Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lines of Communication

As all of you almost certainly know by now Atari released Yar's Revenge last week. It was a very new take on a very old favorite. Atari was generous enough to give us a copy of the game to review, which we did. All in all the game is well designed and fun to play and it's certainly worth what they are charging for it. HOWEVER, it could have been even better had they gotten a little more feedback before they released the game.

Those of you who have watched my review may think I'm just picking on the game's weak points and being overly critical, but I'm not. I wanted to lay out my complaints here so that everyone could see a couple of things. First, these issues are very minor. Second, they would have been a piece of cake to fix. I'm not going to step out into what I would have liked to see in the game in the form of additions. That's not what I'm on about right now. I am only going to touch on things I consider border-line bugs that no one could argue are features.

First Point: The dialog for the in-game story was only offered in the form of sub-titles. These moved by so fast only a speed reader could follow it all. Now, on day one a decision should have been made. Either the story matters or it doesn't. If it doesn't don't bother to put it in. However, if the story does matter make sure that it's at least readable when the player encounters it. There was so little dialog in the game that I think they could have also sprung for voice actors. Two good voice actors could have done it all. During gameplay this would have been especially useful. Well, there is spoken dialog during gameplay. Sadly it's bug talk, which is cool, but unintelligible. So, you have to dodge around the screen killing legions of bad guys while speed reading tiny text in the lower left hand corner. I can't help but feel that this made it through testing because the testers either knew or were ignoring the story. All this could have been fixed with a few voice actors and pausing the sub-titles until the player pressed a button.

Second Point: The controls are basically un-customizable. You do have the option to switch ONE Y-Axis, but not both. (This was murder for me. My brain has basically been hard-coded by years of flight simulators. Up IS Down man!) Honestly in most cases it doesn't matter what the controls are you get used to them. However, this would have been so easy to add that it was worth putting in. I would certainly have inverted both my Y-Axis for instance. There may be some almost universal rails-shooter controller configuration that they were using, but in all the WOW clones I've ever played I could change the default setup if I wanted to. Again, I think this shows a lack of depth in their play testing pool. Within about thirty seconds I had gone to change my control setup only to find that it was basically hard coded.

Third Point: The dialog and menus were hard to read. This is a truly minor point because you can basically use all the items to find out what they do. However, it's still annoying. Why go to the extra trouble to make things hard to read? Go back to the shallow testing pool. The guys who were testing this game didn't need to read the menus, they knew what they said. They seemed to only be concerned with whether or not they looked cool. I admit they did, but that wasn't the main reason for their existence!

As I said before the sum total of the game was still good, it just could have been better. All this is my way of saying that Atari needs to add more testers to it's play pool. I don't think anyone is going to argue that unreadable dialog, hard coded controls and hard to read menus added a lot to the game. All these issues could have been addressed before this game rolled out the door. I also see room for more features, but I'm not going into that right now.

If you are asking yourself why I am bothering to complain about this, it's because I want it to change in the future. Atari has two more up and coming titles in the pipe right now.

Star Raiders has gotten a remake:

Star Raiders Trailer

Centipede: Infestation is due to come out this fall:

Centipede: Infestation Trailer

In my opinion Atari needs to call in more testers and ask for more feedback from the community they are trying to sell to. They are aiming at the retro-gaming community. They need to ask more questions and listen carefully to our answers.

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