Tim Elder of Blue Alto写道：“我玩《Dawn of War：Winter Assault》中的单人任务“Eldar”时，任务要求我炸掉兽人的能量发生器以分散他们的注意力。第一次做这个任务 时，我阅读了任务概要，得知我们没有足够的军队消失所有兽人，所以我们得引爆发生器把兽人吸引过去，然后再绕过他们。”
我吐槽的大部分与拙劣的玩法、操作、平衡性或内容有关，而这一条稍稍特殊——它可能是一个营销决定而不是一个游戏设计的问题。Rob Allen写道：“以《Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix》的试玩版为例。我正在欣赏学院的美丽风光时，突然看到‘你还有1分钟！’我只好匆匆忙忙地做我应该做的事，然后，游戏弹出一个屏幕叫我购买。 我现在还会想买吗？”
“虽然有些公司（比如Gameloft对《Splinter Cell》、《波斯王子》以及所有它的平台游戏所做的）每一次重制都添加了新功能，确实做得不错，但有些发行公司只不过是增加了 不同的图像和稍稍修改了旧关卡。有些非常非常无耻的发行商甚至只修改了游戏的名称和启动画面。”
在格斗模拟游戏，我经常抱怨愚蠢的AI同伴——他们本应该看着你的后面，但相反地，他们在战斗开始的前十秒就被干掉了。Steven Taylor指出，这个问题在护送任务中普遍存在 ，在护送任务中，你护送的根本就是一傻逼。事实上，我认为所有AI控制的同盟角色都是这样。
Shawn Lucas举了一个《上古卷轴：湮灭》的例子：“我记得有一个任务是叫玩家救一个被狂热教徒绑架的姑娘。到了教徒的窝点，把姑娘从笼子里放出来，我正要与姑娘一起逃走 。然而，比起逃出虎口，这个姑娘似乎对攻击恶棍们更感兴趣。她一见到其中一个教徒就打他，还把其他敌人吸引到我们的位置。结果是，她对付不了歹徒，我也不是他们的对手 。数次死亡和重新载入后，我才一个一个地收拾掉敌人，通过最简单的战术，但这让我再也不想玩这款游戏了。”
他又举了一个例子：“在《GTA：San Andreas》中，有一个任务要求玩家一边开越野车一边射击火车上的敌人。越野车由玩家开，敌人由坐在车后座的AI同伴攻击。然而，AI同伴 经常不瞄准敌人，而是乱打一气。这个任务还有时间限制，同伴的恶劣表现使任务更加困难。”
在电影中，你偶尔可以看到这种为了搞笑而出现的情景：主角因为一个帮倒忙的同伴而陷入麻烦。（《Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom》中的Indiana Jones的同伴 Wilhelmina就是一个例子）但电影是不同的——无论这个同伴如何帮倒忙，剧情仍然可以进展。
作为玩家，如果我不断地因为我那猪一样的队友而被耽误或被杀死，那么我会很有冲动自己把这个同伴解决掉。我拒绝对抗愚蠢的AI敌人（这也是糟糕的设计师的失误），但我更 加拒绝与猪一样的AI同伴合作和替它收拾烂摊子。如果你不能把AI NPC变得聪明，至少让他们警觉和可预测。
这是另一个大问题：一个非常非常错误而糟糕的问题毁了原本应该不错的游戏。我借用Jessica的话来解释它：“我觉得这破坏了《Shadow of the Colossus》的结局——在其他游 戏中也有这个问题：游戏设计师允许玩家在某个事件中控制自己的角色，但无论玩家做什么，事件的结果只有一个。因为这个结果会发生并没有那么明显，所以当它发生时，不想 要这种结果的玩家就会重玩这个事件，但结果还是一样。”
John Funderburk补充道：“我也讨厌《古墓丽影》和《生化危机4》的‘交互’过场动画。‘当我要求你时你就按下按键’——这是什么玩意儿？”人们玩游戏是为了克服挑战、 做出有意义的选择和展现自我的。不能满足这三种需求的体验就不是交互性的。我们希望当我们操作玩家角色时，玩家角色的活动会多多少少影响游戏世界。如果不能影响游戏世 界，那么假装具有交互性就没有任何意义了。
这是一个典型的错误，而且最令人惊讶的是，人们还是坚持犯这个错误。Jacek Wesolowski写道：“破坏我兴致的一个因素是，有些开发者把鼠标和键盘当成次级装置。它们和手 柄之间的差别很大，因为使用方法不同。”
“《刺客信条》就是一个好例子。当用手柄玩时，它的操作方式非常合理，但键盘/鼠标映射就非常不灵便和不直观了。甚至更糟，开发者给鼠标的灵敏度强加了一个人为的、严格 的限制，也许是为了把它与手柄的最大转向率匹配起来。这不是手柄的问题，因为瞬间的180度转向是可行的，在玩家角色的背后看也是可以的。换句话说，更高的鼠标灵敏度不会 给我任何真正的优势，只是能够玩得舒服。在玩时，我觉得我偏好的操作设备被故意破坏了。”
有个自称“One Man Science Team”的人写道：“我认为可以称得上糟糕的设计师的‘恶行’的一个设计缺陷是，为了达到目标，关卡设计师无理由地要求玩家破坏之前确定下来 的规则和风险相关的后果。甚至有时候这么做的游戏还被认为是‘好的’——为了找到原版《Donkey Kong Country》中的所有秘密，你必须跳进每一个关卡中的每一个洞。”
我们把这个简单的问题放在最后。Nathan Sturtevant在Alberta大学教授计算机科学，他写道：“许多允许储存的游戏让我困扰的是，它们在你的角色死亡的时候让你保存游戏。 我想我最后见到这个问题是在《无冬之夜》中，我很肯定我在其他游戏中也见过。在《无冬之夜》中，这种事可能发生在战斗中，也可能发生在你掉进陷阱里的时候。加载完游戏 后发现自己已经死了，真是让人沮丧啊。”
Kris Kelly说得非常清楚：“在《上古卷轴：湮没》中，守卫非常擅长自己的工作，他们总是可以马上发现你干的‘好事’（游戏邦注：比如杀掉建筑里的某人、偷了某物），甚 至当他们并不在那个区域时也不影响他们的超能力发挥。他们有时候会跑遍整个小镇只为抓住你。
《Sonic the Hedgehog》是一个充分利用有限的设定的好例子。Sonic只有两套动作：跳跃和超速旋转，但关卡设计提供了足够多的变体，使游戏始终非常有趣。
我通常从玩家的角度出发寻找设计师的“罪行”，但游戏设计失误也会让开发团队的日子不好过。设计师没有指定的任何东西，程序员都要自己琢磨出来，这就浪费时间了。更惨 的是，如果他们的想法不在一个方向上进行，那就可能导致不连贯的结果或甚至灾难性的后果。David Mullich提到一个他不得不拯救的项目：
Gregg Tavares写道：“例如，许多设计师可能希望屏幕上同时出现25个敌人，但引擎只支持最多10个。所以他们就强迫程序员花几个月的时间攻击引擎的技术限制，而不是制作游 戏。
我已经在我的《玩家独立宣言》中提过这一点了，但这种事一直出现，应该也列入设计师的“罪名”之一。我不跟陌生人玩网络游戏，因为我不喜欢他们的粗鲁，而且他们往往没 什么竞争精神。我也不喜欢单机游戏嘲笑我，我不是唯一这么觉得的人。Owen Clark写道：“不要嘲笑我！如果我在游戏的某部分失败了，没有必要在我的伤口上撒盐！”
还是刚才那个Owen Clark，他写道：“不要提供必须但可以不拾取的道具！如果我必须有一种我应该在早期的关卡中获得之后很重要的道具，那么这种道具应该是强制获得的。没 有‘如果’、‘但是’，不要让这种道具的拾取可以自由选择。玩了三四个关卡后从头再开始，因为发现错过了一件重要的道具，还有比这个更让人郁闷的事吗？”
（非常）老游戏《Monty on the Run》要求玩家在游戏开始前选择几种道具。如果玩家选择错误的道具，游戏就不能获胜，这真是一个严重的设计缺陷。
Ben Matson写道，“刷”玩法的历史可以追溯到2004年，可能到现在才完全明显，但必须列为设计师的失误。他写道：“花了那么多个小时打小怪，这样你就可以花双倍的时间打 大怪，总让我感到非常恼火。我喜欢MMORPG，但最终一切都只是攒经验。应该有更好玩的东西。比如《无尽的任务》、《Dark Age of Camelot》等等……”
Pascal Luban写道：“有时候，你可以看到敌人身体的一部分从掩蔽物后面伸出来，而你的子弹却打不了他。那是因为当敌人在掩蔽物后面时，设计师不希望你打到敌人。当只是 几像素露在外面时，那就无所谓，但半个头都出来了，还不让打？太令人郁闷了！”
如果在你的视野范围内能看到某物，你就应该能射击它。（在第一版《Gulf War》中，美国坦克摧毁了自以为躲在掩蔽物下面的伊拉克坦克。不存在所谓的“完美掩体”这样的东 西。）
Ben Ashley写道：“建议必须切题！《战地2》就有这个问题。抓钩是只有突击队职业才能携带的装备道具。所以，当玩另一个职业时，游戏为什么假装热情地告诉我可以使用抓钩 爬上面前的山壁？我根本没有抓钩啊。这对于新玩家来说，是非常让人摸不着头脑的。”
在之前的某篇《糟糕的游戏设计师》中，我谴责了BOSS战时的规则变化。但与之相反的也同样恶劣：BOSS只是玩家已经见过的敌人的增强版。我的朋友Gabrielle Kent最近开始在 Facebook上讨论BOSS战的问题。
Sarah Ford补充道：“我经历过的最糟糕的BOSS战是在《最终幻想10》。我在整个游戏中都在追击最终BOSS，居然是个长了腿的垃圾桶。太让人扫兴了。更糟的是，你甚至不会死 。这是闹哪样？这种战斗一点意义也没有，BOSS还会自己修命。真垃圾。”
远在马来西亚的Harryizman Bin Harun也写邮件向我抱怨无限自愈的BOSS。我想可以说，全世界的玩家都讨厌这种BOSS吧。
Jessica还指出，在《Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth》中，打败某BOSS的唯一方法就在按某个键——但你必须等BOSS先攻击你，不能在此之前按键。这是一个严重 蝗不合理推论。这个键和BOSS进攻是无关的，所以避免被BOSS打到，尽可能攻击BOSS才合理。Jessica做了符合逻辑的事，但游戏却因此惩罚她。
根据Gabrielle的讨论，好的BOSS战包括《传送门》中的GlaDOS、《战神2》中的Colosssus、《Yoshi’s Island》中的若干BOSS战、《Arkham Asylum》中的Scarecrow、 《Interstate ’76》中的Malocchio和《Shadow of the Colossus》中的所有BOSS战。这些都是值得学习的榜样。
Kaftan Barlast举了《质量效应》的例子：“在Artemis Tau之前的BOSS战，每一次你死亡，你都要再次经历一段对话，和一段不可跳过的乘电梯情节。这款游戏确实有保存系统， 但当你接近BOSS战时，你是不可以保存的。”
Steven McDonald还提到《Deadly Creatures》（Wii），在游戏中，玩家在遇到保存点前走了一分钟无事可做。一般来说，不应该出现无所事事地走了很长一段路的情况；但走相 同的地区15次却无事可做真的太乏味了。
我已经讨论过不可中断的影像和缺少暂停键的游戏的问题——都是游戏设计师的罪行。二者相结合的情况更恶劣，正如Bas Wells所指出的。假设你辛苦地一路打怪，保存点没有等 到却跳出一段重要的过场动画……这时你家门铃响了。你不能暂停，不重玩整个关卡又不能重看，怎么办？
Bas写道：“更糟糕的是，有些游戏会在过场动画结束后保存，但过场动画是不存档的，这样除非你重玩整个关卡，否则你就永远看不到错过的那部分情节。我记得这在《GTA 4》 中也有发生，从安全区重新开始，再次穿越整个小镇，只为再看一遍过场动画。我想我在《GTA 4》里做了好几次这样的事，许多其他游戏也有类似的问题。”
《The Longest Journey》和许多其他游戏都有一个壳页面，允许玩家回顾他们已经看过一次的影像，以免玩家错过任何第一次没有发现的重要线索。重播应该成为强制功能。
Sean Hagans和Joshua Able都指出这个问题。Joshua还举了一个著名的例子：
“《最终幻想7》中的Aeris在故事中死掉后，Phoenix Down（游戏邦注：这是角色复活物品）对她就不管用了。如果不管用，为什么游戏中要有这种东西？为什么她这次一死就是 永远死了（即使之前她在游戏中已经死过100回了）？
电子游戏机的输入设备是硬件的最重要部分。玩家可以忍受低分辨率的图像和小小的8比特声音，但糟糕的操作会毁掉整个游戏。如果你把游戏从一个机子移植到另一个机子，我建 议重写输入设备的代码，因为要转换的东西实在太多了。Sam Hardy指出两个特别惊人的例子：
我把这个简单而明显的问题放在最后。Scott Jenkins写道：“我想吐槽的是不允许关闭背景音乐的游戏。与欧美游戏相比，日本游戏中的这个问题似乎更普遍。我能想到的最近的 例子是《塞尔达传说：黎明公主》。”
通常情况下，你需要在游戏开始时就决定要成为光明的骑士还是黑暗的恶棍，只有在其中一条路上坚持不懈才能获得奖励。因而，“好”与“坏”之间似乎就产生出明显的界线。 在《生化奇兵》中，你可以在终生成为善良的看守者或拥有毁灭世界意图的超级坏蛋两者间做出选择。这两种角色我都不感兴趣！游戏对中立概念的执行往往也不是很好。在某些 游戏中，你需要平衡自己善良与邪恶的举止，这让玩家在游戏中感到无所适从。先让你勒索路人然后再帮助另一个人走过街，这不会让玩家觉得自己是中立的，而是让你产生精神 分裂的感觉。
如果你想要跟踪玩家的行为并为其设计结果，这当然是可以的，但结果必须与活动相称。如果你有兴趣去奖励玩家的道德或不到的行为，最好通过某些游戏世界内置系统来实现， 而不是主观的立场安排。比如，如果玩家选择了邪恶之路，可以让他们加入“犯罪协会”然后不断提升其在协会中的地位，当他们离开时给予奖励。不可因为玩家偶尔表现出来的 善良举动就将其从“犯罪协会”中开除，也不可因玩家偶尔的善意恶行而将其从“英雄协会”中逐出。
在《Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast》中，Benoit Girard选择扮演善良的绝地武士，但是他面临如下问题：
你可以控制单位保持当前状态或停止移动。在单位停止后，如果它们受到攻击，就会前去追逐攻击者并杀死它们。于是，它们会继续受到攻击，继续追逐并如此循环下去，直到它 们进入敌军基地，于是这些单位便会全部死亡。如果让他们保持当前状态后受到攻击，只有1或2个单位会对此做出反应，其他单位无动于衷，最终的结果还是全部牺牲。游戏中没 有停火模式。如果你企图去侦查对手，侦察者在没得到指令时会自动射击，这样你的对手就知道了附近有侦察者，就可以用探测者来消灭你的侦察者。
当然，如果你愿意的话，还可以制作得更为复杂。如果单位的视野范围比武器攻击范围要广，那么它会向对手靠近吗？你可以设计出第3种追逐选项。反之，如果你想要将游戏制作 得更为简单些，可以将防御命令限制为“Engage on Contact”和“Deny Passage”两种。
你接到屠杀200个Silvercrest Soldier Chickens的任务，最先会选择在周围寻找任务怪，在此过程中你会遇到超级怪物Ranhar和Average Joe Chickens，但是没看到任务所要求的 鸡。当你在周围转上两个小时甚至两天后，会提出疑问，“任务鸡究竟在哪里？”，直至最终在教堂背后找到通向另一个区域的传送门，你才真正看到任务所需的鸡。
最后，你到达了任务鸡所在的地点并开始杀鸡，2个小时后，你发现自己只杀了1只Silvercrest Soldier Chicken，其余都是Silvercrest Warrior Chickens，这并非任务所需的怪 物。分配任务的NPC显得很挑剔，要求玩家必须凑足这些Silvercrest Soldier Chicken。经过不懈的努力，你终于杀够了任务所需的数量。
你开始拾取战利品，捡到了100个鸡毛，每个鸡毛都需要占用仓库的1个格子。这些鸡毛无实用价值且无法堆叠，但仍可以以1金币的价格出售给NPC。因为所拾取鸡毛过量导致仓库 已满，使你无法拾取真正有价值的+3 Rainbow Armor，你只能舍弃部分鸡毛。
你进入某个未知地区，游戏暂停并显示“加载中”。没有加载条，甚至没有任何动画告诉你游戏正在进行某些操作。尽管我很喜欢《半条命》系列作品，但它们自始自终都存在这 个问题。这种问题的另一个变种是显示无意义的加载条。游戏进入加载页面并呈现加载条，加载条在很短时间内便已填充满。你可能会跟我一样，想到：“真棒，游戏的加载时间 很短！”随后，加载条又从起点开始填充，如此不断重复。
这两种做法都不当，但是无加载条更甚，因为你根本不知道是否已经卡机。应当添加加载条，且该加载条只在加载过程完成时填满。加载条的设置即便不完美也没关系，如果你需 要加载2个文件，一个10KB，另一个10MB，而你设置的是加载完前一个文件时加载条会走完一半，另一半加载条显示第二个文件的加载过程，这都是可以接受的。只要我们能看到加 载过程正在进行中就可以了。
《Yahoo Word Racer》是一款类似拼写游戏的多人游戏，玩家在游戏中要做的就是将随机生成的字母组合拼成单词。Mary Ellen Foley指出，有时候游戏会给出完全没有元音的字 母组合。玩家必须等到计时器走完两分钟才能开始下一回合。这太可笑了。这款游戏附带一个字典，会检查玩家输入的单词是否存在；当然它可以在游戏放出随机字母组合以前， 检查这些字母是否能拼成单词……或至少检查一下有没有元音。
她建议添加一个“我完成了”按钮，允许玩家跳过本回合，而不必等到计时器走完。对于任何多人、同步回合的游戏来说，这真是个好主意，正好解决了《Word Racer》的问题。 但他们也应该修改一下游戏的生成算法。
Ian Schreiber写道：“最近，一些免费游戏好像把所有好东西都藏到钱眼里去了。现在，显然我想要的一些好东西都得付钱了，但我还是希望留下一些好东西用来刺激玩家的购买 欲。如果你只是把游戏的平庸部分拿给玩家看，就要他们相信如果付钱，这款游戏就会更好玩，他们是不会相信的（更可能的结果是，玩家觉得这游戏也就是这样，你卖的也不会 是好东西）。”
我打算在“No Twinkie Database”网页中另起一个章节讨论这个问题。我在Twinkie Denial Conditions中提到的大部分问题都与伤害玩家的体验有关，而这个问题伤害的却是游 戏公司。设计缺陷毕竟是设计缺陷。Ian说他不想指名道姓，但已经很不幸地看到有3款iOS游戏中枪了。
这些与不间断过场动画是类似的，但不完全一样。Tyler Moor写道，有些游戏“强迫你看相同的动画或老套的剧本，平庸的情节带着意料之中的结局、封闭的玩法或交互活动，直 到动画结束。我指的不是结束后给玩家各种奖励的动画（如在《塞尔达传说》中，打开一只宝箱），而是那些结果确定的动画。”他举的例子是，在《荒野大镖客》中，玩家被迫 反复地观看剥皮动画来收集资源；在《天际》中，玩家要出售物品时被迫听店主说相同的问候语。
这一条太明显了，我不相信几年以前我会没有提过。有个名叫Jan的玩家写道，在《Max Payne 3》中，过场动画（非常多）中的Max与玩家操作时候的Max很不像。在战胜无数全副 武装的人以后，玩家面临关键的时刻，却不能操作角色了。他看到的不是他期待中的战斗，而是一段显示了他完不成某事的动画，而这件“某事”是他被玩家操作时完全能应付的 。
Colin Williamson写道：“有问题的游戏是《刺客信条3》，在这款非常黑暗的游戏中，所有游戏过渡或过场动画都是切换成白屏才开始的。如果你是在光线暗的房间或用放映机看 ，这无异于谋杀你的视网膜。”
这就是为什么几十年前电影业就发明了淡进和淡出的切换方式—-在昏暗的影剧院里，突然变成白屏简直就是虐待观众。在音频制作中，有一种技术叫作动态范围压缩（与数据压缩 无关）。使用这种技术后，设备会动态地将低音的放大和高音的减小控制在适当的范围内，这样听众就不必一直调整音量。虽然听众免不了手动调整扬声器，但确实避免耳膜受到 剧烈的冲击。
这种例子非常非常多，其中之一是《S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: 切尔诺贝利的阴影》中的隔离区，那里有及腰高的倒刺铁丝围栏。在RPG中，玩家可以用钥匙打开木门，却不可以损坏它，从 概念上讲，看不见的墙与木门类似，但执行效果不一样。为什么玩家不能进入某些他原本能够进入的地方？游戏没有给出看上去可信的理由。
我们从常识的角度来说吧。除非角色是坐轮椅，否则低的围栏就不算障碍。如果角色是突击队员或超级英雄，六英尺高的围栏也不算难题。一块玻璃自然也不算什么。建造一个看 起来吸引人的区域，却拿看不见的墙隔绝它， 是不合理的。如果你让某个区域看起来是可探索的，那么它就必须可探索。记住，应该让游戏世界之内的区域比之外的更有趣。
玩家达成游戏设定的目标后会得到价值各异的奖励。但有些奖励发挥的却是负面效果。在RPG中，你有时候会捡到被诅咒的物品，这种物品产生的害处多于好处，不过，你通常可以 抑制、修复或抛弃它。另一方面，你用游戏奖励的金钱在游戏商店里买到的东西—-例如，装备强化，真的不应该对你造成伤害。一位名叫Cyrad的玩家提到热门动作RPG《The World Ends With You》：装备是玩家从商店购买的。除了增加属性点，当你与店员建立关系时，还会释放或激活装备的各件物品的被动效果。这些效果通常是“你的攻击将随机减 少敌人的力量”或当你受重创时产生提高防御。
玩家买强化物品，你却惩罚他，Square Enix？ 真是糟糕的游戏设计师！
这一条的例子是一款老游戏，但其他游戏也有出现这种情况。Deunen Berkely写道：“你不应该一次又一次地让玩家在同一个洞穴/建筑/区域执行不同的任务。最明显的就是MMO版 《Star Wars Galaxies》，但其他游戏也犯了相同的错误……你不断地跑进山洞里去看不响应你的任务的NPC或物品，或更糟的是，你不得不杀掉所有人才能到达洞穴底部。
对于早期的游戏《Bad Guys With Vanishing Weapons》，这是必然的。你花了大量时间用一个大武器痛打一个坏蛋，最后发现他的武器简陋到只是一根矛。
最近Lars Doucet告诉我，他的公司Level Up Labs对他们的设计做了一些排查工作。他们根据No Twinkie Database 检查各款游戏的设计，看看他们是不是中了Twinkie Denial Conditions的枪。知道这些专栏文章能发挥实际效用，真是令人高兴。
Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! IX
By Ernest Adams
When I wrote the first Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie column over 10 years ago, I thought of it as nothing more than a personal list of gripes — published today, forgotten tomorrow. I didn’t expect so many people to take it seriously, and to be so eager to offer examples of their own.
After last year’s column I got a flood of new suggestions from frustrated players and developers, so here are nine new Twinkie Denial Conditions for the ninth installment of Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!
Failure to Explain Victory and Loss Conditions
This is a bad one — one of the worst. Unless the game is an open-ended sandbox toy like The Sims, the player must know what he’s working towards — the victory condition — and, even more importantly, what he must avoid — the loss condition.
Tim Elder of Blue Alto (big up for using your real details, Tim) writes, “I was playing through the single player missions in the Dawn of War expansion Winter Assault when I got to an Eldar mission that involved blowing up an Ork power generator to cause a distraction. My first time through the mission, I read the mission briefing, which stated that we didn’t have enough troops for a full assault, so we had to blow up the generator to bring the Orks to it, and we could go around them.”
“My troops approached the generator, killing the small numbers of Orks along the way, and all of a sudden the screen faded out and a message popped up saying ‘You have failed the mission.’ Huh? Why?”
So he tried something else, and got the same response. And again, and again. “Reload after reload and I still have no idea why I failed the mission, even after once having destroyed the stupid generator. Surely win and loss conditions should be well spelt out, so that the player knows what they need to do, and avoid doing.” You’re damn right they should. It’s one of the most basic principles of design. Bad Game Designer! No Twinkie!
Most of the Twinkie Denial Conditions I write about have to do with poor gameplay, controls, balancing, or content. This one’s a bit unusual — it may even be a marketing decision rather than a game design issue. Rob Allen writes, “Take the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix demo, for example. I was admiring the tasteful surrounding of the academy when, lo and behold, ‘You have one minute remaining.’ I dashed all over the place to find what I was supposed to do and, again, got the screens telling me to buy the game. Why would I want to now?”
EA Games’ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“The thing just annoyed me by presuming that I wanted the game bad enough to eat up my bandwidth to get the intro screen, and that would make me buy it… Don’t even get me started on the pointless mini-game that I could not finish that sapped up 10 minutes.”
Now, you might say, “Tough! You can’t complain about something that was free.” I would disagree, though. Lots of web-based games are free; that’s no excuse for delivering a crummy experience. And Rob’s got a point about bandwidth. With Comcast announcing that it is placing a hard limit on users’ data transfers, we’re going to have to think carefully about how many gigabyte-sized demos we’re prepared to download. If they eat up the download allocation we have to pay cash for, demos are no longer free.
We already know the demo is going to be limited anyway — it’ll only include part of the content and part of the gameplay. Why force us to quit after a fixed amount of time? The longer we play, the more likely we are to get involved and want to see more. Compare this with Doom. Id gave you the first ten levels, which you could play as much as you wanted.
It was brilliant and made them a fortune. Suppose the Doom demo had stopped in the middle of the first level with the words, “You’re out of time. Go buy the game.” People would have yanked the floppy disk out of the drive and set fire to it. They certainly wouldn’t have bought it in such numbers.
Obvious and Cheap Reskins (also known as Cookie-Cutter Games)
Patrick Perrault of Airborne Entertainment writes, “It’s common practice in the mobile space [i.e. cell phone games] to take an existing engine (or entire game) and reuse it to do another, usually branded, game.”
“While some companies (like Gameloft with games like Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, and all its platformers) do a good job at adding new functionalities to each iteration, other publishers will stop at loading different graphics and modifying existing levels. Some really, really greedy publishers will even stop at changing only the game’s title and splash screen.”
“But if you want to be greedy, at least be smart! If you are reskinning a game, making sure you remove all mentions of the old title in the credits is smart. And so is making sure the characters from the original game do not appear in the new game. Failure to be smart is sure to result in players not buying any more of your games.”
Leaving old characters and credits to turn up in the new game is one of the funniest screwups I’ve ever heard about. It doesn’t get much more sloppy than that. Alas, if this were only a new problem.
Certain companies in the early ’90s were infamous for turning out cookie-cutter platform games on the Genesis and SNES. And it’s hardly confined to the mobile space these days; there are plenty of clone shooters around. I think the FPS is the side-scroller of this generation: there are way too many of them.
Computer Crashed While Saving? Game Over!
Someone named Ilya writes, “If you save and the game crashes while it’s saving, your game’s corrupt. Why not save a file with a .sa2 extension if there’s one with a .sav one and delete the .sav when you’re done?”
Ilya’s right — this is freshman year computer science. Unless storage space is limited, basic caution says you don’t overwrite someone’s old data until you know their new data has been safely stored away. (If there is a shortage of space, you can warn the user that their old save is being overwritten — along with a “don’t show this warning again” checkbox, of course.) The implementation is trivial, so get it right.
Friendly AI Characters Who Do More Harm Than Good
I’ve often complained about stupid AI wingmen in flight simulators — they’re supposed to be watching your back, and instead they get killed in the first ten seconds of battle. Steven Taylor points out that this can be generalized to include escort missions in which the character you’re escorting is an idiot, and in fact I think it really applies to any AI-controlled ally character.
He writes, “If the person being escorted simply followed the main character, or stayed in one place, this wouldn’t be a problem. Instead, the escorted character runs around unpredictably in such a way that the player loses control over the situation and instead has to react to whatever nonsensical move the AI makes. Tactics are thrown out the window as the escorted character runs into the next source of gunfire.”
Shawn Lucas independently offers a good example from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: “I remember a quest where the player was tasked with rescuing a peasant girl who had been kidnapped by a group of cultists. After journeying to their hideout and freeing the girl from her cell, I attempted to flee with the prisoner. However, it seemed that the girl was more interested in attacking the hostile cultists than she was in getting to safety. The second she spotted one of the cultists she attacked him and drew other enemies to our position. As it turned out, she was no match for them , nor was I. After numerous deaths and reloads, I was able to take out the cultists one by one, by means of cheap tactics, but it put me off from playing the game.”
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
And he had another example as well: “There was one mission in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that required the player to follow alongside a train on a dirt bike while shooting enemies who were riding the train. The dirt bike was driven by the player and the friendly AI sat on the back and had to shoot the enemies. However, the friendly AI would often choose not to shoot at the enemies, despite having a clear shot. There was also a time limit for this mission,
which made my partner’s lackluster performance all the more aggravating.”
You occasionally see this played for laughs in movies, where our hero is stuck with an ally who is more trouble than he’s worth. (Indiana Jones’s sidekick Wilhelmina “Willy” Scott from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a good example.) But a movie is different — it goes forward no matter what.As a player, if I’m constantly being held up or killed on account of my moronic companion, I’m strongly tempted to shoot him myself. I object to
confronting stupid enemy AI (Stupid Opponents is a Twinkie Denial Condition too), but I really object to having to cooperate with, and compensate for, bad AI that’s supposed to be on my side. If you can’t make your AI NPCs smart, at least make them cautious and predictable.
This is another biggie: a very, very wrong and bad TDC in an otherwise good game. I’ll let a lady named Jessica explain it: “This damaged the ending of Shadow of the Colossus for me — and it happens in other games too. You allow the player to control their character during a sequence, but no matter what the player does, the sequence can only go one way. Since it’s not clear that it would ever happen, when it does happen, it makes you want to try the sequence again, but that only gives you the same result.”
“If it can only go one way, make it a cut scene. If the player has control of the character, let the player’s actions make a difference, and affect the outcome. If it’s a part of the game’s ‘style’ to let the player ‘play’ through what are essentially cut scenes, then make it that way throughout the game so that we know the game is going to be this way, and don’t just surprise us with it at the end.”
John Funderburk adds, “I also hated Tomb Raider Legend’s and Resident Evil 4′s ‘interactive’ cut scenes. ‘Push the button when I tell you to’ — what game is that?” People play games in order to overcome challenges, make interesting choices, and generally express themselves. Game sequences that don’t provide any of those experiences shouldn’t be interactive. We expect that when we have control of the avatar, the avatar’s actions will affect the game world in some way. If it affects the game world in no way at all, then there’s no point in pretending that it’s interactive.
A word of caution, though — this is not an argument against linear stories in games. With a linear story, overcoming challenges earns the player more story (usually in the form of a cut scene), even though the player can’t change its content. That’s OK — the very act of overcoming the challenge unlocks the next phase of the story, and the player knows and understands this.
Capcom’s Resident Evil 4
The problem arises when we lead the player to believe her actions do matter, and then it turns out that they don’t, but the player wastes hours and hours trying. If you want to tell a tragic story — the doomed hero or the hopeless cause — you must not lie to the player and tell him that he can escape his fate if he just tries hard enough.
For tragedy to really work, the audience must know in advance that the hero is doomed, or at least come to realize it without spending fruitless hours trying to avoid it. We can still make games about Napoleon, or the Americans in the Vietnam war, even though the player knows the ultimate outcome will be failure.
Bad Gamepad-to-Mouse/Keyboard Conversions (and vice versa)
This is a classic mistake and once again, what’s most surprising about it is that people persist in making it. Jacek Wesolowski writes, “One factor that harms my entertainment is that some developers treat mouse and keyboard as secondary setup. The difference between those and gamepads is significant, because usage patterns differ.”
“For instance, keyboard is better suited for ‘broad’ interfaces, assigning a key to each action, whereas gamepads rely on the ‘deep’ variety, in this case — button combinations and sequences. Simply mapping buttons onto keys, or vice versa, is often insufficient. But that is exactly what many developers do.”
“A good example of this is Assassin’s Creed. Its controls make a fairly good sense when playing with gamepad, but the keyboard/mouse mapping is unwieldy and counter-intuitive. Even worse, the developer has imposed an artificial, and very severe limit on mouse sensitivity, probably to match it with the maximum turn rate available with gamepad. There is no gameplay reason for this, because instant 180-degrees turns are available anyway, as well as looking behind avatar’s back. In other words, higher mouse sensitivity would not give me any real advantage, other than being able to play comfortably. While playing, I felt as if my preferred control device was sabotaged deliberately.”
Jacek has put his finger on one of the reasons I’m a PC gamer rather than a console gamer: I’m not coordinated enough to manage combos, and I prefer to have separate buttons that each do one thing (or better yet, a smart button that does what I mean). However, my preference doesn’t make it a Twinkie Denial Condition. The bad mouse/joystick adaptation is one, though.
Mouse-based interfaces work poorly on joysticks, and usually joystick-based interfaces work poorly with the mouse too. They don’t do the same thing. A mouse is a pointing device. A joystick is a steering device.
A mouse doesn’t automatically return to center the way a joystick does, and a joystick can’t move indefinitely in the same direction the way a mouse can. If you’re going to make a system for both, don’t privilege one over the other or kludge one to fit the other. Design the user interface for each separately as if it were the only input device you will be supporting, and make each as good as it can be.
If you discover that this gives the joystick player a big advantage over the mouse player, or vice versa, don’t solve the problem by sabotaging one player’ s control system! Build in a handicapping system that the players can manipulate themselves and mutually agree upon. It works for golf; I see no reason why it shouldn’t work for video games.
Alternatively, under the principle if you can’t do it well, don’t do it at all, drop support for the device that you can’t implement properly. That’s better than selling the player an inferior experience.
Setting the Player Up to Fail
Someone who calls himself “One Man Science Team” wrote, “One design flaw I think definitely calls for Twinkie denial is level designers unreasonably demanding the player break previously established rules and risk associated consequences in order to meet goals. Even games considered ‘good’ do this sometimes — in order to find every secret in the original Donkey Kong Country you have to try jumping into every pit on every level.”
“You will get Game Over many times if you don’t go to a FAQ first. Another example is in many RPGs, with impossible battles where you’re punished for actually trying to win through the wasting of healing items but rewarded for losing because that’s what the story wants you to do.”
He goes on to say that he doesn’t mind level designers changing up the rules now and then, but they have to give hints that they have done so — some kind of visual indicator that things are different.
“But if accomplishing a goal that the developer can expect/predict a player might go for (finding all the secrets) involves violating the very rules of play the designers put forth (and the player getting punished repeatedly for it!) then the trust that exists between the player and designer is eroded.”Yes it is. Unlike with board games, video game players don’t know the rules when they start out — they have to learn them by trial and error, and that means they have to trust that you’re not going to lie to them.
Your Only Save is Immediately Before Your Death
We’ll end on a simple one. Nathan Sturtevant teaches computer science at the University of Alberta, and he writes, “What has bugged me in a number of games that do allow saving, is that they let you save your game as you die. I think I last saw this in Neverwinter Nights, but I’m fairly certain I’ve seen it in other games as well. In NWN it can happen either in battle, or if you’re about to walk over a trap. It’s quite frustrating to discover that you are reliably killed 0.2 milliseconds after loading your game.”
I’ve been bitten by this one myself. Now, I’m a big believer in letting the player save whenever he wants, and it can be difficult for the computer to predict that death is truly inevitable if the player still has a few hit points left. (It certainly shouldn’t save if he already is dead.)
But I also believe in letting the player make multiple saves. OK, the player saved in the last instant before an inevitable death — so let him restore an earlier save. Problem solved. If you only have storage space for one save, then checkpoints might be a better option — just make sure they’re placed in such a way that the player is definitely healthy when he saves.
That’s it for this year. I’m always interested in more suggestions, although last year I was rather bad at getting back to people and thanking them. I promise to do better!
Another year, another collection of game design errors. I’ve got a whole mail folder full, and I’m always eager to hear about more. I’m so busy with my regular work that I don’t get the chance to play the variety of games that I would like to, so every year I count on submissions from you loyal readers to find the broken ones for me.
We’ll start with two from role-playing games sent in by Kris Kelly. (Why are so many Twinkie Denial Conditions in RPGs? Complex game mechanics, probably.)Psychic AIKris’s own words are perfectly clear: “In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the guards are so good at their job, they instantly know when you’ve committed a crime (i.e. killed someone in a building, stolen something), even when they were never in the area. They’ll sometimes run all the way across town to try and arrest you.
“Another Oblivion issue is the stolen items thing: merchants will happily accept items you’ve ‘liberated’ from the corpses of your enemies, but if you take a candlestick in, you can’t even offer it to them, never mind get refused.”
The underlying design problems are actually different here. The psychic guards have access to global information when they really should have access only to information about their local region. The other is that the merchants have a peculiar sense of morality: they condone mugging but not burglary. What’s that about?
This one is particularly bad because it violates the player’s perfectly reasonable expectation that an enemy can’t be in two places at once, and ruins a clever ploy.
Here’s Kris again: “I can only think of one occurrence of this, but I’m sure it happens in other games. In Neverwinter Nights 2, there’s a large battle involving fire giants and a red dragon. You are expected to fight on the side of one or the other but I, being a sneaky type, decided to start the battle on the side of the red dragon and then sneak out while he was fighting the giants and raid his lair.
“I wander over to his abode, loot sack at the ready, only to be confronted by a fully-healed un-harrassed-by-giants red dragon who is hell bent on fighting me, I beat him up a bit (and he reciprocates), then decide to go back to the giant fight (because it was easier) and there he is again, fighting the giants and fully healed once more.”
Neverwinter Nights 2
Look: a dragon is either guarding its lair or it’s fighting giants somewhere else. Not both. Clearly the designers implemented two dragons and led the player to believe they were both the same. Not fair and not fun.
Level Designs that Over- (or Under-) Use a Game Feature
Pascal Luban, a French freelance game designer I’ve known for many years, writes:
“A great game feature does not make a game, it is the way it is implemented that does. The best game feature is not enough to support a game by itself, because the best feature eventually becomes boring when you have done it too many times in the same circumstances. I see that on a regular basis in games.“The level design does not create unique situations tailored to the use of the unique game mechanics of the game. That’s why level design is so important:
because it allows designer to create diversity and challenge around a given mechanism.”
Pascal was reluctant to name names, but he does mention as an example a famous shooter in which the player has super-jump or super-strength abilities, but none of the levels make good use of it.
I’ve often said that game designers determine what sorts of “LEGO blocks” the game will be made from, but level designers actually construct the game out of those blocks. If the level design doesn’t make good use of a feature, then the feature is wasted. If it is used too many times in exactly the same way, then it becomes tiresome.
An example of good design with a limited feature set is Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic only had two moves, jumping and super-spinning, yet the level designs offered enough variety to keep the game interesting.
Incomplete or Ambiguous Design Documents
I normally think of Twinkie Denial Conditions from the viewpoint of the player, but game design errors can make life hard for the rest of the development team too. Anything that a designer doesn’t specify, the programmers will have to figure out for themselves, which wastes time. Worse, if they start pulling in divergent directions, the results will be incoherent or even disastrous. David Mullich writes of a project that he had to rescue:
“The original game designer typically described only the main flow for any system or UI. He didn’t describe the alternate flow or extreme circumstances, leaving it to the programmer to identify what those situations were and how to handle them.
“I wound up rewriting much of the game design document so that it included pseudo-code (thanks to my programming roots) that specified the required logic a little more clearly. But even beyond the logic, the designer left a lot of other details — such as the exact text to use for alert and confirmation pop-ups — to the programmers.
“Plus, when the programmers stayed late, the designer did not hang around to answer questions or ensure that his design was being implemented correctly.”
The fact that Mullich had to take the project over is evidence enough that things weren’t working out. I know this is going to be unpopular with some designers, but every game design team must have somebody with programming experience on it.
No matter how much we talk about aesthetics and games as art (and nobody loves such talk more than I), video games are software, and to design software requires the ability to communicate clearly about algorithmic systems.
And there’s no excuse at all for leaving out the text that needs to appear in dialog boxes. That’s just laziness. It may be boring, it’s part of the job. Bad game designer! No Twinkie!
Designer Ignorance of Technical Limits
While we’re on the subject of designers who annoy their dev teams, let’s include those who don’t understand what their target hardware can actually do.
Gregg Tavares wrote: “I know lots of designers who might, for example, want 25 enemies on the screen at once when the engine only supports only 10 at most. Or they want the engine to be able to see forever. Then they force the programmers to spend months on technical engine design instead of fun gameplay.
“I think if you look at most of the best games, the designers figured out a way to be creative within severe technical limits. Metroid Prime was a perfect example of designing within technical limits. So is the Zelda series of games.”
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
This was a serious problem when Hollywood tried to take over the industry in the early ’90s — a lot of so-called “game designers” arrived from the film world knowing nothing about how computers actually work, and they drove their development teams mad with unrealistic demands. Their ignorance is one (of several) reasons why the takeover failed. But a lot of money went down the tubes in the process.
Know your hardware. It’s compulsory. If you’re not a technical person, then you’ll have to ask your programmers and trust what they tell you, because arguing with them isn’t going to change anything.
Mocking the Player
I already listed this one in my Bill of Player’s Rights, but it bears repeating as a Twinkie Denial Condition. I don’t play online games with strangers, because I dislike their rudeness and poor sportsmanship. I also don’t like it when a single-player game mocks me, and I’m not alone in this. Owen Clark wrote in to say, “Don’t mock me! If I fail a specific part of the game or whatever there’s no need to rub salt in the wound!”
Now I realize there’s fun in smack-talk. As a long-time member of the Madden team, I know that the right way to play Madden is with a lot of friends around all talking trash. The key word, though, isfriends. Friends know when enough is enough.
When a game mocks the player, it’s not jovial banter, it’s rude, like insulting a stranger. It’s really the designer mocking the player, and that’s not fair because the designer holds all the cards and the player can’t respond. Don’t mock the player for his failures. It’s juvenile and self-indulgent.
Essential but Unobtainable Items
The same Owen Clark also wrote, “Don’t make must-have items avoidable! If I need an item that I’m supposed to pick up in the early levels of a game which is then vital later on, then it should mandatory that I get this item. No ifs, no buts, no making the item optional but I have a huge disadvantage. There is almost nothing more annoying than having to restart a game from scratch after three to four levels because you missed something in one of the early levels…
just give me the damn thing.”
If you fail to give the player something that she absolutely must have to win the game, then the game is unwinnable and that’s a bad design for sure. If the player has the option of leaving something critical behind when she passes through a one-way door, it also makes the game unwinnable – this is why many adventure games let you pick things up but don’t let you put them down again.
The (very) old game Monty on the Run required the player to choose some items to take with her before the game started. If she chose the wrong ones, the game was unwinnable at a later point, a truly severe design flaw.
There’s a fine line here, because Clark wants to be given things that are not technically essential but extremely valuable; he cites the sniper scope in Crysisas an example. The player is at a major disadvantage without it. I don’t know if I would really call hiding the sniper scope a Twinkie Denial Condition; I think it’s a problem in managing the game’s difficulty. If the game is nearly impossible without it and reasonably easy with it, then the sniper scope itself is more valuable than it should be (or the game is too hard without it).
Ben Matson wrote to me about this all the way back in 2004, and maybe it’s completely obvious by this time, but it needs to be in the No Twinkie Database, so here it is. He said, “Sinking hours and hours of your life killing gnoll smallfists just so you can spend twice as long on gnoll bigfists has always been a huge annoyance to me. I love MMORPGs, but eventually it seems to all reduce to filling experience meters. There has to be something better. Examples are EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, etc…”
It isn’t just MMORPGs, but single-player offline RPGs as well. The early RPGs had randomly-generated levels and there wasn’t much to do in them but grind. They get excused because they had to fit on a few floppy disks; but even then, the better games managed to avoid it.
A game can get away with being slow-moving if it provides variety in the gameplay (e.g. an adventure game); and it can get away with only offering one kind of gameplay if it’s exciting (e.g. Tetris). But if your game is both slow and dull, you’ve screwed up. And that’s grinding in a nutshell. Boring, outdated, unnecessary.
If players really want to grind, they can play Progress Quest.
Magic Perfect Cover in Shooter Games
We’ll go back to Pascal Luban for one last item. He writes, “Sometimes, you can see a section of an enemy’s body sticking out behind or above a cover and your bullet cannot hit it. That’s because the designers don’t want to you to be able to hit an enemy while he’s in cover. That’s OK when a few pixels stick out but when it is half of the skull, it gets very frustrating!”
Yes it does. Any soldier can tell you that it’s not a good idea to stick your head out of the trench even if the rest of your body is still in it. Either the designers have created some kind of magic perfect cover that works no matter how much of the target’s body is sticking out, or there’s something wrong with the relationship between the physics and the graphics engines.
If you can see something within range, you ought to be able to shoot it. (In the first Gulf War, an American tank destroyed an Iraqi tank that thought it was under cover by firing through a sand dune. There’s no such thing as perfect cover.)
Reading back over this, I see these Twinkie Denial Conditions aren’t all as funny as some have been in previous columns. Still, I think there are some valuable suggestions here – mistakes to watch out for, errors to avoid. Keep sending them in to firstname.lastname@example.org! Be sure to check the No Twinkie Database first, though; after ten columns I have already covered many of the most egregious ones.
It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time for another roundup of game design errors sent in by loyal, yet outraged, readers. This year I have eight, which isn’t very many, but I look at them in a little more detail than I did in earlier columns.
Offering Irrelevant Help
When a game offers help or advice, players normally trust it because they assume that the game knows better than they do how to win. Consequently, few things are more confusing than help that isn’t helpful — help that comes at the wrong time, or is irrelevant in the current circumstances.
Ben Ashley writes, “Tips need to be pertinent! Battlefield 2: Special Forces suffers from this. The grappling hook is an item of equipment that is only carried by the assault class.
“So, when playing another class, why on earth does the game come and helpfully tell me I can use my hook to get on the ledge above me? I don’t have a hook. This causes quite a bit of confusion for the new player.”
AI-generated advice is tricky to tune well, and advisor characters in complex economic simulations often get things wrong. But when a game advises you to do something that is currently impossible to do, that’s more than a tuning problem, it’s a Twinkie Denial Condition. Bad game designer! No Twinkie!
Time Limits in Pure Puzzle Games
Many games include both rewards and punishments. In Space Invaders, you get points for shooting aliens, and you lose lives when they shoot you. Simple. The trick is balancing them appropriately. As a general principle, you should always reward more than you punish.
When it comes to time limits, it’s good to reward speed, but not good to punish slowness. The jockey who comes in first wins the prize money, but the one who comes in last doesn’t have to pay a penalty. And nowhere is this principle more appropriate than in puzzle games. People have differing amounts of brain power, and puzzle-solving requires time and patience. Someone calling himself “Aguydude” wrote in to say,
“When I call a game a ‘pure’ puzzle game, I mean that the game does not require any sort of reflexes or timing. I’ll occasionally play a pure puzzle game with a time limit, which is bad. Equally bad are puzzle games that use lives or something similar to limit the number of attempts the player can make at solving the puzzle. Forcing a player to redo all of the previous puzzles because they made errors in the current one only serves to discourage them from playing, if they want to avoid meaningless repetition.”
A puzzle game with lives? A puzzle game that punishes you by making you repeat solved puzzles? That is serious wrongthink. If you want to reward the player for solving a puzzle quickly, be my guest. But don’t punish him for taking his time. As we say in the world of game accessibility, “there’s no such thing as too slow.”
Bad, Boring Boss Battles
In Bad Game Designer VII, I condemned extreme rule changes when fighting boss characters. The opposite is just as bad: bosses that are nothing but more powerful versions of enemies the player has already seen. My friend Gabrielle Kent recently started a Facebook discussion about boss battles, and several people chimed in with their own pet gripes.Gabby said that to her, the things that make a boss battle boring are, “stupid amounts of repetition, ridiculously igh/replenishing energy [i.e. boss
health] combined with unimaginative gameplay (yawn), and powered up versions of previous bosses.”
She also hates boss rushes — having to defeat the same batch of bosses that you’ve already defeated once before. I agree. This shows a lack of imagination (or time) on the part of the game designer.
Sarah Ford added, “One of the worst I’ve sat through is at the end of Final Fantasy X. Spend the whole game chasing this epic whale thing and the last boss is a bin lid with legs. Total anticlimax. What’s worse, you can’t even die. What’s the point in that? It’s not even a short symbolic battle, it stretches out forever and the thing keeps healing itself. Rubbish.”
Harryizman Bin Harun also wrote to me from Malaysia to complain about endlessly self-healing bosses. I think it’s fair to say that gamers hate them on a global scale.
Someone named Jessica mentioned bosses that are utterly invulnerable to all but exactly the right attack, as in the Lord of the Rings action games: “Sure, a seven foot tall Uruk-Hai is going to be tough, but after fighting eighty of his minions, I would think that whacking him in the head with a sword would do something similar to what it did to them, even if I wasn’t whacking him in the head at the time when he was most vulnerable.
“I would have been satisfied if the special moments did more damage, and the conventional attacks did less, but the way it was left me totally unsatisfied, and uninspired to continue and finish the game.”
Jessica also pointed out that in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, at one point all it takes to defeat a certain boss is to press a button — but you must wait until the boss attacks you, and not press it early. This is a severe conceptual non sequitur. The button and the boss attack are not related, so to avoid getting whacked, it makes sense to push it as soon as you can. She was doing the right thing in a sensible way, and the game punished her for it.
So, a few rules for boss battles:
Bosses must be different from other enemies.
Bosses must not be so different that nothing the player has already learned is of any use.
Bosses should not be invincible to all but exactly one thing (that makes it a puzzle, not a battle).
Fighting bosses should include variety, not endless repetition.
Bosses should not heal themselves (or not very much, anyway).
The key to a boss’s vulnerability should not be a conceptual non sequitur; it has to make sense.
Dead bosses should stay dead. (See Bad Game Designer V.) If they come back, they should be interestingly different each time (think of Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog).
I’m sure you can probably think of some more.
Good boss battles cited in Gabby’s discussion thread included GlaDOS from Portal, the Colosssus in God of War 2, various bosses in Yoshi’s Island, Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, Malocchio in Interstate ’76, and Shadow of the Colossus, which was a game consisting entirely of bosses! All worthy of study.
Save Points Before Long Non-Interactive Sections
If you’ve been reading the Designer’s Notebook for a while, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of save points; I prefer on-demand saving just in case Dad (or Mom) says “Switch that game off right this minute.” But some players really enjoy the tension of not knowing whether they’re going to make it to the next save point, so I have to acknowledge that save points are here to stay. However, they do create problems if implemented badly.
I mentioned this Twinkie Denial Condition briefly all the way back in Bad Game Designer V, when I introduced another one, the uninterruptible movie. If you put a save point right before a movie, every time the player dies, he’ll have to see the movie again. If you can skip the movie, it’s not that big a deal, but some games put their save points right before other kinds of long, non -interactive sections of the game, and the player has to go through it all every time he reloads.
Kaftan Barlast describes one in Mass Effect: “Right before the boss fight on Artemis Tau you have to go through a conversation and an unskippable elevator ride every single time you die. And this is with a game that has an actual save system, but they disable the ability to save the game before and during the fight.”
Steven McDonald also mentioned Deadly Creatures on the Wii, in which you have to walk for a minute with nothing to do following a save point. Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be any long walks with nothing to do in a game anyway; but walking through the same territory doing nothing fifteen times is particularly dull.
Bottom line: put your save points after any non-interactive content (cut scenes, dialog, long walks), and shortly before any big fights. If the player respawns with very little health, be sure to put some healing potions (or equivalent) around too, because respawning with low health straight into an unavoidable fight is another common complaint.
Movies You Can’t Pause or See Again
I’ve already addressed the question of uninterruptible movies and games that lack a pause button — both are Twinkie Denial Conditions. The combination is even worse, as Bas Wells wrote to point out. Suppose you’ve fought your way through hordes of undead kangaroos, haven’t reached a save checkpoint, and a critically important cut-scene begins… when your doorbell rings. You can’t pause and you can’t see the movie again without starting the level over.
Bas wrote, “To add insult to injury, some games will save after the cut-scene, and it will be gone, a slice of the story missed and gone forever unless you restart the entire level. I remember this happening in Grand Theft Auto IV, then dying on purpose, restarting from the safe house and driving all across town a second time just to be able to watch the scene a second time. I think I must have done this a dozen times in total in just GTA4, and many other games similarly.”
I don’t think cut-scenes need a full set of DVD controls, but I do think they need:
a way to interrupt them and skip to the end;
a way to pause them;
a way to see them again, once you’ve seen them once.
The Longest Journey and many other games provide a shell screen where you can revisit the movies that you have already seen once, both for enjoyment and in case you missed any vital clues the first time around. This should be a mandatory feature.
Plot Inconsistency with Game Mechanics
Some storytelling games don’t weave their stories neatly in with their gameplay. It can be done, despite what the naysayers may claim, but we often see games in which it isn’t. Ideally, the game world and the story world are one and the same, identical in setting and internal laws. When the game world mechanic suddenly changes for the sake of a plot feature, it frustrates the player and destroys immersion.
Sean Hagans and Joshua Able pointed this one out to me, and it’s a particularly famous example. Joshua wrote:
“Phoenix Down [a character-resurrection device] didn’t wok on Aeris in Final Fantasy VII after Aeris died for plot reasons. If it doesn’t work, why is that? No explanation? Why does this one time that she dies (even though she died like 100 times before) have to be permanent?
“Either a resurrection vial should work on a story-dead character unless there is an explanation for it, or the character shouldn’t die, or you shouldn’t have resurrection vials.”
The behavior of Phoenix Down (the down feathers of a phoenix bird) seems to vary somewhat from one edition of Final Fantasy to the next, but within a single game it shouldn’t suddenly stop working, without explanation, for plot reasons.
All they had to do was give us a reason. “Aeris was too badly injured to save,” would have done it. Or “Sephiroth’s sword was poisoned.” That way, the pure pathos of this highly-charged moment wouldn’t have been adulterated with frustration.
Bad Input Device Conversions
The input devices on a video game machine (of any sort) are the most important part of the hardware. Gamers can tolerate low-resolution graphics and tinny 8 -bit sound, but badly implemented controls ruin the game for keeps. If you port a game from one machine to another, I suggest rewriting the input device code from scratch, because there are an awful lot of poorly-implemented conversions out there. Sam Hardy wrote to point out two particularly egregious examples:
“BioWare’s Mass Effect 2 suffers from half-implemented menus. I am able to use my keys to move and select a menu item, but there is no way to press a button and confirm it. I have to mouse over and click. Also, there’s no mouse wheel support for scrolling text. The other offense it commits is giving poor information regarding what buttons to press. If I rebind a key, it isn’t changed in the prompts that pop up.
“Another offender in a similar manner was 2008′s Prince of Persia, in which the joystick and button scheme had been imported so well that in order for me to select START GAME I had to mouse over the option then press [ENTER] for it to accept. It wouldn’t take a mouse click.
“Another common console porting issue is the slower speed at which a mouse and keyboard operate in comparison to a console. Prince of Persia earns its ire from the fact that doing a combo with the left mouse button isn’t very comfortable. It’s worse when you have to use an uncommon mouse button, such as middle mouse click. Your hand and the mouse isn’t designed very well for this and it becomes a source of discomfort.”
A controller is not a keyboard and mouse. I realize that portability is a virtue, but when it comes to control devices, it’s better to write code optimized for the hardware than it is to create something awkward but supposedly portable. Don’t kludge the code; rewrite it. Your players will appreciate it.
Background Music You Can’t Turn Off
I’ll end on a simple and obvious one. Scott Jenkins wrote to say, “My No Twinkie pet peeve is games that do not allow background music to be turned off. This seems to be more common in Japanese made games than western made games. The most recent example I can think of is the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii.”
For accessibility reasons, all games should have two volume controls, one for the music and one for the sound effects. Players with hearing impairments need to be able to turn down/off the music; and they’re not the only ones. The best music in the world gets monotonous if repeated endlessly.
That’s it for this year; there’s plenty to think about here, especially when it comes to boss battles and story/game interaction. If you know of another Twinkie Denial Condition that I haven’t yet covered (check the No Twinkie Database to see), by all means send me some e-mail and tell me about it.
Welcome to the 12th installment of Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! I think we’re having a positive impact, folks — many of the games mentioned in this edition are fairly old, so it’s just possible that newer games are starting to avoid the worst design mistakes. I’d like to hope that this gripe-fest is helping. However, old or new, we can always learn from the errors of the past, so I’m going to go right on documenting them. As always, thanks to my many contributors, and you’re welcome to send more complaints to email@example.com.
As usual, I’ve tried to mix and match between small things that are incredibly annoying (but easy to fix) and larger, harder problems. This year we have eight.
I read fast, and I don’t like to re-read something that I’ve just read five minutes ago. Waiting for text to… scroll… slowly… by… drives me nuts, especially if it’s text I’ve already seen.
Joshua Gault wrote, “This is most annoying when you save, then there is a long conversation between you and some guy, and he turns out to be the boss.“This is particularly bad at the end of all of the Mega Man Battle Network games. I don’t like breaking my A button from anger because I must retry the boss, which requires me to go through four pages of text.”
It’s very simple: non-interactive text should be interruptible, just as movies should be.
Oh, and don’t put save points before long non-interactive sections, either — text, cinematics, or empty regions the player has to walk through. But you knew that one, right? I mentioned it last year in Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XI.
Rapid Non-Stop Text
The flip side of the foregoing is text that goes by too fast. Shairi Turner wrote, “I have a problem with dialogue moving too quickly. We don’t all read at the same speed. While I may have found pressing X or clicking to be tedious in the past, I miss it when it’s gone.” This is a basic accessibility failure. (Most games have terrible accessibility.)
You need two buttons: Advance to Next Page (which should happen instantly, not in a slow scroll or worse yet, a letter-by-letter display — TeleTypes were old news by 1985, okay?) and Jump to End, which should take the player to the next point at which she has to take action or make a decision.
False or Pointless Alignment Systems
I’ve always thought that explicit alignment systems, a la Dungeons & Dragons, were kind of pointless anyway; they constrain role-playing and discourage enacting characters with flaws or complex personalities. Is Hamlet good or evil? Well, he killed Polonius, so I guess that makes him evil. Whew. I’m glad we ’ve got that sorted out.
It’s even more of a problem in computer RPGs that keep track of what you do, but only in a simplistic way. Luke Bainton wrote,
Generally, you have to decide from the outset whether you’re going to be the white knight or the black knave; you will only get benefits from relentlessly pursuing one or the other. On top of this, the contrast between being “good” and “bad” is usually so far divided it’s impossible to relate. In BioShock your choices are between being a loving caretaker for the rest of your life or turning into a comic-book supervillain with destroy-the-world intentions. I have no desire to do either!
The concept of neutrality is usually poorly implemented as well. In some games it means you need to balance good acts with evil ones, which gets hard to swallow. Roughing up one pedestrian for a few coins and then helping another across the street doesn’t make you neutral, it makes you schizophrenic.
If you want to track the player’s behavior and generate consequences for it, by all means do, but the consequences have to be proportionate to the activity. And if you’re interested in rewarding moral, or immoral, behavior, it’s better to do it via some in-world system than an arbitrary alignment. For example, if players want to be evil, let them join the Crime Guild and work their way up, gaining benefits as they go. They shouldn’t be thrown out for the occasional act of virtue, nor should they be thrown out of the Heroes Guild for a little burglary in a good cause.
While we’re on the subject of alignments…
Forcing the Player to Violate His or Her Alignment Unnecessarily
The example for this goes back a way, but it’s a good one. Benoit Girard chose to play a good Jedi in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, but…
You could get a powerful Jedi mind control trick allowing you to change an enemy into a neutral NPC permanently. You could use it to neutralize your opponents before killing them (not very Jedi-like), or just neutralize them and continue exploring the current level.
In a Bespin level, you ended up in an arena-like place where dark Jedis would attack you, and from which you could escape only after defeating them. The problem is that the appearance of the dark Jedis was triggered by the slaughter of all the other opponents in the level… something I figured out after more than half an hour trying to find the secret exit I might have missed somewhere in the level, while a bunch of formerly-hostile NPCs were walking around randomly.
So Benoit, being a good Jedi, courteously neutralized all his opponents without killing them, then couldn’t find the exit because it didn’t exist yet. The only way to get out was to massacre all the harmless neutrals in cold blood, thus triggering the appearance of the dark Jedi, and then kill all of them before the door would open.
And we wonder why some people are concerned about violence in video games. Note that this is what you’re supposed to do when you’re the good guy!
I already covered Illogical Victory Checks back in Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! VIII, and this is certainly an example. (Normally, you don’t have to kill people to unlock a door.) But apart from that, it compels the player to violate his alignment, requiring him to do something that the game has told him not to do.
Lying to the player about how he’s supposed to play the game is almost never a good idea. (Yes, I know about Shadow of the Colossus, and I’m not convinced.) Worse yet, it fails to recognize lateral thinking. Benoit neutralized his opponents without shedding a drop of blood. That should be rewarded, not ignored.
It’s one thing to put the player in a moral dilemma for dramatic effect. But this was no dilemma, it was just bad level design… and a Twinkie Denial Condition.
Poor Defensive Controls in RTS Games
History lesson: When Duke William of Normandy invaded England in 1066, he met King Harold’s armies at the Battle of Hastings. Harold’s men formed a tightly packed wall of shields that neither William’s infantry nor his cavalry could breach. After a few hours of trying and failing, William ordered a feigned retreat. Harold’s armies, thinking they had won the day, broke ranks and chased them. With the shield wall down, William’s men turned around and destroyed
them. This is why, nearly a thousand years later, the motto of the British monarch is still in French.
The same thing happens in StarCraft. Someone named Ilya tells it:
You can either tell your units to hold position or stop. If they stop, and they get attacked, they’re going to run after whoever did it, kill them, get attacked again, run after it, etc., until they’re in the enemy base. Then they all die.
If they hold position and they get attacked, only one or two of them is going to do anything about it and the rest stand around. And they die.
And there’s no hold fire mode. If you’re trying to spy on your enemy, you leave your spy alone for a second, and he shoots something automatically, then your enemy will know what happened and will send a detector over and your spy dies.
There are actually two separate issues here: engagement and pursuit. A reconnaissance unit should never initiate engagement until explicitly ordered to.
A unit that has been ordered to stay in one place should never pursue until explicitly ordered to. If you have two engagement policies (fire on sight and fire when fired upon) and two pursuit policies (pursue and don’t pursue), the combination yields four types of defensive orders:
Firing only when fired upon enables a unit to defend itself but doesn’t let it start fights that you don’t want to get into unless you have to. As for spies, the simplest way to handle this is not to give spy units any weapons, or instruct them not to initiate engagement.
Obviously you can complicate things further if you want to. If a unit’s range of vision is greater than the range of its weapons, should it move to get in range, or not? Do you want to make that yet another pursuit option? On the other hand, if you’re making a fairly simple game, I would restrict the defensive orders to Engage on Contact and Deny Passage.
One other item — Ilya’s complaint about units that just stand around when their fellows are under attack shows that Starcraft fighters haven’t bonded well. Implement a three musketeers policy: all for one and on for all. When a given unit in a defensive posture is attacked, it and every unit that received the same orders at the same time (in other words, the whole group that received the order) should respond together.
I realize this isn’t trivial to do; you have to keep track of more information. Still, watching one unit twiddle its thumbs while his buddy ten feet away gets massacred is infuriating. We know that’s not how soldiers should behave.
Small Objects That Don’t Stack
Mats Ohlsson sent a hilarious rant that speaks for itself:
These are some design flaws from MMOs and CRPGs. They are collected from the Regnum Online and Shaiyia free online games, The Witcher, Neverwinter Nights, Dimensity, Guild Wars, and many more.
You are going to do a quest to kill 200 Silvercrest Soldier Chickens, so first you run around, roaming a huge landscape to visit several chicken lairs, where you will find Ranhar The Super Strong Chicken and Average Joe Chickens but no quest chickens. When you have been running for two hours or two days you ask yet another time “Where are the chickens?” and you get an answer that you can teleport into that area if you find the portal behind the church.
So at last you are at the correct place and start to slay chickens, and when you have been killing chickens for 2 hours you find out that only one of them is a Silvercrest Soldier Chicken. The rest of them are Silvercrest Warrior Chickens that you don’t want for your quest. The NPC who gave you the quest was really picky about the ingredients for his soup. You finally get 200 chickens.
You start to collect loot, and you get 100 chicken feathers that fill every slot in the inventory. They are useless, and you can’t stack them, but still worth 1 gold each. So you can’t get the really nice +3 Rainbow Armor that one of the chickens was carrying because you get a “inventory full” message box all over the screen before you can get rid of a few feathers.
While you’re fiddling with this, you don’t notice that chickens spawn all around you and when they do, you go from idle to battle mode. This closes the inventory and you can’t open it again until all the new chickens are dead. You see your new armor slowly disappear while you get all sweaty fighting a bunch of chickens.
So you teleport out to sell all your new feathers. You go to the market in the nearest town, and the NPC says: “No, this is the pig skin market, we don’t deal with chicken feathers here. The chicken market is on the other side of the map.” So you go to the player market, a huge auction database where you spend the next hour filling in forms for each and every one of your feathers because they don’t stack.
Of course chicken feathers should stack! Anything small should stack. Kobold daggers. Wolf claws. Athelas cough drops. Locks of naiad hair. But not Rainbow Armor or Greater Voulges of Impressive Whooshy Noises.
No Loading Progress Bar/Meaningless Loading Progress Bar
This is another one of those Twinkie Denial Conditions that’s perfectly trivial to do right, so why do so many games do it wrong? From a correspondent named Will:
You get to an area that, unbeknownst to you, is a level boundary, and the game pauses with the legend: “LOADING.” No progress bar, not even an animation to tell you that the game is still doing something, and therefore, hasn’t frozen. The Half-Life series, as much as I love it otherwise, has this problem throughout and it irritates me no end — especially since one of the other hallmarks of the series is strange bugginess and intermittent lockups.
Another variant that messes up in the opposite direction is the meaningless progress bar. A game goes to a loading screen, and shows you a progress bar that fills fairly rapidly. If you’re like me, you’re thinking “Yay, short loading screen!” Then, the progress bar resets and starts filling again… and again … and again… and again.
Internet Explorer serves as another good example of the meaningless progress bar. Giant Internet Explorer’s little circle goes ’round and ’round, telling me nothing. Yet the tiny, free xScope browser for my Android phone includes a progress bar that shows me how much of the page has loaded. It’s invaluable.
Both of these errors are bad, but the lack of any loading bar is the worse of the two because you can’t tell if the machine is frozen or not. Put in a progress bar that fills up, once, until the load process is complete. It doesn’t have to be perfect; if you load 2 files and one of them is 10KB and one is 10MB, but you allocate half the bar to the first one and half the bar to the second, that’s tolerable. We don’t really care as long as we can see movement.
Back on the subject of text again, Shairi Turner writes, “I can’t stand when the subtitles are unreadable. I’ve run into games where the subtitles are too small or the colors fade into the background. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to have a text box at the bottom of the screen.”
Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! VII already talked about games that lack subtitles and unworkable interface elements such as green crosshairs that disappear into the background when using green night-vision goggles.
This is a variant of the same problem. Subtitles need to have high enough contrast with the background — whatever it may be — to be readable at all times. Television does this with white subtitles, counting on the bottom area of a shot to be darker than the center (as it usually is).
In the past I’ve suggested using multicolored subtitles to identify individual speakers, which we need because unlike TV, in many of our games you can’t see the characters’ lips move. To make sure these don’t ever blend in to the background, surround each letter with a black line and use dramatic colors like yellow or magenta. The Monkey Island games did this perfectly.
As for subtitles that are too small, this is a total violation of the rules about accessibility. Bad game designer! No twinkie! Unless the text is built into the artwork (bad for localization), it should be user-scalable — especially subtitles, which float on top of the image and don’t have to fit into a menu.
I’m not hearing many complaints about social media and casual games. Being simple, multiplayer, and often storyless, social media games may not have the problems with AI or conceptual non sequiturs that we so often see in role-playing and strategy games. Or it may be that my readership just doesn’t play them enough to get mad about them. Anyway, if you’ve got a gripe — about any kind of video game — let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next
Unlucky 13! Since the demise of Hostess Brands, the exclusive worldwide suppliers of Twinkies to game designers, this may be the last Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! column. The company is being liquidated and its assets sold off. However, the Twinkie may live on in another guise. Rumor has it that Walmart is considering buying some of the Hostess properties, which would make perfect sense: a low-grade snack food for sale at a company that provides a low-grade
Of course, if Walmart does take over the brand, the product may not be quite the same. As Electronic Arts knows, you can stick a much-loved name onto a box containing something completely different, as they did with Syndicate. It’s not a good idea, though, because fans of the original will trash you on the internet. Take note, Walmart: you can’t turn a tactical Twinkie into an FPS Twinkie without paying a price.
For the moment, however, there are still plenty of Twinkie Denial Conditions to discuss in my annual compendium of gamer-contributed goofs and gaffes. Here are this year’s ten:
Bad Randomly Generated Challenges
Many early video games generated their challenges (and associated game worlds, if any) randomly. In these days of finely tuned level designs costing millions of dollars to build and script, we’re not that used to thinking about randomly generated challenges, but they’re still very much around in casual games.
Randomly generated challenges offer endless replayability, but they have to be constrained by some kind of heuristic to make sure they’re good. By “bad,” I mean impossible, overly easy, or just plain boring challenges that the game has generated randomly.
Mary Ellen Foley pointed out that Yahoo Word Racer, a Boggle-like multiplayer game about finding words in a random matrix of letters, sometimes produces a layout containing no vowels at all in the first round. The players have to sit around and wait for the two-minute timer to run out before they can go on to the next round. This is ridiculous. The game contains a dictionary to check the validity of each word the players enter; surely it could check to see that a
given layout includes a minimum number of words before sending it to the players… or at least a few vowels.
She suggested that an “I’m finished” button would let the players jump on ahead without waiting for the timer to run out, once they all have pressed it. That’s a good idea for any multiplayer, simultaneous-turn based game, and a suitable workaround for Word Racer’s problem. But they should fix their generation algorithm too.
Hiding All Your Best Content Behind A PaywallIan Schreiber writes, “A few free-to-play games recently seems to hide all of the best content behind a paywall. Now, obviously I’d expect SOME good content to be pay-only, but I’d also expect some of it to be revealed to give the players incentive to actually buy. Otherwise you’re presenting the mediocre parts of the game to your customers and asking them to take it on faith that it gets better if they pay (instead of the more likely result, they see a mediocre game and assume that’s what you’re selling).
“It’s like a game designer searching for a job, and removing the best parts of their portfolio to use during the interview. Then they wonder why they never get an interview. I see this as a particularly nasty sin of game design because it doesn’t just ruin the game, it ruins the company’s entire business model.”
I’m going to have to set up a new section of the No Twinkie Database to cover this one. Most of my Twinkie Denial Conditions are issues that hurt the player ’s experience, but this is one that hurts the game company. Still, a design flaw is a design flaw. Ian said that he couldn’t name names, unfortunately, but that he had seen three iOS games in a row with this problem.
Overlong, Predictable AnimationsThese are similar to, but not exactly the same as, uninterruptible cutscenes. Tyler Moore writes that some games “force you to watch the same animations or script for mundane actions with a predictable outcome, blocking gameplay or interaction until the animation is complete. This does not apply to animations that have a variable reward at the end (as in Zelda, opening a chest), only to those with a certain outcome.” His examples were
watching the skinning animation over and over to collect a resource in Red Dead Redemption, and being forced to listen to the same tired shopkeeper greeting when you want to sell your wares in Skyrim.
Turning the Avatar Stupid or Incompetent in a Cutscene
This one is so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t mention it years ago. Someone named Jan wrote to say that in Max Payne 3, Max in the cutscenes (which are numerous) is very different from Max as the player plays him. Having fought huge numbers of armed men successfully before, the player arrives at a critical confrontation only to have control taken away from him. Instead of the battle he was expecting, he is shown a cutscene in which he fails to do something that he could handle easily in gameplay.
Certain kinds of interactive stories have a tendency to seize control of the avatar in order to insert narrative plot material, leaving the player wondering who’s role-playing this character anyway, him or the game? It’s okay to introduce plot twists and unexpected developments in the game world at these moments. It’s not fair — and very frustrating — to make the avatar perform below the player’s own competence level or do something blatantly stupid.
Valve’s games, notably, don’t do this.
There’s a place for cutscenes and scripted sequences, and in story-heavy games with strongly characterized avatars (such as adventure games) it’s reasonable for the avatar to have a mind of his own at times. But whatever the avatar does outside the player’s control, it had better be similar to the things he does under the player’s control. Games are not movies, and when you give the player a role to play, the player, not the designer, is the actor.
Extreme Changes of Brightness or Sound
We’re all annoyed by TV commercials that are far louder than the content they’re sponsoring. (These are now illegal in the United States.) Games can do it too, and not only with sound.
Colin Williamson writes, “The game in question is Assassin’s Creed III, a very dark game which signals every gameplay transition or cutscene start with a smash cut to an all-white screen. If you’re playing in a dark room or, even worse, on a projector, this is the equivalent to a full assault on your retinas.
This is the reason the fade-in and fade-out were invented for film decades ago — in a darkened cinema, a sudden cut to an all-white screen is abusive. In audio production there’s a technique called dynamic range compression (nothing to do with data compression) in which the equipment amplifies quiet sounds and reduces loud ones to keep the dynamic range within comfortable limits so that the listener doesn’t have to adjust his volume control all the time. This doesn’t prevent him from cranking his speakers, but it does avoid violent shocks.
Garrulous and Indiscreet NPCs
Tess Snider says all that needs to be said:
When was the last time you were walking down the street, and some complete stranger randomly paused next to you, and started telling you why he came to the city, who his rival was, or how his business is going? If it did happen, wouldn’t you think he was crazy? In Skyrim, almost all NPCs do this. It’s so weird and annoying that people have made mods to make it go away.
Skyrim isn’t the only offender on this count, though. Throughout RPG-dom we see weirdly trusting NPCs who insist on telling us all sorts of personal information that we really don’t need to know and which no normal person would ever share with a complete stranger. No wonder bandits robbed them blind.Tess thinks this has to do with frustrated writers who are bored writing variations on “howdy” for NPC greetings and want to express themselves a bit more.
I think it may be borrowed from TV cop shows, in which a lot of exposition has to be crammed into a limited amount of time, resulting in witnesses who provide far too much information:
Cop: “Did you hear any unusual noises at about 10 last night?”
Witness: “No… I sleep in the back of the house. My husband and I started sleeping in separate bedrooms after our third child was born. Things really haven ’t been the same between us since.”
Whatever the reason, don’t do it. Read your dialog aloud to see if it sounds like actual conversation. Really chatty people do exist, but they’re rare.
So many people have sent in variations on this complaint that I can’t credit them all. An invisible wall is a barrier in a 3D space that prevents the player from entering a zone that the visible environment, and all the rest of the game’s mechanics, tell him he should be able to enter. (I’ve already discussed a related problem, having to stand on, or jump from, a tiny precise location in a 3D space.)
One of many, many examples is the waist-high barbed wire fence around the Chernobyl exclusion zone in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Invisible walls are conceptually similar to, but implemented differently from, the wooden doors that you can open with a key but can’t break down in an RPG. They’re a failure to implement a visually credible reason for the player’s inability to go someplace that he ought to be able to go.
Let’s use some common sense here, people. Unless the avatar is in a wheelchair, a low fence is not an obstacle. If the avatar is supposed to be a commando or a superhero, a six-foot fence isn’t one either. Nor is a pane of glass. It’s also unfair to construct a visually enticing area beyond an invisible wall. If you signal that an area is worth exploring, then it needs to be explorable. Keep the areas inside the boundaries of your world more interesting than the ones outside.
Players of video games work toward goals the game sets for them, some of which produce rewards of varying value. These can even be negative. In an RPG, you’ ll occasionally pick up a cursed item that does more harm than good. You can usually check it first, though, or get it fixed, or drop it. On the other hand, something that you buy in a game shop with in-game reward money — equipment upgrades, for example — really shouldn’t do you damage. A correspondent named Cyrad writes of the popular action RPG The World Ends With You:
Equipment comes in the form of clothing you purchase from stores. In addition to stat bonuses, each article of clothing also grants a passive ability that is unlocked/activated when you establish a good relationship with the store clerk. These abilities were usually things like “your attacks randomly debuff enemies’ strength” or grant you a defense boost when heavily injured.
After spending most of the game unable to find shoes with decent stats, I finally found a pair that I absolutely loved and spent a fortune buying a pair for each party member. The clerk later revealed the shoes’ ability, which granted a minor perk at the cost of making every enemy attack knock me off my feet.Getting repeatedly hit-stunned while attempting to heal is the most common way in the game to die, and by this point, most enemies spam unavoidable projectiles. The unlocked ability essentially made this item suicide to wear. The ability cannot be toggled or removed. The shoes cannot be sold. Any new duplicate I buy will also have the ability.
You punished your player for buying an upgrade, Square Enix? Bad game designer! No Twinkie!
Overuse of One Location
The example for this one is an oldie, but the principle applies regardless. Deunen Berkely wrote, “Thou shalt not repeat multiple missions in the same cave/building/area over and over. You see this most blatantly in Star Wars Galaxies MMO, but other games fall to the temptation as well… you are trotting through the cave and see NPCs or items that don’t react to your mission, or worse, you have to kill everybody to get to the bottom.
You fight your way back out, only to get another mission just a few activities later that sends you back into the same darn cave, kill everybody again, reach different things around said cave/building/area, and then fight your way back out again. By the fifth time, it’s really dull. Puts the grind in grinding, you know?”
We can use a location for several missions if it’s big and diverse enough, as in the Grand Theft Auto games. But you shouldn’t do this too much with a location that the player explores completely in the course of a single mission.
Converting an Enemy to Your Side Nerfs Him
This is a corollary to an earlier TDC, Bad Guys With Vanishing Weapons. You spend a lot of time clobbering a serious bad guy with a big weapon and what you actually find on his body is a pointy stick.
In this case, Sean Hagans writes, “Entire nations run from the character’s name and the only thing standing between him and the total fulfillment of his overlord’s plans (usually imminent world domination) is yor party of heroes… You SOMEHOW are able to barely make it out of the battle with your lives.
Due to your soundly punishing argument, the villain has a change of heart and joins you (OMG! I get to use HIM! YES!!!). Much to your despair, the villain is seen to be named ‘Bob the Boy Wonder’ and can only perform a basic slash attack with his slightly over-sized blade of dull wood.”
Not fair. Now a fair (and very funny) example occurred when the Avatar from the Ultima games showed up in the very last level of Dungeon Keeper. He was the ultimate enemy, but he could be converted with enough work — and when he was, you got to use every bit of his awesome power.