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.”



  • Ell223 - May 22, 2009 9:23 p.m.

    trying to go all the way to one out of two hundred just because the merchant doesn't have enough gold on my xbox version of oblivion is the worst! it takes forever!
  • RebornKusabi - May 22, 2009 9:29 p.m.

    Number 5 annoys me, no **** that- number 5 pisses me off so much that I have quit playing several recent games completely because of not being able to quick-save or hard-save at any time.
  • NeoKef - May 22, 2009 9:32 p.m.

    GD!!!!!! Those worms in Lost Planet were hell! And to start back to spend five minutes to get ready, just to die under 2 minutes is horriable. Great feature, GR
  • Corsair89 - May 22, 2009 10:03 p.m.

  • Ninja-KiLLR - May 23, 2009 2:02 a.m.

    i really hate non-skippable cut scenes. that urks me so much im looking at u BLACK even though it is like 4 years old i remeber trudging through poorly made cut scenes and pressing ever button to make it stop
  • Koouunn - May 23, 2009 2:20 a.m.

    lol "push x to make win happen" that is an epic win right there
  • Skykid - May 23, 2009 3:05 a.m.

    Wow, you speak truth. Are you guys prophets? :)
  • xXD0min8oRXx - May 23, 2009 3:17 a.m.

    So true, but meh, games can't be perfect. reCAPTCHA: short coming ( I dunno.. )
  • Technodragonslayer69 - May 23, 2009 3:54 a.m.

    great artitcle, it's about time someone complains about that ridic boss fight in res 5. Like seriously i had no idea that what i was doing was how i defeated her and kept restarting and killing her.
  • vitoruss - May 23, 2009 3:56 a.m.

    For 'withholding information', how about the first chainsaw manjini fight in Resi 5? You keep running back and forth shooting the guy in the face with the sniper and punching him for a half an hour which left me to pause, go on the internet to see what to do, only for it to say to keep on doing what I was doing. Also, the boulder falling and chasing Leon in Resi 4's first quicktime event was like, "WTF? How was I supposed to know there was quicktime events right now?"
  • ranzatsu - May 23, 2009 4:40 a.m.

    To hell with unskippable cutscenes. Thanks to that, I memorize the entire script for Crisis Core!! Damn them.
  • garnsr - May 23, 2009 8:25 a.m.

    How many people actually played Shenmue, the originator of QTEs? Why did so many developers decide to take that from an underappreciated game? ReCaptcha: lechery Friday Woohoo! I'm off for some lechery right now! These ReCaptchas are getting better!
  • Selectedpayload - May 23, 2009 11:28 a.m.

    If you want unskippable tedium, try splinter cell CT, the opening cut scene was unskippable to a certain point where if you were quick enough with the right timing you could stop it and get to the main menu. If you missed then you'd have to watch the rest, thats like 3 mins of video every time you get that disc spinning, even if you want to play the MP.
  • RedOutlive10 - May 23, 2009 1:56 p.m.

    To be honest these go through the vent moments were awesome to me in HL2, and even nostalgic. They aren't hard to see, heck the game points at the path to you all the times.
  • bamit11 - May 23, 2009 2:31 p.m.

    one of the far crys is really annoying when ever you start the game or quit a mode you have to watch that stupid unskipable cutscene
  • charley235 - May 23, 2009 2:35 p.m.

    this article made alot of sense...except for #3. if you beat the game, what if someone dies, or what if the storie continues in the second game right from that point? #3 is bullcrap, otherwise i liked them all...its been 2 hours, where the hell do i go next!!
  • dtzulu - May 23, 2009 3:02 p.m.

    and a note about shenmue. i had that game for my dreamcast. the concept, great. the problem? I WAS TOO BUSY LIVING MY OWN LIFE TO LIVE HIS!! ie, go to work, buy this, buy that, be at home by 11:00, man!
  • ssj4raditz - May 23, 2009 4:16 p.m.

    "You win! Now get out." LOL As much as I love Eternal Sonata, those damn cut scenes were soooooo long.
  • GoKanuks - May 23, 2009 4:39 p.m.

    You are right. Wow, I never really thought about that before! RT
  • Hunter2458 - May 23, 2009 7:23 p.m.

    The unskippable tedium bit about selling ammo is one of my favorite parts of MGS4, once you have too much of something it's auto sold.

Showing 1-20 of 83 comments

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