Why You Are Stupid And Why AAA Games Are Boring

Do you remember when you could load up a video game and just play it? The introduction was a line or two of text, the control scheme was printed in the manual and everything else you discovered as you played.

Nowadays when you fire up a game you get a five minute cutscene explaining the oh-so-clever plot closely followed by a tutorial that explains how the controls for the game are identical to every other game you have played. The tutorial is mandatory because you may just be the one person on the entire planet who is playing that type of video game for the very first time and you are unaware that R1 will fire the gun and pushing L3 in will make you sprint.

In action games you must press X to jump and there is a tutorial for this because somewhere in the past ten years developers have decided we can’t press the four buttons on the controller during the first five seconds of the game and discover what each button does for ourselves.

Say Apple. Portal 2 does ‘press X to jump’ properly.

Occasionally you may read a fantastic fact about the amount of time an average person spends doing something in their life. They spend two years in the shower, two weeks making cups of tea, that kind of thing. In the future scientists will calculate how many years an average gamer sits playing tutorials and watching cutscenes – I bet we spend at least a week of our lives learning X is jump.

Making games is expensive, printing is not. Amongst those little slips of paper for pre-order DLC codes and offers to send away for a $400 Resident Evil leather jacket you may occasionally find a handy guide telling you exactly what each button on your controller does.

This is how games used to be. When you bought Manic Miner the inlay of the cassette told you the space bar makes Miner Willy jump. Think of the huge savings publishers could make if, rather than make their coders create a tutorial, complete with voice acting from Someone Quite Famous From Television, they simply flash up the text “Please refer to the manual for controls.”

[drop2]Tutorial done, it’s time for another cutscene in which Hero is presented with Plot For Mission One. This presentation normally introduces Perky But Non-Combatant Sidekick, an omnipresent voice who will guide you through the game as if you were an old lady on a motorised wheelchair whose GPS has failed.

“Watch out the slippy slidey section!” Perky But Non-Combatant Sidekick will advise. “You need to find the Mystical Doodah Of Bobbins to proceed through this door” he or she will helpfully suggest, thus channelling you through yet another corridor of cloned enemies.  After locating the Mystical Doodah Of Bobbins the Perky But Non-Combatant Sidekick will perform a hack/mystical spell (delete where applicable) that will take exactly three waves of enemies before the Doodah can be interfaced with the Gubbins and door will open.

Have you noticed it’s always three? Boss Battles always have three stages and it’s not just games. In a movie when a hero is searching for a bomb, will it be in the first storage cabinet? No. The second? Of course not, it’s in the third.

When Captain Picard is confronted with an anomaly will reversing the photon beam work? Nope. Attenuating the particle accelerator? Fail! What if on the third attempt he inflects the shields to a fluctuating waveform of 3.56 photons? Success! Any attempt at building tension in both games and movies has been ruined because everyone knows success is only three steps away.

Super Mario 64, proving even Nintendo isn’t immune to the “three-times” rule.

Over the past few years games have become less about the game and more about the story and very few have managed to successfully pull off the balance act. We barely get to play the game anymore – after every few moments a cutscene will pop up to either further the inane plot or to show a scripted action sequence as a burning wooden rafter collapses under Hero and he almost falls to his death.

Elite did not have cutscenes and yet managed to convey a huge, living universe in which anything could happen. These days games are no longer random because that makes them too hard for newbies. If we die we know that Evil Bad Guy is always going to be in the same place when the game restarts and rather than use skill and thought we simply plough through a combination of weapons and attacks, say hello to the Grim Reaper at regular intervals until we find a strategy that works. It’s gaming by trial and error, not skill.

We have pseudo-random gaming because enemies have AI and they may move and attack you in a slightly different fashion but it’s still the same enemies in the same place.

I have bought quite a few games over the past few weeks, grabbing titles I missed over the year in the January sale and not a single one of them has gripped me because they are all exactly the same game in a different skin. They all have inane tutorials and the Perky But Non-Combatant Sidekick who will explain missions that funnel you through areas where scripted Evil Bad Guy always appears in exactly the same place and always takes three attempts to be destroyed, closely followed by a cutscene explaining Plot For Mission Two.

They may look like different games as one is on a tropical island and the other is set in space but they are not.

Far Cry 3. Set on a tropical island.

Somewhere along the way developers and publishers have decided gamers are stupid. We need our hands held every single step of the way, we need AI companions and ridiculously lengthy cutscenes to explain a story we have heard a hundred times before.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions and as much as I like to rant on at Bethesda they have created games which have engrossed us for hundreds of hours. Amongst the scripted events there is a world in which anything can happen: in Skyrim you may turn a corner and be unexpectedly attacked by a bear. There is no warning, there is no cutscene, it just happens and you have to rely on your skill to win the battle.

Other games have successfully embraced the move from gaming to storytelling and are marketed more as interactive tales than a videogame. Telltale’s The Walking Dead has the briefest moments of game hidden among hours of dialogue and Asura’s Wrath has credit sequences at the end of each episode and a recap at the start of the next so it plays more like a Manga cartoon than a video title.

But they’re few and far between. The Next-Gen future may bring photorealistic, motion captured Hollywood stars to the world of video games but unless there is an innovative and exciting game after the cutscene, what is the point?



  1. Ok who’s upset Tuffcub? Who stole his biscuits?

    • :D

    • No one has, i just have these occasional semi-lucid moments when I can write about things other than digital boobies and smut.

      • wow, you’ve stated the obvious but in such a way that I’ve had a moment of clarity and….. now the illusion that I’m actually ‘playing’ a game has been completely shattered forever!

        Thanks TC!

  2. Love this.

    I’m a big fan of narrative in games and I really liked the ambiguous approach of Journey or the traditional, almost comic-like approach of The Walking Dead. I also love the potential for personal, unique stories in a lot of open world games like GTA or Far Cry.

    But generally, even in the best examples, games are way behind other media in terms of narrative and how a story is delivered. Hopefully, as the medium gains more acceptance, it will be able to keep hold of its rising stars – people who understand how interactive entertainment works and also how to spin a good story.

  3. Cracking article and, unfortunately, very accurate. The samey tutorials always get me, my personal favourite being MOH: Warfighter where you play through a mission and are THEN taught how to ADS, shoot, jump, etc. So stupid.

    • Yeah thought that was a bit mental myself.

  4. Lovely slightly-piss-takey article. I think developers have it wholly wrong with where they’re focussing but it’s always going to be on the visual elements first as we’re a visual species.

    Hell, I still see puppet-elbow from time-to-time and the lack of facial capture/animation in some games I still find utterly deplorable. However, as we all spiral to what us humans accept as “decent graphics on the whole” it means that the differentiators will need to look elsewhere in the game to delight and win us over.

    Thankfully, we’re seeing that happen this generation so the next one should be even better!

    Technology is evolving at breakneck speed. We are not. Parity will be gained one day and, for now, the visuals we see on high-end PCs (and the next gen consoles) will definitely suffice for most folk, I reckon. This means the devs will actually have to re-prioritise things like story, animation, AI, etc.

  5. Forced tutorials are the worst, just have the controls pop up on a loading screen and when the player is ready they can begin. As for the more complex stuff it should be organic and not need a tutorial, such as Uncharted 3 naturally going into horseback riding.

  6. It’s long been tradition to explain a story or plot using the interaction with secondary characters. Movies, TV shows, books, games, they all use this approach. It’s been around for a while and it’s something next gen isn’t going to fix. While I’ll agree it treats the audience like idiots, it helps move the story along. It’s there in everything, its just some do a better job hiding it.

    • Indeed it has, Doctor Who’s companion is mainly there just to ask “What’s going on, please explain”, likewise Watson in Sherlock Holmes.

      Games are slightly different in that the secondary character explains the plot and what you have to do rather than being the one the story is explained to in a muppet fashion.

  7. I don’t mind tutorials that much, I just wish they were optional. A bit like the PMC training grounds in MAG which taught you everything control wise but didn’t impact the game.

  8. Great article TC.
    I actually tweeted about journey when I was playing it something like, “its nice not to play a game in which I’m being patronised”. As much as that is a good thing, its also a sad thing that not being patronised is so rare, I actually felt the need topoint out it wasn’t happening

  9. Totally agree on the tutorials front. Very, very few times do I not want to be able to skip ahead 20 minutes to avoid learning that R2 is the go faster button in a racing game, or whatever.

    I appreciate that for some they will still be a necessity, and that some developers love to needlessly take a well established control system and mess about with button placement, but there should definitely be an option to just drop you right in the brown stuff from the off.

    It’s especially false when a game sets you up with some ostensibly difficult and brutal battle in the early moments, but it’s all dumbed down enough that you can do it in your sleep. Similar to the old trope of giving you a preview of being fully tooled up and then having all your powers and abilities stripped away from you.

  10. you should try The Binding of Isaac.
    no tutorial other than the controls printed on the floor of the starting room, but you only have to look at them for as long as it takes you to get out of the room.
    then the levels are randomised, and the loot drops are randomised, and you never know what boss you’ll get at the end of the level.
    that game definitely doesn’t hold your hand at any stage.

    praise for Bethesda’s games?
    not inappropriate, once you get past the rather lengthy tutorial section their games always have of course.

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