Design Mistakes Made, Twinkies Denied

By Chris Remo, Jul 10, 2006 10:23am PDT Ernest Adams, game designer and in recent years more commonly game commentator and lecturer, has posted the seventh annual edition of his Designer's Notebook column Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! Each year, Adams highlights poor game design decisions or oversights sent in by gamers. This year's submissions include a lack of new game features introduced past the first few levels, invisible crosshairs, inability to change brightness in-game, unsaved game configurations, and more.
I already mentioned bad configuration mechanisms back in No Twinkie V, but I hadnÂ’t realized quite how many ways there were to screw up such an utterly trivial feature. Battlefield 2 doesnÂ’t save your control profile with your game profile, so when you sit down at a new computer, youÂ’ve suddenly got to reconfigure the keys againÂ… and in a game like Battlefield 2, there are a lot of keys. And when you set up a new game profile, Ben says, the new profile goes back to the default control configuration again. Furthermore, according to the GameSpot review, you have to sort through multiple pages to unbind a key before you can bind it to something else.

Multiple pages? What a nuisance! You would think the scrolling list box had never been invented. Put a list of all the current bindings, all the unbound keys, and all the unbound functions on one screen.

Any unfortunately common design faux pas that really grind your gears?

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29 Threads | 78 Comments

  • How about any time a game adjusts itself based on the player's performance? I hate the idea that the game will just get harder if I play well. I want a variety of challenges, and if I'm a badass I want to crush the easy ones, although I also appreciate the hard stuff.

    This also relates to stat-based adjusting like in oblivion. I certainly know why they did it, and I might even agree it was best for them, but in the end I fear it just makes the game more shallow than it should have been.

    And where are my big badass monsters and bosses? Take the weapons in FF7, or the dragons in Baldur's Gate 2. I love huge bosses like in Painkiller or Serious Sam, but I also like extra enemies that are far tougher than any story-related boss. This is another thing I wish oblivion did.

  • One thing that annoys me is when a game has a few dozen actions that each need a separate keybind. You don't have to have an interface like that to have a deep game.

    I'm not sure it's so much the resulting style of gameplay that annoys me... it's more just the overhead of getting set up before I start to play. And of course the default layout almost always sucks. I want to get going with a brand new game but first I have to put up with several minutes of paging through keybinding dialog screens, learning what controls there are and trying to figure out where I can wedge the offhand grenade key or the sprint key (how about... no, I'm already using that key for the flashlight... hmm, no, not that key, that has to be for zoom so that I can press it easily during a fight... or maybe I could swap it with the reload key...).

    Gah! I guess I make it harder on myself than necessary because I like to bind each weapon to its own key, but I've been training myself away from that recently (for singleplayer games) and there are still some games that just eat up the keyboard.

    Then if I have to put the game down for a while because of work or a trip or something, I can't just jump right back in when I want to give it another whirl later; I have to go re-learn the keys. (And probably find the CD too, since most companies never release a no-CD patch even when their game is years old, but that's already been covered.)

    Yeah these are really just minor delays in the overall scheme of things, but after a few decades playing games the small irritations accumulate. :)

    In slightly related griping, the games that are the worst offenders in controls-proliferation often have the crappiest tutorials. In fact many games have bad tutorials. I realize that devs/pubs think that this is one of the most easily sacrificed aspects of a game when time and resources are tight; people can always go read the manual. But reading the manual is just yet another delay keeping me out of my lovely new game, not to mention that it will inevitably spoilerize some aspect of the game.

    Some games do manage to have nice tutorials and even additional "teaching moments" spread throughout the game. Much love to the people who make that happen.

  • Pet peeves:
    No save anywhere (sometime you just have to stop what you are doing)
    Bad key binding (BF2)
    No built-in cheats (sometimes you just like to mess around)
    Non-skipable intro level (B&W)
    AI that zerg rushes in early game, then just kind of gives up/sucks mid to late game
    Bad server browser/game matching (BF2, DS for not letting you have more control over who you play on wifi)
    Five minutes of intro movies that I have to press escape 10 times to get through
    Games that don’t autosave at each new level
    Multiplayer games where you have to make an account via a website and fill out you personal information. (excluding pay for play MMORPGS)
    Having to have the CD/DVD in to play
    2+ CDs with no DVD option, or ‘special collectors edition’ only DVD option which costs 10 bucks more
    Inconsistent gameplay objects/actions (In hitman you are suppose to be able to push people over railing, but a few rails don’t work that way)

  • This is partially me being used to decent autosave practices, but I just fired up Tribes: Vengeance recently ... to find out it only autosaves at the beginning of the level.

    Well, the Arena level has 4 increasingly hard stages, the end of each would have been a brilliant checkpoint - but no, I died on stage 4 and realized I haven't quicksaved since .... the beginning.

    Each mission has multiple objectives (locate the loot, disable the turrets, realign the matrix flux, take out the prime target sort of thing) which again would have lent themselves to checkpoints very well - to miss that little usability detail seems almost criminal.

    Needless to say, I have learned to save a lot.

    As a counterpoint I present Jak & Daxter - you do not need to save in that game, ever. Every single objective, no matter how small, that you accomplish is saved right away, and when you're done playing, you just turn off the console (I still save because I'm paranoid, but I don't really have to). And that was in the very first J&D, some time ago. It just makes the gameplay smooth.