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RAGE Problems & Ease of Use in Video Games

Feature; Oct. 10, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Robert F. Ludwick
Subtypes: Opinion
RAGE prompts the question: Should video games be "easier" to use?

Video games cater to a more technologically advanced crowd than virtually every other entertainment industry. The television and movie industries are the easiest to "use" as a consumer. Simply flip on your TV to watch a program at its prescribed time. Or just pop that Blu-ray in and watch.

Sure, there's audio and video connections to make all of this to work. That's just part of having a home entertainment system. Most people can get by using instructions included with their equipment, or a family member can hook things up. There's always services like Best Buy's Geek Squad, which will come and hook up your electronics for a fee. As the television and movie industries stand, they're incredibly simple to use.

The music industry is still easy to use, but not as simple. In the days of cassettes and compact discs, it was as easy as movies. But today, with most of the music world revolving around digital downloads, there are a few more things consumers must do. Load up iTunes or Amazon.com and purchase the music. And then potentially sync the music to your favorite music player. This process has been getting easier as time goes on -- for instance, Apple introducing things like automated downloads to iOS devices. Just the same, music is still a little trickier than television.

And now ... We have video games. Historically, video games have been about as easy to turn on as movies. Be it a cartridge or disc, games have been easy to start up. Nowadays, digital downloads have also permeated our favorite platforms, but those games are easily accessed via menus and are still easier to turn on than music might be. However, gaming on the PC can still be a hairy affair.

RAGE

The easiest example to cite here is RAGE, a recent release from id Software and Bethesda Softworks. RAGE is set in a post-asteroidal future, with humanity attempting to survive after Earth experiences a massive asteroid impact. The game looks beautiful, and so far is very enjoyable to play, offering a wide variety other than simply shooting baddies. Unfortunately, it took entirely too much setup to start playing.

By now, almost everybody is aware of the technical issues that id has been dealing with in getting RAGE to run properly on PC. From texture pop-ins to screen tearing, the game's visual issues haven't yet been 100 percent solved. This kind of thing has been common in PC gaming in general through the years, with nearly infinite hardware combination possibilities that a game could run on. Contrast that with consoles, where the hardware possibilities number in the low double-digits.

This kind of thing really shouldn't happen, though. It should be easy to download RAGE and start playing. I got the game via Steam, so there's a little more work involved as opposed to buying a disc and installing it. Just the same, RAGE should start playing immediately and properly for me when I have it installed. As it was, I couldn't even turn it on from the get-go. It crashed upon launch three times in a row. Being a power user, I knew that I could go into Windows Management and look at the application error logs. From there I saw that the game was crashing in an ATI DLL, which meant it was definitely a video issue (I could have guessed that anyway with the rampant reports of visual issues). If I weren't a power user ... What the hell could I have done to fix the problem? Hell, even technically savvy gamers can sometimes run into issues that confound them. I ultimately had to update my video drivers twice before the game ran properly.

As of now, I still have visual issues. I have tried playing around with all of RAGE's video settings, especially after its most recent patch that surfaces controls for things like VSync. I've gone from very low to very high video settings, and I still have the issues. Thus, I've maxed out all of my video settings because my rig can handle it. Might as well look at a beautiful game with a few artifacts here and there than a not-so-beautiful game with the same artifacts.

iPhone 4
Well, this is easy to use

This isn't ease-of-use. This is beyond ease-of-use. Even though video gamers are generally pretty tech savvy, one should be able to simply download and play a game. They should be easy. Not easy to beat, but easy to use. The recently departed Steve Jobs was all about ease-of-use in Apple's most recent products. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all examples of how ease-of-use drove business and design decisions. Whether or not you like Apple products, you must admit that they are remarkably easy to use. From start up to actual usage to shut down, iOS products are simple, intuitive, and user-friendly.

This has not been the case with video games through the years. Even today. And this is a sore spot for me as the industry goes. Some video game developers and publishers take the approach that the user will be able to deal with whatever challenges are provided, be it video issues that are really a video card driver problem, or complex controls that are not intuitive. This just isn't the right attitude. Video games continue to generate more and more mass appeal, but that kind of progress can only be sustained going forward if games at least have accessibility.

I'm not advocating for games to be easier in terms of core difficulty. In fact, we've seen games get easier and easier to beat because game studios feel that people won't want to buy a game if it's too difficult to beat in the end. While this worry may have legs, this isn't what I'm advocating. A game should be easy to get, easy to install (if necessary), easy to turn on, and easy to control. Allowing the game AI to become a beast and punish you for every mistake is something else entirely, so long as the player has intuitive controls at his disposal, allowing him every chance to take on and defeat the challenging AI.

Steel Battalion Controller
Holy shit... Craptons of buttons!

Ease-of-control is something the video game industry is hit-or-miss with as well. You can easily go online and read reviews of games from this year alone and find a smattering that either laud a game for its great control or punish it because the controls don't respond well or aren't easy to learn. Just look at Capcom's massive Steel Battalion controller. This monstrosity has an obscene number of buttons and controls. I'm sure some people love this sucker and wouldn't play the game without it. But what if this were the required controller? Talk about a game not being immediately accessible.

It's frustrating to see these types of things either overlooked or specifically ignored in video game development. Games should be accessible to everybody with in-game difficulty being the only thing altered.

I hope another RAGE patch comes out that fixes these issues for good. Either that or new video drivers. Either way, it's just something else that I, the gamer, have to deal with just to play a game I've already bought.

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