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

December 2, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Plot Inconsistency with Game Mechanics

Some storytelling games don't weave their stories neatly in with their gameplay. It can be done, despite what the naysayers may claim, but we often see games in which it isn't. Ideally, the game world and the story world are one and the same, identical in setting and internal laws. When the game world mechanic suddenly changes for the sake of a plot feature, it frustrates the player and destroys immersion.

Sean Hagans and Joshua Able pointed this one out to me, and it's a particularly famous example. Joshua wrote:

"Phoenix Down [a character-resurrection device] didn't work on Aeris in Final Fantasy VII after Aeris died for plot reasons. If it doesn't work, why is that? No explanation? Why does this one time that she dies (even though she died like 100 times before) have to be permanent?

"Either a resurrection vial should work on a story-dead character unless there is an explanation for it, or the character shouldn't die, or you shouldn't have resurrection vials."

The behavior of Phoenix Down (the down feathers of a phoenix bird) seems to vary somewhat from one edition of Final Fantasy to the next, but within a single game it shouldn't suddenly stop working, without explanation, for plot reasons.

All they had to do was give us a reason. "Aeris was too badly injured to save," would have done it. Or "Sephiroth's sword was poisoned." That way, the pure pathos of this highly-charged moment wouldn't have been adulterated with frustration.

Bad Input Device Conversions

The input devices on a video game machine (of any sort) are the most important part of the hardware. Gamers can tolerate low-resolution graphics and tinny 8-bit sound, but badly implemented controls ruin the game for keeps. If you port a game from one machine to another, I suggest rewriting the input device code from scratch, because there are an awful lot of poorly-implemented conversions out there. Sam Hardy wrote to point out two particularly egregious examples:

BioWare's Mass Effect 2 suffers from half-implemented menus. I am able to use my keys to move and select a menu item, but there is no way to press a button and confirm it. I have to mouse over and click. Also, there's no mouse wheel support for scrolling text. The other offense it commits is giving poor information regarding what buttons to press. If I rebind a key, it isn't changed in the prompts that pop up.

Another offender in a similar manner was 2008's Prince of Persia, in which the joystick and button scheme had been imported so well that in order for me to select START GAME I had to mouse over the option then press [ENTER] for it to accept. It wouldn't take a mouse click.

Another common console porting issue is the slower speed at which a mouse and keyboard operate in comparison to a console. Prince of Persia earns its ire from the fact that doing a combo with the left mouse button isn't very comfortable. It's worse when you have to use an uncommon mouse button, such as middle mouse click. Your hand and the mouse isn't designed very well for this and it becomes a source of discomfort.

A controller is not a keyboard and mouse. I realize that portability is a virtue, but when it comes to control devices, it's better to write code optimized for the hardware than it is to create something awkward but supposedly portable. Don't kludge the code; rewrite it. Your players will appreciate it.

Background Music You Can't Turn Off

I'll end on a simple and obvious one. Scott Jenkins wrote to say, "My No Twinkie pet peeve is games that do not allow background music to be turned off. This seems to be more common in Japanese made games than western made games. The most recent example I can think of is the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii."

For accessibility reasons, all games should have two volume controls, one for the music and one for the sound effects. Players with hearing impairments need to be able to turn down/off the music; and they're not the only ones. The best music in the world gets monotonous if repeated endlessly.


That's it for this year; there's plenty to think about here, especially when it comes to boss battles and story/game interaction. If you know of another Twinkie Denial Condition that I haven't yet covered (check the No Twinkie Database to see), by all means send me some e-mail and tell me about it.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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