I have memories of being in a computer shop in my early teens. My dad was handing over his credit card to pay for our brand new, top of the range PC with Windows 95. My eyes were wandering across the shelves of bulky game boxes when they stopped on Fallout, a enticing marvel to behold if ever I did see one. It turns out I couldn't afford the game on my measly pocket money and, for one reason or another, lost interest and stopped pursuing it. Yesterday, inspired by the recent previews of Fallout 3, I decided to finally try it out.
To be honest I'm not entirely sure what I expected but it certainly wasn't what I experienced. My first gripe was with the interface. Granted, I probably should have read the manual (you have to be prepared for this kind of thing when you dig out '90s PC games) but for the first 15 minutes I found myself awkwardly fumbling around with menus and icons and wondering why the game wouldn't just let me perform a straight-up left click. I also found the combat to be extremely jarring as it was constantly forcing me to halt my exploration and shift into a skill points/turn-based system, making me wait while enemies slowly shuffled towards me. My patience was finally tested when I accidentally clicked on my ally with the attack command (because he was standing right in front of an enemy and obscuring most of it). He proceeded to shoot me dead within 2 turns, not enough for me to escape or even try to tell him that I wasn't really out to get him, and that I just had a brief case of spaz-hand.
So, about 30 minutes into the game and I had already admitted defeat. It had irritated me too much and I couldn't be bothered to work with it any more. The whole thing got me thinking: would I have kept trying if I had played the game 10 years ago? Back then playing a new game was a rare treat, not a weekly tradition. I didn't have the money to try all the new big titles, just the select few I could afford and I can assure you, I would squeeze every last penny's worth of enjoyment out of those games (with the exception of 7th Legion, that was just guff).
Of course there are myriad factors involved (time, money, the cynicism I have developed as I've grown older, etc.) but one of the major ones, in my opinion, is the techniques games use to introduce the player to its mechanics. These days (most) games seem to have it nailed. Half-Life 2 springs to mind as it's probably the game that first got me thinking about this concept. Whenever the game introduces a new mechanic or vital skill that the player will need to rely on, it makes sure that we have a firm understanding of how it works and how to use it (usuaully in a safe, stress-free situation) before we are thrown into the deep end. The result is an experience which never feels frustrating or cheap. There is never a moment where the player is unsure why they met their demise or failed to complete their objective.
Half-Life 2 (2004)
Compare this to games from 15+ years ago, sometimes even more recent, when the player would be laughed at for not considering to read the manual. Lists of controls would be printed - sometimes on double-page spreads - and we would be expected to learn them before popping the disk in as if the game was some sort of exam to see how well we can memorise 30 different key functions. I have the same problem with the recent surge of mobile phone games; they often give you a screen showing you the controls and then just chuck you into the action and expect you to be a master.
Nowadays people talk about the 'dumbing down' of games, made easy for the casual masses. HUDs become less obtrusive but make way for on-screen button prompts. Personally, I can't argue with this new method of player training. When I play a game I want to become totally immersed in its world, I don't want to be constantly taking my eyes off the screen to read an inch-thick instruction book. If the game needs to help me along a little bit while I'm playing, that's fine; not all of us are geniuses.
P.S. I love Fallout's setting and universe, so I still want to give it a chance. I'll probably try again soon. This comment was included so that I don't piss off any Fallout fans as apparently the game is quite good.