When you start looking more critically at video games, you’ll often notice recurring themes, both good and bad, present in them. All players have little pet peeves that turn them off in games, so what follows is my personal list of the 7 deadly sins of game design. I should probably note right away that I don’t think any of the following games are really “bad” games. In fact, I love most of them. However, that doesn’t mean that bad design decisions weren’t made. This list is in no particular order.
1. Unskippable Cutscenes
Thankfully, this hasn’t really been a problem for a couple years now. I love story in games as much as the next guy, but when you die a couple times to a boss and end up having to rewatch every long cutscene leading up to that boss before you can give it another try, frustration builds very fast. Every game released these days should have the functionality of both pausing and skipping cutscenes. Then again, no cutscene should be so long that you have to pause it, but that’s a complaint for another day.
Worst offender: Pretty much any PS1 era game had unskippable cutscenes and it makes going back and playing those old games an exercise in irritation. Japan especially loves to make you watch cutscenes all the way through.
2. Respawning Enemies
A somewhat new anomaly. Sure, plenty of games have segments where there are infinite enemies until you do something specific (lock a door, use a computer, etc.), but some games these days seem to think a good way to encourage progression is to have infinitely respawning enemies. It essentially turns the game into one long gauntlet event when gauntlet events, by nature, are supposed to be quick, short bursts of action.
Worst offender: Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare. How are you supposed to know you’re making progress when the enemies are endless? I know the developers want you to continue pressing forward in the face of opposition, but I’m pretty sure there are better ways out there to do this. It’s especially bad when all the respawning enemies are throwing grenades at you at once.
3. Last Minute Fetch Quests
Fetch quests are exactly what they sound like: a mission to go fetch something. You do this in nearly every game ever made, but it is particularly bad when it happens right at the end of the game in a bogus attempt to pad the length of the game. Last minute fetch quests are the most annoying form of backtracking. By the end of a game (if it has good pacing) you are ready to play the ending and see what happens. When they throw in a fetch quest at that point, it just grinds the whole thing to a halt.
Worst offender: The Legend of Zelda, The Windwaker. Finally finished this fun and lengthy adventure game? Ready to head off and fight the final boss? Too bad! Now you get to sail around searching for whatever for no reason other than the developers want to keep you playing a little longer. A game like Zelda doesn’t even need to pad length. I have never finished The Windwaker because of this.
4. Infrequent Quicktime Events
I’m specifically talking about the kind that kill you. I have no real problem with quicktime events, as long as a game establishes that they are a staple of gameplay and teaches you to expect them. For example, Resident Evil 4 introduces you to them early on and you continue to experience them throughout the entire game. That’s just fine. But when you have a multiple- hour game with one or two deadly quicktime events in the whole thing, you’re never ready for them when they happen. I’m honestly baffled why developers do this.
Worst offender: Uncharted, Drake’s Fortune. Two deadly quicktime events: one near the beginning and one at the very end. Even stranger, the checkpoint system lets you retry these events immediately should you get killed. At that point, why even put them in? Are the developers just trying to make sure you’re still looking at the screen?
5. Escort Quests
I can only think of one game where an escort quest isn’t boring and unfun. I won’t name it because I already have once in this article. The rest of the time, escort quests are possibly the worst thing a developer can put into a game. There is nothing fun about escorting NPCs with (often) bad AI through areas filled with enemies trying to kill them. Do I even need to describe it anymore? I’m pretty sure nobody likes escort quests.
Worst offender: Metal Gear Solid 2. Not only do you have to escort a girl through areas filled with enemies, you have to hold her hand and lead her while you do it! MGS2 throws you into an escort quest and then slows it wayyyyy down to a crawl while you do it! I’d like to eavesdrop on the meeting where they thought this would be a good idea. “Experience the thrill as you tiptoe down hallways leading some girl. Took out all the enemies ahead of time to make it safe? Well, you still get to lead her along very slowly. Video games!”
6. Unnecessary Open Worlds
Grand Theft Auto III should be commended for popularizing (not inventing, popularizing) varied open world gameplay. Ever since then, tons of IPs and games have incorporated open worlds for the player to run around in. The problem is when these open worlds are shoehorned into games that don’t need them. Here’s a tip: if you’re not going to make the open world central to your game’s design, don’t put it in. Your game doesn’t need it.
Worst offender: No More Heroes. Why did we need an open world in this game? There was nothing to do in it. Driving from location to location was boring and the city just felt empty. Thankfully, the developers seemed to catch onto this and in the sequel they replaced the open world with a nice efficient menu.
7. Lazy Difficulty Differences
Difficulty settings may be one of the most overlooked features in games these days. For example, in shooting games the curve from medium to hard can almost always be described as “enemies take more bullets to kill and it takes fewer bullets to kill you.” That’s just lame. Even worse is that these games are usually fast paced so when you choose hard mode in a game where difficulty is arbitrary and not thought out, constantly dying in one or two hits brings the game’s pacing to screeching halt. If you want an example of difficulty done right, look at Hitman: Blood Money. As the difficulty level increases, the game stops giving you so many hints, eventually removes the ability to save (forcing you to be more careful and deliberate), and, most importantly, makes the enemy AI smarter and more aware of your presence and actions. Developers should take a page from this.
Worst offender: Star Wars, The Force Unleashed. I really liked The Force Unleashed on the medium difficulty; it was a nice challenge. Then I tried the hardest difficulty and rather than fighting smarter enemies I fought the same enemies who just did substantially more damage to me. I quit on the second level because I felt like the difficulty was not making the experience any different or better than medium had been.
That’s it. Those are the 7 deadly sins of game design in my opinion. Got another one that really bugs you? Disagree with one? Know examples of games that do one of these things well? Let me know! I’d love to hear about it.