Five Common Game Design Mistakes to Avoid

January 5, 2015

It isn’t difficult to find articles providing tips for creating a fun game. You will see  advice like be creative, prototype new ideas, and have someone playtest your game. These are all valuable tips, of course.

A common piece of wisdom that is usually given, however,  is “get ready to make plenty of mistakes.”  As a game developer you’ll certainly find yourself making poor design choices you swore you never would. But some you can avoid. To help make this inevitable step easier, here’s a list of five mistakes many developers agree only hurt the quality of the experience.

1. NPCs That Don’t Repeat Important Information

We’ve all been there: an NPC (non-player character) told you where to find an item or your next objective. However, after exploring the area for a while or doing a different quest, you forgot that vital piece of info. So you go back to that NPC and instead of repeating the location of the item or objective, they talk about their cat or offer some other useless dialogue. No matter how many times you talk to that NPC, they fail to give you the information you need.

If you’re designing a game where NPCs are used to convey important information to the player, you should definitely have them repeat it since most gamers don’t take notes or screen cap while they play. The only time that you can get away with this is if your game also has a screen that serves as a diary or record of events so the player can see where to go next anytime they want.

The less frustrating you make it for players to receive vital quest or objective information, the more likely they are to enjoy your game.

[Tweet “Getting vital information to meet objectives in a #videogame shouldn’t be frustrating. #gamedesign”]

2. Quick Time Events That Feel Unnecessary

Anyone who has played either Resident Evil 5 or 6 may have an easier time understanding what we mean here. These two games, along with many others we could name, suffer from overusing Quick Time Events to the point where player can expect to mash buttons almost every time a cinematic occurs.

Although these gameplay methods can keep the player engaged and serve to maintain a level of immersion, they can also be annoying when overdone.

The fact is, many players actually do enjoy watching a cutscene once in a while as they often feel like a reward for completing a section of the game, especially if it helps progress the narrative or is simply entertaining to watch. But when done improperly, instead of enjoying the moment players are anxiously waiting for the moment where they must tap a button or else die and be forced to watch the cutscene again.

If you ever find yourself designing a game with cutscenes and Quick Time Events, do your best to make sure they feel necessary and actually add the the experience rather than feeling tacked on.

[Tweet “If you use cutscenes and Quick Time Events, make sure they are necessary and add to the experience.”]

3. Unfair or Unfun Character Classes

This design error has occurred less and less often as the RPG genre has evolved over the years, but sometimes it still rears its ugly head.

We’re talking about a class or character type that when compared to the others you can choose, makes the game so difficult that it becomes unfun. The worst part is that this doesn’t become apparent until halfway or late in the game, which means the player spent all that time progressing only to hit what feels like a brick wall.

This often happens with the standard support classes like a healer or character that is mainly used to buff other classes. When playing with others, the class is spectacular as it significantly improves the abilities of others and increases the chances of victory. But when played alone, they get killed easily or have no way of defeating a boss unless you grind – which is something you wouldn’t have to do with any other class.

A good designer will make sure that every single one of their game’s classes can get through the single-player storyline.

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4. Text That Gets Cut Off Too Fast

It’s safe to assume that very few gamers enjoy having text disappear from the screen before they’re done reading it, especially if it’s something important and/or related to the main story. Whether it’s an unnecessary but interesting piece of lore or your next quest objective, avoid having text with a short time limit – preferably, no time limit.

For example, certain games like Dark Souls have a loading screen that displays interesting text for players to read while they wait. The mistake is when the screen immediately cuts out when the game is done loading, whether the player is finished or not.

If you’re going to have long pieces of text, give the player a button to press that lets the game know they’re done with that loading screen, especially if the text is several sentences long and impossible to read in a few seconds.

[Tweet “When using long text in a #videogame, let the user signal when they are finished reading.”]

5. Input-Disrupting Elements

This one is tricky because it’s seen in popular games like The Legend of Zelda series. However, most gamers would agree that having your controller inputs messed with results in a frustrating experience that only serves as a cheap way to increase difficulty.

For example, in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker there are enemies that temporarily reverse your controls – whichever way you direct Link to move, he moves in the opposite direction. Although these gameplay elements can add an interesting challenge, usually it just feels disruptive and annoying. What’s worse, designers enjoy putting these kinds of enemies near other hazards that you’ll probably find yourself running into when your controls are suddenly changed.

Does messing with a player’s input make a game terrible? Probably not, but you’d be better off avoiding such a cheap way of adding challenge that may ruin immersion and only cause annoyance.

[su_note]Learn how to create video games that players will love and enjoy. Get more information about the game design school at the New York Film Academy. [/su_note]