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

One of my personal rant-inducers is “filler” design, whereby cheap tricks are used to prolong a game’s life above and beyond the current respectable minimum of seven to eight hours. These tricks can take many forms. FFXII’s License Board system could well be one, though the system’s convolutedness is more of an aesthetic choice on Square Enix’s part. Over-reliance on respawning enemies is another.

“Unless there’s a VERY good reason for it (i.e. it’s integral to the design of the game), then the idea of having to clear out a room full of enemies the second I walk back into it is boring, lazy game design,” Kristan commented. “Step forward Ninja Gaiden,” he added, thus neatly crossing himself off Kikizo’s Christmas card list.

Don't kid yourself, Ryu. There's plenty more where he came from.

Don't kid yourself, Ryu. There's plenty more where he came from.

“It’s the classic lazy level designer fallback plan,” Dan interjected. “Call of Duties and many more have this. Halo didn’t have to resort to it if I remember correctly. They had smart, well-tuned AI (in all of 1 and most of 3).”

Back to the future

If many questionable design decisions can be attributed to gaming’s seedy, coin-operated past, the advent of new technologies and trends have brought with them plenty of fresh occasions for irritation.

3D gaming, for instance, has given us the frustrating phenomenon of the 3D camera system. Ensuring that the player gets wind of every salient object in a 3D environment – be it a troll wielding a pickup truck, a health potion or a picturesque vista – is a feat most developers fail to accomplish.

“It’s a common feature on nearly every game at some point or another, but some games really want you to admire random shots of your surroundings while you are attacked by enemies just off the screen,” noted veteran Kikizo reviewer Stuart McAndrew.

“This is bad enough when you have control of the camera. When a free-roaming game forces you to run towards the screen into enemies and potentially deadly falls I want to rip out my right analogue stick and ram it into a developer’s eye socket. A Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant developer to be precise.”

Prominent AI-controlled NPCs have been in vogue from ICO onwards, with Resident Evil 5′s Sheva Alomar looming largest in my memory. UK Resistance‘s Gary Cutlack (he used to create and cut copy for Future Publishing and Shiny Media and is, I deduce, a bit of a legend) had a few words on the matter.

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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