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


October 9, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Setting the Player Up to Fail

Someone who calls himself "One Man Science Team" wrote, "One design flaw I think definitely calls for Twinkie denial is level designers unreasonably demanding the player break previously established rules and risk associated consequences in order to meet goals. Even games considered 'good' do this sometimes -- in order to find every secret in the original Donkey Kong Country you have to try jumping into every pit on every level."

"You will get Game Over many times if you don't go to a FAQ first. Another example is in many RPGs, with impossible battles where you're punished for actually trying to win through the wasting of healing items but rewarded for losing because that's what the story wants you to do."

He goes on to say that he doesn't mind level designers changing up the rules now and then, but they have to give hints that they have done so -- some kind of visual indicator that things are different.

"But if accomplishing a goal that the developer can expect/predict a player might go for (finding all the secrets) involves violating the very rules of play the designers put forth (and the player getting punished repeatedly for it!) then the trust that exists between the player and designer is eroded."

Yes it is. Unlike with board games, video game players don't know the rules when they start out -- they have to learn them by trial and error, and that means they have to trust that you're not going to lie to them.

Your Only Save is Immediately Before Your Death

We'll end on a simple one. Nathan Sturtevant teaches computer science at the University of Alberta, and he writes, "What has bugged me in a number of games that do allow saving, is that they let you save your game as you die. I think I last saw this in Neverwinter Nights, but I'm fairly certain I've seen it in other games as well. In NWN it can happen either in battle, or if you're about to walk over a trap. It's quite frustrating to discover that you are reliably killed 0.2 milliseconds after loading your game."

I've been bitten by this one myself. Now, I'm a big believer in letting the player save whenever he wants, and it can be difficult for the computer to predict that death is truly inevitable if the player still has a few hit points left. (It certainly shouldn't save if he already is dead.)

But I also believe in letting the player make multiple saves. OK, the player saved in the last instant before an inevitable death -- so let him restore an earlier save. Problem solved. If you only have storage space for one save, then checkpoints might be a better option -- just make sure they're placed in such a way that the player is definitely healthy when he saves.

Conclusion

That's it for this year. I'm always interested in more suggestions, although last year I was rather bad at getting back to people and thanking them. I promise to do better!

In the meantime, if you know of a really egregious Twinkie Denial Condition, drop on over to the No Twinkie Database to see if I've already covered it. If not, by all means send me a note at [email protected].


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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