Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Game No-No's

We’ve all been there.  We’re playing a game, having a great time, and then the game does something that makes zero sense.  So little sense, that you end up stopping, pausing, and otherwise getting killed because you can’t believe the game did that.

Here’s a list of the things that games do that they should not.  I’ve been guilty of putting a few of these into my games as well, so some of these are hard lessons I learned as well.

Of note is that these are all situational rules.  You can never just follow all of them, because most games try to be unique and have their own feel to them.  That said, you can’t just be cruel to the players or frustrate them to the point of turning off your game.  Yes, you got their $$ for that title, but likely not for the next.

  1. Breaking the line of action from angle to angle.
    Culprits: Devil May Cry 4
    This rule is broken when a game has fixed camera angles (or screens) that the player transitions between while actively moving.  If after the transition, the player is moving in the completely opposite direction than they just were (i.e. you were running “up” and suddenly the character is moving “down” on the screen), you fail.  Bonus fail if the controls don’t wait for a return to neutral input before they reverse, too.
  2. The game changes into a completely different game for a few sequences.
    Culprits: Metal Gear Solid 4,
    If at some point in the game, your game’s entire core play mechanic changes (i.e. you were a 3rd person stealth shooter, and now suddenly you’re a 2.5D fighting game) for one or more segments, you fail.
  3. You don’t have checkpoints / saves in long sequences.
    Many, many action games.
    After fighting your way through an entire level, gaining items and powers, and finally confronting a multi-stage boss, you die.  When the screen fades back in, I’m back at the start of the level, without any of my items, gained levels / powers, or anything I just earned in the last 20 minutes.
  4. If I’m almost dead and reach a checkpoint, don’t restart me there, almost dead.
    Culprits: Medal of Honor games, HALO
    Lost Odyssey really got this right.  IF I reach a save point, and save with little health, then completely quit the game, the next time I load up the game and my save, my characters had full health again.  THANK YOU.  This is great.  What’s not is when you’ve just been through an intense sequence, and have been a typical player in that you’re relying more on the autosave / checkpoint system rather than making a “real” save every so often.  You get to this checkpoint with 1% health left.  You then have to endure another painfully brutal sequence with almost no health in order to continue onwards, otherwise your only option is to start that level over when you had full health and about 30 minutes of gameplay ago.  If the game is all about memorizing levels perfectly, then OK, but if it’s telling a story and you want the players to advance, cut them some slack.  If anything, it just means you can reward a player who survives it all without relying on checkpoints (and give them something for it) and make each sequence challenging because you know a player that fails will restart in a competitive state.
  5. The game doesn’t prompt a lost player on where to go next.
    Culprits: Zelda / Twilight (yes, shocking, I know)
    Unless there’s a maze, the challenge of a game should be in fighting the monsters that I encounter, not getting to the location so I can then actually encounter said monsters so I can then fight them and hopefully then have fun doing so.  If you give me a map of the world, tell me where the hell to go next.  Don’t riddle it out (unless again, it’s a game where it’s all about discovery) and don’t “hint” at it and allow me to flounder and become bored trying to figure it out.
  6. The game features a long, unskippable cut-scene before a risky sequence.
    Culprits: Too many to list
    Long cut-scenes are fine, but long, unskippable cut-scenes that you can’t skip on repeated attempts against a boss are just torture.  Ok, yeah that’s a great 5 minute cut-scene you created, really, I bet you spent a lot of money on it, yeah, but really I only need to watch it once, really.  By the third time I’m sitting through that dialogue which that may have been awesome the first time, I’m just mocking the cinematic and it’s not pumping me up to fight the boss, it’s just annoying me and wishing you were on fire.
  7. Controls are reversed for a segment of the game.
    Culprits: Beyond Good and Evil, Bomberman II, many others.
    This was actually OK in Bomberman, because all you had to worry about was the four cardinal directions on a flat grid for 10 seconds or so.  When it’s not OK is in boss battles, in 3D, when you’ve just spent the last 15 minutes memorizing a movement and timing pattern for the boss, only to beat it, and then have your controls reversed for another round with the same patterns, but now you have to “jump” into the beam that you just memorized you have to duck under.  This isn’t inventive gameplay, this is just cruelty towards the player and a cheap way to create a longer boss battle.
  8. Learn-by-death sequences.
    Culprits: Sierra PC Adventure Games started it, and many, many have followed over the years.
    These are sequences in a game where you have absolutely no foreknowledge that you’re going to die horribly if you move into a certain place.  No burning lava, no shiny spike to clue you in — nothing.  You just move somewhere, and you’re dead.  You have to die to know not to do that next time.  Monkey Island has the best parody of this sequence ever.  You walk over to a palm branch, and it snaps, and you fall to your death.  A text box pops up that looked exactly like the Sierra adventure game ones from their deaths that (paraphrasingly) said “HAHAHAHA Didn’t see that coming did you?  Hope you saved your game!  SUCKER!”… and then Guybrush came flying back up into view a moment or two later, with a silly excuse for how he survived.  It was a direct slam on Sierra for putting hundreds of “how would I have known that?” instant deaths into their games.  I guess after a while it was the whole point of those games (especially the Space Quest series), but it’s carried over into modern games, where you are either given a 1-2 second window to decipher how to escape (usually not enough time), or you get none – you’re just dead, and I really hope you did save the game.
  9. Jumping puzzles in RPGs
    Culprits: Most 3D first-person ones nowadays.
    Game creators need to decide what they’re making — an RPG, or an FPS, and stick to one or the other, yes there are hybrids, but generally they lean either towards more action or more adventuring.  As a general rule for an RPG, if you can’t see your character at all times on the screen, or you have more than one character you control, don’t put in jumping puzzles, especially if the player can fall off and die or take damage.  If I can’t see my feet, timing is going to suck, so don’t go there.
  10. A repetitive action that never evolves into something else or can be skipped.
    Culprits: Zelda / Windwaker,
    Opening a chest at the end of a dungeon is a great reward and taking a moment to do so is fine.  Fishing up a 5 rupee gem from the ocean floor and having to watch a ~20 second sequence each and every time of the chest being pulled up, dropped on the deck, Link opening it, and then pulling out that kick-ass 5 rupee coin with a wide-eyed look on his face like he just won MegaBucks is not OK.  Changing the wind direction hundreds of times (with an average time of 30 seconds if you dont’t mess it up) means by the end of the game, you ended up wasting over 2 hours of real time just in changing the wind direction.
  11. One-way-only shortcuts into specific menus
    Culprits: Too Human,
    It’s great that when you gain a level in some games, they allow you a shortcut to get to the exact screen that you need in order to spend your skill points or whatever you got for rising in the ranks.  However, what’s not cool is that the same button that got you into that specific menu no longer works to get you back out to the game.  Instead, you then have to hit the “back / exit” button several times to jump out of a layered UI (usually with long animations between each menu) before you get back into the game.  This is simply a lack of polish issue and wastes the player’s time.
  12. Not reworking controls to facilitate play on the platform when porting a game.
    Culprits: LucasArts games, Assassin’s Creed,
    Download the PC demo for Lego Star Wars or Indy sometime and marvel at how they simply mapped 8 directions from the console controller to 8 keys on the keyboard.  Wow, that’s really class.  There’s no mouse interface option at all, which would have made the game a joy to play.  As for Assassin’s Creed ported to the PC from console… this video says it all.

  13. Not counting found achievement items on dying
    Culprits: Condemned
    If I found a hidden item of X quantity needed on the road to an achievement, then die and get checkpointed back to before I picked up that item, assume that I already picked it up.  It’s enough to have to replay the core mechanics of a sequence already, but having me track down secrets that I already collected just feels like you’re pushing me over the edge of repeating my steps.  It’s not a secret once I’ve found it once, why make players re-jump through every hoop?
  14. One-sided interactions between two objects
    Culprits: Older RTS games
    If you have two objects that can interact with each other (say a transport unit and troops), the interactions between those two objects need to work in both directions.  That is to say, if I click on the troops, then the transport, they’ll load in.  If I click on the transport, then on some troops, they’ll load in.  You see this sometimes in 3D platformers, where you have to use one specific object on another instead of either way.  Fortunately, this is an older faux-pas that you don’t see too much of these days.
  15. O-n-e l-e-t-t-e-r a-t a t-i-m-e
    Culprits: Every FF game up to X at least.  Every DS RPG / Tactics game.
    This is when a game feels the need to slow the pace down by printing out each letter at a time in a conversation box.  Amazing is that this is still around in DS games.  Thankfully, you can turn this off in most games (or at least speed it up).  However, skipping filler text is still stubbornly not an option in a lot of games.

This list will constantly evolve, so feel free to suggest more no-nos in comments, and I’ll add them to the list.


5 Comments so far

  1. Obscured View » List of Game No-No’s July 16th, 2008 10:16 am

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  2. link love 07-16-08 | words July 16th, 2008 8:22 pm

    […] Adam Isgreen has written a list of Game Design No-Nos. […]

  3. joseph4th August 24th, 2008 7:22 am

    Game that insist on still printing out quest text o-n-e l-e-t-t-e-r a-t a t-i-m-e. Look I don’t even care if I can just hit the down arrow or whatever to speed it up, why should I have to even do that. Just spit it out already! The one letter at a time was cool, for about an hour back in the mid-80’s, but we soon realized that it sucked and we can read faster than that.

    So stop it.

    I’m looking at you Nintendo.

  4. Hybris April 12th, 2010 8:00 pm

    Games (FPS mostly) that give you a wide assortment of weapons but nearly all but one have very low amounts of ammo you can carry or never seem to have enough ammo spawned for a certain weapon that’s not a top tier weapon.

    Half Life 2 is the biggest one I can think of Ex:
    SMG max ammo 270 round split into 6 mags of 45. Over watch Assault rifle 90 rounds in 3 “mags” of 30. That’s a big difference in ammo in fact its so big that common sense says use the SMG because its impossible to run out just about.

  5. RocketRunner April 14th, 2010 5:45 pm

    This is more like a pet peeve, but I thought I might share it anyways:

    Having unrealistic shotguns in First-Person Shooters.
    Offenders: Way too many to count.
    I honestly can’t believe you didn’t put it on your list. It’s so overused that FPS gamers can actually get used to it. I’m talking about shotguns that:
    -Only use 12 Gauge Buckshot (There are other kinds of shotgun shells and bore sizes, people).
    -Have firing cones that force you to use it in close range (In real life, buckshot is accurate enough for hunting).
    -and fire around 6-8 pellets per shell (Real shotshells pack more than that).
    I can understand if it’s for gameplay and balance reasons, but at least you should subvert at least one of those attributes (Doom’s shotgun was actually accurate out to medium range) or do something interesting with it (Half-Life allowed you to use a double-blast, and System Shock 2/Bioshock allowed us to load different kinds of shells). Having a shotgun that fills a niche role or has nothing interesting to it is just tired.

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