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

December 26, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

No Loading Progress Bar/Meaningless Loading Progress Bar

This is another one of those Twinkie Denial Conditions that's perfectly trivial to do right, so why do so many games do it wrong? From a correspondent named Will:

You get to an area that, unbeknownst to you, is a level boundary, and the game pauses with the legend: "LOADING." No progress bar, not even an animation to tell you that the game is still doing something, and therefore, hasn't frozen. The Half-Life series, as much as I love it otherwise, has this problem throughout and it irritates me no end -- especially since one of the other hallmarks of the series is strange bugginess and intermittent lockups.

Another variant that messes up in the opposite direction is the meaningless progress bar. A game goes to a loading screen, and shows you a progress bar that fills fairly rapidly. If you're like me, you're thinking "Yay, short loading screen!" Then, the progress bar resets and starts filling again... and again... and again... and again.

Internet Explorer serves as another good example of the meaningless progress bar. Giant Internet Explorer's little circle goes 'round and 'round, telling me nothing. Yet the tiny, free xScope browser for my Android phone includes a progress bar that shows me how much of the page has loaded. It's invaluable.

Both of these errors are bad, but the lack of any loading bar is the worse of the two because you can't tell if the machine is frozen or not. Put in a progress bar that fills up, once, until the load process is complete. It doesn't have to be perfect; if you load 2 files and one of them is 10KB and one is 10MB, but you allocate half the bar to the first one and half the bar to the second, that's tolerable. We don't really care as long as we can see movement.

Unreadable Subtitles

Back on the subject of text again, Shairi Turner writes, "I can't stand when the subtitles are unreadable. I've run into games where the subtitles are too small or the colors fade into the background. Sometimes it's just a good idea to have a text box at the bottom of the screen."

Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! VII already talked about games that lack subtitles and unworkable interface elements such as green crosshairs that disappear into the background when using green night-vision goggles.

This is a variant of the same problem. Subtitles need to have high enough contrast with the background -- whatever it may be -- to be readable at all times. Television does this with white subtitles, counting on the bottom area of a shot to be darker than the center (as it usually is).

In the past I've suggested using multicolored subtitles to identify individual speakers, which we need because unlike TV, in many of our games you can't see the characters' lips move. To make sure these don't ever blend in to the background, surround each letter with a black line and use dramatic colors like yellow or magenta. The Monkey Island games did this perfectly.

As for subtitles that are too small, this is a total violation of the rules about accessibility. Bad game designer! No twinkie! Unless the text is built into the artwork (bad for localization), it should be user-scalable -- especially subtitles, which float on top of the image and don't have to fit into a menu.


I'm not hearing many complaints about social media and casual games. Being simple, multiplayer, and often storyless, social media games may not have the problems with AI or conceptual non sequiturs that we so often see in role-playing and strategy games. Or it may be that my readership just doesn't play them enough to get mad about them. Anyway, if you've got a gripe -- about any kind of video game -- let me know at [email protected]. See you next year!

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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