Gw Temp


Article - 'Game Clichés' by Lycurgus

An item about Game Design posted on May 17, 2004


A look at clichés in games, the ones we usually take for granted.


You know what they are, even if you don't know it. The chosen one. The exploding barrel. The crate. They're all part of a twisted zodiac of game design that finds references in pretty much every game in recent memory. Some are good, and some are bad, but they're all repeated over and over. But why?

Water of Death.
The mightiest heroes in gaming fold like paper dolls when they face the most abundant resource on the planet. Water has long been the bane of video games. "How does a hero who can slay mighty beasts, crush his enemies, and scale the highest mountain to save the kingdom die by stepping in water?" If it's explained it's fine like "The water is really cold! or really toxic."

Escort Service.
You know the scenario: You are the hero, charged with protecting a helpless person, animal, capital ship, or zeppelin through enemy infested territory. Not only must you keep from dying yourself, but you must also make sure the poorly scripted moron makes it through alive as well.
Escort missions are like dating: You have to do it, it goes slower than you want it to, you have to pretend to care about the other person, it sucks when you have to start over, and you lose interest once you get what you want. But we keep dating, don't we?

Get more orbs.
When Super Mario 64 came along it changed the industry. Not only did it feature compelling platform gameplay in three dimensions, but it also ushered in the age of the collectable orb. Nowadays, this cliché is seen most often in less imaginative platformers, which require you to seek out huge numbers of orbs, stars, or jiggies to continue on with the game.

Stealth levels had a stunning mainstream debut in Thief: The dark Project, and were perfected in Metal Gear Solid, but since then almost every action, shooting or adventure game has featured stealth missions in one way or another. "Stealth levels in non-stealth games suck. Period. You're playing a tight little twitchy action-packed shooter, and then they put in a 10-minute snore-fest of crappy camera dodging and enemy avoidance. [They're] the worst thing that has ever happened to a good game since dream sequence level of Max Payne." I don't like being forced to put my guns away. If I have guns, then damn it, I am going in hard. If done right, [stealth missions] can be really fun. If not done right, tedious. The challenge here is to make this gameplay exciting and challenging, not just a way to conveniently use your sniper rifle on every poor sap on the level.

Treasure popping out all over.
You're in a big street rumble. You get the upper hand and knock out one of the bad guys. As he hits the ground (and begins blinking in preparation to disappear forever), a giant roasted turkey pops out of him and lands in the street. Your first impulse: walk over and eat that thing before someone else does. Most power-ups are just plain silly but convenient, so you rarely give them a second thought. It always cracked me up when a Broadsword would pop out of some wolf you just killed. I mean where on earth was he hiding it? And how about the powerful items that pop out from enemies? If they were so great, why didn't they use them?

Chosen for what?
It seems like these days no one can be a hero without first being chosen. Fate intervenes in a young character's life and chooses him or her to go out and defeat evil. This is a major plot in the RPG world, but shows up in other places as well.
But it would suck to play the other 99 percent of dudes who are destined to fail. I am far more interested in the counter to this cliché, the hero who starts out ordinary, with nothing but determination, then crushes everyone in his path on the way to cosmic superhero rockstar status. Someone who obtains importance by working for it, rather than being chosen by fate. 'Young wannabe from Timbuktu who becomes the hero,' the 'I can't remember anything hero,' 'the boy who lost his parents and goes on a revenge spree hero,' 'the reluctant hero,' 'The accidental hero.'

Crate expectations.
One of the most universally maligned clichés in gaming happens to be the hapless crate. They do have multiple uses, but whether used to store power-ups, block paths, or trigger puzzles when pushed onto pressure plates in the floor, crates have somehow earned the critical eye of the industry.
Crates seem to be a mainstay of games, from platforms games like Whiplash to hardcore shooters like Max Payne 2. Some games use them for puzzles, as seen in the Legacy of Kain games, while RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic return crates to their original use by packing them full of treasure and items. One of the most-heard questions whenever a publisher shows a platform game these days is, "Will there be crates?" Crates are reviled, not because they're annoying or boring, but simply because they're everywhere.

More fun than a barrel of nitro.
The dangerous cousin to the crates; carefully arranging barrels of highly flammable material to ensure the most destruction in the smallest space seems to be in every modern and future secret lair builder's handbook. These days, any time you see crates in a game, you can be sure explosive barrels can't be far away. Think about it a moment. When have you ever seen an explosive barrel in real life? Yet they're everywhere in games, especially placed exactly where a stray bullet or whirling marsupial can set them off in violent, health-meter-depleting fashion. "Mixing up the gameplay with them - such as letting players tip and roll the barrels to then blow them up as they hurtle into the middle of a pack of goons can do a lot to breathe new life into this cliché."