The Developer Checklist

It’s amazing what you can do with games now, and still advancements are being made, but it’s the little things that when all done right give the player a lot of joy. Things we kind of just expect and we bemoan their absence, here is a list of simple to implement stuff to do with games.

High Quality Video Lo-fi Version

Give us the mouse we know and love.
We’re at our desktop most of the time, some games don’t think this type of mouse access is good enough and apply a different filter to the mouse, this generally results in an unplesant experience of wondering why the cursor moves at a different rate in game and responds slower than it otherwise does. Can we just use the underlying OS’s mouse stuff please?

Less control options are not more.
So you’ve finished a game with controller support and you’re doing the port to PC, but PC users use their mouse and keyboard. So you do extra work and specifically disable the controller support, change the UI and then you’re done. Why? Why not do the UI and have that enabled when the user specifies their controls as mouse and keyboard, but let them use the controller if they want, it’s not like you can’t use a controller on a PC, some of us quite like it, especially if you have a control mechanism that lends itself to a pad. Conversely, why assume that a console owner hates the keyboard and mouse, why go to the trouble of disabling keyboard and mouse support, they might want to use it. We may even like to use the in-game console rather than having to re-start a game. Let us change the controls, let us remap buttons, it isn’t that hard, some (well, a lot actually) of us are left-handed and may even want to use the number pad.

Skippable and pausable cut-scenes
To an extent, I don’t mind unskippable cutscenes that you are contractually obligated to do, like the adverts at a beginning of the game, or what licensed middle-ware you’re using (I like to see when a game is using Vorbis, it turns me on). However, some cut-scenes are long, and the phone rings, or the door gets a knock, and again, why not, at least make them pausable. I know it’s possible, and it can’t be that hard, and it is really very nice if you can tap a button, or hell, two buttons, a menu that let’s you skip or pause, don’t want to skip a scene by accident after all. Another great feature that’s easy to implement is the ability to watch unlocked cutscenes from the main menu.

Colour-blind options
Either avoid the need for the option by using colour differentiation in addition to, say, pattern, or just allow an option to switch colours, this one can be tougher if you do it as an after-thought, but if you plan with this in mind it isn’t so bad. Too many people are colour-blind for you to ignore it.

Real widescreen support
Yes, that does mean horizonal+ rather than vertical-, I’m looking at you Unreal Engine. Not stretching HUDs is always good too. Think about it this way, one eye is about 4:3, two eyes are 16:9, when you have one eye closed and you open the other, can you see more to the sides or less vertically? You want me to see less of your beautifully rendered game engine?

Subtitles that tell you what is being said in a game, when it is being said
Some of us live near other people (this may be a slight understatement) and whilst it would be nice to play a game at a cinema volume, this is is not always practical (this may also be a very slight understatement), but we still want to know what is being said in a game. Lots and lots of games now have a subtitles option, and this is a very positive development, but for some reason, and I don’t quite understand why, not all of the dialog will be subtitled. Heck, even when all of it is subtitled, a game can have the infuriating habit of not subtitling cross-talk, you know when a bit of dialog starts during another and then instead of just stacking the subtitle, it just stops the first and proceeds with the next. Films have managed it for years, yes even films made by very small start-ups. Think about having them on by default if you lack an option for narrowing the dynamic range of volume in your title. I have no idea why some subtitles in games are way after or before the dialog is spoken. Fix it. Speaking of volume …

Volume normalisation
This is where the dynamic range of a soundtrack is kept, but the loudest end is set to a pre-determined value, so quiet is still quiet and loud is still loud, but the loudest is below the threshold of distortion. Imagine you’re watching TV, and the ad break starts and you reach for the remote control, because adverts are louder than programs, if they were normalised, ads would be the same volume as programs, they do it to grab your attention. Well, we’ve already got the game, making me reach for the volume is now just an annoyance. There are already free open-source tools you can use to put all your sound files through which will find your loudest track and turn down the others accordingly. When I put in one game and then another, the loudest of the loud explosions in each game should all be at the same volume. This has the nice side effect of always making your sound crisp, undistorted and keeping the punch of percussive sounds since you no longer need to limit and compress everything.

Vertical sync
Just a little option, some of us find screen-tear jarring, and would rather not have a horizonal line on the screen where the bottom half is the last frame when the top has moved on. Yes, we’d even sacrifice an entire half-frame and put up with the extra 8ms of “input lag” to avoid it.

No DLC (Downloadable Content) included on the disc
What I mean by this is the recent (and hopefully short-lived) habit of developers to put stuff on the disc that is locked, and can only be unlocked with a purchase. This isn’t what I feel most gamers mean when they talk about wanting DLC, the point is for some post-purchase support in a game, putting it on the disc and then selling an unlock code just seems like a cynical exploitation of gaming and we have enough of those already. It feels like when we buy a game we aren’t getting the full game, but a locked down version. This is a separate issue to pre-order bonus’ which are fine to me, since it is just a little reward, but not whole sections of gameplay.

On-line distribution and management
Pick one. I mean, seriously, pick one. The two I have the most experience with are LIVE and Steam, they’re both great and cover everything, security, purchase, so why would you want to use both? At the same time. For different bits. It’s just annoying, if I buy a game from Steam, it’s just plain awkward and annoying to then manage a bit of that sale that Steam can manage through LIVE or vice versa.

Meaningful difficulty settings
Gameplay cannot be replaced by difficulty, and have the labels mean something. Here’s a short guide to difficulty. Easy should be easy for the average player. Medium should be in between easy and hard for the average player. Hard should be hard for the average player to play and complete. Being able to change difficulty on the fly is nice, but not necessary. Consider making the difficulty settings change how hard a game is, rather than just the combat. Hard difficulty is never, ever a replacement for gameplay and fun.

Unnecessary reloading
Some games throw away an entire level just to reload the same level in an almost exact same state simply because the player died. The player may not have done anything other than fall off a cliff without really interacting with the level much, but still the game will reload the entire level. It is far better to have some mechanism of resetting the positions of things and undoing actions rather than toss away the entire thing.