What are the little things you look for in games?

From movies and music to friends and food, our tastes change as we get older. Games are no exception. Looking back over the last few years, I can see a change in my tastes and interests, especially after I became a father. While I still love to play all kinds of games—minus strategy sims, sports and most JRPGs—I find myself gravitating towards games with the following features:

Easy Mode

Back when I had more time, I always played games on normal because I wanted to play them the way the developer intended. Now unless I’m reviewing the game or I’m in the mood for more of a challenge (played Mass Effect 3 on hard my first time through, thank you very much), I play games on easy. It’s great for story-based games. For example, the other month I went back to Uncharted 2, put it on Easy and then turned on Infinite Ammo and One Shot Kills. The pacing was perfect! The gunfights were just long enough to be fun, but not long enough to be tedious. I could still die if I was too sloppy, but it wasn’t likely. It was more like playing a movie than it was the first time on normal without cheats.

Pausable Cutscenes

This needs to become an industry standard. Most of my gaming these days takes place after the baby is in bed, but I do get to play a bit on the weekends and I appreciate the ability to pause cutscenes. The worst part is figuring out if a game has them: Do I press the A button? Maybe Start? Oops, just skipped that cutscene, hope it wasn’t important.

Helpful Maps

The glowing trails in Fable 2 and 3, the on-road GPS in Saints Row, the icon explosion of Assassin’s Creed’s maps, the “Go here, kill this” marker in Skyrim—all of these are good things. They help me get to where I need to go quickly, but also give me the chance to explore if I feel like it. I hate getting lost in a game, it’s not fun. That is why I stopped playing Fez.

Save Anywhere

I’m hoping old school end-of-level save points will eventually be left behind. You can already see it happening. Most games are littered with autosave checkpoints, quick saves, and/or the ability to create multiple save files. PC games have been doing this forever. It’s about time everyone gets on board.

Good Inventory and Menu Management

User Interface design is so important in games. The Skyrim UI is beautiful, but not the best organized (there are mods for that though). I want to play a game, not fiddle around in menus. I usually hold off on mods so I can experience the game as intended, but if there’s a UI or inventory mod that removes encumbrance and/or organizes things more sensibly, I get it immediately. I was one of the few people that preferred the systems in Dragon Age 2. I feel like half of my 50+ hours in Dragon Age Origins was spent in menu screens, outfitting each party member, comparing stats and managing my carry weight. Why do games have encumbrance limits anyway? For realism? If that was the case, I shouldn’t be able to carry around 25 wheels of cheese.

Those are just a few of the features I appreciate more now than I did a few years ago. Looking at them together, they’re all things that make games more accessible. Easier for someone with a wife and baby, a full-time job, a dog that needs walking and a ton of freelance art and writing work to do. Back in college, I would have gladly pulled out a paper and pencil and deciphered the mysteries of Fez. Now I’m lucky to game for more than an hour and a half at a time, the features above help me make progress. What are some of the little features in games you appreciate? How have they changed?