So I have recently been playing Strike Suit Zero, a great little space shooter (there may be a review in the near future). While I was watching one of the in-game cinematics occur, during which a character was delivering some background story, something happened that would normally ruin a gameplay moment for me.
The phone rang.
In random desperation, I hit the Escape button - and, to my complete and utter shock, I was brought to the game's menu, with the cinematic paused in the background. And once I had talked to my mother for a few minutes and was ready to play some more, I hit Escape again, the menu went away, and the cinematic continued right where it was when I paused it.
All developers who don't work for Born Ready Games: I know that life can be hard, and I know that making games isn't easy. But for the love of all the good gods, why can't you let me pause the cinematics in your games? I want to be able to experience and enjoy the content you've created, but my real life must take precedence. Surely that makes sense... right?
Many games allow you to skip cinematics (often I skip them accidentally when I am trying to pause them, and then they are lost forever, only to be seen again on YouTube), but SSZ is the first game I've encountered where I can actually tap a single button and leave the game when something happens in real life, and not have to miss parts of the experience in order to do so.
So with that in mind, I thought I'd write up a brief list of other small ways game designers can respect their players as adults, things I too should keep in mind in the future when designing games. There are minor complaints, tiny in the grand scheme of things, but they nevertheless prevent me from having an entirely smooth experience with a game.
Let Us Pause Everything
I mostly covered this above, but let's add that pausing gameplay is also important. Most games let you do this by opening the main menu, while a few also have a separate pause function (which might even allow gameplay, like in Age of Empires II where you can still issue orders while the game is paused, making micromanagement so much easier), but there are in fact a few games that don't even let you pause the gameplay. Seriously, Terraria? Come on!
Let Us Skip Intro Reels (Or Don't Have Them)
I understand that it's nice to remind players of your brand, and that there are legal obligations, in big games, to tell players about all your development partners - but oh how I wish it wasn't so. Many games let you skip some intro reels, and some use these intro reels as a disguise for loading game components; honestly, though, a loading screen provides more appreciable feedback, at least as far as I'm concerned. At least one game I've played recently, Shadowrun Returns, does exactly this - no intro reel of any kind, only an upfront and honest loading screen informing me that the game is caching required assets. I'm fine with that.
Games that force you to wait through the loud and flashy logo dances of three or four different companies are really annoying. I want to play your game, folks! And when I only have 20-30 minutes for a game, I'll go for one that lets me jump into the action that much quicker. Save it for the credits - which I often actually do watch.
Let Us Quit To Desktop
So what's up with games where, in order to quit, I have to abandon the mission, navigate through the failure screen, go to the level select screen, exit to the main menu, and then finally escape? Especially when there are actual load times before reaching the main menu. I'd like a button I can access directly from the in-game menu that immediately gets me out of the whole game.
If not, and I suddenly need to get out of the game and go do something else, I'll be more tempted to simply Alt-Tab out of the game and kill its process from the task manager, to save time, especially when a family member is looking over my shoulder waiting for me to go look something up or write an e-mail or something.
Don't make me do that; it's annoying and makes me feel like the game is in my way, which is a negative experience you probably don't want your game associated with.
Let Us Save Anywhere
This one is controversial, so I'll end with this one. I understand completely that save scumming is a player behavior that the designer might not want to have to account for, since it can trivialize the consequences of player decisions; and I understand how some people might feel that if they beat a game by save scumming, they didn't really beat it (though I can't understand people who feel that their experience is ruined when other people may be save scumming).
But I feel like games that only save at set checkpoints are profoundly disrespectful of the player's time. If I need to get up and attend to my life for more than five minutes, I want to be able to save then, not be forced to reload to a point fifteen minutes earlier, or incentivized to put off my real-life obligations just long enough to reach the next checkpoint. Life is not a game or a metagame; I shouldn't have to balance my gameplay decisions with my real-life responsibilities. I understand the technical difficulties involved, but if at all possible, players should have the option to save exactly where they are and not lose any progress.
Regarding save scumming, I think a great solution to this is simply to have a single save instead of multiple saves. I know I've save scummed in games like Mass Effect, where I'd save multiple times in each mission to be able to jump backwards continuously if I found unwanted consequences to my actions. But with a single save the risk of saving yourself into an unwinnable situation, or of overwriting an even more important save point, can counterbalance the desire to constantly save, such that you save when you need to stop, or when it's really strategic, but not every five seconds.
Or, of course, the game could take the no-saves-at-all route, à la Binding of Isaac. If not saving at all is fundamental to the game progression arc, then that's fine.
Bonus point if you don't put checkpoints just before long expository sequences, or space then fifteen to twenty minutes apart. I don't understand why that still happens.