Racing (but mostly ranting) (Subtitles and Tutorials rant)
February 9, 2014 1 Comment
This ostensibly began as a review of Dirt 3, but really I’ve played ~5 minutes or so and can’t really comment on the gameplay all that much. This review will probably end up being something else altogether…
I recently went on a quest to find a decent PC racing game. I love Gran Turismo and Forza and the like, but in order to play those I have to move to the couch, adjust the input on the TV to the appropriate console, find the controller, make sure the god damn disc is in the drive… I wanted to have something on my PC so I could be like “Hmm I want to race cars today” and click an exe and *poof*.
I picked up Test Drive Unlimited 2 in the winter sale on Steam and spent several mindboggling hours with it, marvelling at bad design decisions in controls and terrible voice acting during story cutscenes. The story was added in to make it sorta-kinda like a Grand Theft Auto world, I presume, and the open world was kind of interesting to me, but the story was largely unnecessary and kind of dumb. It didn’t add anything – the story is “you are a racer trying to make a name for yourself and become a champion”. Well no shit, what else are you going to be doing in a racing game? I suppose there could have been curveballs later that make it pay off, but I gave up early for a couple of reasons. 1) The controls and UI were awful. I could have gotten used to them but simply navigating menus was painful and that’s kind of a bad sign in a game that also expects you to have dedicated buttons for fucking turn signals and stuff. 2) There were no god damn subtitles. I am not deaf, but I quite often have the sound low or off while other things happen in the room. I also read a hell of a lot faster than you talk. A racing game (particularly one with a terrible story) is a perfect place to buzz through the subtitles and advance the cutscenes to get back to actually racing cars like I wanted to do when I installed this damn thing.
If you’ve played Dirt 3 you probably know where I’m going next with this review…
Last but not least, 3) The game requires you to create a separate account to log into their servers (something that deserves its own rant entry in the age of Steam), even if you only intend to play single player. Once you’ve done this, it sits there and connects to the server making absolutely sure there have been no updates. Connecting to the server takes an abominable amount of time. The last time I decided to give the game a whirl, it sat on connecting for about a minute, and then I shut it down and uninstalled the game instead of waiting for it to connect. Sorry guys, this is the age of instant gratification, and you failed. I could have gone to the couch and played Gran Turismo in that amount of time!
Then I picked up Dirt 3 in the Humble Weekly Sale. It was a timely sale, coming immediately after I dumped TDU2 into the trash bin. It was very promising – it’s not quite Gran Turismo but I like rally racing too, and the graphics are very shiny (which was another thing TDU2 didn’t really have going for it…). It also starts up immediately instead of fucking around with servers for two minutes. All thumbs up so far!
(Actually it required me to install GFWL despite GFWL being dead, so that was kind of a thumbs down… but they’re still in the process of excising that particular tumor so I let it go.)
I started out in Dirt 3 like I typically do – my headphones were plugged in but sitting on the desk beside me while I listened to something my husband was doing. The game kept hanging on me and I couldn’t figure it out. It was clearly still running but all the button mashing in the world wouldn’t work. Finally the icons would highlight again and I could advance. What the hell is going on here? It cannot possibly be loading anything for that long.
Then I saw it. A speaker icon in the bottom left corner. Oh no.
I picked up my headphones and confirmed. Yup, some douche is talking to me the whole time the game is “frozen”. There are absolutely no subtitle options anywhere in the settings. There are absolutely no ways to skip the dialogue. What’s WORSE: the dialogue is basically “In this event you want to race your car around the track. The goal is to come in first. You come in first by racing your car around the track. In order to race your car around the track, push the button that corresponds to the gas pedal! Coming in first means you win the race. You want to win the race – winning is the whole goal of the race.”
I want to strangle the entire design team responsible for this nightmare. This unskippable, non-subtitled, redundant nightmare.
I have two rants here:
For one, they’re completely leaving deaf people in the cold. You’d think you’d be safe playing a fucking racing game and not having to worry about missing dialogue even if the dickheads responsible for design neglect to include subtitles for you, but now you’re stuck staring at a completely fucking useless speaker icon for several minutes, while some douche explains that the point of this racing game is to race cars. It’s infuriating to me and I have the option of actually listening to the fucker. I can’t imagine how annoying it is if you’re literally just staring at the screen waiting for a chance to continue.
For two, I know how to play a god damn racing game, you ass. I don’t begrudge the inclusion of some instructions, it just makes me angry that they are mandatory. A friend of mine linked a blog entry that talked about design decisions in modern video games. I remember the old days of wading into a new game, getting over my head, then referring to the manual to figure out how to play. Manuals were exciting! I still have my old NES manuals and they’re considered collectors items, and people know how to play those games! Nowadays manuals are extinct (if you’re lucky you’ll get a slip of paper pointing out some of the controls). Instead, gamers are treated like children who must have their hands held through mandatory tutorials, because god forbid they miss the tutorial and become confused.
And in Dirt 3, not only are there mandatory tutorials, but you can’t skip through the instructions. Because god forbid you accidentally hit a button and miss the instructions that the goal of the race is to come in first.
It really is happening more and more. Think of a game you’ve played recently that didn’t have a shoe-horned tutorial in it.
Some games pull it off smoothly – Anno 2070’s campaign is literally all tutorial, progressing slowly from scenario to scenario until you’ve unlocked and used every feature in the game. It makes sense from an in-game point of view, and introduces all the features to new players without any risk of overwhelming them. It was mildly annoying to me because I played an unhealthy amount of Anno 1404, but you have the option of going straight to an open game if you want. Of course, the achievements are to complete the
tutorial err campaign to unlock more scenarios so you probably have to go do it at some point, and the longer you delay the more familiar you will be with any new game features and the more annoying it is to have them “taught” to you.
Some games literally will not let you play until you complete it. Hearthstone annoyed the shit out of me by having an extremely limiting tutorial that was mandatory before you even got to look at the menu screens for regular game play. What’s worse, there were multiple scenarios that took about an hour to get through. An hour before I could even enter the main game. It was so linear that I literally could not play a card that it did not tell me to play. The game only gave you the cards it wanted you to play, so you could just watch a video and have the same damn experience… but in one sequence they must have messed up because I actually had two cards I could have played. I tried playing the other one, just to see if I could. It lightly slapped my hand and said “nuh uh, you need to play THIS one.” I tried just ending my turn rather than following directions (The Stanley Parable was made for people like me), and it incredulously exclaimed “But you still have a card you can play! This one! This one right here (not that one NO you can’t play THAT one didn’t you listen??)” NOT playing the card was a completely valid strategy in that situation I will have you know. But it wasn’t in the script, so I couldn’t proceed until I followed directions. It was much like being in some sort of fascist regime and it made for a bitter and resentful start to my Hearthstone experience.
(Incidentally, Hearthstone ALSO had no subtitles, and I was all geared up to write a rant about that… but they patched them in the very day after I got into Beta. Bullet dodged, Blizzard. Bullet dodged.)
Look, I know there are stupid people out there who will smash the screen and then cry because nothing worked the way they expected to, but I’m getting very tired of having my intelligence insulted. Bring back optional tutorials. Bring back manuals with pretty artwork. Bring back the ability to skip shit I don’t want to sit through. If the gamers cannot understand how your game works, then one of two things has happened: They did not read the instructions, or you created a game that’s hard to understand. Neither of those things should be solved by enforced hand-holding that alienates the people who actually do understand how your game works.