Seven deadly sins of game design
There are a few very obvious game design flaws that for some reason still commonly get perpetuated today. They're especially infuriating when found in otherwise good games. The only explanation I could find was artificial lifetime enhancement, which is a bad idea because it can in reality dramatically shorten the lifetime of the game since many gamers just won't want to finish it. Which also means that they won't buy the sequel either.
Here's my list of sins, with a few arbitrarily and subjectively selected saints and sinners for each of them...
No matter how great your level design is, no-one wants to play the same thing 50 times (except in Guitar Hero of course). Checkpoints made sense on consoles when memory units were small. Today, they are unacceptable if they are more than 10 meters apart. They're made even worse if going back to a checkpoint means watching the same unskippable cut-scene for the umpteenth time (Gears of War, I'm looking at you). Let us save whenever we want or even better, save all the time.
Saints: Viva Piñata, Oblivion
Sinners: Ninety Nine Nights, Gears of War, Crackdown, Rainbow Six Vegas and almost any Mario game
- Infuriating boss fights
Boss fights are alright if they can be done. The idea should be to find the weak point, exploit it a few times, have fun doing it and get going. Once again, doing the same thing 50 times is the opposite of fun. Malus points if you need some magical object that you may not have found yet, or if the boss fight lasts twenty minutes.
Saints: Most Zelda games
Sinners: Kameo (I had no trouble myself but I know too many people who struggled endlessly with that water boss because they didn't find and didn't know they needed the regeneration orb), Tomb Raider Legend, Ninety Nine Nights, Condemned
The game I put in the disc tray is the game I want to play, not some lame mini-game. Why do so many RPGs insist on breaking their own gameplay? If I wanted to play mini-games, I'd pop Rayman or Warioware in (not Fuzion Frenzy 2 or Wii Play, avoid those at all cost).
Saints: Any game that stays true to its own gameplay
Sinners: Jade Empire, Fable, Oblivion (for the lockpicking and persuasion), Condemned (for the mentally-challenged forensics), Splinter Cell: Double Agent (a timed Sudoku puzzle in an infiltration game? WTF?)
- Unskippable cut-scenes and dialogue
I'm all in favor of storytelling, and the dialogues contribute to a good immersion. But once I've seen them, I want them out of the way.
Saints: Most Zelda games
Sinners: most Japanese games, Lego Star Wars (in story mode), some portions of Gears of War (preceding direction choices) and some Rainbow Six Vegas cutscenes
- Long reload times
I can understand some loading times, especially seeing the complexity of modern games, but when reloading the level you just played takes 20 seconds or more, there's a big problem, especially in conjunction with sins 1 and 2. Why do they have to reload the level entirely? Can't they just reset it? Please? Alternatively, game designers, don't make us have to reload the same level over and over again. When you spend more time reloading than playing is when you're most likely to drop the game.
Saints: GRAW, Rainbow Six Vegas
Sinners: Condemned, Tomb Raider Legend, Gears of War
- Bad camera
Have you ever seen yourself instinctively (and pathetically) stretching your neck to try to see beyond the border of the screen because the camera can't be controlled and doesn't look where you want to aim? Just let us move the camera from your automatic angle when we need to.
Saints: GRAW, Rainbow Six Vegas, Oblivion
Sinners: Gears of War, any 3D Sonic game
- Control schemes designed for mutants
Modern controllers have so many buttons you could control a nuclear plant with them. That doesn't mean that every single button should be used by all games, up to the click on the sticks. Games should be simple to handle, and the buttons should fall naturally under the fingers. The pad should feel like an extension of the body, not some alien device. Overloading buttons with multiple functions depending on the context or how long you press them is just bad design. Simplify your control scheme instead.
Saints: Guitar Hero (that's what I call a perfect controller with absolutely natural controls)
Sinners: Gears of War, Rainbow Six Vegas, GRAW
What are the things you can't stand in modern games?
This post was written with my good friend and fellow gamer Fabien Royer (a.k.a. Gh0st D4wg).
Follow-up: Is Bioshock perfect game design?