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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XIII
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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XIII

December 21, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Harmful "Upgrades"

Players of video games work toward goals the game sets for them, some of which produce rewards of varying value. These can even be negative. In an RPG, you'll occasionally pick up a cursed item that does more harm than good. You can usually check it first, though, or get it fixed, or drop it. On the other hand, something that you buy in a game shop with in-game reward money -- equipment upgrades, for example -- really shouldn't do you damage. A correspondent named Cyrad writes of the popular action RPG The World Ends With You:

Equipment comes in the form of clothing you purchase from stores. In addition to stat bonuses, each article of clothing also grants a passive ability that is unlocked/activated when you establish a good relationship with the store clerk. These abilities were usually things like "your attacks randomly debuff enemies' strength" or grant you a defense boost when heavily injured.

After spending most of the game unable to find shoes with decent stats, I finally found a pair that I absolutely loved and spent a fortune buying a pair for each party member. The clerk later revealed the shoes' ability, which granted a minor perk at the cost of making every enemy attack knock me off my feet.

Getting repeatedly hit-stunned while attempting to heal is the most common way in the game to die, and by this point, most enemies spam unavoidable projectiles. The unlocked ability essentially made this item suicide to wear. The ability cannot be toggled or removed. The shoes cannot be sold. Any new duplicate I buy will also have the ability.

You punished your player for buying an upgrade, Square Enix? Bad game designer! No Twinkie!

Overuse of One Location

The example for this one is an oldie, but the principle applies regardless. Deunen Berkely wrote, "Thou shalt not repeat multiple missions in the same cave/building/area over and over. You see this most blatantly in Star Wars Galaxies MMO, but other games fall to the temptation as well... you are trotting through the cave and see NPCs or items that don't react to your mission, or worse, you have to kill everybody to get to the bottom.

You fight your way back out, only to get another mission just a few activities later that sends you back into the same darn cave, kill everybody again, reach different things around said cave/building/area, and then fight your way back out again. By the fifth time, it's really dull. Puts the grind in grinding, you know?"

We can use a location for several missions if it's big and diverse enough, as in the Grand Theft Auto games. But you shouldn't do this too much with a location that the player explores completely in the course of a single mission.

Converting an Enemy to Your Side Nerfs Him

This is a corollary to an earlier TDC, Bad Guys With Vanishing Weapons. You spend a lot of time clobbering a serious bad guy with a big weapon and what you actually find on his body is a pointy stick.

In this case, Sean Hagans writes, "Entire nations run from the character's name and the only thing standing between him and the total fulfillment of his overlord's plans (usually imminent world domination) is your party of heroes... You SOMEHOW are able to barely make it out of the battle with your lives.

Due to your soundly punishing argument, the villain has a change of heart and joins you (OMG! I get to use HIM! YES!!!). Much to your despair, the villain is seen to be named 'Bob the Boy Wonder' and can only perform a basic slash attack with his slightly over-sized blade of dull wood."

Not fair. Now a fair (and very funny) example occurred when the Avatar from the Ultima games showed up in the very last level of Dungeon Keeper. He was the ultimate enemy, but he could be converted with enough work -- and when he was, you got to use every bit of his awesome power.


Recently Lars Doucet told me that his company, Level Up Labs, does a "Twinkie pass" over their designs. They check each game's design against the No Twinkie Database to see make sure they haven't included any Twinkie Denial Conditions. It's nice to know these columns are having a real effect. Send your own complaint (check the database first to see if I've already covered it) to

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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