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

July 10, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

We all know the game industry suffers from a lot of personnel turnover. Enthusiastic young people join the business; the hours and working conditions burn them out; they leave to find a more sane occupation, and a new crop shows up all ready for the flames. Apart from the waste of life and talent this represents, it means that game companies have no institutional memory, and that’s partly why we keep making design errors.

On the other hand, it does give me something to write about every year! Welcome to Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! VII. This year’s list of Twinkie Denial Conditions is, unfortunately, a long one, and as usual, it was all submitted by you, my faithful readers. If you’d like to send me some more, write to [email protected]. In the meantime, here we go:

No New Features After the First Few Levels

Novelty is one of the many ways that video games entertain, and a quality that sets video gaming apart from, say, board gaming. Mahdi Jeddi writes to complain about games that present all their features in the first few levels, and then don’t have anything new to offer in the later stages of the game. As he says, “If they have budget limitations, they can spread the introduction of new features across all levels, and maybe make some special levels for one feature. This way the game will maintain its freshness to its end and the player will be saved from boredom.”

Hear, hear! Which is worse: A game that introduces its features sparsely but regularly, or one that gives them all to you at once and then never gives you another one? I would much rather play the former. Obviously this will vary somewhat by genre, but offering up a new twist every now and then will certainly help to keep the player’s interest. Too many games turn into a boring grind in the last third or so, and the player has to slog through it if he wants to see the ending. We didn’t get into this business to make boring grinds. Spread your innovations out over the whole game.

Extreme Rule Changes When Fighting Boss Characters

Boss characters always require a different approach from ordinary enemies—this is a well-known convention of gaming, and we all get it. But when the changes are so great that all your earlier experience is worthless, the game is being unfair to the player. David Peterson writes,

Dead or Alive 3 completely changes the rules when fighting the last boss, and voids all you have learned. When playing in story mode, you fight a bunch of different characters in the regular game. At the end, you fight the ‘big boss’ (I still have no idea who he is or why he is surrounded by flames) and everything changes. He shoots at you; the camera is locked in a completely different position from the rest of the game, making all your usual moves rotate 90 degrees on the controller, and your game becomes block, move a little closer, block, move a little closer, etc. All the skills and moves you had previously learned are now useless. Aargh!!!”

Yup, definitely a Twinkie Denial Condition. Fights with boss characters should build upon what the player already knows, not replace it entirely.

Bad Translation and Localization

Santiago Hodalgo writes from Spain to point out what a fantasy-killer a cruddy translation and localization is. I’ll let him tell it:

“In the past, very few games were translated to Spanish, mainly graphic adventures, and those were probably the only ones correctly translated. I especially remember the Lucasarts games because they had good translations, and even the American-themed jokes were changed for Spanish-themed ones… Today, with games being more complex and full of multimedia content, I think localization has become a bigger task, and while some games are correctly adapted, many others aren’t.

“I played Call of Duty in English for the first time, and the voices added to the realism, but in the Spanish version the translation is extremely poor. In the original version the officers shouted orders, emphasizing points; panicking soldiers reflected panic in their voices; hidden people whispered at you, and even different nationalities had distinguishable accents. In the Spanish version, there’s no voice acting at all, it’s only reading. It’s the same tone and pattern for every line of dialogue, no matter what the situation or the environment.”

Now Call of Duty is a great game, so what’s up with that? Who at Activision had so little pride in his work that he let this cruddy hack-job out the door? Is the Spanish-speaking market somehow less deserving of decent production values than the English-speaking one? (Considering how big the Spanish-speaking market will soon be within the USA, anybody who has that delusion had better get over it quick.) Bad game designer! No Twinkie!

No Subtitles

And while we’re on the subject of languages, Mihail Mercuryev writes from the Ukraine to say:

“Subtitles make the game accessible for foreigners and people who are forced to play without sound. But many outstanding titles (Myst, Uru and Outcast come to mind) don’t have them. Also, most of Myst’s speech is mixed with enormous amount of noise and is barely recognizable even in native language. In Commandos, when you don’t have sound, the mission briefing conveys no information, the map simply scrolls back and forth. For some reason Driver refused to produce any sound on my computer, so I was unable to listen to messages... and no subtitles, again."


"I'm sorry, I can't understand what you're saying!"


“I think all voice messages should be backed up with subtitles or another visual clue. If you think that subtitles ruin gameplay, keep them off by default. In some cases, when translating the game into another language, only subtitles might be replaced, without touching the voice. For example, this kind of translation worked well in Desperados; if they dubbed the voices in Russian, the characters would lose their lovely accents.”

I disagree with his last sentence—they wouldn’t necessarily have lost their accents if they had done the dubbing right. But as Santiago pointed out, localization companies don’t always take the trouble.

There’s another good reason to include subtitles, and that is to let hearing-impaired players play the game. We’re way behind other media on this. TV and DVDs now routinelyship with subtitles or even picture-in-picture sign language translation. Half-Life 2 did a nice job of including subtitles with different colors for different speakers. To find out more about making your game accessible to the deaf, visit

Unless you’re making a game for a wristwatch or something, you should regard subtitles as a required feature of the title. It’s just good design practice—like readable typefaces and adjustable sound levels.

Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

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