Games that every other game should copy

Cheating off another student’s test in school isn’t cool. When that student is earning straight A’s and winning all the college scholarships, however, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a look at his or her study habits and maybe think about trying them out for yourself.

End of forced metaphor. What we’re trying to say is that sometimes copying your competitors is okay, even admirable – especially when your competitors are the bar-raising, standard-setting, envelope-pushing geniuses at places like Nintendo, Valve, Rockstar and BioWare. Gamers won’t care or complain if you shamelessly rip off better ideas, as long as that means an industry full of better games. So steal away! Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started...

Contributor: Henry Gilbert


What every game should copy: The cutscene direction

It’s tempting to assume that Uncharted boasts the best cutscenes in all of gaming because of superior motion capture, superior graphics or superior acting. Watch any of the behind-the-scenes featurettes included with Drake’s Fortune or Among Thieves, however, and you’ll discover that developer Naughty Dog’s real secret to success is something much less obvious: a commitment to theatrical tradition that’s equally as strong as the love for technology.

Performers aren’t recorded in different voice booths across different days, weeks or months. They’re together in the same room, playing off each other physically and emotionally after extensive rehearsal time. Directors aren’t worried only about how the sequence will look when transplanted to a digital jungle or temple. They approach each cutscene as if it were a miniature play in front of a live audience that has to work dramatically without any extra bells or whistles. Writers aren’t checking off lines in a finished script. They’re encouraging Nolan North et al. to improvise and offer input, then reshaping the narrative whenever an unexpectedly amazing moment emerges.

This marriage of new and old – of fancy gadgets with proven stagecraft – is what sets Uncharted’s cinematic storytelling apart, and what every competitor needs to copy.

Dead Space

What every game should copy: The seamless HUD

Gaming’s greatest appeal is escapism – the chance to totally lose yourself in another world and another life. That can be difficult to do, however, when the screen – your looking glass entrance to this alternate existence – is cluttered with constant and clumsy reminders that what you’re experiencing is contrived. Health meters. Ammo counts. Mini maps. Inventory. All break the illusion.

But they wouldn’t have to if more games followed Dead Space’s example and seamlessly blended that information (which is usually necessary) into the character’s reality. You know that Isaac Clarke is low on ammo for the same reason that he knows he’s low on ammo – because both of you can see the counter projected by his in-game weapon. You don’t have your own separate menus for map and inventory – you simply peek over Isaac’s shoulder as he opens up his map and inventory.

Obviously, Dead Space has the advantage of a sci-fi setting in which floating holograms can pop up whenever and wherever. With enough creativity, though – like the detective’s journal in L.A. Noire or the audio cues in King Kong – any game of any genre should be able to suspend disbelief. The less HUD, the more immersion.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

What every game should copy: The meaningful collectibles

Collectibles are usually added to a game for one or more of the following reasons: to artificially pad the perceived length of the game, to offer the cheap psychological thrill that comes from hoarding useless stuff or to prevent 100% of the players from earning 100% of the Achievements and Trophies.

By contrast, here are the reasons Arkham Asylum includes collectibles: to flesh out the main story with character profiles and interviews, to reward diehard fans with extra mementos from the dozens of Gotham citizens who couldn’t have appeared otherwise while simultaneously educating less familiar fans on the fascinating lore and history of Batman’s universe and to give players an opportunity to play not just as the face-punching Caped Crusader, but also as the puzzle-solving World’s Greatest Detective.

Most impressively, and most unusually, the collectibles make absolute sense within the game’s parameters. Why is Alan Wake picking up abandoned coffee thermoses in the forest? Why must Banjo and Kazooie hunt down puzzle pieces, musical notes, mystery eggs and honeycombs? No fucking clue. Why is Batman taking the time to track down Riddler? BECAUSE HE’S BATMAN.

Mass Effect

What every game should copy: The fully realized universe

Many games seem to make up their mythologies as they go along, writing the rules of their universes only when forced to by the events of each new game, or worse, leaving the authors of companion novels and comic books to fill in all the blanks. Curious how Master Chief was created in Halo? Oh, that answer exists – you just have to read 416 pages of Halo: The Fall of Reach to find out.

The Mass Effect franchise includes plenty of brand-extending adaptations, too, but they aren’t necessary to understand what’s going on in the world of the games themselves. Are you interested in learning about the Asari’s religion, the Krogans’ politics, the Drell’s biology, the Turians’ military protocol or the Salarians’ mating rituals? Open the Codex. Do you want a complete, date-by-date history of the Citadel Council or Systems Alliance? Open the Codex. Who qualifies as an N7? Open the Codex. Why does medi-gel work? Open the Codex. What powers the Normandy? Open the Codex. How do people in the future type on those little holographic keyboards that float in midair? Seriously, even that is fully explained by Mass Effect’s Codex.

BioWare has already answered every question you might ask and conveniently placed that encyclopedia of information directly in the main menu. Take note, competitors – your fans shouldn’t be charged, or left confused, when they try to dig deeper.


  • oni - May 31, 2011 3 a.m.

    I'm bored. About Halo. Halo is actually copying that community thing from the PC. Where else do you find games releasing mod editors, tools and support for their fans long before Halo did. I've recently returned to Counterstrike after all these years and quite surprised to see people still making mods for it. Yeah that's the game made years before Halo. Actually it wasn't a full game to begin with. It was a mod made by a couple guys with still studying.
  • fatguy19 - May 27, 2011 8:54 p.m.

    I really dont get this fanboy crap. Microsoft and Sony are really just faceless corporations that could not give a shit whether you live or die as long as you buy their products. Why choose between HAlo and Killzone? they`re both great so play them both. Its like Forxa and Gran Turismo why fight over which one is better when they are basically the same game and if you like racing sims then just play both. Idiots who slect sides and then bitch and moan about the opposition are missing out on some great exclusives.
  • Sleuth - May 26, 2011 11:12 p.m.

    Mass Effect's universe is amazing.
  • lovinmyps3 - May 26, 2011 7:42 p.m.

    I think I know which entry Henry contributed.
  • Dondada - May 26, 2011 4:35 p.m.

    "The protagonist diversity" Glad you guys touched this one. Got old really fast playing the same buzz cut, Nathan Drake sounding white guy who for the last 25 years. My GAWD.
  • foxyexplosion - May 26, 2011 8:32 a.m.

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the diversity tag for GTA is right above a number of built, slightly foreign looking males with buzzcuts and a bit of scruff. Where's my sassy black female protagonist? Or my tiny asian male with Jdrama hair? I suppose it shows how they can make the same character in every race...
  • isimikehinde - May 25, 2011 11:55 p.m.

    @ACardAttack-Sorry but Mario does represent change.No single Major Mario game is the same,its like nintendo is always starting again with mario,From Mario 64 break into 3D, to Galaxy's use of spherical and gravity movement, we see mario evolve and alter,thereby,creating game mechanics and level design that drastically alters the game while still holding on to the fundamentals,that is platforming. I can honestly say most games don't take take risk.Most successful games stick to the same thing, E.g Call of Duty,by adding little enhancements like more guns,perks and streak.Until there is competition,they dont drastically change,but Mario didn't need competition.It just kept on reinvinting and it still is.
  • Cloud1Fair3 - May 25, 2011 4:52 p.m.

    I definitely agree that good cinematics=great game. I love games with a great story, but I dislike and have been unable to play games like Oblivion and Fallout. Maybe that's my loss but it's so big and so unattached to the main story if you choose to run around, that I just can't play it. It would help to offer rewards for sticking to the story like amazing cutscenes or something. I think the thing that makes me enjoy linear games more than open world is usually the cinematics and story is more fleshed out in a linear game and it really is a more enjoyable experience where I don't feel like I've wasted 40 hours if it was like reading a good book. Open world and sandboxes are amazing if done right, like most Rockstar games (especially Red Dead Redemption) or Assassins Creed. Sure they're huge and there is a lot to do, but that's just if you want to hit the power button to dick around, but what keeps me coming back is a great story. God of War 3 and Uncharted 2, some of the best cinematics and epicness I could ever ask for in a game. Just sayin, they weren't huge like Western RPG's where I don't even feel like sinking 100+ hours into just to dick around and enjoy the massive scale, but they were great 10+ hour games regardless and one of the best experiences a gamer could have. Maybe I'm just one of the lame minority that couldn't sit down and enjoy what makes western RPGs great, but I'll stick to my JRPG's with great story, even if they are linear. You could argue that Western RPGs have a great story, but I'm usually too bored with it 2 hours in to care.
  • lukas1051 - May 25, 2011 3:18 p.m.

    Good article, but Valve time? Are you fucking joking? If every game went by Valve time they'd never be released. Criticise CoD's annual releases all you like, but at least it keeps their fans happy.
  • GrandTheftAuto - May 25, 2011 1:12 p.m.

    Aw i thought you would add this but no.. What every game should copy (atleast fps games) the destruction from BF3! Or since it's not out atleast BC2
  • philipshaw - May 25, 2011 12:30 p.m.

    Everything in this list is spot on
  • SilentTee - May 25, 2011 11:53 a.m.

    That's what I've always liked GTA, the different protagonists. Maybe one of these days they'll make one with a female lead and she'll a minority?... I can only hope.
  • Rhymenocerous - May 25, 2011 9:27 a.m.

    Must be pretty hard to make an RTS game with no HUD. But still, awesome list and article.
  • InfinityPrimo - May 25, 2011 8:52 a.m.

    Seriously I can't get over it! Mr. Charlie Barratt you deserve an effin REWARD!!! Pulizter Prize, Nobel Peace, Congressional Medal of Honor, WHATEVER THE HECK THE FREE WORLD CAN GIVE YOU! THIS ARTICLE IS AMAZING...Seriously... I can die happy
  • InfinityPrimo - May 25, 2011 8:49 a.m.

    This article...Simply amazing... Everything, I mean everything is perfect. THIS should be talked about next TalkRadar Seriously!!!!!
  • quincytheodore - May 25, 2011 6:19 a.m.

    Agree on Dead Space, I long for the day where HUD is no longer needed, or at least minimized. You should do Mafia 2 for collectibles. Seriously... I can't overpraise Bioware's dedication and commitment to their titles. It's beautiful, as long as they do that, no matter what the franchise, my money is theirs. Completely agree on GTA / Rockstar protagonist, you really put it well. About release date, fans will demand some certainty on when they will play the game, but with Valve method, some will be disappointed. The ones who figured out the release date is a lie, probably will not care about the date. So why the charade? Gamers are not stupid, rather than giving uncertain date, just say, "When it's done." Isn't it better to wake up one day, unknowingly and BAM! "Portal 3 is out next week!". Surprise me, Valve.
  • ZigzMagoo - May 25, 2011 4:40 a.m.

    I was thinking of Brink the whole way through this article. Every single entry
  • Fuzunga - May 25, 2011 4:15 a.m.

    I thought you were joking about the GTA thing. Those guys all look the same.
  • Yeager1122 - May 25, 2011 4:02 a.m.

    Every game should copy these aspects put them together and make the best game ever.
  • grayguwapo - May 25, 2011 2:57 a.m.

    you forgot to include GOW - don't be afraid to show real bloody gore as how it's suppose to show... :)

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