I found an interesting game review system while perusing the No Twinkie Database. There’s a review system that determines a game’s value by proximity of crates to the start of the game. It’s pretty funny that all of the “reviewed” games fall short in that aspect:
First Person Shooters seem to be the worst sufferers from the crate sickness. At first glance, it seems like lazy game development. It’s not surprising – crates are easy to render, easily recognized as real objects, and are situationally flexible. Crates can be blocky barriers to dodge gunfire, or can be easily smashed for ammunition. They can be heavy enough to act as an immobile object or light enough to be moved around by the character). They act as the FPS equivalent of a platform (something to be used in jumping), as an impassible barrier (something with an invisible yet infinite Z boundry), or as inconsequential decoration for a sparse scene.
This flexibility is ultimately why crates should never be included in game design. Sure, the object form is easily recognized by the player, yet the object’s purpose is completely up in the air. Creating a set of objects that could fulfill one of several drastically different needs seems like a cruel trick on the player. Game design should allow the player to quickly distinguish an object’s purpose from an object’s appearance.
Not all games that include crates deserve this rant. If the purpose of all crates in the game is constant throughout the entire game, then the player is not harmed by the inclusion of the developer’s favorite polygon. Playstation’s Croc (mentioned in the linked article) used crates as platforms and as treasure containers, but tried to distinguish each type of crate through texturing. This does assist the player in distinguishing the object’s purpose, but it does make the game world seem cheap.
I’m not trying to be down on game developers who don’t create photorealistic worlds; I just think that artists can do better than use cubes for over 50% of their game’s content.