The perfect game does not exist. This is because there is no game without frustrations, large or small. It is a pain to be forced to buy and sell single units of items at a time, or experience a poor checkpoint system that doesn’t adequately comprehend where difficulty may lie in a level. Frustrating and time-wasting features are everywhere! The unsung heroes that counter these inconveniences are called quality of life improvements.
‘Quality of life’, in gaming, refers to trimming away all the time a player wastes dealing with unnecessary hindrances. As I mentioned above, games can be rather obtuse and forgetful when it comes to grasping just how annoying something can be to a player when they do it a thousand times. Why make me drag a slider to determine the number of items I want to buy when I can just type an exact number on my keyboard? Why make me scroll down a list when I could use search to find what I am looking for far more quickly?
Most quality of life improvements go unnoticed,since that is in their nature. We only notice when the improvements are lacking. As such, I want to devote this article to the unsung heroes: the quality of life improvements so useful and so essential, that most players often don’t even realize how frustrating it would be if they were not present; the features that you always notice when they are not present.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find many games today that lack autosave completely, there was a time when this was not the case. Even so, many games still handle this poorly. Power outages, distractions, and all manner of other factors can put a player into a situation where hours of progress can be lost without an adequate autosave feature. Of course, many will respond by saying the solution is simply to save often. But people can be forgetful; and while I admit this is a weird application of it, this is victim blaming.
The solution is never to manually save more, it’s to create an autosave feature that accommodates players suitably. Thankfully, quicksave, the ability to save quickly (surprise!), is a common workaround that makes manual saving less arduous. All it takes is one key or button press and your game is saved. Still, autosave is one of the most underrated features to grace gaming. It saves me from having to break my F5 key every year from spamming quicksave.
2) Fast Travel Orientation
Fast travel itself is an expected feature in gaming, especially larger games, but it’s certainly not underrated. However, a feature many players never think of involves the way a game chooses to orient players when arriving at a destination. In fact, its safe to say that most players never even thought about this. In a game that orients players properly, a player will never even notice. But when a player arrives at their destination facing completely opposite of their desired location, it can be more than annoying. I’ve recently been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Though I’m having a great time playing it, one thing I’ve noticed is that it does not orient a player well at all when arriving at destinations via fast travel.
For example, in Inquisition, the player has a home base – a castle called Skyhold. When fast travelling to Skyhold, the game will place the player in a position where the entrance to the main hall is at their eight o’clock. It is a weird way to orient the player that often results in the player walking away from the entrance they sought in the first place. I manage to walk the wrong way almost every time for a half minute before even noticing! Inquisition is only one of many that commit this travesty. I encourage players to pay attention to where they face and where they are positioned upon arriving at fast travel destinations. You may be surprised at how inconvenient and disorienting it is when a game does this poorly.
3) Loading Screen Content
In the eight generation of consoles, loading times are brutal. This is mainly a problem on console, but even some PC games cannot avoid the long load times becoming increasingly prevalent in modern games. Map sizes, texture quality, and environments become larger and more complex with every iteration. It takes gaming systems time to load all that in. Most games provide some form of entertainment for the player to interact with while the game loads.
There are spinning character models, little pieces of lore, game tips, and even some mini-games that the player can play around with while they wait. This is a nice solution for some of the longer loading screens, but there is a limit to how many times you can swirl around a model with a smile on your face. If the loading time is over a couple of minutes, you need something else to keep the player entertained. No one wants to just sit around and wait for their game to load!
My favorite is putting lore in the loading screens – I tend not to read lore descriptions in games often, but I make use of my time to read them when my game is loading. I’ve got nothing else to look at, and I appreciate seeing it. In an effort to be even-handed, I’ll compliment Dragon Age: Inquisition for this. The game lets the player read three codex entries (journals of all the lore entries in the game) in each loading screen. In Dragon Age, the codex is expansive and extremely well written, and the three entries usually fit perfectly for the length of load time. I hope to see this feature used more often, and built upon in the future.
4) Menu Sorting
As a predominantly PC gamer, this one hurts. That being said, even for a console players many user interfaces leave much to be desired. Too many games today give players atrocious menus that take ages to sift through. The worst of these in recent memory, for me, is Halo 5: Guardians. Though an extremely entertaining game (*cough* in multiplayer), the multiplayer menus are a disgrace. The guns, armors, skins, and other customization options are terribly organized and impossible to sort.
The best menus give the player the ability to sort in multiple ways, such as value, or weight. But the worst menus don’t even organize alphabetically. Bumbling around in bad menus for extended periods is a waste of everybody’s time, and no great way to keep a playerbase high. The more inconvenient it is to interact with a game’s systems, the more likely a player is to give up and move on. I don’t want to spend three minutes trying to change the skin on my weapon!
Quality of life features make the difference between a good game and a great one. It is sometimes shocking to see how quickly frustration evaporates when quality of life features are put to use. Keep them in mind, for too many games forget about all but the most common of features.