The Games I Like
Created: / Modified:
(For the games I personally have made, see My Games.)
So after months of having this sort of languish in the land of unpublished pages, I've mostly figured out how to articulate exactly what I like in video games, and some of what I don't like. This won't be very succinct or brief, but whatever. I put most of the salient points in bold.
First of all, let's get the basics out of the way: I have a Windows 10 desktop computer which was not-quite-top-of-the-line in 2009 and has since had a RAM upgrade, a broken Playstation 2,1 a Nintendo Wii U, an Nvidia Shield Android tablet, and a New Nintendo 3DS. The desktop can run various PC ports of Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games at full settings with only minor framerate-blips here and there. If a game can be emulated on that kind of PC, I suppose I can play it, but in general I'm currently prejudiced in favor of being Lawful Good and only playing the stuff that I'm supposed to.
I am very goal oriented. At minimum, I want a clear sense that I'm going somewhere — specifically, somewhere which is sanctioned by the game itself and which will lead to a "you win" message and/or closing credits. Preferably an overarching goal; I'm not really interested in collections of unconnected levels that I can select in any order and/or which merely unlock each other. I also don't mind open-world, as long as there are clear goals and it's obvious how to get to them. Terraria (for example), on the other hand, merely runs out of things for you to do, and you have no guidance. I prefer a story, and it should generally be a good one if it takes itself seriously enough for this to be an issue; admittedly, the standards for video game stories are such that merely "not being terrible" is usually the best I can hope for, but when things get bad, they get really bad. I also don't like reaching the explicit end of a level, only to be told I can't go on or haven't unlocked more content because I didn't succeed hard enough or whatever. (This paragraph rules out just about every racing game in existence. See: Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, Trackmania ...)
Second of all, on that note, I abhor excessive difficulty. This has less to do with an inability to handle any challenge whatsoever, and more with how I get frustrated easily, I don't like losing (or even getting too close to losing!), and I don't want to feel like I'm struggling just to play adequately. Nor do I want to have no idea what I'm doing wrong, other than "you need to 'get better.'" There's a limit to my skill, anyway; I lack both precision and consistency for anything that doesn't involve directly entering numbers or text. (On the other hand, I beat METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE on Very Hard, the second-highest difficulty. On the previous hand, this probably says more about METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE and modern AAA action games, plus I couldn't get very far into R01 on Revengeance difficulty, the actual highest.)
The game itself can mitigate this, of course; I've been playing Nitronic Rush and its spiritual successor Distance for a while (each game has a story-mode, and neither game has any of the other things I dislike about racing games), and while there are places that they can get difficult, exploding means you instantly reappear at the last checkpoint without so much as a loading screen or even a break in the music, and there are plenty of checkpoints, outside of "challenge maps" which don't have any. Nitronic Rush also has an announcer which gives a randomly-selected quote whenever anything interesting happens, and when you die, the tone is almost always "something bad happened" rather than "you messed up," i.e. "CAR-BOOM!" or "INERTIA SUCKS!" or "IT KEEPS HAPPENING!"
In short, Nitronic Rush and Distance have a low retry penalty, defined as the amount of time you will need to waste getting back to where you were when you failed, plus the psychological impact of what restarting means; consider "three seconds of exploding plus 'NITRAGIC!' and then you're instantly back at the checkpoint" versus "five seconds of exploding and the music fading out, a game over screen that says 'MISSION FAILED' with its own music for three seconds before you can do anything, you must manually hit 'retry', a five-second loading screen, and then you must start the whole level over again." In Nitronic Rush, the retry-time is generally going to be about ten seconds. The overall retry penalty only goes up from there; consider Faster Than Light (also mentioned in the above link), in which dying means you must start the entire game over again, the retry-time can be upwards of two hours, and you might not have acquired the right resources to beat the final boss.
However, Nitronic Rush and Distance are fairly unique in that regard (as is the internal architecture which allows them to do that in the first place), so honestly, merely saying "this game is difficult" will make me lose interest. As I've said before, I don't play games to beat them, I play games to see them, and having too much difficulty is pretty much antithetical to that kind of philosophy; in particular, as Shamus Young said, "the omission of entry-level difficulty for story-based games is dumb and self-defeating." I certainly don't think that losing should be an important or necessary part of the experience; I'll take "no chance of losing" over "minimal chance of winning" any day. And if I'm directly punished for playing on an easier difficulty by having features or content actually removed, the game and the developers can go fuck themselves.
Another problem is when 1. your score is recorded, and 2. the game constantly reminds you of how you're doing compared to your best score ever. An example is in Sonic Generations and Trackmania Nations Forever, which permanently record your best time, and whenever you reach a checkpoint, it compares the current time it took you to get to that particular checkpoint to your best time, and announces the difference on the screen, i.e. "+00:10.04" in red to show that it took you a hair over ten seconds longer to get there, or "-00:03.14" in green to show that you were π seconds quicker, etc. Inevitably, I reach my natural limit (and/or that of the game), and will never see green again. Erasing my scores doesn't seem to help, either; even when I get green when I start a new save file in Sonic Generations, I feel vaguely paranoid about beating it "too fast" so that I'd immediately fall into perma-red. I just want to turn that aspect off forever.
Multiplayer is also a no-go, for all of the above reasons plus its own quirks. All things being equal, you'll lose 50% of the time; I'm invariably below-average, which means that all things are not equal; I'm not about to ruin anyone else's fun by only playing with people who are ridiculously worse than I am; and the presence of Other People tends to make this personal no matter what. I'm just not gonna go there.
I'm pretty sure both of the previous two paragraphs are because I'm very competitive. I haven't fully worked out the implications of that, though.
And let's not talk about games which are trial and error (mostly error) because there is only one solution to a given problem, regardless of the sum total of things you're capable of doing, and the game is scripted so that the "intended" solution is literally the only one which will work, and you are not informed in advance of what it is, not to mention the pre-scripted "gotcha" moments which serve the sole purpose of making you fail the mission yet again if you don't already know how it goes. (I agree with Shamus Young about a lot of things, huh? I even think my childhood would have been vastly superior if I'd been homeschooled, just like him.)
What Kind Of Games I Like
I like action games. I like being in control of each individual action. (In turn-based RPGs, for instance, you're just sending in instructions. I want to play the proverbial instrument, not just conduct.)2 I like feeling like I've directly accompished something with a sastisfying crunch, or some other really obvious feedback to the effect that I Am Doing Something Awesome. Weird Puzzle Shit, especially the kind which also requires reflexes (see: Braid) and/or requires that you start over for any mistake (see: Blocks That Matter), gets thrown out the window unless it's presented in a particularly brilliant way, such as the awesome humor in Portal, the story in The Talos Principle (the puzzles, not so much), and the overall weirdness of both Anti-Chamber and Jazzpunk.
The first couple of stages in Fairy Bloom Freesia are a good example of what I'm talking about: practically anything I do (read: button-mashing) results in smashing enemies into each other, building up combos (which are numeric feedback for how awesome I'm being), and generally being awesome. The first time I played it, though, it got prohibitively ... way-too-hard, especially in the final stages. Eventually, I picked it back up and used Cheat Engine to bump my skill-level to 50 and give myself infinite mana, and discovered that the "Peacock" and "Swallow" abilities were kinda godlike. Nevertheless, the first level was still the only one where I had undiminished fun.
Another example: boosting around in Sonic Generations. This seems to be more of a rollercoaster effect than "MUFFIN SMASH", although the latter is still present when things get in your way. As I said, though, I feel like I've played it to death, not to mention the whole score thing. Sonic Rush is similar, and also has a "doing tricks in midair" mechanic which gives me a similar feel of I Am Doing Something Awesome, but neither the boosting nor the tricks seem to happen often enough in Rush.
Freedom Planet was fairly close to what I was after. It took the 2D-Sonic gameplay, and rearranged it into a formula which I actually enjoyed! ... And then proceeded to increase in difficulty until I reached a boss which I could not beat, on Casual Difficulty (see the above comment about entry-level difficulty).
Devil May Cry 3 and 4 (that's with uppercase M) were also pretty good at providing feedback, in the form of Style Ranking, although they were both slightly skewed in favor of rewarding higher difficulty, since you can rack up higher points on enemies with higher health; D-Lowercase-m-C was similarly button-mashy and stylish, but everything felt more annoying than anything else, including the plot taking itself too seriously despite being exactly as stupid as the original series (which was also pretty bad when it tried to take itself seriously, it's just that it was a lot more rare and a lot more laughable).
Speaking of style and Devil May Cry, though ...
Style and Presentation
This isn't a deal-breaker; it's not like there's anything that doesn't get excluded by this section. But I've been saying I want to play games where you play as a cute girl. This is mostly in jest, but the reason I'm saying this is ... I'm tired of games where you play as MANLY MEN.3 I'm tired of games that are all DARK and EDGY and SERIOUS. I'm honestly done with graphic violence in general, really. I want something lighthearted without being insultingly "kiddie" or "girly." I mean, Sonic Generations basically fits the bill perfectly, even if the plot is kind of dumb, but like I said ...
And you can forget horror games or zombie games. Zombies are basically the least original, interesting, or appealing thing you can put in a game, much less base a game around. It's like someone made A List Of Things Muffin Hates in the aesthetics department, and combined everything except "manly men" (and sometimes even then!) into one slack-jawed snarling tiresome cliche. "Horror games" that don't specifically involve zombies are generally the same, just giving the zombies a different shape and velocity; "hell games" like Devil May Cry and Shadow Warrior are also pretty much the same except that everything is tinted orange.
I also don't want to play games where you murder people, which I define as fulfilling any of the following four requirements: 1. the victim(s) have no realistic means of defending themselves (i.e. unarmed civilians you can run over in a vehicle or shoot with military-grade weapons), 2. the player character is the clear instigator in-story or the player can freely initiate it in-gameplay, 3. the gameplay tries to make killing people mechanically interesting (c.f. Bulletstorm), or 4. the story treats killing people out as either glamorous/"cool" (c.f. Saints Row 2, or Bulletstorm again), or mundane/routine/banal (also present in Saints Row 2). Again, I'm not saying I can't enjoy games where you kill people — Half-Life 2 goes out of its way not to fit any of the requirements, for instance — and I certainly don't think it's "objectively bad" as long as you understand what's going on. I'd just kind of rather not kill human beings without some clear justification beyond "they insulted me." (So, no Spec Ops: The Line, even if I can appreciate the accomplishment.)
If it looks "dark," it's pretty much going to need to actually be silly. Saints Row 2 and Overlord, for instance, have relatively dark settings (respectively, a city riddled with gang-violence, and a high-fantasy setting where the most sympathetic character is the Evil Overlord player-character and/or his girlfriend), but the plot of each is goofy enough that they exactly cancelled out the negative aspects. (For the record, Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell's tone was was slightly insufficient for cancelling out the whole "hell game" thing.) I've played the demo of Shadow Warrior 2013, and notwithstanding Lo Wang's complete lack of compunctions about killing humans, the humor kind of worked inasmuch as it was kind of dumb.
Graphical presentation is also important, inasmuch as it shouldn't look crappy. I mean, I'm OK with 2D, or low-tech 3D graphics, as long as it doesn't look like it was half-assed in MS Paint, or that 3D lighting-style with bland untinted lighting and gray shadows.
tl;dr: I want goals, I want a story, I want action, I want feedback for my actions, I don't want difficulty, I don't want manly violent dark edginess, and I suck at making concluding paragraphs.
Exceptions To The Above
It seems I've enjoyed both Torchlight 2 and Driftmoon, both quest-based point-and-click RPGs.4 The former is a highly mechanical dungeon-crawler with an overarching plot that serves mostly as an excuse to kill monsters and bosses and take their stuff and EXP; the latter is more heavily focused on its largely comedic story.
I haven't fully figured out why I was able to play both games all the way through to their final bosses. I'm pretty sure it's because the quest-basis meant that there was always a goal in front of me, the plot consistently gave a sense of progress, and neither game was all that long. Torchlight was better about Awesomeness-Feedback, and Driftmoon was better about story. I think Driftmoon has largely sort of tapered out for me, so to speak; I'm not really sure I could go through it again (especially after being spoiled by Torchlight 2's feedbackness).
1As in, it "runs," but it is entirely unaware that there is anything in the disc drive.
2In Final Fantasy 13, you're not even in the band, you're practically an audience member who just makes requests!
3For the record, bishounen are midway but skewed towards "good," and muscular bishounen are skewed slightly towards "bad."
4Okay, that's probably not the widely-accepted technical terminology, but you know what I'm talking about.