The gripes of wrath. (complaints about computer game design) (Column)
by Orson Scott Card
Every now and then, instead of dealing with one of the Grand Themes of the Art of Computer Game Design, I like o devote a column to gripes.
Copy protection. Copy protection is both annoying and necessary. Game theft really is a problem, especially when a game is new. And yet the schemes used to keep us from pirating are sometimes truly awful. Fortunately, the key-disk scheme seems to have vanished, though in some games its vestiges linger.
I don't know whether Sierra On-Line has stopped having its games check for a change in location on the hard disk. (If there is a change, the game will assume it has been illegally copied and won't run.) The reason I don't know is that after I had a hard disk crash and couldn't reinstall any of my Sierra games without sending for new disks, I decided to forget it. I haven't installed a Sierra game since.
The schemes that depend on reading complex codes in black ink on purplish brown paper are both ineffective and annoying. My Xerox copies of the code sheets are actually more readable than the originals, which proves that the scheme is useless. Photocopying code sheets is as easy as copying a game program.
Code wheels make me crazy. I can never find them, since I always put them away in a place where I'll be sure to find them next time, but it's never the same place twice.
The best copy-protection scheme is low price, of course. That's why people don't photocopy my novels--the copy costs would be greater than the cost of a new book off the shelf. But the next best scheme is the one that Railroad Tycoon uses. The game makes you identify a picture of a locomotive and pick its name from a list. At first this requires you to have the thick manual with you whenever you play. But the more you play it, the more familiar you become with all the locomotives so that, eventually, you can get past the copy-protection test without the manual. What a great idea! When you become really familiar with the game, you can earn the right to get rid of the code sheet because the code is real information that you learn by playing the game.
Startup screens. OK, when you first play a game, it's nice to get that logo identification and enhance the name recognition of the publisher. But the 50th time you play the game, waiting to get rid of the publisher's logo can be so maddening that you begin to associate that publisher's name with deep feelings of loathing. And no title screen is so pretty that you want to see it again and again (and again).
Of course, the worst offender in this regard is Microsoft with its infuriating Windows startup logo display. Good thing the company didn't do that with MS-DOS in the first place, or we'd all be using Macs by now.
This applies also to repetitive messages that display for a fixed length of time. When you know what the message is going to be, why must it stay on the screen for seconds? Going from level to level in Rattler Race, for instance, always involves an annoying wait.
And please! Enough with requiring us to respond with meaningless clicks in Windows games. Why is it that at the beginning of every Tetris for Windows game I must click on OK to prove I've read the title screen? Having to do this is as bad as getting the endless Prodigy messages that require me to press Esc in order to get on with whatever I'm trying to do.
Option shortages. Is it laziness, or is there a Philosophy of Limited Choices that I haven't heard about? I can't understand why Tetris for Windows, for instance, doesn't allow you to clear the vanity board without reinstalling the game. (The secret: When you first install the game, copy the file TETRIS.HST to a file named something like TETORIG.HST. Then when you want to clear the vanity board, copy TETORIG.HST back on top of TETRIS.HST, and you'll have the original clean board again.) Fortunately, Super Tetris solved this problem.
Why is it that some games still don't give you the option of loading a saved game from inside the program, instead of making you go back and start the whole game over again?
Let me just point out that I never get this annoyed with games that I'm not playing over and over again. I only gripe about games I love. I want to like them better!