Gameological Q&A

The Sims

Plagiarize This

What great idea do you wish more game designers would copy?

By The Gameological Society Staff • June 27, 2013

Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.

Today’s question was inspired by an email submitted by comment-thread mainstay Aurora Boreanaz. Here it is:

Game makers learn from each other’s ideas all the time. Once Shenmue introduced “quick-time events,” zillions of other games followed along (and are still following along). But sometimes, great ideas show up once and are never heard from again. What’s an unusual design idea or feature that you wish other creators would copy?

Anthony John Agnello

Here’s a little piece of design that not only every game should take on but also every app and chat service on game consoles: the keyboard from Beyond Good And Evil. Entering text using a controller is a freaking chore, but Michel Ancel’s team of French aesthetes came up with a perfectly elegant solution. In BG&E, whenever you find a door or computer that needs a text password, there’s a spiral interface for the alphabet and numbers that pops up. You can scroll through or jump left and right to different sides of the spiral to get to letters smoothly and seamlessly. It’s fast too, unlike the basic text fields on pretty much every modern gaming machine, from the Nintendo 3DS to the Xbox 360. This game came out a decade ago and yet no one else has copied this logical, perfect interface.

Ryan Smith

To rally for collective action, sometimes we need to have something at stake at an individual level. Mythic, the makers of the massively multiplayer role-playing game Dark Age Of Camelot, wanted the players of three separate realms to engage in a never ending war with each other out in a shared frontier zone. Thus, they created a relic system that worked like a giant game of capture the flag. If an invading army managed to bust through your main castle with player-crafted battering rams and slay the A.I. controlled Lord of the keep, they could capture one of two relics. If brought back to their own keep, each member of that realm would gain a worldwide 10 percent bonus to damage in future encounters until the stolen relic was returned. With incentives that high, DAOC cultivated a weird patriotism where you felt obligated to drop whatever you were doing-—fetch quests, crafting armor—to serve your nation by manning the walls of a besieged base or joining an invasion force. Some players complained that the rewards for relics were too high, which is likely why Mythic lowered them for their follow-up Warhammer Online. To my knowledge, no other competitive multiplayer game has borrowed the smart system.

Derrick Sanskrit

Probably my favorite thing about the original PlayStation was the way it could alter games using music from my CD collection. Certain games could read the songs from a music CD and incorporate them into the experience. Those jewel cases that littered my shelves were suddenly transformed into stages in Vib-Ribbon, creatures in Monster Rancher, and sweet samples in MTV Music Generator. The content was unique to each game, but it was still recognizable as its source material (my Zebrahead CDs turned into part-zebra creatures in Monster Rancher 2). There was an entire world of possibilities hidden inside the thoroughly modern media all around my house. I kept waiting for the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox to pull some similar trick by turning my DVD collection into a shooting gallery. Or maybe my current internet-enabled consoles could transform my tweets and status updates into dungeons. But it never really happened again. The 3DS and Vita both fiddle with QR codes to bring games into the “real world,” but come on, does anybody really scan QR codes? Everyone I knew had hundreds of compact discs, and each one of those was an opportunity to discover something new within the game.

Matt Gerardi

The Resistance series, a trilogy of PlayStation 3 first-person shooters from Insomniac Games, never hit its stride, but there was a kernel of an idea that persisted across all three games and always fascinated me. Like most shooters of the past seven years, you spend a lot of time behind cover, but many of Resistance’s weapons encourage you to remain aggressive even while you’re in hiding. There’s the alien assault rifle that can tag enemies and send bullets around your cover—and theirs. Another machine gun lets you see through walls and fire through them, as well as create your own cover. One of the pistols can shoot an explosive that you’re free to detonate at will—say, once you’ve lodged it in an enemy’s chest and scampered behind a large crate. The folks at Insomniac have always been dedicated to unique weaponry—a reputation bolstered by the Ratchet And Clank games—but with Resistance, they used that talent to solve one of the most prevalent game design problems of the last near-decade: It’s usually pretty darn boring to run behind cover and just hang out while your health recharges. Unfortunately, it seems like this little twist on the modern shooter formula has gone unnoticed.

Dan Whitehead

I’ll continue my run as the “Token British Person Who Nominates Obscure British Things” and suggest a 1987 graphic adventure called Sláine, based on the character of the same name from the comic book 2000 AD. You control the game by clicking on thoughts as they drift through Sláine’s mind, so if you were in a new location, the idea of LOOK AT WHATEVER would drift in and out of a little brain-window. As certain actions became more urgent, they would appear repeatedly. Also, the option to HIT UKKO, Sláine’s grotesque dwarf sidekick, was always there, and therefore always on his mind, which was a nice touch. It was a way of bridging that gap between stark text input and characterization. It didn’t work very well, but it was an idea that definitely deserves some refinement.

Jason Reich

A fairly amazing sight greets you the first time you boot up Tim Schafer’s awesome LucasArts adventure Grim Fandango: nothing. No list of commands. No maddening text parser. No cursor that changes from a hand to an eye to a mouth as you scan for elusive hotspots. Instead, the game prompts you to engage with it in a beautifully unobtrusive way. Maneuver Manny, the game’s hero, past something he can interact with, and he simply turns his head to look at it, as though the item just happened to capture his interest. Not only does the lack of an on-screen interface let you view Grim Fandango’s gorgeous environments in all their glory, but Manny’s shifting gaze serves as a gentle nudge, neatly mimicking the internal “wait a minute, what’s that thing do?” reaction crucial to solving the game’s tricky puzzles. My colleague Anthony John Angello tells me this device crops up now and then in Japanese horror games, but I haven’t experienced anything quite like it before or since. You can keep your pointing and clicking. I’ll take a swivel-headed skeleton over pixel-hunting any day.

Drew Toal

Keith Courage In Alpha Zones is an exercise in relativity. Half of each level is spent as normal Keith, putzing around on the surface world, using his tiny sword to slay even tinier monsters. It’s some of the most boring shit you will ever play in your life. But the second half of each level transforms this unimpressive waif into some kind of rainbow robot monster guy, battling his way through an underworld with a laser sword, dismembering bad guys who have six-shooters for heads. Each level utilizes this dichotomy; a quiet and boring section seasoned with a slightly less boring section. The thing is, the underworld part—which seems so fun in comparison to its sibling—isn’t even that good. It’s essentially the same game, but on mild steroids. But the way the game paces itself, a truly horrible first half augmented by a passable second, repeated, proves to be a surprisingly successful formula. Rather than have a mediocre game all the way through, they made half of the game worse than mediocre, so the truly mediocre bits felt better than they actually were. There’s something to look forward to, at least, at each stage. At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s an approach I think a lot of game makers today could learn from.

John Teti

Almost every big-budget shooter I play lately has only a handful of lines that are recycled endlessly among the waves of idiot meatbags who come into your crosshairs. (Anyone who played the original Mass Effect has the phrases “Enemies are everywhere!” and “I WILL DESTROY YOU!” etched into their gray matter.) If they’ve got to recycle, I wish more studios would follow The Sims’ lead and ditch the English language altogether. Instead, they can invent a gibberish language for their characters. This is one of the underrated master strokes of that daily-life simulation game. None of the characters speak a lick of English; instead, they communicate with pictorial word balloons and nonsense utterances. (“Sul sul!” means hello in Simlish, according to one online dictionary.) The makers of the Sim games realized that it’s less grating to hear word-like utterances repeated a thousand times than it is to hear specific words with familiar intonations—the former mode of speech just washes over you as you get a general sense of the speaker’s mood. This impressionistic dialogue style could do wonders for games that need to skimp on voiceover work.

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138 Responses to “Plagiarize This”

  1. Citric says:

    The spell system from Treasure of the Rudras. It worked by typing in different words, and you would get a spell. Sometimes the spell was great! Sometimes it was useless. You could type in anything at all and it would work, but there was also a complex system of prefixes and suffixes and root words which did different stuff, and it was pretty rewarding. But nobody has attempted anything like it to my knowledge.

    Hell, with the omnipresent microphones on new console, it could even evolve into shouting various words to get a spell. Imagine, you could shout “Whoa there, Hitler” and maybe the spell would stop time or something. It’s potentially nifty.

    • That spell would, paradoxically, have the power to stop Godwin’s Law.

    • EmperorNortonI says:

      Ultima 5 had a syllable based spell system. It was pretty rational, with different syllables having a meaning, and the contributing spell reagents being tied to particular ideas or types of magic. I was actually able to use it to reverse engineer a few spells from the basic principles, though in the end there were no secret spells or effects to find.

    • The main problem with this was that if you understood the affix library (or looked at a guide) instead of discovering the various things through trial and error and by getting clues from NPCs, you could make absurdly powerful spells right from the get-go. I never finished this game because I spent an hour or two trying combinations right in the beginning until I’d made spells that basically one-shot everything and cost next to no mana to cast, thereby ruining the game for myself forever.

    • stakkalee says:

      Mindscape had a game called Four Crystals of the Trazere that used a rune-based spellcasting system.  There were 4 “directional” runes and a dozen “effect” runes that you could combine to create various custom spells.  So  was a basic magic missile spell, while  would dispel negative effects and heal one party member and then damage and paralyze all the enemies surrounding that character.  It was a surprisingly versatile system.

      EDIT: Crap, lost my runes.

      • Marozeph says:

        The mostly forgotten adventure Death Gate had an interesting rune-system: basically, you had to stick small runes together to form big runes. Once you learned a spell, the game could automatically build the build runes.
        I always hoped a system like that would pop up somewhere else, because a.) it’s pretty cool and b.) the game didn’t really do much with it. I think there was only a single puzzle that required you to manually build a rune.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      Have you guys seen CodeSpells? Cast spells with the power of programming in Java:

  2. George_Liquor says:

    It’s worth noting that the BG&E footage shown in that video was captured from a PC. It’s been a while, but I seem to recall that this game forced you to use that fancy letter spiral while your keyboard sat idle. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is ports of games that don’t bother to adapt their control schemes to the new environment they’re running on.

  3. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Man, I forgot that’s how Beyond Good and Evil did their controller-keyboard. Making it spiral like that is such a simple idea, but it’s so boss and it’s unique to digital spaces. My only criticism is that it only works well for sequential inputs, like A-Z and 0-9, rather than non-sequential values, like punctuation, but if you don’t need the latter, then who cares?

    Has anyone tried using Steam’s “Big Picture” mode? They made some kind of “Daisywheel” keyboard that combines the analog stick with the face buttons. It seems interesting, but I haven’t spent any time with it myself.

    • I’ve used it a little. It sort of requires some brain remapping because every movement you make shifts the context of the keyboard. My instinct is if you learned it it would be overall faster.

      The default PSN sucks but the worst by far is the youtube and hulu console keyboards. Its just a single line of all the characters. Typing akira takes about a 30 seconds.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

         and the PS store now uses that single line of characters when you want to search for something, plus it takes forever as each letter you type it loads up every entry that starts with those letters until you get to the point where what you were looking for is the only option.

  4. Merve says:

    Re: Agnello’s suggestion – It’s a wonderful suggestion for consoles with their awkward thumbsticks. Unfortunately, in BG&E’s case, they kept that interface in the god-awful PC port. Computers have keyboards, Ubisoft! Sheesh.

    Re: Teti’s suggestion – Holy crap, that would have made Dishonored so much better. I swear, if I’d heard “Think you’ll get your own squad after what happened last night?” one more time, I would have punched everybody at Arkane Studios in the face.

    As for things that I think more video games should copy:
    Mass Effect 3’s weapon customization system. It’s simple, easy-to-understand, and allows for some satisfying depth without overwhelming the player with pointless stats. Being able to easily compare weapons and their upgrades and attachments is a huge bonus.

    Remember Me: Combat that punishes you for button-mashing. Simple though it may be, there’s a finesse to the game’s fighting system that other brawlers simply don’t have. The Batman: Arkham games are especially notorious basically rewarding speedily clicking like a moron.

    Sleeping Dogs’ stat challenges are a fun, minimally intrusive way to introduce a social aspect to a single-player game. Every time you get on a kill streak or a clean drive streak, the game pops up a reminder in the corner of the screen telling you which of your friends is leading the challenge and by how much. It’s as if the game is telling you, “Not much more to go until you beat your friend’s sorry ass at this silly stat challenge.”

    • Mr. Glitch says:

      My favorite Skyrim mod of all time is the one that brutally punishes every NPC character who complains about the arrow he or she took to the knee.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      I did love the stat challenges as done in Trials Evolution. They also had built-in replays, although as I recall they only saved the top 10,000 to the servers. I never would’ve gotten times as good as I did if I wasn’t competing with a friend of mine that had it. Those platinum medals are brutal.

    • ToddG says:

      Just finished Remember Me last night.  Man, what a great game.  But I find it interesting you praise it while simultaneously calling out the Arkham games because, to me, they are both great examples of the design you mention.  While you can get through the Arkham games mashing the basic attack button, I wouldn’t say you are rewarded for doing so; the game becomes both easier and significantly more fun if you play with finesse.  And there’s no way to meet the score goals of the combat challenges without skillfully varying your combos.

      • lylebot says:

        I had a *lot* more fun with the Arkham games once I learned how to actually do the combat.  Isn’t the non-mashy combat one of the reasons the first one was so remarkable?

        • Bad Horse says:

          I always thought it was cool how the God of War series and Arkham games managed to get you into the completely opposite headspaces of their protagonists with combo systems, of all frickin things. God of War is quite a bit mashier, but still fluid, giving you considerable power and freedom to improvise, while also instilling a bit of Kratos’ rage and bloodlust via the frantic button presses. This is never more apparent than in the several boss battles that require you press circle repeatedly to just pulverize a skull – Theseus in GOWII is just so, so satisfying, and the final battle with Zeus in III allows you to keep punching and punching until the screen is coated in god blood and you can only hear the crunchy smack of fist on face.

          Arkham removes that rage element entirely because Batman is a completely different character. He’s calculating, and though he’s driven by a core of deep anger, he has it entirely under control. Likewise, the player has to have Batman’s analytical mindset. You find yourself diagramming threats, planning 2 moves ahead, preparing your dodges and stuns and grapples, and if you surrender to the same sort of mashiness as GoW taught you, you actually wind up suffering for it in combo scores and occasionally in health. It puts you in a mindset befitting the world’s greatest detective, a man with a plan for everything.

        • TaumpyTearrs says:

           Yeah, even my young nephew quickly realised mashing wasn’t getting him anywhere (he was 11 or 12 at the time and didn’t get to play alot of games).
          I was so proud once he started countering and planning his attacks, especially once he was able to pull off double digit combos.

      • Merve says:

        That’s a good point, @BreakingRad:disqus, and I should say that I did quite enjoy the Arkham games. To tell you the truth, I played Asylum and City on easy and normal difficulty respectively, so maybe finesse wasn’t of the utmost importance there. And you’re right that I couldn’t just press buttons at random, but I did find that spamming the left mouse button was often more effective than trying to time my left mouse button presses. (Also, Aslyum’s PC port is terrible, so that might explain some of the control issues.)

    • indy2003 says:

      Speaking of Sleeping Dogs, I feel like it was an improvement on the Batman fighting system – it’s hardly complex, but if you’re just mashing the same button over and over you’re probably going to get killed. It demands that you time counter-attacks and learn a variety of combinations to deal with different types of opponents.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I especially loved that if you were quick and hit the counter button, you could always interrupt your own attacks to block.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

       Merve, you liked those stat challenges in Sleeping Dogs?!? All it ever did was remind me that @HobbesMkii:disqus always had a better perfect driving score then me, even when I went on the damn interstate and tried not to touch a cone!  And you couldn’t turn them off!  Blech!

      • indy2003 says:

        The most amusing thing about the clean drive challenge is that it made driving for two minutes without hitting another car or pedestrian feel like a superhuman feat. I’ve never felt so proud of myself for doing something so unremarkable (give or take running a few meters in QWOP, anyway).

  5. The Cold War-turned-Hot War p’n’p game Twilight 2000 is as dated as Red Dawn these days (the original Harry Dean Stanton-ified “AVENGE ME!” flavor, thank you), but I recall that the 1991 PC adaptation had a feature that was quite a standout at the time:  a partially randomized character creation system

    How it worked was that you started telling the game the gender and educational background of your character, gradually stepping them through high school and what academic/athletic subjects your character enjoyed, optional ROTC service, what have you.  Stuff that builds attribute scores the best way:  narratively.  World War III would start at a randomly determined time along this character’s biography, so you’d find out the age of who you’d be playing at a later stage of the process.  The event may have occurred right after high school, or it may have been well after university, post-graduate work…your character could be in their fifties, with a wealth of knowledge (and ability perks in the game) before the game “began”.

    It seemed a really striking way to invest a player emotionally in an RPG/narrative setting, and add an exciting combination of personalization and “life interrupted” to the avatar they’d be spending the rest of the game with.  Mass Effect had a grand total of three backgrounds you could pick for your Shepard at the start, but I always had a smidge of a thrill when it came up in any of the subsequent sequels, a frisson of, “hey, that’s MY Shepard they’re talking about”.  Imagine the specificity–or, all right, the illusion of specificity–you’d feel if a game attempted something even a hair more ambitious, like the Twilight 2000 model. 

    Worst case scenario, I suppose it would feel like Psycho Mantis reading the contents of your memory card in Metal Gear Solid.  But I feel that there’s some serious player goodwill to be reaped by trying something like this in a future title–the next Fallout, to pick a thematically-appropriate pipe dream.  Game designers!  Take a good look at the character creator in Twilight 2000!  Turn it into somethin’ else!

    • djsubversive says:

      From my limited experience with that game, it pretty closely follows the tabletop version’s character-creation system. 4-year “tours of duty” that you can fill with whatever career options are available. At the end of each block, roll a die to see if war breaks out.

      Our GM was kind enough to give us each a couple tours before we had to start checking for Armageddon. We also mostly played the MERCS: 2000 variant, where WW3 didn’t happen, and the players were all part of a PMC that was contracted by the “alphabet soup” agencies to perform black-ops.

      We took out a terrorist training camp in Libya with a recoilless rifle mounted on a pickup truck, a bunch of grenades attached to doors (the two sneakiest people set them up beforehand), a couple of machine guns, and a lot of luck (good dice rolls for us, bad dice rolls for the terrorists).

      • w00tini says:

        The life-path character generation, in 4-year career hitches, was pretty much transplanted wholesale from Traveler, which took the concept so far that bad things could happen, leaving your character with a limp, or with one eye, or even, in 1st edition, dead. That’s right, your character could fall out of an airlock and die before the game actually even began.

        It’s still one of my favorite ways of generating a character for an RPG.

        • djsubversive says:

          Yeah, the 4-year-tours and Lifepath from Cyberpunk are great ways to fill out backstory and add a bit of randomness to character-creation. 

          My favorite Lifepath-story was the netrunner (hacker) from one of my cpunk games. He had Bad Things happen from the very first roll. His family was killed in a house-fire (possibly deliberately set), giving him nightmares (1 in 5 chance of waking up screaming every night). He made enemies galore. All of his love affairs ended with the ex being an enemy or dead. He was hunted by a corporation for crimes he “may or may not have committed” (he did). The only good thing that happened was that he did something for a streetgang once and they were willing to return the favor. It wasn’t even that great of a benefit, but it was all he had. Once the game actually started, he ended up crashing on the fixer’s couch and wearing cheap vending-machine clothes for days at a time, since all the money he made went towards his deck and programs.

          Oh, yeah, he was also imprisoned for 9 months and developed an addiction that cost him a couple of stat points.

      • I never did play the p’n’p version, but it sounds like it would have been a good time coming up with your own A Team group of miscreants and getting them into paramilitary situations.  I guess the closest PC equivalent we’ve had since would be the Jagged Alliance games, which I’ve always loved, but haven’t managed much more than a dedicated cult following, it seems.  That sure could change with a malleable character creation system like T2K/MERCS2K, though.

        Yeah, the manual here (I’m looking at a .pdf of it right now in my valuable “Abandonware” folder) states, “the Twilight 2000 character generator allows you to develop characters for the actual pencil-and-paper role playing game.  Though some skills may not be necessary in the computer game, they have been left in [for those who want them].”

        Those “unnecessary” skills and tours of duty are a lot of fun, in addition to being compelling biographical seeds.  Civilian careers include “Idle Rich”, “Politician”, and “Prisoner” (hmm, how ever did I arrive at THAT progression of events?) in addition to prosaic things like “Factory Worker”, “Commercial Pilot”, or “Journalist”.  And I like the dry description of “Entertainer”:  “An individual who diverts attention by singing, acting, or some other form of distraction.”

  6. Kilzor says:

    I’m probably not going to do a good job of explaining this, but the boss fights of Skies of Arcadia really make that one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it everything to do with keeping a stellar cast of bad guy characters that weren’t gone/killed after one fight, but were consistently around a good chunk of the narrative, so not only could they build character off of each successive meeting, but it helped you strategize your giant airship battles against them as you started to learn their fighting style (and of course the game would then use that to try and one-up you).  Smart, character driven battles that really put you into the world of the game.  A lot different than “I just got the hookshot, I guess this boss’s weakpoint is going to be the hookshot.”

    • EmperorNortonI says:

      That reminds me of what someone said about Phoenix Wright last week, about how much more satisfying it was to beat the final bad guy there because he or she was around through the whole game, gloating the whole time and thwarting your best efforts until the moment you turned the tables.

    • JamesJournal says:

      I liked how that game was structured more like an epic TV show. When you really built up rivalries with established villains  over time.

      Making it that much more satisfying when you took them down subsequent times.

  7. Mr. Glitch says:

    I’m glad John Teti brought up spoken gibberish in games because it gives me another chance to gush about Jade Empire. About half of the characters in the game speak a made-up, subtitled language they call the ‘old tongue’, or something like that. Bioware obviously did it to cut down on the amount of recorded dialog in the game, as the same spoken phrases will be heard multiple times with completely different subtitles. (This becomes painfully obvious when you travel to Foxy Heaven.) However, instead of recording gibberish, Bioware hired a PhD Linguist to create the language and make it sound both believable and suitably ‘ancient’.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Absolutely.  There are a dozen different tricks to doing it right, and it’s a thing that will instantly make me adore a game.  Klonoa, Okami, Panzer Dragoon, Animal Forest/Crossing, Mario And Luigi R.P.G., every Lovedelic-related game from Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure to Ripening Tingle’s Balloon Trip Of Love and Little/King Story, and, cripes, I’m counting old Star Fox.  “Rrurrgh ringh reen jammin,” as Falco would say.  That means, “More gibberish, please, because it gets across personality and the scene’s tone without having to worry about localization.”

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        That’s an excellent point. Localization has always been tricky as hell to pull off in games, (I’m looking at you, House Of The Dead 2!) so if the characters speak subtitled gibberish to begin with, they don’t have to worry about lip-synching, cadence, colloquialisms, etc.

        • caspiancomic says:

          I know Resident Evil is often considered the patron saint of terrible game voice acting, but my loyalty belongs to The House of the Dead 2. “Can’t be! You’re!”

        • HobbesMkii says:

           A trick I learned in a theater class once was that if you need to lip synch, just mouth out, “elephant balls.” It looks like anything/everything.

          The 8-year-old me found this fucking hilarious.

        • Andy Tuttle says:

          Are you sure? I have a feeling you’re just trying to get all of us to mouth out “elephant balls” so we look stupid.

    • Merve says:

      The only thing I remember about Foxy Heaven is the fact that there were topless anthropomorphic foxes with nippleless breasts.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      They did a similar thing with KOTOR but it doesn’t work quite as well when each alien race has one voice actor per gender.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Yeeeeaaahhh…when you meet the big secret alien and he keeps speaking what sounds like “wheep grabba-moe” it gets annoying fast.  Not random sounding enough.

        • w00tini says:

           The KOTOR stuff wasn’t randomly generated, which is why it didn’t work. They had like five lines each for a handful of “alien languages.”

    • Girard says:

      Wait…how could an actual language created by a PhD linguist have the different subtitles for the same set of sounds? Or was it less a matter of a linguist create a ‘real’ fake language like Klingon or whatever and more a case of the linguist creating a really authentic-sounding Simlish?

      • Merve says:

        The latter. As I understand it, the linguist took sounds that would have been in ancient Chinese tongues and mashed them together to create “sentences.”

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        According to this, Bioware created an actual, working language for the game, complete with its own alphabet & grammar rules. It’s just that the lines of dialog spoken in this language get recycled several times. For example, the spoken line of dialog meaning, “Go read a book, you sweaty nerds!” might get translated by the subtitles as “You are the Chosen One” one time, and “Save us from the scary frog monsters!” the next.

  8. EmperorNortonI says:

    When I heard about that CD feature on Monster Rancher, I got really interested in the game. I didn’t have a PS, and thus never got around to playing it, but now I remember how I’d almost considered buying one at the time.

    • Girard says:

      I was intrigued enough to rent it, but ultimately was kind of diappointed as the end result was basically no different practically than if it had just been a ‘random monster stats generator’ or something. Yes, maybe there was a CD somewhere in my house that would have led to something especially unique or weird or powerful, but I wasn’t about to put every CD in my house through the reading process one by one, and the CDs in my CD booklet all mostly produced monsters I’d already seen, with some mildly idiosyncratic stats.

      • Jeffrey Abel Zwart says:

        Teenage Fanclub had an album called ‘Grand Prix’, and the disc looked like a wheel.  I was amazed when I put it in, and the monster was a fairly rare wheel-based monster.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Had the same experience myself with Metal Gear Solid. In Monster Rancher 2, you got a special commando style mon. Dood was ugly as hell, but it was a neat touch.

  9. Stl_Bob says:

    How about hiring A.I. helper characters like in the Shadowrun games? Or if you want to get ambitious, hire real people online? Maybe co-op would diminish this, but I always liked that aspect of those games.

    • Enkidum says:

      Actually, I’ve never played a MMOPRG, so I dunno if this is already in effect, but what about a player-generated quest board? It would help if this was a game where certain classes of characters would be complete shit at some missions, so you always have some quests you find particularly difficult. So offer a reward in in-game currency, maybe pool together with other people in the same boat and offer a big reward for a party to take you all through the same mission, with penalties for each one of you they lose.

      And you’d be good at other types of mission, so people would hire you. Would be an interesting example of an in-game economy.

  10. vinnybushes says:

    I always loved the bit in Metal Gear Solid where the game read your memory card and then talked to you about your game predilections and play style. Not only is it a fun non-achievement or stat screen oriented meter of your progress but it does some fun meta-game stuff that engages the player directly. Imagine if a game like 999 or Virtue’s Last Reward that prides itself on this type of thing started to do something similar? Not only would it give me a serious case of goosebumps but it’d be funny, entertaining, and seriously smart.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC did something similar, at one point your entire crew is assembled and when you choose which of them will accompany of you to the last battle, the character who’s been used the least throughout the game will complain that they never see any action.

    • Girard says:

      Similarly, Silent Hill 2’s way of determining your ending was so subtle and idiosyncratic and tied to weird, minor gameplay choices, it worked so much better than overtly branching narratives found in other games. Things like how much you looked at certain items in your inventory, your physical proximity to certain NPCs at certain key moments, and stuff like that, was all “read” by the game and contributed to your eventual final battle and ending.

      • vinnybushes says:

        I think MGS was unique in that it went beyond the game you were currently playing. I also just liked the initial what the fuck moment of “So you like Castlevania?”

        • Gryffle says:

          I always feel ripped off by the Psycho Mantis memory card trick because I’m pretty sure it only read Konami games, and I didn’t happen to have any at the time, so I always got “Your memory is completely clean”.

      • The only Silent Hill game I’ve ever played was Shattered Memories on the Wii but it did something very similar. Having the whole narrative be part of a psychiatric session was a genius move.


          “The only Silent Hill game I’ve ever played was Shattered Memories”

          buddy, you need to change that

          go play Silent Hill 1-3, but avoid the HD collection like AIDS

      • Dave Dalrymple says:

        Pandora Directive resolved its branching narrative in a more subtle way than the BioWare method (albeit not as subtly as you’ve described Silent Hill 2).

        Your minor actions and dialogue choices affect a hidden variable which determines the particular cut scene you get at key story events, including the ending. For 1996, it was pretty ground-breaking.

        It’s a pity that so few games have tried to refine that method. Instead, they’ve stuck to the “choose your path” model, where the only thing that restricts your choices is how many skill points you’ve allocated to speech.

    • Gipson says:

      When it comes to breaking the fourth wall, nothing beats MGS leading you to the back of the game case to find Meryl’s codec frequency. Still brilliant to this day.

      The only other games I can recall off hand that gave me that same “this game is fucking with me” feeling are much more recent: Braid and Fez.

    • JamesJournal says:

      Alpha Protocol was pretty boss when it game to this. Characters in that game remember 

      A) How you treat them
      B ) How you treat your friends an enemies
      C ) Your level of morality
      D ) How you typically complete missions. They know and react to it if you use stealth or go in guns blazing 

  11. Buttersnap says:

    The latest Tomb Raider takes the idea of having the character look at items, ala Grim Fandango, but then completely flips the idea around by having Lara stare at anything that seems cool.  At first I found she was looking at ammo boxes as I ran past, but when going through cave tunnels of no significance, she would focus on neat wall designs or other visual flourishes that provided no gameplay value. It was kind of nice to have a suggestion of where to aim the free floating camera rather than have it force you to see the items.  Unfortunately there were plenty of times where it seemed like there was context overload and Lara just could not focus on anything directly in front of her.

    • Another thing about Tomb Raider (and The Last of Us, kinda) is the auto cover. Instead of pressing a button to go into cover, you automatically do it when enemies are around. I first thought it would be annoying, but they mostly avoided it by not hindering your mobility when in cover mode. This also frees up buttons for other things.

      • JamesJournal says:

        Yes! The auto cover is genius and more people need to this. I never had to worry about sticking on and off walls.

        I was either close to a wall and hiding, or away from one and not

  12. Effigy_Power says:

    I really like John’s pick, the made up proto-language. That’s great stuff. Age of Empires had some mildly real sounding “ancienteneese” , so did Age of Mythology.
    Also, it gives us a fakey language to learn that isn’t firmly in the hands of Trekkies or Ringers so they are not the only ones who can go talk to someone at ComicCon in Klingon, and I am sure it was something rude, you pig. I know they have words for that in Klingon. Go back to Wisconsin in your mom’s van, you creep.
    Anyways, language. Yay.

    PS: Presenting, the Digest Comic:

    • Girard says:

      I genuinely love how furrowed Teti’s brow is in that picture! It’s almost furrowing its way right over the top of his glasses!

    • boardgameguy says:

      I also enjoy that Drew’s mustache is a band-aid.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I promised to make no more mustache jokes. In my very own and legally binding way, I kept that promise.

    • Guybrush Threepwood says:

      I seem to remember the Greek in Age of Mythology being modern Greek. However, I have no idea what they did for Egyptian and Norse.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Ah, I didn’t know it was actual Greek, even if it’s the “wrong” one.
        I would have loved to see a second Age of Mythology… Maybe with some new cultures rather than the constant staples of gaming… GrecoRoman, Egyptian and Norse.

        • Guybrush Threepwood says:

          I think adding more cultures as opposed to replacing would be better, as the Greek, Egyptian and Norse mythologies are stronger and more developed than most. Of course those three aren’t the only good mythologies. Hinduism comes to mind. Zoroastrianism would be cool as it’s so different from most religions, and it would provide a nice twist to and diversity from the other ones. And if the developers were feeling particularly ballsy, they could throw in some Judaism.

    • Logoboros says:

      I’m pretty sure all the unit voices in Age of Empires II, at least, were speaking real languages. I know the British units, at least, were speaking late Old English/early Middle English phrases, with some Latin mixed in.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        There were definitely some Saxon phrases for them, but some of the cultures either got somewhat made-up ones because we don’t know the phonetics of their language or had their ancient tongue replaced with its modern descendant.

      • Ted Kindig says:

        Whatever “Wololo” translates to must be a pretty compelling theological argument.

    • A couple Sid Meier games have it: Pirates! (the remake) and Civ4 (I think—at least the Colonization version had the gibber-tongue).

  13. Tim Kraemer says:

    This applies relatively little to today with this genre being on life support, but I wish basically every single traditional menu-based-battle JRPG in the wake of Earthbound had unapologetically swiped its idea of giving you an automatic and instantaneous win without going to the battle screen when it detects you’ll win the fight in one round. I can’t believe that beautiful feature didn’t catch on.

    • zebbart says:

      That and having underpowered enemies run away from you. Cut the crap, play the game. Loved it.

      • Enkidum says:

        Only JRPG I’ve played since Skies of Arcadia is Persona 3, which I’m still grinding my way through, and I do love the weak enemies running away from me. Ha ha, suckers, that’s right, who’s the man?

      • Tim Kraemer says:

        And not just underpowered – once you beat a dungeon’s boss, all the enemies in it run from you and cower against the wall, allowing you to approach each from behind for a green swirl and an instant-win. Walking back through a dungeon to the entrance, taking out tons of enemies and collecting thousands of experience with nary a battle screen, really made you feel like the man.

    • a_scintillating_comment says:


    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I liked how Grandia II immediately whisked the heroes out of dungeons after the boss was defeated. The dungeon grind is only so interesting the first time through, and random encountering your way out is annoying.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      That actually does seem like a great idea. When I think of all the FF10 encounters in the Calm Lands… Liger, Elemental, Pudding-dude or Robot. Single attack, boom. So lame.

    • aklab says:

      Lufia II had a somewhat similar innovation — the direction an enemy faced on the map would determine who started battle. I.e., run into an enemy from behind to get a preemptive strike, but if they run into you they get a preemptive strike. I think, but I may not be remembering correctly, that getting the preemptive strike against a weak enemy resulted in an Earthbound-style instant win. 

    • Gipson says:

      Wild Arms 3 (and maybe the others in the series) had an interesting take on this idea. As you explored, you would know a random encounter was coming because an exclamation mark would appear over the character’s head.

      A green exclamation mark could be shrugged off for free. A white exclamation mark – which was a “normal” encounter – could be shrugged off by paying crystals, of which you only had so many to soak at a time. And red exclamation marks indicated “hard” battles that could not be skipped.

      So, you could press a button to skip certain fights, some for free, some for a cost. Thinking back on it now, it feels a little bit like a gimmick … something thrown in just to be different, but it seemed kinda cool at the time.

      One downside was that skipping a fight didn’t count as a win. It was truly skipping it, so no xp or gold gained.

    • Conatonc says:

      This this this. So many times this. It’s amazing to me that JRPG designers continued forcing us all to fight every single random encounter when Earthbound had such an elegant, time-saving way around it.

  14. KidvanDanzig says:

    Maybe it’s me but I find it weird that the “musically shaped” feature is posited as a neglected thing in games when in reality it is, if not a genre in itself, then a robust niche within “rhythm gaming” (it remains a thing after rhythm gaming has died a fad’s death) and indie / portable gaming in general. Audiosurf is the most notable example, but you’ve also got Beat Hazard, the Aaaaaaa! (or whatever it’s called) series, and a number of mobile games for iOS and Android that handily replicate the Rock Band / Guitar Hero rhythm game usng your music, on a touchscreen.

    I also remember some years ago that the (pretty dismal) followup to the classic Def Jam Vendetta was a Street Fighter clone that used the game’s heavily licensed soundtrack to generate mostly neglected environmental hazards (for example, fire hydrants would spray water to the beat of a song), and if you had music on your hard drive it would use it. Things like that.

    • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

       A25!!! (as the cool kids all it) just looks like a rhythm game; you wantDrop That Beat Like An Ugly Baby.
      We’re definitely pretty well served on rhythm games like this, but there’s still a ton of unrealized potential in the idea of integrating and extrapolating from external sources as a component of gameplay.

    • Girard says:

      It seems like Derrick’s more annoyed that that feature hasn’t been extended to other forms of digital media. It’s like they just plateaued at audio CDs.

    • mizerock says:

      I wonder if they stopped doing that because of copyright concerns. I sure hope not.

    • Enkidum says:

      Def Jam Icon. I have it, played through precisely one fight. The idea of timing your attacks to the beat is kind of cool, but I couldn’t get it to work and the game was so god-awful otherwise I gave up. Maybe it’s got hidden depths.

  15. Dave Dalrymple says:

    I wish more JRPGs had stolen the ATB system used in Final Fantasy 4 thru 9. It’s much more fun to input character commands as their turns come up individually rather than inputting the whole party at once, and then sitting back to watch it play out. 

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I didn’t love the ATB but did enjoy how it was implemented in FFX, where it was strictly turn-based and showed you how your actions would impact the flow of battle.

      I wish more games would’ve stolen elements of the Grandia battle system. Those games weren’t always great in plot or character, but they were loads of fun during encounters, which is more than many JRPGs can claim.

      • Dave Dalrymple says:

        I can’t recall the details of FFX’s battle system, aside from the fact that it was turn-based and let you swap characters on the fly.

        Did it resolve turns on an individual basis like a Final Fantasy Tactics game, or on a global basis like a Dragon Quest game?

        The former is a good compromise between the ATB and the more traditional global turn basis,

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          I want to say it went by individual turn, not a series of party moves before watching it play out, but I can’t say so with 100% certainty without firing up the PS2.

        • ToddG says:

          @drflimflam:disqus  is correct, each action was immediately performed upon selection.

      • Harrowing says:

        I’m glad you brought up Grandia. I usually describe that series’ battle system as “ATB but better.”

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          When I look back at RPG’s I actually beat, instead of finishing right before the last boss, Grandia III always sticks out to me as a weird choice to finish. But those battles were just too much fun not to partake in.

        • JamesJournal says:

          Grandia 1 & 2 are amazing (I never got through 3 and “Xtreme”).

          And the battle system was a great change up from ATB & strict turn based fighting. It’s speed chess with wizards, managing all your characters and manipulating how many turns everyone on the field will get.

        • Harrowing says:

          You’re all making me want to play Grandia again. Stop it.

          Actually, no, keep it up. That game’s awesome.

  16. DrFlimFlam says:

    It’s such a small thing, but I have always loved how Chrono Cross let me rotate the party lead in place. Talking to an NPC, opening a door, or grabbing treasure was always so easy because I would pull up next to them, pivot juuuuust right, and know I was targeting the right thing. I didn’t have to run up to something and hope I was facing the right way because I could just face the right way intuitively, without sliding past it or facing the wrong thing.

    • Yeah I would do unspeakable things to have this ability in Monster Hunter. Even having the ability to switch between conversation targets using the D-pad isn’t enough and the avatar has no middle ground between “standing still” and “breakneck turn”.

  17. spinachleaf says:


  18. ToddG says:

    I was always disappointed the Gears “toggle” cover system gained omnipresence in cover-based shooters, as opposed to the hybrid first-/third-person cover system of Rainbow Six: Vegas which only a scant handful of games have used since.

  19. James says:

    I always enjoyed the made up quasi-Latin/Greek language of Age of Empires. “Plurvis!”

  20. Trevor La Pay says:

    I like the idea of multiplayer, but outside of Left 4 Dead, I can’t stand traditional co-op. In Borderlands, for example, I always feel pressure to entertain the people in my game, and I feel like I’m hassling them when I push them toward the objectives I want to do. Also, I don’t like being exposed to 11 year olds, ever. That’s why I wish more games would implement Dark/Demon’s Souls multiplayer. I don’t have to know or care about the person I’ve invited into my game; they have a built-in incentive to help me, and I don’t have to hear them talk about anything.

    I also wish more open world games would implement Red Dead Redemption style multiplayer. Joining a posse and roaming the countryside is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in a game.

  21. I wish that more action games implemented the Geo-Mod feature from the original Red Faction. It was hardly used in that game, but the idea was cool – blowing up walls to get around locked doors, etc.

    It would be awesome to do things like blow up virtually any cliff to kill enemies instead of picking them off one by one – and at the same time, knowing they can do that to you. You could burst through any wall (provided you had strong enough weapons) instead of finding keys and switches, or finding specific weakpoints like Deus Ex.

    • Fist Beefchest says:

      Yeah, I pretty much want every game to use a more advanced version of this and/or Minecraft’s rearrange-everything engine. I’ve run my mouth about this before, but my ideal game would allow me to have a realistic effect on everything in the game world, and for those effects to be permanent. Basically an elaborate open-world physics playground where anything that looks like it should be possible, is possible. Like knocking over buildings using explosives or bulldozers, or setting fire to things that are flammable, or blowing up the monorail track so the train flies off and obliterates the orphanage below.

      And I don’t want the carnage to just disappear. I want corpses and wreckage and blood stains and bullet casings to hang around forever so I can build a fort out of them and defend it using makeshift catapults that launch flaming nuns. I’m aware that this would require ungodly amounts of R&D and hardware advancements, but if someone wants to start the Kickstarter I’ll throw in at least three dollars.

  22. Liebheart says:

    Steal all the workers from the old Rare and create a new company that develops games for Nintendo consoles.

  23. mizerock says:

    I know, I know, it’s not a MMORPG (16 players per side, with separate rounds lasting only 20 minutes or so), but that “capture the flag” note makes me want to play some Fat Princess. I need more “20 minutes at a time” games in my life, ones that are about grinding and collecting Marvel characters.

  24. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    This isn’t so much an idea as an aesthetic but we’ve seen the aesthetics of retro 8 & 16 bit games done to death now but we haven’t seen anybody emulating the hyper geometrical, low polygon count of classic 32 bit era games like Final Fantasy 8, Metal Gear Solid or Tekken 2.

    I loved the way those character looked when they were animated because they had these giant sweeping body motions but their faces stayed rigidly still and the low polygon count made them look like an impressionist painting come to life!  I know there’s probably lots of boring reasons why  this aesthetic will never come back but still, my heart would be tickled if it did make a comeback.

    • Merve says:

      The upcoming platformer A Hat in Time sort of combines that aesthetic with the quasi-cel-shaded one popularized by the likes of Windwaker.

      Polygons bring back fond memories of N64 parties for me. So much Smash Bros.!

    • caspiancomic says:

       I’ve personally got a soft spot for early polygon era gaming, and I think it’s due for a retro revival in the style of the recent omnipresence of throwback pixel art games. The models are probably simple enough for even a vanishingly tiny studio to faithfully recreate, so maybe we’ll see some loving tributes to the blocky dwarves of Final Fantasy VII in the near future.


        “I’ve personally got a soft spot for early polygon era gaming”

        me too, the original PS1 Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid still look pleasing to my eyes 

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          I like how a system limitation made Silent Hill the creepiest game I ever played. That radio static, oh my god, freaked out a teenage me.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      Real 32-bit was so awfully grainy that I wouldn’t want that exact style to come back, but if we look at stuff like 3DS reimaginings of N64 games, I could get behind that kind of look.

    • Dave Dalrymple says:

      Have you played “Picross 3D” for the DS? You’d really love its aesthetic.

  25. Andy Tuttle says:

    I’m in agreement with Derrick about using my CD’s to unlock game content, and I’d also like to add in that I really liked the ability to play my own music in Grand Theft Auto 3 for the original Xbox. You could rip your own music onto the system and every car you broke into had the standard radio stations, plus a CD player that would play the music in your personal library. I think Def Jam Icons for the 360 let you do the same thing as well. I have vague memories of playing a stage set to “The Hand That Feeds” by Nine Inch Nails. The music would dictate background action, and when beats got heavy enough it would cause buildings to crumble and create environmental hazards, or something like that.

  26. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf says:

    Top down isometric gameplay!

  27. Jordan Bethea says:

    Kind of surprised to hear someone likes the head swiveling of Grim Fandango. I’m glad the genre has moved away from that, as it just made it more difficult to be sure you had found everything you needed, and took longer for you to move around the whole screen to every corner. It also made the designers feel like it was ok to place items which were not very visible, which was even more annoying. I’m very glad that mouse clicking is still the standard.

    • Captain_Hygiene says:

      That lack of an interface was the one major flaw I had with an otherwise incredible game. It was almost enough to make me quit. You don’t need an obtrusive interface for that kind of game, but you need SOMETHING – Escape From Monkey Island (for all its flaws) fixed that by adding a text line at the bottom of the screen, and it was so much smoother to play because of that.

  28. Staccat0 says:

    I often think that there are elements of Chrono Trigger and Paper Mario that ALL turn-based JRPGs should have copied. Beyond that, if someone combined them effectively with a good story I might play a JRPG again.

    In other news, someone needs to just rip-off Pool of Radiance basically wholesale, and give that fucker a touch screen friendly interface. That’d be such a good recipe iphone or tablet game. Unfortunately, most of the stuff I’ve seen trie to do too much and too little at the same time.

  29. Richard Mason says:

    OH GOD, Keith Courage was such a slog.  The robo suit levels were fun, but every frickin “Keith” level was just beyond painful. Why were are cats falling from the sky everywhere?  Why does only Keith experience sub-moon gravity? Why is out hero’s name “Keith”? JUST GIVE ME MY ROBO SUIT!

  30. Hunter Taylor says:

    This may be a bit more thematic than most of the above ideas, but I always really enjoyed the active reload in the Gears of War series and, similarly, the active “sprint button” in Tomb Raiders Legend.  For TRL, if I remember correctly, you could hold “A” or whatever to make your character run or climb faster while tapping “A” to a certain rhythm would make your character faster still.  As for GOW, tt may be the only quick time event (-ish thing) that I have enjoyed in games, in that participating in the active reload can help you substantially but messing up won’t completely ruin your game.  They’re both minimally intrusive and not necessary for success, but can make more competent gamers feel like they’re more involved in the action.  I feel like hitting “B” at the right moment to silently break open a car window in GTA or right trigger to efficiently pull the pin out of a grenade in Halo could only make gamers feel more closely like they’re in control of the action.

    • Gipson says:

      Agreed on the Gears of War active reload. I always thought that was a fun tweak to the gameplay that offered just the right amount of low stakes risk/reward. And I’ve never seen it duplicated.

  31. Chris Hansen says:

    Drew’s thing isn’t really a game mechanic….don’t games today do what he mentioned? Punctuating slower moments with action?


    Silent Hill had the exact same mechanic as Grim Fandango, I think it’s unfair to just say “Japanese horror games” 

  33. Sleverin says:

     I’m super far late to this party but I might as well throw something in. 

    Grandia’s leveling system was impressive.  Your general levels (or physical level let’s call it) didn’t really matter at all.  Level 10, 50, or 60 didn’t really mean much because your stat boosts were minimal, and you might get lucky and receive a few points in all of the stats.  The thing that helped you mold your character was your weapon choice.  All the weapons the characters wielded had their own levels, and depending on how you wanted to shape their stats, be it to boost MP, HP, damage, accuracy, all you had to do was equip a weapon and hit a good location for grinding.  Since the save points in Grandia offered full and free healing upon request, this was easily achieved and without too much hassle. 

    Technically, the Elder Scrolls series has sort of done this with their leveling mechanic, but not exactly.  It’s the only example I can think of off the top of my head.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      Grandia games have had some wonderful gameplay mechanics. It’s too bad the story well ran dry so fast. Why wont’ someone rerelease 2?

  34. Luke Bean says:

    Age of Empires III used a sort of quasi-English Simlish for the British characters– they’d say things like “Ee woll” (“I will”) and “Richt” (“Right”) when you gave them commands. It made listening to them a lot more tolerable.