Whether it's a quick save option, fast travel, the ability to skip cutscenes, or something totally random but life-saving, some games in 2012 have experimented with what seem to be really small ideas, but contribute to an overall greater experience. They may not have been the creators of these ideas, but they've got the right idea in incorporating them.
We've already taken a look at what games released in 2012 offered the best controls. Now let's look at last year's games a little more closely, because sometimes its the smallest things that count the most. So it's time to celebrate the best little ideas, and hope that game developers in 2013 make a note of them.
This won't be a fully-encompassing list. These are just a few highlights we found memorable. Drop your own picks in the discussions below.
- Mark of the Ninja is such a well designed game, but one of the best design choices was to include indicators that help you play stealthily. Indicators like the radius of noise you make as you walk/run, and where guards' range of vision expands.
- Driving through the dense streets of Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs was beautiful and enjoyable enough on its own. But the ability to hijack cars while on the move, and to ram other cars with a single button was a tiny addition that brought a great sense of fun to the world.
- Journey is a game distinctly about communication, but in the most veiled way. You specifically can't hop on a mic and coordinate with friends. You can't even play with a chosen partner. You have one mode of communication, and it's basically just a signal. A small signal that your partner has to interpret based on context. But it served as a method to bond with your travel companion, too. I remembering mashing the O button next to a new friend to let them know I was thinking of them. Saying hello. Happy to have them there. Just interacting. Its uses are endlessly versatile and open to interpretation. This one may be a difficult idea to replicate necessarily, since it's so specific to Journey, but it's a creative take on communication that should be acknowledged.
- Syndicate's brutal Persuade felt fresh in that it turned enemies to allies but then made them commit suicide.
- Professor Layton's 365 days' worth of downloadable puzzles was a nice bit of game-extending content, particularly thanks to how the difficulty of the puzzles has been slowly ratcheting up and how they do a nice job of rotating different types of puzzles in and out of the mix.
- Far Cry 3's sell-everything-in-your-inventory-that-you-can't-use with a single button press should be in any and every game with loot.
- Kid Icarus: Uprising brought back the idea of moveable menu buttons/icons, something the game's lead creator Masahiro Sakurai has dabbled with before. And, hey, why not let people change the order of elements in a game's menu?
- MiiVerse isn't a little idea, but being able to pause a game, screencap from it and post the screencap and/or a request for help to a dedicated message board full of people interested in the game should become default on all consoles. And if it does, Miiverse's best small idea—putting an icon in the posts of users who have actually played the game, so you can know who is talking with authority and who is making stuff up—should be mandatory.
- iOS cloud-saving, implemented on games like Anomaly: Korea, should be standard to any iOS game, as it allows easier cross-platform play from iPhone to iTouch or iPad.
- Lots of games let you poke around the environment letting you open drawers, rummage through dumpsters, pat down corpses and otherwise search for stuff. That's nice, but it leads to way too much busy-work. ZombiU lets you sweep the environment with a scanner that immediately drops icons on any searchable spots, letting you know which ones have nothing at all and which might have health items, weapons or something else useful. The icons update as you search, so you never absentmindedly search the same spot twice.
- FIFA 13 made its tutorial a series of minigames you played on loading screens.