The Simplest Things

A 20 minute mandatory install, a 30 page instruction manual, a two hour training mission and so many controls you might as well be using two joypads and a foot pedal. It’s all hassle, and bear in mind this isn’t describing any one single game in particular you understand, it’s practically all of them right now on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, and I’m bored sick of it.  This might need some qualifying, so stick with me.

I was 4 when I started gaming, with my figurative Uncle Clive forming the foundations of my childhood obsession with computer games.  Back then developers had a maximum of 32k to play with (less than the size of an XMB logo for a game these days) and, for the most part, 4 directions and a single fire button.  Games, when I were young, were simple.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some rose-tinted rant about retro gaming, it’s precisely the opposite: modern gaming sucks and whether or not it’s down to my current mood I won’t know until tomorrow but right now I’d rather play Jet Set fucking Willy than Uncharted 2.  And I’m serious: Naughty Dog’s epic third person adventure might be the best game on the planet but I just can’t face booting it up.

Why?  Because I know it won’t be simple.  Sometimes my brain isn’t happy with the sheer amount of information needed in order to just move about, hide behind things, lock onto a target, zoom in and then pull the trigger, especially when each of those actions require different arthritis inducing combinations of face buttons.  What happened to just shooting the bad guys?

I don’t know when video gaming got like this but I’m tempted to think it crept up on us rather gradually – things like waiting for patches to download or sitting watching gigabytes of poorly optimised code  unpack are quite recent, but ever since consoles became common place (thanks, Sony) we’ve decided that keeping things simple is no longer a requirement for games developers.

And the controls?  Games could be smarter and know when I want to hide behind a rock or shoot a zombie in the face – why both actions require different buttons I’ve no idea.  Why give me a ‘run’ command if I have to keep tapping it in open spaces when there’re no enemies around?  If I always zoom when I bring up the iron sights why not just do that step for me rather than needing to twist my middle finger back around to another trigger?

And then there’s the menus and my console’s inability to remember settings between games: pages of terribly designed UI nightmares that promise to ‘calibrate my display for optimal HD pleasure’ by giving me three sets of dumb sliders or forcing me to dig out the toggle switch marked ‘subtitles’ in every single game because late at night I need to play with a low volume. And don’t get me started on ‘invert look’.

Last night I was happily playtesting a forthcoming PSN game that does at least address some of the above issues – the menus are basic but informative, the controls stripped down to left right up and fire and the load times literally a split second – and I found myself enjoying the game for what it was rather than wrestling with options, button combinations and training videos – the game worked because it kept things simple.

But yeah, maybe this is all just me in a crappy mood – and as beautiful as the Uncharted 2 press pack is it’s not getting touched until tomorrow at the earliest.  Hopefully by then I’ll be prepared to put up with having to memorise the controls, sit through a thinly disguised tutorial mission and pretend to be in awe at the visuals rather than just playing the damned game.  It’s being teetotal, you know, it lowers your tolerance threshold…