The science of sucking: game design crimes

A traipse through some of the industry’s less exalted moments with commentary from leading developers and journalists.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, January 22, 2010


Spring is peeping over the parapet, the days are getting longer and I’m playing Final Fantasy XII again. The game appeared in one of our local charity shops during the Christmas break, and despite having only just cracked the scum on the toxin-rich sinkhole that is Fallout 3, I couldn’t resist. Goodbye sleep, work ethic and social life; a big hello to hunting quests and Queen’s English.

This is gluttony for punishment in more ways than the merely playlength-related. When first I hopped, skipped and Dragoon-jumped into the world of Ivalice back in 2006, I wound up loathing the experience. Briefly put, Final Fantasy XII has one of the most unnecessarily complicated character and gear development systems ever to deprive a weak-willed hack of his precious, precious Zs.

RPG red-tape

Imagine, if you will, walking into a bar. Better yet, print this out and actually walk into a bar – alcohol will help you get into the mindset. Now, what happens in your usual bar is you approach the least wasted-looking person and ask for a drink. And they give you a drink, and you give them some cash, and all is True and Right with the universe.

Give or take the odd XP threshold, much the same delicate transaction occurs when you stomp into Skinflint’s Skill Shoppe, or Hortense’s Horse Armor Dispensary, or any other fictional business from any typical role-playing game.

But let’s say that before you buy the drink you need a license for it. Not a license to drink, but a license for that particular, individual, specific drink. Ask for any other type of drink, be they ever so similar, and you’ll need a different license. Doesn’t matter that Warsteiner lager is just Stella Artois wearing lacy underpants, you’ll still need to do the paperwork before you pour yourself a glass.

And this license can only be obtained from a “license board”, using points that are awarded whenever you kill something. And each license is represented by a square on this board, and only the squares adjacent to squares you’ve bought are visible, thus making it difficult to determine exactly which licenses are located where.

4 Responses to “The science of sucking: game design crimes”

  1. Shox says:

    gotta agree with the regen of health point.
    there is no fear of dying anymore. “sure i’ll just hide behind this here barrel, and i’ll be grand ina minute”

  2. tommy says:

    some crimes as old as time. (1) having to repeat too much when you die including parts that you actually did well (2) bottomless holes that make you die instantly (3) finite amount of lives before you are kicked off the game (4) not being able to set the difficulty to something super easy for people who don’t want to be in that loop of dying and repeating the same level but would rather progress

  3. Stuart says:

    Tommy – Don’t buy Demon’s Souls! I have replayed the first level loads of times, had to restart with a new character, and I’m hardly making progress! It’s guilty of 3 out of those 4. If you die repeatedly, it won’t kick you out of the game, but it gets harder.

    Still, even though it breaks 3 of your 4 rules, it’s an exceptional game. Tough as adamantium nails, but fair.

  4. tommy says:

    :-) Only if I think a game is really good will I step up to the plate and attempt a level as many times as it takes and try the harder difficulties. Most games I just want to keep making progress and don’t like to lose.


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