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The 10 most common game design mistakes

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.”

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer