Dual-wielding: for a while, that seemed like the way games moved forward. What's better than holding one gun? Holding two! Good scrum everybody! But progress is a complex business, and while a lot of design is about adding new elements to the mix, what happens when you start to take things away?
In the week that modern VR makes its first proper stab at defining part of the future of games, it felt like a good time to ponder this sort of thing. The world of games is filled with wonderful inventions, but what would you choose to uninvent? Here are some of our ideas - and if they seem extreme/stupid, that was all part of the fun of this bloody-minded thought experiment.
But how about you? What would you uninvent?
Johnny Chiodini: 0 items found
Collecting coins in Super Mario Bros. is undeniably fun. Each one spirals up into the air with a satisfying pa-dinng! as it (presumably) disappears into the capacious front pocket of Mario's dungarees. Do this one hundred times and you rewarded with a different lovely sound effect and a 1-UP; bolstering your chances at saving the Princess. There's not a single aspect of this process that isn't joyful. Nonetheless, with all apologies to Shigeru Miyamoto, I'm still going to uninvent collectibles.
There will be some painful sacrifices, I know. There'll be no coins for the Mario brothers; no sense of achievement for rescuing every single mudoken, ugly though they are; and nobody will give a fig for a golden skulltula - but I promise it'll be worth it.
Just think how great open world games could become if collectibles no longer existed. Developers would be forced to populate their game worlds with actual things to do and see instead of an endless stream of feathers, glowing orbs and badly written story fragments. They'd be forced to make their games into the thriving, bustling metropolises they claim them to be - making that all-important leap from having 'something to do' on your map to having 'something worth doing' on your map. Video games would (maybe) stop treating us like grown men and women with the attention span of a two-year-old, which would be a huge relief. And just think of everything the hardcore completionists could do with that extra time, free from the shackles of dog tags and masks of yalung - they'd probably have solved world hunger by now if they weren't trying to find that last animus glitch.
Tom Phillips: Put that light out! aka. keep the home fires burning
You're deep underground, exploring passageways kept secret for hundreds if not thousands of years. You're in an abandoned mansion behind doors requiring three priceless jewels to unlock. You're in a dungeon - a place designed to be as uncomfortable as possible. Who left all the lights on?
I would like to uninvent the compulsory lighting of game environments. Every sewer level, every haunted house, every abandoned post-apocalyptic facility I encounter is lit up like a Christmas tree. It breaks immersion - who replaces all of these candles? Have these bulbs been changed to energy saving? Where are the light switches, anyway?
Lights can also become game design shorthand. They mark where you can go, where you should investigate next, an interesting objet d'art to discover in the environment. I like games where you have to carve out a place for yourself. I don't feel this if I can always see the way forward.
Minecraft does a good job of making your environment feel hostile until it is lit. A bright area means you are safe from enemies spawning, but it also means an area you have claimed back. In the bowels of Minecraft's world, your return path to the surface is marked by the breadcrumb trail of torches left in your wake.
So, blow out those candles, turn off the lights. Let me explore and discover at my own pace, without wondering who pays the electricity bill.
Chris Donlan: Save File Deleted
Continues were the original DLC - okay, or the original microtransaction, at least. I realised this a few years back when I was talking to a lot of designers from the classic days of the arcade, all of whom felt pretty ambivalent about what they referred to as the buy-in game. On the one hand, continues allowed games to become expansive, to assume interesting narrative shapes that went beyond 'same as last time, but harder'. Continues paved the way for bosses, for cut-scenes. So what's the problem? While they did all that, they also ate away at the purity. Take a game like Robotron: every name on that leaderboard earned its place through someone playing the exact same game in the exact same circumstances. With continues, leaderboard chasing became sort of pointless.
Over the last few years I've started to see saves as the same kind of thing. Sure, there would be no Fallout or Skyrim or Borderlands or GTA without saves. The mere mention that I might have a philosophical problem with them was enough to make mild-mannered Martin Robinson bristle with fury. But this is what the idea of uninventing is all about to me: it's an exercise that steps away from the reality of all the cool stuff you'd lose to consider the cool stuff you might gain.
So I'm uninventing saves, and with it I'm changing the gaming landscape. Every game is now about what you can do in a single life, so one of the upshots of that is that games have to be fresh and exciting each time you play them. With no saves, you have to ditch the dull necessary bits that don't work on a fifth playthrough. You have to cut away at a game's lead, and you have to work out how to use procedural scrambling, perhaps, to make the early stages of something distinct over and over again. Every game is a roguelike now! Everything is permadeath. I know how you can do dungeon crawling and arcadey twitch stuff like that, but how about tackling other types of games? Take story games: death matters, because the story's over. The story matters, because it might be brilliant this time and you might never see it again. No saves means you have to get to the good stuff early. No saves means that every moment has to count. Would you really want a world like this? Probably not. But it certainly looks kind of intriguing.
Simon Parkin: Let's ditch patches
In those uncomplicated days before the internet's proliferation, when information was stored in books and in brains, and when all but the richest lived a serf-like existence, milking cows and harvesting crops before returning home to scratch poems into the mud in a moonshine haze, video games arrived on shop shelves finished. Like books or films or television shows, the video game that shipped to shops (the term for those anachronistic buildings where man once purchased his beans and sticks) was the full and final game. There was no chance to ship a broken game that could be mended with a 12GB 'day one patch'.
As such, companies rushed their game releases at their peril. A broken game would remain broken in perpetuity, and, if a video game reviewer announced the fact, the resulting damage could be enough to destroy the game's developer. Indeed, in the early 1980s, the early 1980s, the nascent American games industry was almost completely wiped out thanks to the widespread production of unfinished games. Nintendo's 'seal of quality' was a restorative badge that assured customers any game bearing the mark had been subject to rigorous QA testing. Super Mario World did not, therefore, require a day one patch because Princess Toadstool would sometimes glitch out of one of Yoshi's eggs.
Today, almost no games arrive at the doors of our digital stores in a finished state. Publishers send long, bullet-pointed lists of problems that will be patched to reviewers, asking them to, on faith, overlook these temporary shortcomings. Hard-drives bloat from the weight of day one patches and, if a game fails to find an audience quickly, it may remain unfinished, while its publisher redirects funds to fresher projects.
It's a shift that has subtly moved video games from creative works to pieces of iterative software. The ability to digitally repair that which is broken is a miracle of our time. It is one that has been appallingly misused.