Game Designers, Don’t Do This

(Talking video games, mind, not RPG’s.)

I hate this: Video game designers go to great lengths and expense to make fancy game engines, with pixel shaders and HDR lighting and dozens of other features, all to make games that look great on a 42″ HDTV flatscreen. Some are just strikingly beautiful, real works of art. Then, in a move of baffling stupidity, they include something — a spell, a piece of gear, a targeting mode — that makes their exquisite graphics look like ass.

In Oblivion, it was the nighteye spell. Suddenly, everything is blue. All the cool scenery, creatures, all the color… and we see it in blue-and-white. Cheers, guys. Great choice.

Resident Evil 6: the wayfinder prompt. Click the button to see where the game wants you to go, and the entire screen goes gray-and-white. For no good reason. You’re not under a spell, or looking through a scope. Just gray. Looks terrible.

In (the otherwise pretty neat) Resident Evil 4, it was the special infrared scope you had to use on the Regenerators. It was especially irritating in this game, because Regenerators were genuinely freaky. The way they moved, their implacable forward motion, the instant kill when they got to you… they were unnerving. This is a horror game. It’s supposed to be unnerving.

So the designers take this genuinely unnerving monster, and in the most critical moments, when it’s getting closest to eating your goddamn face off, they turn it into this:

Infrared Scope
Scary, isn’t it?

A child’s finger-painting. A red, blue, yellow, and green blob. Ooohhh. Scary.

I can accept it in modern war games, like Modern Warfare (and its clones). Night vision goggles are supposed to look green. But why the hell does that have to be the case in Oblivion? Makes no sense.

The only games that do this right are Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach. There, the night vision was just the faintest green shimmer over the regular colors, and enemies had colored silhouettes. The whole effect looked really cool, not just blue-and-white, green-and-white, or gray-and-white. It worked.

Most of the time, it doesn’t. So seriously, video game designers, don’t do this. You spent the money on visuals supposed to knock our socks off, why do the one thing guaranteed to turn all that scenery porn into… well, a child’s finger-painting.

It’s just stupid, ‘kay?

[Obligatory gaming reference: Don’t put really cool stuff in your game rules or setting, then accidentally or intentionally eviscerate them. Good ideas are rare, good implementations are rarer. Don’t screw up yours, especially on purpose.]

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