Posts Tagged ‘agony’

Months of Agony in a Second-Long Sound Effect

You know that feeling when you’re really, really full? When your jeans start cutting into your belly and if you don’t undo them, you’re going to explode? Well, it turns out that actually there’s a really simple solution to this, and it’s been handed to us by games. The easy way to get around our wonderful first world ability to eat until we’re sick is to simply hide from the view of the plate for a few seconds. That way you’ll be able to tackle another course of steak in just a moment.

Naturally, I’m being an idiot and we all know it. Hiding from plates for a few seconds won’t solve a damn thing. But the problem is; why do games seem to think this is true? It’s against the course of logic. A few years ago all you had to do to evade an enemy in a game was run around a corner and hide behind a crate until they forgot what they were doing and went back to making themselves easy targets. Even if they’d seen your footprints, found the corpse of their best friend and noticed your graffiti on the walls screaming, I WUZ ERE LOLZ, it didn’t matter a jot to them because they had some patrolling to do.

Back then it was more to do with internal memory than anything else. So what if a guard walked away after unknowingly giving chase? So what if a corpse vanished just seconds after they hit the ground? As long as it kept the game chugging along at the same pace, the gamers didn’t care, and neither did the developers.

But nowadays there is a bigger problem in gaming. The limited internal memory has been almost completely excised from gaming – what with the Blu Ray discs containing room for 50 gigabytes and Wii games drawn on cardboard and animated by ADD-inflicted children – and little room is left for error. Guards now chase you a damn sight longer than they used to. Corpses remain on the floor for the duration of the level. But something much more evil and irritating has crept in to take their place.

I am talking about the recharging of health. A few years ago, a chunky health bar placed somewhere on screen gave a terrifying warning of your own impending mortality. Now there is only a faint red glimmer at the edge of the screen and a thumping vibration in your hands to tell you that you’re squatting on death’s doorstep, begging the reaper to try and chase you off his property. Instead of heath kits, medpacks, medics or magic fairies, the only way to recharge your ailing, bullet-ridden body is to simply not get hit for a few seconds – thus, you must hide behind a crate once again.

Who decided this was such a good idea? When did it creep into games, this idea that removing a permanent warning sign would be a great step forward? It’s one of those things that just makes you scratch your head in wonderment as to exactly why it’s been so readily accepted by the gaming community at large.

The humble health bar was a great thing, simply because there was nothing you could do about it. It sat there at the top, side, or bottom of the screen (or, in one case, on the protagonist’s breasts, forcing you to look down at yourself to check your current status) and every time you got hit, a chunk got knocked off. It was gut-wrenching, intense and forced you to constantly be aware of absolutely everything that was going on around you, to the point where every gamer can remember every single detail about most of the games they grew up playing.

Back before the health bar, there was very little. Sonic had his gold rings. Mario had growth spurts. The Ghouls n’ Ghosts knight had his pants. But the spirit was there: watch your every step! Be aware of your situation at all times!

Nowadays most games have adopted this ridiculously offensive notion that simply ducking out of a hail of bullets is a good idea to inspire you to keep playing. It’s a stupid system that detracts from the credibility of the game. I can understand that maybe the red mist drawing in across your vision is realistic, as is the ‘heartbeat’ vibrating in your hands, but what exactly is realistic about sitting down and taking a time-out?

Heath kits were never a realistic idea – they were always completely absurd, after all, they were just grey boxes with bright red crosses on them – but it was never about that. If you were shot for real, you’d see yourself looking at an extremely long and painful recovery process. That’s the health kit represents – months of agony, hospitals, doctors, unattractive nurses, stitches, x-rays, tutting relatives, sympathetic looks from work colleagues, time off to heal, madness from watching TV alone, lashing out at a loved one, divorce from a loved one, watching the loved one take the kids with them to their new partner they met at whatever event it was you didn’t go to because you were in the goddamn hospital having shrapnel taken out of your arm by a doctor who kept looking at you funny because you’d been shot and he reckoned you were a gang member who had it coming. That’s the health kit, right there. All that trauma compressed into one neat second-long sound effect. Not realistic, not in the slightest, but far and away more enjoyable and intense than the regenerating heath of today.

The main problem with regenerating health is that it lets developers off the hook for whatever bad design decisions they might make. Most games with regenerating health feature incredibly hard and unfair sections that get you stuck like peanut butter to a prostitute’s thigh. Night after night, you’ll wade against a horde of nigh-impossible enemies, constantly hiding to recharge, only to be killed because you needed one more second to collect yourself. If these games featured health kits – limited use, Jesus-I-only-have-two-more-left health kits – you can be damn sure the developers would put a little more thought into what they were doing. Instead, we’re left with offices full of giggling developers, throwing in ludicrously unfair sections over and over again, simply claiming, ‘It’ll look awesome to play, man!’ Even multiplayer is let down by this – what fun is it if the person who killed you is totally fine just a few seconds after your body rots into nothingness? And don’t even get me started on co-op gaming’s ‘tag, you’re alive!’ nonsense.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hide from landlord until he forgets I owe him rent. After all, I’m pretty sure one of us has a limited internal memory and it sure as hell isn’t me.