The 10 most common game design mistakes

Making games is hard. Making fun of them isn’t. It’s really, really easy, actually. Of course, we wouldn’t be so critical if we didn’t love them so damn much (and if we weren’t, you know, critics). We think games are just the bee’s knees, and that’s why we get so pissed about all the stupid crap they do.

We can forgive the small things, but when they’re as painful and inexplicably chronic as the 10 below, we’ve got to act in the only way we know how – by making a list. It wasn’t hard to think of 10 things game developers constantly irk us with – we could have geeked on and on about 20, even 30, but we aren’t trying to nitpick…well, yes we are…but we aren’t trying to rub hydrochloric acid into gaping chest wounds. We’re being constructive!

 Does anyone think that running back and forth across an area looking for the exit is fun? These “puzzles” are not really puzzles at all. There’s no figuring them out, only stumbling onto the right bit of the map. OH, we were supposed to crawl through that vent over there that was really hard to see. As great as it is, Half-Life 2 is full of “go through the vent” moments.


Sometimes they’re even more obtuse than that. It isn’t A + B = C, it’s A + whatever the hell they felt like = turn left at the pickle. The games most commonly criticized for this kind of absurdity are classic point-and-click adventure games – but that was sort of part of their charm. We forgive them for that. But much like modern art, once it’s done, it’s not cool anymore.

Programming quirks aren’t always considered aspects of “game design,” but we interact with the final product, not the ideal inside of some luminary’s head. The design not only includes how the game is supposed to work, but how it actually works.

And how do most game’s AIs work? Like three-year-olds who just had spoonfuls of extra-drowsy cold medicine. NPCs never seem to have any idea what’s going on around them, and it doesn’t seem like anyone needs to revolutionize the art of AI programming to give them a just little more awareness.

How many times have you run circles around your supposed leader while he shuffles toward your next objective like a defective wind-up toy? Maybe it’s not the developer’s fault that we don’t play along and creep around behind their zombie-like characters, but all they’d have to do is change one line of dialog and our suspension of disbelief would be maintained. “Follow me” becomes “Meet me there,” and voila!


What’s worse are NPCs with the attention spans of caffeine-addled Jack Russell Terriers. Take Fallout 3 for example: Shoot a neutral NPC in the face and he goes berserk, as he should, but then get close enough to talk to him, and he’s all “Gee, how are ya?” WE JUST SHOT YOU IN THE FACE YOU STUPID SHIT. End the conversation and he goes straight back to whacking you with a pipe. Maybe, just maybe, dialog could be disabled when we’re in the middle of killing someone.

With just a few exceptions, we don’t like these, no matter how “cinematic” they make the game. In fact, if the word “cinematic” ever enters your head, you’re probably doing it wrong. Reacting to button-prompts is fun in rhythm games, but when a big yellow ‘Y’ pops into the middle of our screen during a firefight, the last thing we’re thinking is “Gee, how cinematic.”



  • john-hunter - September 10, 2012 5:40 a.m.

    apparently eternal sonata had a different story on the second play through
  • anduin1 - June 1, 2009 7:44 a.m.

    I dont know about the rest of you but quick time events get on my nerves this gen, RE5 is one of the top abusers of this. I always feel like that stuff pulls me right out of the game and back to button mashing, force unleashed is another one. Boss fights end in some quicktime event that has me not watching how the boss dies but watching what buttons I need to be pressing. I didn't buy into the whole GH/ rock band fad for a reason. STOP DOING THIS DEVS
  • pueojit1 - May 31, 2009 1:18 a.m.

    number one remined me of zelda credits, they take forever
  • kodesy - May 29, 2009 10:31 p.m.

    @GR I'm not saying that games don't withhold info, but about the RE5 CAN tell you're getting somewhere..While yes, it is repetitive what you're doing, the device on her starts sparking and making short-circuit kinda noises. With shortening intervals of time between them as you do the battle. Signifying that it's getting more damaged..
  • StonedMagician99 - May 29, 2009 6:14 p.m.

    The save thing is, IMO, easily the worst on here. Every game should have a save-anywhere ability, but nowadays, almost no games do. Play all the way through the Xbox 360/ PS3 Turok and you'll know what I mean.
  • ss11955 - May 29, 2009 2:36 p.m.

    Damm it --make SAVES available WHEN desired!!!!!!!!I thought i was only one who had to leave console on all night(with OVERHEATING DANGER) .Number 1 peave in my book.Jim
  • blademage20 - May 29, 2009 2:12 p.m.

    Here is a perfect example for the Unskippable Tedium. When you die in Too Human, there's a 30 second cutscene that you HAVE to watch. And when you die every other minute on the last two levels, half the gameplay is watching the same damn thing over and over and over.
  • AuthorityFigure - May 29, 2009 5:26 a.m.

    This is a nice concise list as to why hardcore games suck. Thank you for agreeing with me, GR.
  • killemall - May 28, 2009 8:14 p.m.

    lso and i'm sure its been said before, but the evil YOU ARE DEAD screen (ahem Ninja Gaiden 2) does not to be so intircate... i know i'm fucking dead, just ask me to save or retry, thank you.
  • Perfect_Insanity - May 28, 2009 11:49 a.m.

    Clueless AI in Oblivion is hilarious, you can start hacking some of the NPC's to bits and they will try to do the same to you, but when you talk to them - in the middle of this fight to the death- they act like you're their best friend. ROFL
  • jeit - May 27, 2009 11:54 p.m.

    haha i remember the unskippable cutscenes. id just leave the game on for like an hour and then go like leave the house or something, that only doesnt work when they force a crapload of action onto your face in the very beginning.... then it just kinda sucks (especially when you go back to the main menu and gotta start over again....)
  • Forsakenday - May 26, 2009 2:59 a.m.

    I think that GTA 4 did a great job with the saves. If you fail a mission or something once you get to your objective, you will often reset near the objective which is really nice. And I hate interactive "cinematics". I often put down my controller to watch then all of a sudden it wants me to push a button which catches me totally off guard.
  • CordedNX3 - May 26, 2009 1:53 a.m.

    SLOW PANS, I hate long ass cut scenes, oh and the cinematics in RE5 are RETARDED
  • Ckncakeee2 - May 26, 2009 12:31 a.m.

    along with the unskippable tedium, don't forget credits. They are the longest, boringest, most dragged-on event in a game.
  • Schmegeggi - May 25, 2009 5:11 a.m.

    The checkpoint save system is by far the most annoying thing in games. I know platforms have had this "feature" for years now but I was raised on PC gaming- save anywhere is in my DNA. It is so frustrating to play an initially fun game only to have the experience destroyed by no quicksave option. I'm looking at YOU Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War!
  • Fizzmonkey - May 25, 2009 5:05 a.m.

    u dont press x to win in resident evil, u have to press x and y.
  • cefriano - May 24, 2009 7:31 p.m.

    Personally, I disagree with number 7, at least for the examples you gave. I really enjoyed the insertion of story in Left 4 Dead. Unnecessary, sure, but it gave the game much more personality than other games like Unreal Tournament (which has some kind of story, I'm sure, but I've never encountered it) where I have very little if any motivation. It doesn't get in the way of the fun, so why lose it? The same goes for Halo. One of the reasons I was so intrigued by Halo was the degree of grandiosity present in the story. It felt very epic (if not wholly original) and made the game much more interesting to me. Shitty story can certainly hinder a game, but well done story elements can make it that much more fun to play.
  • caboose4400 - May 24, 2009 8:47 a.m.

    unskipable are the worst espechally when your not intrested in em
  • Red - May 24, 2009 4:26 a.m.

    I feel like a tool for admitting it, but I really do enjoy these top ten style lists you guys do. Since you said you could go into the 20's and 30's with this, why not a second helping, eh?
  • Spybreak8 - May 24, 2009 1:12 a.m.

    Good article. One thing I hate with Far Cry 2 is that you have to save so often. I probably spend half my gameplay running to my house and saving. Yea that is soo much fun, not. A little auto save here and there wouldn't hurt, same with Mass Effect. As for the complexity thing I thought of Halo Wars. So what there aren't a lot of units to chose from, they're all unique and have neat special abilities. Non the less, they are fun to use.

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