The Top 5 Underused Features in Games
5. Artificial Intelligence
I know this point probably has you thinking, "What do you mean? AI is in pretty much every game out there!" I will concede that point. However, it has been far too long since we have really seen AI improved upon in any significant way. The fact that multiplayer is so prominent these days only means it is becoming more likely that AI will be going the way of the dodo.
There have been some pretty impressive examples of AI application in the past, such as the adaptive difficulty system in Starcraft 2 and Halo Wars. The AI in both of these games was capable of determining a player's skill level and challenging them accordingly. The strides AI has made in shooters are also pretty outstanding. In shooters, AI uses complex military tactics in order to out-wit the player.
While those examples are nice, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. More often than not AI is predictable at its best and outright stupid at its worst. Many games don't even bother with adding bots for most gameplay modes because single-player modes are slowly becoming less of a priority and because of that, AI has also become less of a priority.
Even when games do a good job of integrating AI, it usually manifests as a series of scripted behaviors that become predictable after a while. In the gaming world, a level of predictability makes the job of the game developer a lot easier. Having to account for everything a random AI—or worse, an AI that can learn—can do is a painstaking task and doing so is not regarded as a worthwhile endeavor due to the time and resources involved. For that reason it seems unlikely we will see much improvement when it comes to AI in gaming unless an ambitious developer decides to take on the task of a lifetime. Until then, I can always dream and watch videos of open AI on YouTube.
In the days of old, games were bursting at the seams with dialogue options. Today's gaming landscape has seen a shift in that precedent. Due to a combination of a need to have every line of dialogue voice-acted and a "less talky, more shoot-stuff-in-the-face" gaming mentality, we have seen quite a cut down on the importance of dialogue in games.
The most infamous examples of this cut down are probably Fallout 4 and L.A. Noire, wherein you are shown the gist of what you have to say and your character then says something related to the choice you picked (most of the time). The lack of depth in this type of system is disappointing to say the least, but what is even more disheartening is the role of the non-player characters (NPCs) in the equation. More often than not NPCs are relegated to providing a few lines of quest dialogue and after that they become generic greeting machines.
Despite the progression and availability of AI technologies like Cleverbot, game developers haven't attempted to use a free form dialogue system where players can type exactly what they wish to say and a NPC can respond. While this idea is certainly an example of wishful thinking, is it too much to ask that NPCs stop being a part of the setting and start to actually seem like characters again?
Is freedom a feature? Well it is now! In recent years, game developers have been working on adding some challenges to the playing experience of their games. I respect that. Who doesn't love a good challenge? The only problem is that in order to do this, that generally means handcuffing the player to some extent. Remember playing Morrowind and how you could fortify your acrobatics to such a height that you could literally jump across the whole map? Well, feats like that aren't possible in most games anymore.
I can understand wanting to make and keep a game challenging, but if a player wants to spend hours grinding their skills to make the most powerful items in order to become a god-like entity, why should they be prevented from playing the way they want to? Clearly the same does not go for multiplayer games, however a little single-player fun never hurt anybody!
Even games that previously allowed players to have freedom have recently backtracked in that regard. Bethesda has considered the alchemy and enchanting loop to be an exploit, even though it uses completely legitimate game mechanics and a large amount of resources. Player choice, while heavily touted in marketing campaigns, is nowhere near what it could be, nor is it as great as it once was.
2. Skills and Abilities
Gaming has become a bit more passive as of late. Trying to find games with hundreds of different options for building your characters, or a spellbook touting tons of spells from several different sources is a bit of a rarity nowadays. Games that do still feature spells and the like tend to do so in a much more tame manner. You may be given the choice of selecting a class which has one or two active abilities and a few passive ones, but the days of being able to create a bow-wielding, heavy armor-wearing, necromancer seem to be waning.
Some games still keep this alive. The semi-recently released Divinity Original Sin 2 does this fairly well, but even that is a bit restrictive with its scarce talent points and fairly low level cap. The current trend definitely seems to be to just give the player a weapon and let them go at it. There is nothing wrong with that system. It is tried and true and it can be very engaging. The fact that this trend is slowly becoming a larger aspect of games on the market is a bit upsetting though.
Unlike some of the other entries on the list, physics have pretty much never been properly acknowledged in games. Every few years gems like Half Life 2 or Crysis will pop up, but physics are still largely unused in most games today.
There are some great physics engines out there, but most developers still prefer the old method of static animations. While physics really liven up gameplay and can make for some jaw-dropping moments, the exclusion of physics in most games actually makes some sense. When it comes to creating a game, physics engines are a disaster. It is a huge headache to figure out how every single aspect of the game world will interact from a physics perspective, not to mention they tend to introduce a plethora of potential bugs.
That being said, physics engines are the most underrated features in games today. With so many features being rendered in such a static manner in modern-day games, having one aspect of our games that is truly dynamic is more important than ever.