My feature wishlist for (PC) games

I have a confession to make, I’m a gamer and I play computer games. In fact I spend a substantial fraction of my free time playing them and have done for over thirty years. From Pong to Fallout New Vegas I’ve literally played thousands of games spanning every genre you can think of (well nearly every genre, some of the Japanese ones creep me out).

Nowadays I mostly play PC games and tend to enjoy FPSs. As a father of two noisy demanding young boys I find there is something quietly cathartic about hurling virtual lead at computer generated hoards after a hard days parenting. There are, however, certain aspects of PC gaming that I find irritating and wish I could change, in nearly all cases they relate to how games are configured and the options (or lack thereof) available to the player.

So here is my wishlist of features I believe should be standard in all (PC) games:

Let me see what the characters are saying

I have relatively good hearing, probably on a par with Professor Farnsworth but I still find it highly beneficial to read what the characters are saying. I can generally read faster than the characters can speak so I often skip ahead to the next chunk of dialogue, after all I’m a busy guy with people to kill.

A useful optional extra would be subtitles for sound effects (and an indication of their direction), for hearing impaired gamers.

5% of your customers are color blind

Apparently 60% of gamers are male and generally 7-8% of those suffer from some form of color blindness (fortunately it’s not something I suffer from myself). Nearly 5% of all gamers have to endure this problem. Game developers stop ignoring 1 in 20 of your customers! Would you want 5% less customers? Provide options to change colors and be aware of how color affects gameplay, this guy can help you.

Let me adjust the brightness in game… and restore the original brightness when I exit

Generally only “horror” games allow you to change the darkness setting, developers seem to believe that only a Scooby Doo style spookiness is scary. Adjusting how dark things are should really be standard in all games. I don’t like dark games, Amnesia is not scary because it is full of dark corners. Personally I like to able to see what I’m doing.

The reticle, it’s my choice

For FPSs let me change the size, shape and color of the reticle, the default color is nearly always a bad choice.

Key remapping

There are few games that don’t do this nowadays but it’s vital that this feature is always present, especially for left hand gamers like me and those who don’t want to use WASD for movement.

There are two related but equally important points for key mappings:

Save key mappings as the defaults for other games

This really needs to happen but I’ve yet to see it. I generally use the same keys (where possible) for the same actions for all games, like most basement dwelling gamers I’m a creature of habit. My hands are used to certain keys and their location are convenient/natural for my fingers. I like to use Ctrl for crouch and Shift for run, R for reload and 1, 2, 3, 4 etc for weapon/item quick selection. I should be able to save these as the defaults for a particular game and have my choices reused in other games.

You would think this is an obvious thing to implement but even games from the same stable (Valve, Bethesda and so on) don’t have this nifty feature. This is a shame because it’s not difficult to implement and there are plenty of “standard” places on Windows based PCs where such information can be stored. A Windows user even has their own “Games” directory. A config file in that directory (or heaven forbid the registry) containing the keys mapped to the names of actions should be possible.

Use the same keys for the same actions

Most of the time this happens. In general, for PC games at least, W is forward, S is backwards and so on. But this is not always the case, for example I’m currently playing Call of Cthulhu and X is the default key for backwards. There needs to be an industry standard mapping of keys to actions or if not (and they are not mutually exclusive) implement the saving of key mappings described above as the defaults for other games. However I have little hope that this will happen any time soon. I used to work in the standards industry so I foresee the chances of a standard emerging being slightly greater than my four year old son becoming Pope, being awarded the Nobel prize for Physics and winning the Icelandic Lottery all on the same day.

Change the screen resolution while playing the game

All games should implement this and, to be fair, most do. It should be a standard feature. Most importantly though it should be possible to change it in game. Having to set a resolution, launch the game and then have to exit to change the resolution again is annoying (and yes, it’s not on a par with the current problems in the middle-east but a basement dweller can dream can’t he?).

Use my monitor’s current resolution as the default

The resolution my monitor is currently at is the one I like, I know because I set it. The game should use it too. If there are issues related to performance then let me work that out and I’ll dial down the resolution until my overheating graphics card has got it’s breath back. And again, let me change the resolution in game so I can work out what’s best for me whilst I’m playing.

Allow me to save the current resolution as the default for other games

Can you spot the theme here? If I’m playing one game at 1920 * 1080 why the hell would I want to play another at 1024 * 768? I’d like the game to use my specified gaming default when I first play and if one isn’t available then fall back to my monitor’s current resolution.

Let me run the game in a window

All games need this. Game developers need to stop thinking that playing their game is the only thing I’m doing. I fluctuate between “busy I’ve got fifteen minutes casual gamer” and “hardcore this is gonna be a long session gamer”. It’s not unusual for me to be doing something else whilst playing a game. I like to have games in windows so I can pause, go do something else then come back to the game later. Running games in windows also prevents problems with changes in resolution between the game and the desktop. When you Alt+Tab out of a full screen game if your desktop is running at a different resolution then your windows can jump around your monitor(s). I also find that full screen games don’t always play nice when you have a multiple monitor setup, sometimes the game will lose focus as the mouse moves to another monitor and the game will be minimized leaving you wondering what the hell just happened. (Addendum: if you play Batman: Arkham Asylum in a window then the mouse can leave the window whilst playing which is equally annoying as not being able to leave.)

Pause the game when the mouse leaves the window

This means pause the action and pause any music/sound effects currently playing, I’m looking your way Borderlands. When I move the mouse out of the window then it means I want it to be quiet and stop what it’s doing.

Let the mouse leave the window when the game is paused

Some games, Fallout New Vegas is but one offender, won’t let the mouse leave the window when the game is paused. There is no good reason for this, when I’ve paused the game let me leave the damn window.

Alt-Tab nicely

Games are getting better at this and I think that Windows (especially Windows 7) is improving in how it handles Alt-Tab for heavyweight processes like games. Game developers need to realize though that their game is not the only party happening on my machine at any given time. When I Alt-Tab out to do something else the transition should be crisp and responsive and, more importantly, when I return to the game I shouldn’t be staring at a black patch of screen for 20s waiting for it wake up again.

I want to exit quickly

There is a tendency for game developers to believe that they know better than you about how you want to play the game. When I invoke the rather esoteric and crab-finger inducing combination of Alt and F4 it means I want to stop playing… now. I don’t mind the game asking me if I want to save my progress, that’s a nice touch but if I click “Cancel” on the helpful “Do you really want to Quit?” box it means I want the game to exit immediately.

F5 means save, F9 means load

F5 is the most important for me and too many games don’t do this. When I hit that key it means I want to save… now and I don’t want to have to select a save game file/location for it either. I don’t care how the save occurs, I’d just like it to happen. Fallout New Vegas handles this nicely with separate saves for Quick, Auto and normal saves. F9 (or a similar key) is not as important (for me at least) but being able to load quickly from my last save is certainly a nice to have.

Have separate volume controls for music, voice and sound effects (and they should work)

I found Mass Effect to be horrendous for this. The sound effects drowned out the speech and it was far too difficult to sort the problem out (which I eventually did). Most of the time the balance of these three audio items is pretty good by default but it should be up to me whether I want loud pew pews or not.

I should be able to save the game at anytime, anywhere

The only exception I make here is for skill based games such as Super Meat Boy where saving at an inappropriate moment can cause an infinite death loop. Other than that there is no excuse for this. I should be able to save anywhere at anytime.

Allow me to specify a save directory

The cloud is nice and all but I’d still like to have my saved games in a place that I specify, on a drive/network of my choice where I can back them up. Currently save games can wind up all over the place and the player has no idea where they are. Valve games are particularly bad for this, for reasons I’m unclear on I have over a hundred save games in: E:\Games\Steam\steamapps\gary\half-life 2\hl2\SAVE. I have no easy way to configure where the saves go, I had to go hunting for the directory mysefl and no easy way to manage the plethora of files I have inexplicably collected.

I want to skip through cut scenes

There are still games that make you sit through long, dull on the second time round, cut scenes. If I’ve died four or fives during a boss fight for the love of Jeebus don’t make me sit through a two minute expository scene where said boss drones on and on about his father issues and why I’m going to die in a truly horrible way because I don’t acknowledge him as Master of the Universe.

Studio, publisher and graphic card logos are of no interest to me

If you must show me this crap when your game starts up, do it once and once only, I really don’t need to see it every time I play the game. Some games allow you to press Escape to skip them but most don’t. I don’t need to know who made the game every time, I didn’t remember the first time I played, I’m going to make a point of not remembering on the second, third or fiftieth time as well. Borderlands’ custom NVIDIA logo is cute, maybe, the first time you see it but it quickly becomes as annoying as a claptrap on subsequent viewings. You want to show me that kind of junk? Weave it into the game or show it to me on the game’s landing screen. Remember Metal Gear Solid? That’s how you weave non-game information into the game itself. And no I shouldn’t have to edit an esoteric config file to make them go away.

Make DLC available through the game itself

Ever tried to get the DLC for Fallout 3 (prior to the GotY edition being released) and actually play it? My recent two hour mouth surgery under a local anesthetic was less painful. If I hadn’t paid for the stuff then I wouldn’t have bothered, the hoops you had to jump through to make it happen was an exercise in masochism. Borderlands did this right. DLC should be seamlessly integrated into the original game, I shouldn’t have to download the damn thing myself, via the poopfest that is Games for Windows, and then try find where the poopfest has decided to save it then manually install it.

Don’t use Games for Windows

It’s insipid shit, you want to DRM your game? Fine, use Steam. At least it works and Gabe Newell’s anal probe is nowhere near as intrusive as Steve Ballmer’s. I am tired of the number of times I have tried and failed to login to GfW, or logged in only to be confronted by an update that I must download first then must accept the new terms and conditions then must login again. It’s as if they don’t want you to play the damn game.

So that’s the must haves out of the way, now onto some nice to haves.

In game tutorials on how to play

Nearly all games have this in one form or another nowadays, so I won’t harp on. A good well though tutorial that shows rather than tells is best.

Advanced graphic configuration

Anti-aliasing, bloom, dynamic shadows, ambient occlusion, fog volumes, shadow maps, real-time reflections, anisotropic filtering, view distance, hdr, vertical sync, blah, blah blah… I’m a man and really I’d like a single “make game prettier” button. But, in all fairness, these are useful options to have even though I’ve little idea what most of them actually do. Just Cause 2, if my memory serves me correctly, had a nice “graphics preview” option that played a relatively complex scene out as a trial of how your graphics card will hold up during play and then adjusted it’s settings accordingly. That would be nice to see in all games (where necessary of course, Super Meat Boy isn’t going to need this).

Support for control pads

Ever tried to play the Lego Harry Potter on a PC? It’s an exercise in frustration with the keyboard but a dream with a gamepad (I play it for my son, get off my back!). Yes the game was designed for consoles and the control system wasn’t ported over to take advantage of how you play games on PCs but not everyone wants to use the keyboard to play games. Well thought out gamepad support is a nice to have.

So there you have it, my big list of features I think PC games should have. To be fair some developers are better than others at providing these features and yes I know that a lot of it depends upon the underlying engine used (in which case they are features I’d like the engines to support). But let me be clear, they are not big issues and they are not deal breakers, they are like acne, a couple of spots on your face can be annoying but they’re not going to ruin your day. However, if you find yourself being chased by angry villagers with pitchforks and you have to break out the Proactiv then you know there is a problem.

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