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

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

October 9, 2008 | By Staff

October 9, 2008 | By Staff
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Design



Designer Ernest Adams is withholding the confections again, taking nine big game design mistakes to task in this ninth installment of his seminal series.

Adams pulled from a collection of reader suggestions for this year's list of game design gripes, such as this one regarding fake interactivity:

"This is another biggie: a very, very wrong and bad [Twinkie Denial Condition] in an otherwise good game. I'll let a lady named Jessica explain it: 'This damaged the ending of Shadow of the Colossus for me -- and it happens in other games too. You allow the player to control their character during a sequence, but no matter what the player does, the sequence can only go one way. Since it's not clear that it would ever happen, when it does happen, it makes you want to try the sequence again, but that only gives you the same result.'

'If it can only go one way, make it a cutscene. If the player has control of the character, let the player's actions make a difference, and affect the outcome. If it's a part of the game's 'style' to let the player 'play' through what are essentially cut scenes, then make it that way throughout the game so that we know the game is going to be this way, and don't just surprise us with it at the end.'

... People play games in order to overcome challenges, make interesting choices, and generally express themselves. Game sequences that don't provide any of those experiences shouldn't be interactive. We expect that when we have control of the avatar, the avatar's actions will affect the game world in some way. If it affects the game world in no way at all, then there's no point in pretending that it's interactive."


Airborne Entertainment's games product manager Patrick Perreault also sent in a suggestion complaining about obvious and cheap reskinned games, where studios take an existing engine (or an entire game) and reuse it to do another, usually branded, game. He notes that this is a particularly popular practice with mobile developers:

"'While some companies (like Gameloft with games like Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, and all its platformers) do a good job at adding new functionalities to each iteration, other publishers will stop at loading different graphics and modifying existing levels. Some really, really greedy publishers will even stop at changing only the game's title and splash screen.'

'But if you want to be greedy, at least be smart! If you are reskinning a game, making sure you remove all mentions of the old title in the credits is smart. And so is making sure the characters from the original game do not appear in the new game. Failure to be smart is sure to result in players not buying any more of your games.'

Leaving old characters and credits to turn up in the new game is one of the funniest screwups I've ever heard about. It doesn't get much more sloppy than that. Alas, if this were only a new problem.

Certain companies in the early '90s were infamous for turning out cookie-cutter platform games on the Genesis and SNES. And it's hardly confined to the mobile space these days; there are plenty of clone shooters around. I think the FPS is the side-scroller of this generation: there are way too many of them."


You can read the full feature, which goes into seven other common game design gripes, like time-constrained demos and games that set players up to fail (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).


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