Precedent is a powerful force.It is so powerful that it is one parent of two other powerful forces: expectation and tradition. American history students know that George Washington, simply by being the first President and improvising as necessary, created artifacts of government that persist today. Video games have their own artifacts. Which of these artifacts are part of the enriching tradition that implies culture, and which are burdens of expectation that impede progress?
The title screen is an artifact of the "attract mode" setting of arcade software. Attract mode is the cycle arcade software repeats when there are no players, and is designed to entice players to part with their quarters.The mode usually consists of gameplay video, artistic video similar to a cutscene but not one of the actual cutscenes in the game, a warning not to do drugs, and the title screen in case there is no cabinet art.
|A common anti-drug message seen in arcades|
Somehow, title screens persisted in software as the software moved out of the arcade, moved past the need to entice players considering the sale is already made, and moved away from functionality altogether.The worst offenders are title screens that simply state "Press Start." Enough players, upon inserting a disc or running the program, want to start from the last checkpoint reached (if continuing the game) or simply begin (if starting the game for the first time) that it is worth inconveniencing players who want to select a different checkpoint or select different options by making the latter press start during the game rather than making the former press start before the game. It will be remarkable when, upon starting the latest triple-A title and leaving the room, the player can return seeing that she has died thirty times because not only was the title screen abolished, but the "You are dead.Press start to continue." screen was similarly abolished.
|An Easter egg inAdventure|
Easter eggs are artifacts of pride, conspiratorial fun, or revenge by creators who are sometimes denied the attribution they deserve. In any event, they have become part of the rich heritage, lore, and tradition of the industry. They show us the human side of what can seem like an impersonal relationship between creators and customers.
Lives are artifacts created by the necessity of extracting more quarters out of the player. The notion of lives is the implementation of a time limit based on skill rather than time itself, which would no doubt be unpalatable. Also, being a game of skill is an important differentiator in the eyes of those legislating against games of chance. An artifact begat by lives was the concept of continues. In most instances, losing a life restarted a level, but using a continue restarted a larger increment than a level. Most likely, this resulted from software that was unable to retain the particular state of the player. That lives and continues made it out of the arcade was inevitable, as authentic arcade gameplay was the barometer of success of the console. Perhaps the price of one game was set at the value of quarters the average player would use to complete the arcade version. Speculation aside, lives and continues lasted longer than necessary in games where they served no function.
|In Super Mario Bros. 3, there are many ways to get many lives|
|In Wario Land 3, there are no lives|
Code modification is an artifact of curiosity, enthusiasm, and respect for the game by the player. A player that cares enough about a game to go under the hood to increase replayabilty by tweaking rulesets and physics is the kind of loyal customer any business would love. It is the height of short-sightedness for a creator to reproach the player for not playing the game as it was expected to be played. Note that the code modification discussed here differs in degree from code modification that arouses a moral rights issue. Preventing code modification that rises to the level of defacement and besmirching the creators product by making the game behave in inappropriate ways relative to the target audience is separable from the above. Similarly, an effort to profit off the code of another can be distinguished from the love letters freely offered by loyal customers. The differences between the loyal customer and the profiteer or defacer are usually much wider than creators care to admit. Code modification merely takes advantage of the level of interactivity so unique in the industry by giving the customer an alternate avenue of feedback than the usual complaints and comments department. As such, this artifact is worth preserving.
|Ryu Hyabusa and his health bar|
The health bar, and HUD in general, is an artifact of limited memory. Each piece of information in the HUD was a placeholder for when memory caught up to the point where the information could be displayed intuitively, naturally, and realistically. For example, in order to reuse sprite animations, the health bar placeholder was devised. As such, Simon Belmont and Ryu Hyabusa did not need to be redrawn in various states of disrepair, which would consume copious amounts of creator time and software memory. These limitations are inapplicable today, yet Hyabusa remains freshly modeled even on the verge of death. Progressive fighters allow the hiding of health bars, injecting a fun suspense in matches, but Ken and Ryu (no relation) do not receive black eyes after being hit in the eye during the match; nor does some part of their clothing burn off after being hit with a fireball.
|Ryu and his health bar 11 years later|
It is possible that the flagship character of a series should not be depicted as bloodied or bruised, and it is also possible that a sorely wounded Ryu (either) still able to jump with the agility of a fresh Ryu would appear dissonant, but there are subtler ways to represent the gamut of health states. It may even be a fun challenge to decrease the ability of wounded characters.Usually, attempts at realism taken too far would take the fun out of the game, and while no one would consider adding tedious tasks in order to inject realism, the placeholders of the HUD are ripe for revisiting. Similarly, cutscenes themselves are an artifact of limited memory.
Hit point inflation is an artifact of marketing.Screenshots of upcoming games with characters and enemies having higher hit points are a regular part of the fuel of hype machines. While hit point inflation can be implemented for more nuanced gameplay, allowing finer gradations of battle scenarios using only integers, having hit points reach the million mark is far more nuance than could ever be efficiently implemented.As such, the tactic is revealed as a marketing tool disguised as gameplay. While marketing has a respected place in the budget in every enterprise, and certainly adds to the bottom line, effective marketing need not be deceptive.
Reviewing the list, it is mostly the artifacts of technology that shackle and the artifacts of human nature that set free. Even George, that precedential President, would approve.