6 crap game design flaws that really should be extinct by now (but that we accept anyway)

Invisible walls

Game levels can’t go on forever. I get that. That’s why they’re called “levels”. The word "level" implies one of a stacked progression of separate, self-contained stages. Finite nature of levels confirmed.

Above: Decent-enough visual joke, but I basically just wanted to Photoshop a mime getting his head blown off

Even open-world games have boundaries. Unless you’re going to make a complete simulation of the globe and surrounding universe, eventually there’s going to be a bit where the player can’t go any further in a particular direction. But the trick here, the oh-so-simple trick, is to disguise it well. Don’t just make me launch myself face first into a lump of solid atmosphere and don't – and this one is even worse, in a way – put a token, foot-tall obstruction in front of my character with the intention of using it to plausibly defeat his three-foot jumping ability. It looks lazy and it pulls me out of the game. So stop it.  

Unclear signposting

Above: Either this is a great joke or I've just made myself look really old

Unless a gamer is of a particularly intellectually unfortunate persuasion, his not knowing where to go in a game, especially a linear game, is an unforgivable screw-up on the part of the developer. And the error generally comes about as a result of laziness or self-absorbtion on the part of said game-builder. Just because you know where to go next, having designed both the destination in question and the route to it from the current bit, it doesn’t mean anyone else will. Geometry. Lighting. Lines of perspective to channel the player’s vision in a certain direction. It’s all there for you to play with, and it’s all easy to use. The best games have been using it for decades. You should too.

Crap restart points

Devs, I get it. You’ve spent hours lovingly crafting that cut-scene or dialogue sequence. It’s your favourite cut-scene or dialogue sequence that you’ve ever crafted. You watch it over and over again in the office, smiling to yourself with a little happy tear in your eye over all the bits you're most proud of. Hell, sometimes you stay in work late just to watch it again for a couple of hours. You probably bring in some popcorn or a pizza. But that does not mean that I want to be respawned immediately before it, repeatedly, having been killed by the really hard sequence you’ve planted right after it.

Above: Not everyone was excited about going through Groundhog Day again

You made the game. You know where the hard bits and easy bits are. You should have done some proper research on the bits that a lot of people are getting killed at. So you should know to put your restart points right at the start of them. Not before the lengthy cinematic bit you’ve already bored all your friends and relatives with like so many holiday photos of your hotel bathroom. Not at the start of the easy but lengthy part five minutes before. Not half a level back just for the hell of it. Right at the start of it. And should you get that right, make sure that I get the very same restart point if I save, quit and restart later, okay? Okay. I do not want to play a whole level again just because I didn't have time to finish the last bit.

Feb 24, 2011

10 most common game design mistakes 
We would like some cheese with our whine


Top 7... trendy game-design crutches 
Developers love these new-school clichés


  • Pay - March 2, 2011 8:58 p.m.

    how about spawning enemies. COD spawns hundreds of soldiers until you pass an invisible line. I prefer a set number of targets or spawn them from belivable places like barracks, APC's airdrops ..... just keep the number realistic. I agree with the invisible walls problem if the walls are lame like small obstacles or windows. How about elivator that just let you go to 1 floor or are just for show and don't work. Good tricks: Fallout and stalker use radiation to block you. farcry 2 had a big dessert serrounding the level. A lot of games happen on ilands. GTA IV and Saints row 2. Unclear signposting is bad, but we don't need a blip on the compass to point the way in every quest / mission.
  • l_eden_l - February 27, 2011 7:34 a.m.

    Some of these (3D cameras, ally AI) are justified in that they are really, really, REALLY hard to nail down properly. ...But then you have cases of devolopers not even trying, so yeah.
  • Seabread - February 26, 2011 12:38 p.m.

    Not so much a gameplay design flaw as it is a huge fucking error on developers parts but if it's commonplace to be using wireless controllers these days why do games not automatically pause if the batteries run dry? looking at you AC:Brotherhood and MassEffect2. It defies belief really.
  • philipshaw - February 25, 2011 1:49 p.m.

    Great feature and I agree with most of this list. I would add getting rid of boss battles where they are not needed,just look at Uncharted 2
  • NightCrawler_358 - February 25, 2011 12:45 p.m.

    Final Fantasy is bad for having stupidly hard boss fights after long cut scenes. At least in XIII you can skip them now, but in X, that was really frustrating. Great entries.
  • gilgamesh310 - February 25, 2011 12:10 p.m.

    Un cooperative ai is probably the biggest issue. I don't think I have ever seen a game that gets it consistently right. In Resistance: Fall of Man I would take out my rocket launcher to shoot a stalker or some big creature but what would happen is one of my comlpetely idiotic companions would walk in the way of the rocket as it's fired and I would be killed by the close range blast. Absolutely fucking infuriating! I would also include boss battles to the list. They are an outdated contrivance that don't really have a place in most modern games. Im glad Dead Space 2 cut down on them contrary to what a lot of people think.
  • gilgamesh310 - February 25, 2011 12:04 p.m.

    Yeah, a good article Dave. The unclear signposting can be very annoying all right. In Uncharted 2 it was a big issue for me at times.And crap restart points. I lost count of the amount of times I died at that refinery section in Gears of War 1. While there wasn't actually a cutscene before it there was a lot of unskippable talk that I had to listen every fucking time I died.
  • jmcgrotty - February 25, 2011 9:12 a.m.

    I agree with most of these, except the limited number of lives one. The beauty in some games (emphasis on SOME) having a set number of lives to start with (and the possibility to earn more) adds a secondary challenge to the game, since you need to improve enough to get farther each time. You can't just be a piece of crap player trying every combination over and over and over (you get the point) from a predetermined spawn point after you die. You want to beat a game? You better damn well earn it, rather than just get lucky on your 430th attempt.
  • quincytheodore - February 25, 2011 5:50 a.m.

    Currently playing Vanquish, do you have any idea how many times I dash, flip, go into bullet tim.. I mean AR mode, and welcomed by the sight of my AI allies' butts and Sam shouts, "Get out of the way!" which virtually rendering tiny bits of my gauge and well placed cinematic jump into useless acrobatic version of Angelina Jolie knee slide from Wanted? And see Silent Hill for "Invisible Walls" I know not every game can incorporate endless abyss, but for every soul that said, "I wanna go there." Silent Hill has the ultimate comeback, "U mad? There's nothing there. Go back 3 blocks, turn left!" *another endless abyss... troll successful* After Dead Space 2, I instinctively press right analog stick for objective Marker (pun intended) on any game. I think Checkpoints and Lives can work well together. For example, you are sent into checkpoints, make sure they are plenty and generous, for each life you deplete. But if you run out of lives, you are sent further back, in beginning of chapter. Or at least just apply it in the Hard difficulty, so veterans can have more challenge.
  • Seabread - February 25, 2011 3:44 a.m.

    Thank God Bowie's cod-piece is in shadow
  • FauxFurry - February 25, 2011 2:47 a.m.

    Unclear sign posting might not be so bad if, after the player has wandered around long enough, a David Bowie song starts playing in the background. Splattering mime minds all over invisible walls sounds like a fine use of that design element, so long as the invisible wall 'vanish' after the deed is done. The player character should just come back at some random part of the game world with another stamp in their passport and with random souvenirs (including grievous injuries). If extra lives factor into the story somewhat as they did in Conker's Bad Fur Day, they'd be partially justifiable (possibly explaing why the protagonist is so fearless) but still completely unecessary from a design perspective. It would still be interesting to see game developers try to come up with cockamamie excuses for all of these things in game. (Stupid A.I. partners=defective clones/robots, maybe?) I see that a seventh item is a list-design element deemed too archiac for GamesRadar to implement for the purpose of this article. Well, filler is a design flaw worth cutting so good for you lot.
  • Larinah - February 25, 2011 12:24 a.m.

    Respawning right before a cutscene makes me think of the Castlevania games... Especially on Order of Ecclesia with the Barlow fight. Massive amounts of button presses every time... Just to die a terrible death if it was on hard mode and you weren't on top of everything.
  • wedgie - February 24, 2011 11:02 p.m.

    I remember at the start of this generation you guys had an article about things that you should not see anymore in games. I didn't look up the article, but regarding invisible walls it was something along the lines of "If there is an invisible wall in a game, it automatically will get a full point deduction." Loved that. True then, true now.
  • Billiam101 - February 24, 2011 9:27 p.m.

    @yonderTheGreat Bethesda has invisible walls. In Oblivion when you go to the edge of the map you would be told to turn back. It was basically a wall of air blocking your way while a deer runs through it (that happened to me many times).
  • Sinosaur - February 24, 2011 9:13 p.m.

    You know what I hate? Games where they shove you in with a group of useless AI partners only for it to turn out they aren't even placeholders for other players in co-op. So even if you get all your buddies together to kick butt, you've still got a bunch of morons running around getting themselves murdered (Halo... although those usually don't matter) or they don't even give you co-op (Bad Company 2. Seriously, why didn't a game like that have co-op?)
  • Voodoowolfe - February 24, 2011 9:03 p.m.

    I also got the Labyrinth joke also. Feeling older by the min. Invisible walls and bad signposting are the worst. Poor AI? I just run off and leave em. But if they have to get to Point B with you to trigger the next area, devs listen up, they had better be able to navigate that S**T! I mean going from point A to B? If your AI can't do that then screw em. I can kill whole world's worth of enemies. But if the AI slows me down or gets in my way...I reserve the right to kill them. Nuff said
  • Fraught - February 24, 2011 7:38 p.m.

    Well, what can I say? I agree with every single one of these, though the invisible walls thing probably bothers me the least.
  • johnnywutang - February 24, 2011 7:24 p.m.

    Bravo on this article. Not being able to control the camera is one of my BIGGEST peeves. You forgot to mention "Unskippable Cut Scenes," though you alluded to it with the "Crap Restart Points." Speaking of, when they COMBINE the two?!... *brain synapses explode*
  • bron1417 - February 24, 2011 6:51 p.m.

    i think of Mass Effect and Halo when i think of crappy AI partners. hopefully that gets worked on for ME3.
  • BurntToShreds - February 24, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    One of my peeves with Morrowind was that I had not freaking idea where to go. Sure the game comes with a map and you get a questlog, but you have no freaking clue where the quest NPCs are. I'm so glad they gave you that compass in Oblivion. Now I just hope to God that Bethesda can fine-tune that NPC AI for Skyrim so you can't exploit stuff.

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