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

Dan was more than willing to talk game design faults, as it transpired. “Black on Xbox: save points f**king AGES apart,” he began, in the confident tones of a man who assumes he won’t be quoted word for word. “Yeah. I really have all the time in the world to play your c**ting game, Criterion.”

I nodded nervous agreement. “Mercenaries and other open sandbox games,” Dan continued, starting to gesticulate. “Not auto-saving the collection or destruction of special, globally distributed items that are hard to find, in between tough missions. In Mercs, you’d earn something for destroying big propaganda-spewing tannoy speakers that were hard to find, but if you did it in the middle of a mission and died, you’d have the find that thing again.

Like I really needed another reason to whine about Mercenaries 2.

Like I really needed another reason to whine about Mercenaries 2.

“Street Fighter 4!” he shouted, almost knocking the laptop off the table in his fury, ignoring my hurried efforts to steer him towards the café door. “Not being able to block Ryu, Ken, Sagat or Akuma players so you could actually enjoy variety in online fights.

“Tekken 6!” he bellowed, now thoroughly apoplectic, as we were ushered out into the street by heavyset cleaning staff. “Rehashing the same design from 15 years ago with some poorly thought out ‘additions’. Like juggles off the floor – Virtua Fighter did this a few games back and it was hardly worthy a PR bulletpoint – and ‘Rage’ mode. Which makes wins and losses feel even cheaper. And is sh*t.”

Old habits die hard

The rehashing of ideas – whether because the development team in question can’t be arsed to innovate, or because they’re labouring under the misconception that what worked then works just as well now – was a common theme of Dan’s complaints and those of other writers I spoke to.

Particular outrage was set aside for the notion that game-saving opportunities must be “earned”, that save files aren’t so much player conveniences as carrots distributed from on high by a tyrannical, capricious level scriptwriter. Dan termed it “a stupid, stupid evolution of the carryover from the arcade mortality mentality i.e. you fight to survive and ‘pay’ if you perform badly, to continue.”

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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