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Industry Veteran Ernest Adams On Game Design Goofs To Avoid

Industry Veteran Ernest Adams On Game Design Goofs To Avoid

December 7, 2009 | By Staff

December 7, 2009 | By Staff
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In the tenth anniversary of his long-running "Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!" series, veteran game designer Ernest Adams highlights nine more game design goofs in an entertaining roundup.

Adams referenced a submission from reader Kris Kelly, who pointed out the faults of one instance of "psychic AI" that's omniscient to a fault: "In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the guards are so good at their job, they instantly know when you've committed a crime (i.e. killed someone in a building, stolen something), even when they were never in the area. They'll sometimes run all the way across town to try and arrest you."

"Another Oblivion issue is the stolen items thing: merchants will happily accept items you've 'liberated' from the corpses of your enemies, but if you take a candlestick in, you can't even offer it to them, never mind get refused."

Adams elaborated on the shortcomings of such a design, adding, "The underlying design problems are actually different here. The psychic guards have access to global information when they really should have access only to information about their local region. The other is that the merchants have a peculiar sense of morality: they condone mugging but not burglary. What's that about?"

There's also the Twinkie Denial Condition of level designs that over- or under-use a particular game feature. Another submission Adams highlights is from French freelance designer Pascal Luan, who said, "A great game feature does not make a game, it is the way it is implemented that does. The best game feature is not enough to support a game by itself, because the best feature eventually becomes boring when you have done it too many times in the same circumstances. I see that on a regular basis in games."

"The level design does not create unique situations tailored to the use of the unique game mechanics of the game. That's why level design is so important: because it allows designer to create diversity and challenge around a given mechanism."

Adams suggested one mindset that game designers can incorporate in order to avoid this goof: "I've often said that game designers determine what sorts of "LEGO blocks" the game will be made from, but level designers actually construct the game out of those blocks. If the level design doesn't make good use of a feature, then the feature is wasted. If it is used too many times in exactly the same way, then it becomes tiresome."

"An example of good design with a limited feature set is Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic only had two moves, jumping and super-spinning, yet the level designs offered enough variety to keep the game interesting."

There are more Twinkie Denial Conditions explained in today's full Gamasutra feature, available today.


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