The Best Part of Any Video Game Has Been and Always Will Be Movement
Movement in video games has always been the make-or-break element of any game I have ever played. A lot of people can find a game boring or deserted, and they can’t quite explain what it is. They say the map is empty, or the action boring, even when that’s not the case. Usually, the problem is that moving across the map is boring, and that’s a big problem, especially if your map is a big one, which it usually is nowadays. Moving around the digital world has to be engaging, freeing, and responsive. If it’s not, the whole game gets bogged down, regardless of how fun the shooting or platforming is. Here I”ll be breaking down all the difficulties navigation and movement are facing throughout the gaming industry.
Steeds and Open Worlds
The open-world gaming genre might be the most bogged down by the problem of navigating the world in an engaging and fun way. Developers have been creating larger and larger worlds, and when they neglect to make those world dense (filled with content) then players are just left traveling across a deserted space for minutes at a time before coming to an engaging event.
That means they need to make that travel time engaging by itself. The density of a map and engagement of movement is often the hidden crux behind whether or not a game will be praised upon its release. Often, developers use fast travel as a shortcut around this problem, allowing players to not travel at all and instead instantly transport themselves to the next in-game event. This is pure laziness.
Horses or horselike travel has become the norm for this kind of game nowadays, but even that is wrought with trouble. Often you must leave your horse to pick up resources (which are usually just scattered everywhere), which means it’s more resourceful to just run to your next event. Or the horse doesn’t follow you, meaning you might have to backtrack to your steed if you’ve wandered away.
Witcher 3 and Horizon: Zero Dawn (with upgrade) allows you to summon your horse from somewhere out of sight, which is handy. But horses, unfortunately, aren’t all that fun either, just faster and more efficient. The Horses of the Apocalypse from the Red Dead’s Undead Nightmare expansion, however, gave you the ability to burn zombies or even explode heads, not to mention they looked amazing!
The D-Walker from Metal Gear Solid 5 was a cool little two-legged vehicle that could zoom you across the map and always help with combat and cover. Now that’s a steed! I just don’t know why developers don’t engage in more creative solutions to steed travel.
Vehicles and Open Worlds
This has been hit-and-miss for awhile. While people love to steal cars in the GTA games, I can’t help but feel bored in all the driving that I do between missions, regardless of the interesting dialogue or silly radio stations you hear during the rides. For one, the roads themselves aren’t all that engaging, in my opinion. But the addition of planes and helicopters allow players not just freedom, but an option to cause a little mayhem.
I think the Batmobile in Arkham Knight had the potential to be the best innovation of the game, as the sensitivity and sheer ultimate power the Batmobile had was awesome. The curving, winding nature of Gotham’s roads were interesting, and the controls were very forgiving, allowing players to crash through the corners of buildings if you took a turn too sharp. Not to mention Batman could shoot straight into a speeding glide at a moments notice, or how you could dive back in whenever you damn well pleased. (Too bad they made it not just a powerful car, but a tank that you were forced to use every third encounter).
Watch Dogs, especially in the latest game, has created a mighty fun way of vehicular travel. Riding vehicles still allows players to access their hacking abilities, meaning not only are you powerful, you can be quick too. And when you are being engaged by enemies, it’s not just a matter of driving well, but adds the ability to strategize and be aggressive by hacking stop lights and blockades and sewer lines. This adds more variety to driving then the simple “Brake” and “Accelerate” buttons. I don’t know why racing games themselves don’t integrate these elements inside their gameplay. I know some are meant to be “simulators”, but can’t we have some more Speed Racer abilities or bizarre, loopety- loop racetracks like in the Mario Kart games?
Developers have also found ways to cheat in First-person shooters like CoD and Battlefield, despite the fact that their maps are much smaller arenas than an open world. Often, when developers want to ignore the problem of engaging navigation, they try to cut out as much travel time as possible. But instead of the “fast travel cheat” the open world devs use, they simply make the player fast. Like, really fast. In most first person shooters, game characters are sprinting at least twenty miles-per-hour, but the average is more like thirty. This way, you can pass all the empty buildings and corridors to get the the place all your online opponents are hiding.
I give Doom a pass, even though Doom Guy is moving at an absurd 50 MPH. In this case, devs aren’t trying to get you to pass the dull, eventless sections of the game. Rather, they are trying to make the shooter sections feel crazy and action packed and (almost) out of control, and they freakin’ nail it.
An old solution was to add in a bunch of vehicles. I remember riding a specter for the first time in Halo, and the mad dash me and my friends would do at the start of every match to get to the map’s spectre first.
Tanks and ATVs are common in these sorts of games now too. But in most of these cases, they aren’t added for fun navigation, but as a strategic weapon for players to outpace their opponents in firepower. What I mean is, it doesn’t make navigation more fun, it makes gameplay more unbalanced from player to player.
Recent games have added some great features. Jetpacks that allow double jumps and wall running make running around the world almost as fun as the shooting, and it’s a skill all players can use, rather than a resource you race to get first.
Bioshock Infinite introduced “skyhooks rails”, which allowed players to leap onto a series of tracks above the map and maneuver around enemies. Overwatch provides a number of fun and fast ways to leap, climb, and skate across the map to catch up to your opponents, or circle around, or ambush from above. This is how it should be done.
General Abilities (The Best Part)
What I really go crazy for is a game that allows you to use abilities inherent to your character to travel around the world. Rather than stealing a car or hunting down a helicopter or summoning your horse from the bushes, you can simply press a button and dash across the map in a crazy and fun way. Batman’s grappling hook is fun, plus it adds verticality to the world.
Platformers like Mario have some great leaping abilities, and what makes them great is the multiple ways a single Mario leap can manifest in multiple different ways. String three together and you go higher each time or do a crouch jump and you do a somersault. The occasional Cape or Raccoon Tail only adds to the fun, and let’s not forget to mention his jumps are also his main form of combat.
The Prototype games were great because the character’s insane strength was emphasized by the player’s ability to run up buildings or even leap right over them. Sunset Overdrive let you grind across virtually any surface – and much like Doomguy’s speed – it made the gameplay fast and ferocious, not to mention it incentivised you to stay off the ground. This grinding ability hails back to InFamous, where you could grind across telephone wires in the first game. In the second game these wires were inexplicably placed vertically up buildings, and I loved it.
Second Son gave you some amazing dash abilities; smoke let you teleport a short distance, neon let you run at high speeds across the map, video let you shoot briefly up and over buildings, and concrete turned your running into bulldozing. The immediacy of abilities like this not only alter gameplay, but they make the minute-to-minute gameplay more engaging, addicting even. This was the success of Spider-Man 2, and what remains the biggest concern for players in the anticipation of the latest Spider-Man reboot.
We need to pay better attention to the way game’s make us move around the world, and call for better, more innovative solution’s to travel than a fast travel and loading screen. If you agree or disagree, let me know in the comments, or tweet me at @chadmwilson
#The Best Part of Any Video Game Has Been and Will Always Going To Be Animations