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We've all seen dozens of lists over the years that recount all the things old-school game designers loved to include in their games for bizarre and unknown reasons, like exploding barrels and wolves that carry gold and chainmail for you to loot upon their death. Yes, these things were weird, and yes, they were ubiquitous in 8-,16-, and even 32-bit games. But why stay fixated on such long-irrelevant game-design choices when so many current developers are finding new ways to make fools of themselves every week?
Above: Hardly anyone makes mine cart levels anymore. Time to move on
In the past few years, a number of trends just as inexplicable as exploding barrels have spread like wildfire among game designers, to the point that a lot of games seem to rely on them (however paradoxically) to be noticed. Over the following seven entries, we’ll examine some of the most egregious ones and try to get to the bottom of why developers love this stuff so much.
Why do they love them? Why is it that every male lead character outside of Nathan Drake has to sound like some 40-year smoking veteran named Aunt Ethel chainsaw-battling an angry wolverine when he talks? This is what we like to call “forced cool.” Yeah, Marcus Fenix is kind of cool, but so is anyone with 28-inch biceps who sounds like he eats smoldering ashtrays for breakfast. Obviously, it takes so much effort to craft a good character with subtle wit and subdued badassery (like James Bond or Han Solo) that most developers simply cannot be bothered.
Case in Point: Alex Mercer (Prototype)
By what right does Alex Mercer deserve his deep baritone? He's a hoodie fanatic who constantly hides his face and believes he's been deeply wronged by the powers that be. That pretty much only qualifies him to be a whiny emo kid.
Why do they love them? Developers enjoy waxing philosophical about the reason they choose not to reveal their character's face. They'll tell you all about how it allows players to become more immersed in the character, because on some level, they believe the character could really be them! If you want the realistic truth, though, it's because they don't want to spend the time or the resources to develop decent facial animations, and they couldn't think of any other reason why the character's face would be perpetually constipated during gameplay. So they cover his face in a hood or a space helmet and call it a day. Also, hair is a bitch to animate.
Case in Point: Altair (Assassin's Creed)
Supposedly, Altair hides his face because he doesn't want to be noticed in a crowd, or identified. But seriously, what sticks out more in a crowd than a guy in a giant white robe who hides his face and creepily stalks around? Admit it, Ubisoft: the hood was just for cool points.