), during a cut scene, you are attending your friends funeral.

You can't skip this part, instead you are forced to press a button to pay your respects. While this is a bit insensitive, it's also followed by another cut scene which calls in to question why it couldn't be one long scene. As if, being made to press one button before you can proceed forces you to think about the consequences of war, man. That's deep.

When games assume we can't ascertain the difference between in-game and real life events, or they try to make pseudo-moral statements like that one friend on Facebook who posts quotes all the time and encourages everyone to "just think about it, yeah?", well...that makes these games pretty offensive to us average gamers. It tells us that games companies think we're all too stupid to understand subtexts or the implications of a sensitive subject matter within a storyline.

It also wreaks of desperation, the COD franchise is constantly shrouded in controversy and criticised for it's glamorisation of war. It's as if someone at Activision or Sledgehammer Games thought, "Ooh, I know, let's force players to pay their respects to their dead friend - that'll make us look as though we take war seriously".

Great, thanks...sure, you definitely made me cry and I absolutely spent some time thinking about the travesty of war, the utter futility, disregard for human lives and the unnecessary destruction it brings and oh, you think I'm being insensitive now? I'm sorry, I didn't realise you understood sarcasm.

In reality, the player just wants to move on (just like I'm sure you just want to finish this damn article, right?) and get to the next part of the game. As gamers we like choice, or the illusion of choice but being made to do press an arbitrary button in between a cut scene which has no effect on the gameplay is absurd.

Adding a time bar forces you to make decisions that effect your life and those around you in The Walking Dead
Of course, there are games such as The Walking Dead where quick time events add to the sense of panic and force you to make to quick decisions, this is an example of when they can add to the gameplay in a way which enriches the game. The same can be said of the recent Tomb Raider or the Mass Effect series, forcing you to make quick decisions in moral dilemmas or near-death scenarios. Other than this particular use or games that are made up completely of quick time events like Guitar Hero, one does not simply require button prompts.

Even Shadow Of Mordor utilises button prompts, use the same button to kill your enemy or kiss your wife!? Erm...
On the other side of the spectrum, atrocious examples of quick time events can be found in games such as Resident Evil 4, a game in which the player is...dare I use the word, immersed. That is to say, engrossed to the point that they are ready for anything to jump out at any moment. The player does not require additional quick time events in a survival horror game because they take us out of the game, the atmosphere is lost and the sudden quick time event becomes an irritation.

Because you wouldn't instinctively run away from a falling boulder unless you were told to...
Some might argue that these sudden prompts on screen are not unlike jump scares, inciting the same level of panic which overall adds to the survival horror element. Though, the fact remains you are no longer immersed in the world, you are reminded that this is just a game.

I can't be sure if the same can be said of Heavy Rain as I've not played it, but it's a game notorious for being made up entirely of quick time events. Admittedly, this does sound interesting! (This is where the comments section comes in...Have you played it? What do you think?).

Of course, some games aren't meant to make you forget you are playing them. The WarioWare series is proof that quick time events can be fun, though in some of the mini games, on-screen button prompts are purposefully not shown to encourage fast thinking and promote chaos.

Creative one word prompts force you to act and think fast in WarioWare: Smooth Moves!
This creative use of button prompting and quick time events is inventive, it's not included for the sake of it. There are no cut scenes that require arbitrary button prompts to continue or on-screen commands constantly reminding you how to play, like an overbearing mother telling you not to forget to wear a coat every time you leave the house.

It would appear my dislike of button prompting and its implied hand holding falls mainly within the realm of new high quality, high budget triple A titles. These games are afraid to let a cinematic cut scene take its course naturally and are under the impression that quick time events make gameplay more varied and interesting. They fail to realise that gamers don't need to be patronised to, hell...does anybody?!

Leave us to it. We'll work it out, we always have. Even newcomers to gaming are not morons, companies need to put some faith into our abilities and stop treating us all like kids...unless of course, they are creating a game aimed at children. Even then, most young people require very little help these days, you've only got to see a toddler playing with an iPad for the first time to see that.

It's actually pretty creepy. How do they know?! They can't even work out how to poop yet they can understand technology?! Creeeeeeepy.

What do you think? Anyone out there like button prompts? Or have any other examples? I'd be interested to hear them, you know where the comments section is.

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