The 10 most common game design mistakes

“Depth” is not the same as “put a ton of shit in it.” If you’ve got to toss in 500 guns, cars, units, or unlockable whatevers, you’re taking the brute force approach to complexity, and it won’t work. A deep experience results from having a great variety of possible interactions between a limited number of variables.


If there’s too much stuff, we’ll only get frustrated. We can’t possibly remember the details of everything you crammed in, so we’ve got no idea what is better than what. The result is that we ignore half of it, and all that hard work goes unseen. Instead, limit the number of weapons, upgrades, and whatnots, and make them more interesting. Give them more attributes, make them more fun, and make us want them.

Perhaps the only exception to this complaint is MMOs. MMOs can get away with having tons of stuff, because you’re meant to play them for a billion hours.

If you’re building strategy game, let us have a skirmish with any combination of variables we want, even if it breaks the “universe” you’ve established.  If you’re making a multiplayer game, don’t force us into gimmicky modes. It’s fine to include them, but we always need the standard Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Survival, and Capture the Flag type stuff - don’t force us to play the way you want us to.

This is also true of many RPGs. If the main quest is over, but the story doesn’t involve the main character’s death, why can’t we go back and do the side-quests we missed? We just want to explore the world a bit more. Instead, we have to either load the save point before we “finished” the game, or start over from the beginning.


Granted, it would take some extra work to make sure the world still makes sense after the ultimate evil is defeated, but it just seems silly to load an old save just to go back and run through some completely unrelated quests.

Oh, we were supposed to jump onto that platform over there before the invisible “giant falling rock that crushes and kills you” timer that we had no way of knowing about ran out. Splendid.

Games are leaving out information – vital information – all the time. Part of it is the modern desire to do away with HUDs and interfaces that conflict with “immersion.” This leads to stat based games that never let us see the stats. The other part is just bad design. You do have to let the player know what they’re supposed to be doing, otherwise it’s all frustration and thrown controllers.


Resident Evil 5 doesn’t do this so much that it becomes un-fun, but it’s still guilty. A boss battle with a certain lady has you continually repeating the same action with no sign of progress. We need an indication that what we’re doing is working – something, anything! We can’t see the code, we can’t read the designer’s mind, and if what we’re supposed to be doing is completely arbitrary, then how do we know what it is?

This is the absolute worst.

Every cut-scene must be skippable every time. We don’t care how proud the animators are of them, or how important they supposedly are to our enjoyment. We’ll decide how to enjoy the game. And what if we’re playing it a second time? We still have to watch say... this?


Unskippable tedium isn’t just cut-scenes. It’s any repetitive task that could have been automated or eliminated. Don’t make us sell every bit of ammo we have one at a time with three prompts in between each transaction. Don’t stick locked doors all over your levels and then expect us to wander around trying each one until we find the one-in-one-hundred that’s unlocked. (Silent Hill: Homecoming, you scoundrel.) And definitely never make us grind for ten hours and call it “gameplay.”

May 22, 2009

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  • 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.

Showing 1-20 of 83 comments

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