Five Game Design Features You’ve Always Hated

August 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

There are a lot of design features you’ll end up cursing in a standard run through a game. We’d love to be able to claim that with development duties in our hands many games would end up being far better, but the truth is that the vast majority of these design ideas are there (or absent) for very good reasons.

Take as an example your inability to run and shoot simultaneously in Resident Evil 4. Sure, it’s infinitely annoying not to be able to back away from the hordes of infected villages scampering towards you, but the upshot is that the game ends up being far more tactical as a result. You can’t just jog into an area and expect to be able to get out unscathed, instead you have to think a little more, planning your escape route when the time comes for you to inevitably have to reload at the worst possible moment.

Likewise whilst it’s nice to have the option to play the entirety of a game co-operatively, the sheer cost involved from a development perspective, as well as the design headaches, involved with having two players running around the game world far outweigh the benefits of an option many wouldn’t even touch.

Some design choices though, defy any explanation. They exist as part of a tradition, included ‘just because’, and completely fail to justify their presence. Take as an example:

Having to sign player 2 into a profile:

I understand of course that this is a lovely feature intended to allow you to collect achievements whilst playing with a friend – at least that’s the idea. Out of interest though, how many of you actually keep your Xbox Live profile on a portable memory stick? In addition to that, how many of you will then keep this profile on your person should you come into a position to play some multiplayer? If you answered yes to both question then congratulations; it’s your obscure habit that’s been eating into the rest of our playtime for years now.

That way a game will give you the name of your profile? I hate that. Just ask me to quickly enter in my name when I want to play split-screen Halo, and stop me wasting scarce conversation by reminding people who I am when I kill them. Then of course if I want to collect achievements with friends give me the option to sign in to a profile. Until that point comes though, assume I’m not bothered and don’t make me waste my time creating profiles on friends’ systems just so I can use my real name.

Quitting to the main menu when you die

There are some features of JRPGs that I love. There are others I hate, but others love and thus warrant inclusion. The way many games will kick you out to the main menu when you die however, is both an annoying and immersion killing feature that has no place in modern games.

Perhaps the practise is designed to be a noble attempt to force you to give up. “Look,” the game’s saying, “You kinda suck at this. Why not go outside, get some fresh air, and then come back later?”

I don’t want to of course. I want to jump right back into the game and beat that challenge that had me stumped the first time round. In addition, I don’t want to have to rely on my saves as checkpoints, it means I spend more time worry about the next save point than actually enjoying the game, and can also result in entire half hours of game time lost when it could’ve been saved with a little automatic checkpointing.

The practise also wastes the player’s time. Just load up where I was five minutes ago because I could really do without first loading your company logos, the game’s introduction,  the main menu, my list of saves, and finally the level. It’s lengthy, it’s boring, and above all it makes me seriously think about walking away from the console, and that’s never a good thing.

Choosing whether to pick up mission critical items

A feature which seems in my experience to be exclusive to Capcom games is politely asking the player whether he wants to pick up that item necessary to finishing a level with. The issue here is not so much one of wasted time, but of the paranoid doubts it causes to enter my mind.

I may be alone in this, but whenever a game asks me if I want to pull a level I’ve just come across rather than just doing it for me, I immediately think I have some sort of a choice. Obviously this lever has to be here for a reason, but if the game’s asking me whether I want to pull it or not than maybe there’s a reason I shouldn’t be pulling it. Maybe the lever’s booby trapped, maybe it’s going to open a secret passageway filled with puppets intent on turning Dante’s body into mincemeat…and maybe I’ll be kicked out to the main menu as a result.

I think I’ll go search around a little bit more before I commit to a decision…

Agreeing not to turn off the console during saving

Us gamers are an impatient lot. We get that games have to load and everything, but whilst that’s going on we’re probably going to leave the room and do one of the other hundred of important things in our lives.

We might leave the room and make a sandwich for example, or possibly just a cup of tea. We might unload the dishwasher, or do some other menial task we’ve been putting off because let’s face it, if it takes so little time then why bother? We might take a moment to punch a goat in the face, or maybe write a blog post about how much we hate waiting for games to load.

When we re-enter the room after a lengthy initial load we expect at the very least for the main menu to be sitting there with the ‘Continue?’ option happily flashing away. If you’re Rockstar then you’ll take this even further, and actually chuck us directly into the game, ready to unleash chaos upon the world.

So please, developers, the next time you’re examining your game’s interface, never make the entire booting up process come to a halt as the game waits for a button press confirming the fact that we understand not to turn off the console when the game’s saving.

Letting everyone edit game settings in multiplayer

“Ok fellas, thanks very much for coming, and let’s get into some Halo split-screen. Ok game mode? Alright we’ll start with some Slayer…no…stop it…will whoever’s pressing up please stop? Ok, Slayer it is. No, stop messing around with character customisation player three, let’s worry about that later. Who’s editing respawn times? What’s the point? Let’s just get into a game and change anything we need to later. Someone’s pressing the up button again, kindly desist. Everyone ready? It’s game time.

No! Alright, who quit us out to the main menu?”

Please, just give all the control to player one, because nine times out of ten that’ll be the person in control, and you know what? If we need someone else to pick out options we can use this amazing feature called ‘passing the controller.’

The point of this article is not to say that these minor niggles are the bane of gaming’s existence, or even that they waste much time at all. The fact remains that they’re still annoying though aren’t they?

So what game features really hack you off? Can you work out the reason for their inclusion, and even then do you think this reasoning justifies them?

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