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

December 2, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

It's the end of the year, and that means it's time for another roundup of game design errors sent in by loyal, yet outraged, readers. This year I have eight, which isn't very many, but I look at them in a little more detail than I did in earlier columns.

Offering Irrelevant Help

When a game offers help or advice, players normally trust it because they assume that the game knows better than they do how to win. Consequently, few things are more confusing than help that isn't helpful -- help that comes at the wrong time, or is irrelevant in the current circumstances.

Ben Ashley writes, "Tips need to be pertinent! Battlefield 2: Special Forces suffers from this. The grappling hook is an item of equipment that is only carried by the assault class.

"So, when playing another class, why on earth does the game come and helpfully tell me I can use my hook to get on the ledge above me? I don't have a hook. This causes quite a bit of confusion for the new player."

AI-generated advice is tricky to tune well, and advisor characters in complex economic simulations often get things wrong. But when a game advises you to do something that is currently impossible to do, that's more than a tuning problem, it's a Twinkie Denial Condition. Bad game designer! No Twinkie!

Time Limits in Pure Puzzle Games

Many games include both rewards and punishments. In Space Invaders, you get points for shooting aliens, and you lose lives when they shoot you. Simple. The trick is balancing them appropriately. As a general principle, you should always reward more than you punish.

When it comes to time limits, it's good to reward speed, but not good to punish slowness. The jockey who comes in first wins the prize money, but the one who comes in last doesn't have to pay a penalty. And nowhere is this principle more appropriate than in puzzle games. People have differing amounts of brain power, and puzzle-solving requires time and patience. Someone calling himself "Aguydude" wrote in to say,

"When I call a game a 'pure' puzzle game, I mean that the game does not require any sort of reflexes or timing. I'll occasionally play a pure puzzle game with a time limit, which is bad. Equally bad are puzzle games that use lives or something similar to limit the number of attempts the player can make at solving the puzzle. Forcing a player to redo all of the previous puzzles because they made errors in the current one only serves to discourage them from playing, if they want to avoid meaningless repetition."

A puzzle game with lives? A puzzle game that punishes you by making you repeat solved puzzles? That is serious wrongthink. If you want to reward the player for solving a puzzle quickly, be my guest. But don't punish him for taking his time. As we say in the world of game accessibility, "there's no such thing as too slow."

Bad, Boring Boss Battles

In Bad Game Designer VII, I condemned extreme rule changes when fighting boss characters. The opposite is just as bad: bosses that are nothing but more powerful versions of enemies the player has already seen. My friend Gabrielle Kent recently started a Facebook discussion about boss battles, and several people chimed in with their own pet gripes.

Gabby said that to her, the things that make a boss battle boring are, "stupid amounts of repetition, ridiculously high/replenishing energy [i.e. boss health] combined with unimaginative gameplay (yawn), and powered up versions of previous bosses."

She also hates boss rushes -- having to defeat the same batch of bosses that you've already defeated once before. I agree. This shows a lack of imagination (or time) on the part of the game designer.

Sarah Ford added, "One of the worst I've sat through is at the end of Final Fantasy X. Spend the whole game chasing this epic whale thing and the last boss is a bin lid with legs. Total anticlimax. What's worse, you can't even die. What's the point in that? It's not even a short symbolic battle, it stretches out forever and the thing keeps healing itself. Rubbish."

Harryizman Bin Harun also wrote to me from Malaysia to complain about endlessly self-healing bosses. I think it's fair to say that gamers hate them on a global scale.

Someone named Jessica mentioned bosses that are utterly invulnerable to all but exactly the right attack, as in the Lord of the Rings action games: "Sure, a seven foot tall Uruk-Hai is going to be tough, but after fighting eighty of his minions, I would think that whacking him in the head with a sword would do something similar to what it did to them, even if I wasn't whacking him in the head at the time when he was most vulnerable.

"I would have been satisfied if the special moments did more damage, and the conventional attacks did less, but the way it was left me totally unsatisfied, and uninspired to continue and finish the game."

Jessica also pointed out that in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, at one point all it takes to defeat a certain boss is to press a button -- but you must wait until the boss attacks you, and not press it early. This is a severe conceptual non sequitur. The button and the boss attack are not related, so to avoid getting whacked, it makes sense to push it as soon as you can. She was doing the right thing in a sensible way, and the game punished her for it.

So, a few rules for boss battles:

  • Bosses must be different from other enemies.
  • Bosses must not be so different that nothing the player has already learned is of any use.
  • Bosses should not be invincible to all but exactly one thing (that makes it a puzzle, not a battle).
  • Fighting bosses should include variety, not endless repetition.
  • Bosses should not heal themselves (or not very much, anyway).
  • The key to a boss's vulnerability should not be a conceptual non sequitur; it has to make sense.
  • Dead bosses should stay dead. (See Bad Game Designer V.) If they come back, they should be interestingly different each time (think of Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog).

I'm sure you can probably think of some more.

Good boss battles cited in Gabby's discussion thread included GlaDOS from Portal, the Colosssus in God of War 2, various bosses in Yoshi's Island, Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, Malocchio in Interstate '76, and Shadow of the Colossus, which was a game consisting entirely of bosses! All worthy of study.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Comments


Glenn Storm
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Lots of head-nodding. Another fine installment with much to mull over.



Regarding save points and the specific condition the player's game state is saved, I would enjoy more than a binary evaluation and result; a fuzzy save point. If I reach a discreet save point past some difficulty, I expect a reward. Just the internal satisfaction of knowing I passed some difficulty is nice, but in the spirit of gameness, I'd like to be rewarded extra if I put in a little more. Say, extra as compared to if I had reached the same save point, but having used a full save system to get there; inching my way forward, hitting save, continuing and restoring a save if I fail.



It really doesn't matter what the distinction is (balance notwithstanding), as long as there is a distinction in the saved game between a player who's struggled to play well, versus the player who limps along or relies on a full save system.



Thanks, Ernest!

E Zachary Knight
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The Phoenix Down issue is one that bugs me the most about JRPGs. The Aeris scene is probably the most well known, but there are others. Final Fantasy 4 had a scene where a wizard's daughter died and he was unable to revive her with the same magic and tools the player uses to revive fallen companions.



There are ways to put a real distinction between "Battle death" and "plot death"



I recently finished watching the second season of a Show called "Legend of the Seeker" In this season there is a character who has the ability to provide a "breath of life" and bring people back from the dead. This ability is limited and can only be performed while the corpse is fresh and warm. If the body gets too cold, the person cannot be revived. Easy way to explain why people can still die and stay that way when magic to revive them exists.

Victor Soliz Kuncar
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Heh, my own game sins of "Forcing a player to redo all of the previous puzzles because they made errors in the current one only serves to discourage them from playing, if they want to avoid meaningless repetition." In some levels. Even though it is not really a pure puzzle game. I think I will have to redesign the levels or add a limited save feature. I do have an undo feature but it makes some things so easy that I added it in a way that it is considered a cheat code...





I was actually hoping to see something about starcraft 2's so-called macro mechanics this time. They are basically a forcefully-do this every 40 seconds or get less money sort of thing in a RTS. They were added just to make the game more tedius in an attempt to make it harder and the pro scene more "appealing" even though it hurts the game in all other levels...

Kale Menges
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I'm a big fan of the No Twinkie list, and it's always great to see it updated.

Chris Elwyn
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Was struck by the mention of movies that you can't replay or pause - maybe a flashback sequence could be implemented in (for example) the GTA games, giving you the option to replay the little in-game dialogue sequence or story sequence that you've already seen that relates to the particular mission you're trying to create. SOme kind of little visual treatment to remind you that you're seeing this for a second or third time.



It would certainly help when you return to a save game file a couple of months after the last time you played the title.

Adam Bishop
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I always interpreted characters who fell in battle during RPGs to be "knocked out" rather than "killed'. Some games make this distinction explicit, while others, like Final Fantasy 7, could certainly do a better job of it. When it's thought of like that, it makes perfect sense for a Phoenix Down not to work on Aeris after Sephiroth kills her, because a Phoenix Down is a fantasy version of smelling salts and not a fantasy version of a defibrillator. This doesn't apply to games like Dragon Quest or Earthbound, though, where characters are actually explicitly "dead".

Joe Cooper
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That jives with the fact that crashing at the inn, without touching the feathers in question, also heals your party.



Which also isn't necessarily realistic, but it meets it halfway there at least.

Olivier Riedo
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FF7 actually does a good job of it, as all the in-game descriptions always only say phoenix downs cure KOs, and the status of downed party members is always KO. It's really just a case of players not paying attention.

Laurie Cheers
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Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, a good boss? Those sections are the worst part of an otherwise excellent game.

Jason Withrow
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"Bosses should not be invincible to all but exactly one thing (that makes it a puzzle, not a battle)."



I think this advice is a little contradictory considering GLaDOS is listed as a good boss battle just below. Worse, I've seen just as many complain about the opposite as they do about this (Metroidvania-style Castlevania games, along with Kingdom Hearts, are two examples that have constantly vulnerable bosses that are occasionally "more vulnerable", and both got flak for doing so). It seems it may just be a preference thing. Personally, I agree with the statement more times than not but there are some times when even I can't help but feel underwhelmed by taking out a boss the "simple way."



This next criticism is only peripherally related to the Twinkie list but I think I should post it here anyway: can we as an industry please stop ragging on Final Fantasy VII and its contemporaries? I'm pretty neutral towards the game in an X vs Y debate, but in a "this is a bad design practice" discussion: the game is almost fourteen years old! Its flaws should not only be expected (because of its age) and have been addressed a thousand times (thanks to its age). More importantly, wagging your finger at a ghost is not going to affect the ghost or the living, and just makes you look like you have a problem with the wall. If the design pattern is still an issue (and it is), surely some modern, popular game has made the same mistake.

Laurie Cheers
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Final Fantasy VII is a well-known classic game. Examples work better if people have actually played the game you're talking about.

Jason Withrow
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Yes, but it's a well known classic game that should be expected to be replete with flaws due to not having nice lists like this at the time of its creation. Mass Effect 2 is also a game I could expect everyone to have played, and it did that ridiculous switch up with its ammunition system despite firmly establishing a story reason for it in the first game. It's not that we can't call attention to the flaws, but that we date them. Is it worth trying to correct a flaw we don't even bother to prove has even occurred in the past decade? If we had a problem with silly inventory restrictions, do we point to Resident Evil 4, or to the original Metroid, even though more people have played the latter?

Jonathan Ghazarian
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I completely forgot about the mass effect 2 ammo thing. That infuriated me when I played the game, especially, like you said, after all the trouble they went through of explaining why there wasn't ammo. I do agree that a more contemporary example is more useful if it is available and that is definitely a great example.

Andrew Collier
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I agree that defeating GLaDOS is a puzzle not a battle, but Portal is a puzzle oriented game. It fits. I think the complaint is targeted towards action games where a shift in the gameplay mechanic is incongruous.

Victor Soliz Kuncar
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It depends on the game really. Portal is really mostly a puzzle game. So GlaDOS makes the perfect boss for that game. Just like in my opinion the bosses at LEGO Indiana Jones, a game I had to play recently with a little cousin also makes great use out of bosses that are invulnerable to the normal methods you use to defeat minions.

Robert Green
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I think it's perfectly reasonable for GLaDOS to be immune to all but one thing, because Portal isn't a game that you spend any significant amount of time in causing damage to enemies, hence there is no 'default' way to beat baddies that doesn't work in this boss fight. If that level had any of the mechanics that you can use to destroy turrets, and they didn't work on the boss, that would make it a valid complaint.

What I think is most annoying about these situations is where the boss is immune to certain kinds of attack, but the game fails to make this apparent. I'm sure I've experienced a number of boss fights where I'd die multiple times before accepting that my attacks can't have been working, as opposed to just not getting in enough hits. If the game lets you know that your attacks aren't working, you can start experimenting with other ways to hurt it, otherwise it's just wasting your time.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutraís Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kiera Wooley
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Zelda games are kind of weird in this way. The games themselves are excellent, but the Ganon(dorf) battles are strangely incongruous. Playing endless ping pong with Ganondorf is not awesome. Not to mention killing him in all the ways you've **ever** killed him in every other LoZ game in a single battle. And the fierce deity mask in MM--you go nuts collecting every mask in the game thinking it will make for an awesome final battle and then you basically walk in, swirl the sword once or twice, and it's over. Talk about anti-climax. It's like a punishment for exploring every aspect of the game.

Jason Withrow
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One thing that's struck me as odd about recent Zelda bosses is a sort of "decorative damage." To kill a modern Zelda boss (post-Majora, though there are a few bosses in Wind Waker that aren't so bad), you have to solve its puzzle X times, usually with escalation in between. But the games do have you swinging your sword at them. The boss lays down for almost a solid minute when you walk to them, and after you've done Y number of sword swings, they become invincible and get right back up. I'm not even sure how to classify that. It bugs me, but I also don't want them to reward button mashing and I prefer it to them forgetting about the sword entirely. Oh, Zelda.

E Zachary Knight
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I think the boss battles in Zelda games are pretty good, especially the latter games. In the Zelda games, most bosses are a final test in using a new tool. Get the bow and fight Goma. Get bombs and fight those triceratops things. Etc.

Jason Withrow
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I am also definitely a fan of the "final test" mechanic, though it's another thing that picks up flak. Another one too close to the line to universally tell. But the more Nintendo goes along, the better they get at it. Some of the Shadow of the Colossus-inspired fights in Twilight Princess are great examples.



(Though I find that I also really enjoy the final-final test of the last dungeon because I like having to choose from all my available tools! Maybe what they need is a middle-game dungeon with the same final exam feel?)

Kriss Daniels
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There is of course one thing the retarted author of this post did wrong and has been doing wrong for sometime.



http://4lfa.com/pms/twinkie.png

Adam Bishop
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Similarly, people who are not currently politicians should not have opinions on politics.

E Zachary Knight
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At least he can spell.

Ernest Adams
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I consult on the design of several dozen games a year. In most cases I'm under NDA.

Luke Skywalker
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Uhh...Where is your shining example of perfect awesomeness Kriss Daniels? That's right, those who can DO, and those who can't.....

Simon Fraser
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Game designers LIKE these articles.

Stephen Chin
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I don't think anyone is saying that making a game isn't a big accomplishment. Getting a game to market -is- a great accomplishment; getting two, more so. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be self-critical about the process or the result. The more we identify issues - whether as outsider, insider, or something of both - the more we learn and improve (or have the potential to). More than that, by nature of being a game, there involves at least two people.



If the player does not 'get' some aspect of your game, yes, that may be a very stupid player but it is also a fault of the designer. It may be an intentional fault (the game is suppose to be super hardcore and the player is super casual) but it's something we should acknowledge so we know -why- we got the result we did. But it also means we need to be willing to accept the feedback of the player (or others).

Mark Venturelli
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And once again the mightiest of trolls have spoken.



Kriss, I'm such a big fan of your retarded trolling that I decided to troll you myself. You can check it out on the comments section of that enlightening article of yours about the IGF and "writers".



And this "retarded author" is Ernest fucking Adams. At least try to have some respect.

Mark Venturelli
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EDIT: Double post? First time this happens, sorry.

Christer Kaitila
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I would love to see "Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!" the book. Or even better, simply compiled onto a single gigantic web page. With nearly a dozen articles and a hundred or more "rules", it would be great to have everything in one place rather than scattered about on separate web pages.

Jordan Ault
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You mean like this?



http://www.designersnotebook.com/Design_Resources/No_Twinkie_Data
base/no_twinkie_database.htm



You're welcome. :)

Vinicius Pinton
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I would definitely buy a copy of the "No Twinkie!" book, even though it is all listed on the online database. I always try to consult the database when working on my designs and having a book to hold (and to re-read a chapter or two before going to bed) would be great :D

Anne Andres
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Call me a fangirl all you want, I don't care.



The only thing I could think about in this article was Blizzard's Wrath of the Lich King cutscenes.



For those of you who have played, there is a certain cutscene that spawns after a long quest chain. I for one was seriously pissed when the Wrathgate video cut out on me partway through.



But as soon as I got back into the game, guess what? The big angry dragon in the video had an option for 'show me what happened here'.



In the same stream, I would very much like to compliment Blizzard in their World of Warcraft bosses. Well, raid bosses, at least. Most raid bosses have very different mechanics from each other. And even those recycled have had 3+ years between (Zul Gurub's cleave split vs Marrowgnaw's cleave split).

This doesn't mean Bliz is by any stretch perfect. Basically all of the bosses in Diablo 2 were reskins. But, they did a heck of a lot better in WoW!



On the bad side - there is a quest in Sholazar in World of Warcraft wherein you must equip a gun and shoot an apple off someone's head. It goes into the gun slot in your character sheet. This is fine and good for the classes who CAN use guns, but for mages and deathknights and such, it is very disconcerting that suddenly you can equip this gun and magically use it, but right afterwords have total inability to ever use a gun again. Likewise, if you had maxed gun skill and did the quest, your miss chance was still the same as everyone else. It was an incongruency that really bugged me.

Rob Allegretti
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"...critically important cut-scene begins... when your doorbell rings."



And rings ... and rings...



Until the cut scene is over and I can go answer it.

Matthew Woodward
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So we learn on page 2 that save points before non-interactive sections are bad, and save points /after/ non-interactive sections are bad too? :P

Simon Fraser
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Only if there's no way to re-view the cutscene

David Peterson
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I think the main point to take away is that non-interactive sections with no ability to skip and/or review later are bad. :)

Wylie Garvin
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Don't forget ability to pause.



If I'm half way through watching a 4-minute cutscene and my phone rings, I try and press the game's pause button (Start or whatever) and if the designers did their job properly, the cutscene will pause and I can go answer the phone.



Its the end of 2010 now. There's really no excuse for putting cutscenes in a game without putting in any ability to pause or skip them; that's just lazy.

Eric Schwarz
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My ultimate peeve as of late has been rubber-band AI, or rather having computer players/opponents follow different rules from the ones the human player has to follow. I know that a lot players and designers will say that it's necessary to have some rubber-banding in order to keep the tension and challenge up, but at best it means the player can never truly excel at a game, and at worst it means the player will be punished for his or her proficiency. Easy examples abound, including Pokemon (25% paralysis chance for the player = 75% chance for the AI) and Mario Kart, but I find that this tends to manifest in extremely subtle ways as well. In Baldur's Gate and other Infinity Engine titles, for example, the AI will know where your characters have been ordered to move as soon as you issue the order, and in Warcraft III, the AI receives built-in bonuses to movement speed, armour and damage that make certain tactics that work against human players difficult or even impossible. While games have largely moved away from this, whenever there is a game with an explicit ruleset of some sort (most common in RPGs, sports games and strategy/tactics games), the worst thing you can have the computer do is break the rules that have been established.

Robert Green
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I've always thought driving games were stuck in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' scenario. What the players wants (or claims to) is good AI, yet the ability to beat them via their driving skill. The problem is, it's much easier to make an AI that drives at a professional level than it is for a player to do so. And if the player can't win, then they'll quit.

Codemasters GRID had some good ideas about this. The drivers didn't just follow the racing line perfectly (Gran Turismo I'm looking at you here), and so they could spin out like the player could. The game uses this like rubber-banding, but it's an in-context rubber-banding, so it doesn't feel so cheap. Also, they give you the option to rewind a few times per race when you've taken a corner badly, which again gives you an unfair advantage, but without having to mess with how fast the cars can actually go.

Ultimately, racing games (and sports games) are still stuck with the same problem: you want a player who shouldn't have an unfair advantage to have one, without appearing to have one.

David Peterson
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Codemasters' F1 did the same thing - the guy in front of you could screw up, and it made the game a lot less frustrating. They do make good racers.



That said, when you pitted in after doing some not-so-great lap times, the engineer would say "Your teammate is posting better lap time, we should use his setup", but then provided no way to either tell what his setup was, or a button to 'Use teammate's setup'. Aaargh!!

Roberta Davies
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Another point about non-repeatable cutscenes... It's not just that you might be in the middle of a crucial scene and the phone rings, or you sneeze, or the dog throws up on the carpet, or whatever.



There's also the possibility that you might be in the middle of a game when real life intervenes with all its messy ramifications. Accidents, illness, sudden crunch periods at work, unemployment, death in the family, etc. etc. A player might spend weeks or months away from the game through no fault of his own. On returning to it, he might have a reasonable memory of where he left off, and be so far along that he doesn't want to start over from the beginning, but still needs a little refreshing about the details.



(Which is also a good reason why tutorials should be accessible at all times. Just because you played through a tutorial perfectly well a few days, weeks, or months ago doesn't mean you remember all the controls when it's time to do the same thing for real.)

Wylie Garvin
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Yes, that's a good one. I sometimes come back to a game after weeks or months, and find I have to start a new game and play the first level or two until I've figured out all of the buttons and dusted off my rusty skills for that game. Sometimes I then load my farthest savegame and continue, but sometimes I just can't bring myself to do that. The result: There are some great games which I have played the first 2/3rds of four times or more, but have never reached the end of the game. Half Life 2 is one of those games--its great, but its just too long for me to finish before I lose interest in it, and for some reason I can't get back into my savegame months later, always opting to start it again from the beginning. The same thing happened to me with Dead Space on insane difficulty (I've played the first 3/4ths of that game on insane about 3 times now) and both Call of Duty 2 and 3, and R6 Vegas 2, and probably a few others. Oh, Super Metroid. Every time I go on xmas vacation I play the first half of Super Metroid on the plane, then lose interest...

Adam Miller
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My biggest pet peeve is inconsistent interaction with the physical environment/physics. For example, you have a character who can fly... but not over some shrubs. It's actually the worst in RPGs (similar to the Phoenix down example) -- e.g. many Final Fantasy games, in which enemy guns/bullets are all but worthless, until the cut scene, when these same bullets are used to assassinate some major character. Granted this doesn't affect gameplay, but it really makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

Dave Endresak
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I like some of the No Twinkie viewpoints, and I dislike some others.



Also, it's a huge mistake to assume that "Game Title A" is a "classic" and that everyone who is a "serious gamer" (i.e., has a decent amount of experience with the industry and products, or even a huge amount of experience) has played "Game Title A." This is a very centric viewpoint of what is worth playing. For one thing, game products are global in scope, but there are wide variances in what is "classic" or "hugely popular" between different areas of the globe. It's difficult to communicate with others when you think that your experiences and preferences are the default norm.

Adam Bishop
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This is true of all industries, but if you're going to use examples I still think it's better to stick with ones that are more likely to be widely known than just picking random ones. I mean, not everyone who makes films or is a film buff has seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but odds are pretty good that more of them will know Alfred Hitchcock than Richard Linklater, so Hitchcock is a better example.



As to different things being popular in different areas of the world, that is of course true, but I don't see how that's relevant unless you're talking to a global audience. As far as I know, Gamasutra is a web site read primarily by Western game developers, so the best examples are ones that will be widely known by people in the West. What's popular in China or India or Egypt isn't all that relevant.

R A
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I disagree with the bit about having mechanics match story. Any game that takes itself more seriously than Mario shouldn't have to bog itself down with explanation of every fantastic thing that occurs in it. You say that a simple throwaway explanation of why a Phoenix Down didn't work would've been adequate but all that does is open up more questions and more demands for explanation, like, for example, what importance can really be attached to the gap between life and death when an easily acquired item allows anyone who takes it to transcend mortality.



And attaching a magical qualifier to the act of killing her (the sword was super poisonous) undermines the powerful finality of death, and would actually be much more immersion breaking than simply skimming over the technical details of the game's abstract mechanics.



If FF7 wants to explore themes of death and permanent loss we should let it, forcing it to instead explore the themes of the technical issues the mechanics introduce is boring and very limited in scope.



Moreover I think it's a stretch to claim that mismatched mechanics in a story is intrusive. I think most people can accept and understand the medium that these stories occur in.

Jamie Mann
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I'm not sure I follow this: it's ok for a game to arbitrarily break it's internal mechanics and/or storyline, for the sake of convenience? That way lies mediocrity...



Making a game's mechanics internally consistent shouldn't take too much effort; as has been noted above, it could have been done with a simple explanation in FF7 - I very much doubt anyone would have been obsessed enough to use that explanation for a deep philosophical analysis of the game's approach to mortality.



This may sound a bit ranty (and it is!), but if a developer doesn't put in the trivial effort required to make their games internally consistent, it's a sign that they don't particularly care about what they're producing, especially when it comes to something as plot-heavy as FF7.



However, I'll fully agree that most people will accept inconsistencies, but I don't think it's because they're willing to make allowances for the medium.; it's more that they simply don't notice or care. But this isn't exactly something to aspire to - I don't think many people will be happy with the thought "hey, most people didn't notice how bad a job I made of this"...

R A
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FF7 and games like it are internally consistent. The gameplay and game mechanics clearly exist on a separate plane, distinct from the story's reality. These sorts of games never make the claim that what you're doing in battle coincides with the game's narrative. Part of the style and charm of RPGs is that the combat is so fantastic, so divorced from reality.



To frame her death in bizzaro fantasy combat terms would've instantly dismantled whatever emotional impact the scene might've had. If the death really does bother you then it's easy enough to infer reasons why she couldn't be revived. It's easy enough, after all, to infer that experience points aren't actually numbers being crunched into your machine-like character, and that they represent general wisdom gained through battle. It's equally easy to assume that a revival item can only revive the unconscious or very fatigued and not actually bypass death. How much of the game's narrative needs to be bogged down with these sorts of superfluous explanations? Why not accept that combat mechanics and story run on two separate logical frameworks; one abstract, and one realistic?



The Phoenix Down dilemma in FF7 is a cute anecdote of gaming culture, like Link barging into houses and throwing pots against a wall. Itís a mistake to cite as though it were insight into the faults of gaming storytelling.

Andy Lundell
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The sheer number of people who complain about Phoenix Down and Aeris should indicate that SOMETHING was done ... if not 'wrong', then at least 'sub-optimally'.



(Naive Suggestion : Why not replace the Phoenix down with "smelling salts", and otherwise indicate that characters with 0hp were KOed and not dead?)



Something about that combination of game mechanic and story point has rubbed a lot of players the wrong way. Perhaps Adam's explanations as to WHY are wrong, but it's crazy to pretend that it went over smoothly or just ignore it.

Jamie Mann
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@RA Not sure I agree with that, especially for a role-playing game: by definition your actions and choices should be relevant to the story, as otherwise you're not playing a role...



As a general rule, if the gameplay has little or no relationship to the game's story, then there's something wrong with the game's fundamental design. Change the story or change the gameplay mechanics: don't mash the two together to create a mess.



(and it's not like the Japanese don't have extensive experience of how to balance epic battles with personal storylines - look at all the Shonen Jump manga! Or anime in general - Evangelion, Escaflowne, Noein, Hellsing, Read or Die...)

Jonathan Lawn
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I'll probably rub a lot of people up the wrong way by saying it, but I think this may expose the difference between those who enjoy "fantasy" (I'm thinking mostly novels) and those who don't. Some people are happy with Deus Ex Machina, and allowing the plot to push the characters around without any explanation, for the sake of the effect on the characters emotions, and some (like myself) think that any world where this happens continually would make me too nauseous to act, and ruins any empathy with any character who's not trying to understand their world rather than go with the flow/plot.

Jamie Mann
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I'm just an awkward sod ;) Whether it comes to games, books, tv or films, fantasy, sci-fi or drama, I like to see internal consistency - it doesn't matter how ludicrous the base premise is, so long as they stick with it!

John Leffingwell
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"Bosses should not heal themselves (or not very much, anyway)."



I think this is a bit simplistic. There are more interesting ways to handle self-healing bosses. Why not give the player simple (possibly non-obvious) tools to interrupt, interfere with, or intercept the effect? That could mean disrupting or destroying the source of the healing, reducing its effectiveness, poisoning the effect, or allowing the player to steal the effect. Improve the mechanic by giving it some depth rather than eliminating it. Endless re-healing can be annoying (and maybe it usually is), but it's also a straight-forward way to enforce a time constraint on a challenge in a way that doesn't disrupt continuity.

Jamie Mann
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I'm reasonably ok with bosses self-healing (so long as I can do the same). However, I'm ready to drag out and shoot the next person who designs a boss character which becomes invulnerable for several seconds after a successful hit and/or during a canned animation. I have a little list... it's unlikely they will be missed ;)

Wylie Garvin
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Prince of Persia 2008 had bosses that would heal themselves. However, there were diminishing returns on the heals (2nd time: 50%, 3rd time: 25% or something like that), so it was possible to wear them down even if you kept making the mistake that would let them heal (getting knocked out of the combat area or something?).

Luis Guimaraes
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@John L.



That was exactly my thought. If it isn't good, make a gameplay mechanic out of it!

Or shortly: it's a game, make it playable.

Daniel Kinkaid
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I agree on most of the points here, ESPECIALLY boss battles. I find VERY few games do these well; either you lock into a routine (A typical Final Fantasy boss battle, where you get something like: "Attack, Ultima/Meteo, Mimic, Cure 3 (ALL)" repeated over an over), or don't feel special (IE: Stronger versions of normal enemies). The worst ones though, are the ones where the difficulty suddenly skyrockets.



If done right, scaling difficulty, both in attributes and abilities, can help keep things balenced. But as a general rule, if a player can blow through a given dungeon, then the boss shouldn't be expected to overrun a player. If a player arrives half dead, then the boss should be able to finish the job. Likewise, if the Boss has multiple phases, and the players beat phase one, phase two, while tougher, should be perfectly beatable.

Maojie Zhou
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Totally agree the point skip video. Can't image how painful lots Ubisoft game can't skip the stupid intro videos.


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