game design mistakes

5 (Even More) Game Design Mistakes To Avoid

Xbox 360 demos

Like in life, learning the hard way is never a pleasant experience. Instead of identifying your game design mistake beforehand and avoiding it, you get hit by it extra hard when players ask how something so terrible could be in your product. Although even the best and most experienced designers have launched a title with decisions they later regret, only a fool doesn’t study other games to see what mistakes they can avoid in their own.

We’ve talked about five common mistakes before, and then we went over five more. The following are five additional design choices that leave a bad taste in the player’s mouth and are way more common than they should be.

1. Bad Save Point Placement

Anyone who played games in the late 80s and early 90s—before save points were commonplace—knows that automatic save points are a good thing. There was nothing worse than playing for hours or defeating a tough boss, only to die and lose it all because you forgot to save. Our beef is with save points that seem to be placed just to frustrate the player.

For example, we’ve all played a game where a save point happens just before a difficult boss. The problem is that prior to the boss fight we have to watch a long cut scene that can’t be skipped, which means you’ll probably be forced to watch it a few times. Even though they’re also very proud of the cool cut scene in their game, good designers will have the decency to place the save point after it so you can jump back into the fight after every defeat.

2. Bosses with Insane Health

A good boss battle is the result of careful and lengthy design, testing, and iteration by the developer. All of our favorites were designed to give us a challenging yet rewarding experience that made the trek through the dungeon worthwhile. Unfortunately, we’ve also faced an annoying boss that felt more like a chore than an epic encounter.

One way to bore players with your bosses is by making them a “bullet sponge”. These bosses take a ridiculous amount of damage before finally dying, which often involves the repetitive act of shooting/attacking its weak point for a very long time. A good example is the final showdown with the boss, Shao Khan,in Mortal Kombat 9. Defeating him is a boringly repetitive chore of Down, Left, Square over and over until he is dead. Unless the boss changes tactics often and keeps this fresh, it’s better to avoid designing bosses that take several minutes of doing the same thing over and over.

3. Psychic A.I. Enemies

We’ve all been there. You see a group of enemies and creep near them, waiting until one separates from the group. Once it is safe to do so, you take the lone enemy out far enough away so that no other enemy notices. But instead, all the other enemies in the room magically know what you did and start charging straight at you.

Or worse, they find you no matter where you hide and can shoot you even though they’re on the other side of the room. An example of a game suffers in this regard is Assassins Creed Rogue. Specifically, the Aggro distance (meaning the cone of awareness around an enemy AI within which a player’s actions trigger the enemy to attack the player) is overly long and sensitive. In particular the vertical view distance and cone of vision of enemy Snipers are unrealistically large. As a result it feels like Paris is on hair trigger alert to attack the player. It feels like the enemy AI have eyes in the back of their heads. The end result is a frustrating play experience that does not allow the player to use stealth mechanics to her satisfaction. What’s the solution? Tweak and test the numbers for the enemy view distance to allow the player more satisfying stealth play. This issue is becoming less common thanks to improvements in technology, but it still happens. Instead of engrossing players into the stealth gameplay, they are taken out of it when enemies unrealistically seem to possess psychic abilities.

4. Escort Missions with Dumb NPCs

Escort missions aren’t the most common type of quests/objectives but they can be tremendously fun when done right. Players get frustrated with escort missions when the NCPs that the player must work with test the player’s patience. We’re talking about the ones that never seem to move at an appropriate speed.

assassin's creed screenshot

Nothing tests your patience more than an escort NPC that walks at a mind-numbingly slow pace. The destination is already in site, but if you run too far away from the NPC, you’ll fail the mission. So instead you have to walk alongside the snail of an NPC as he or she delivers some kind of monologue. This is even more annoying when you’re being attacked by enemies, which means you always have to babysit the NPC in case they fall behind or run ahead into a pack of enemies. A game that famously frustrates players in this regard is Resident Evil 4 wherein you have to save the President’s daughter, Ashley. Ashley is given to cowering when she should run thereby requiring you to expose yourself more than you would like.

5. Unbelievable Map Barriers

Designing 3D levels that both feel expansive and look believable is no easy matter. But the good news is that developers are relying less on invisible barriers that jar you when you run into one unexpectedly. The bad news is that a lot of the obstacles they place restrict players from moving outside the map are just as unbelievable.

A good example is a waist-high fence or wall in a game where your character is able to jump 10 feet into the air. You can hop over that fence/wall anywhere else on the map, but now it’s being used to indicate where the map ends. Even though we get it, it would still be nice to have a wall that is obviously unreachable despite the character’s jumping abilities.

Five More Common Game Design Mistakes To Avoid

people playing video games

Like anything in life, learning mistakes the hard way as a game designer is anything but fun. Whether it be an unfair boss or boring mandatory quest, there’s nothing worse than releasing a game only to receive several comments complaining about the same thing. There will always be a number of gamers who dislike something (or your game entirely!), but to have a lot of players show frustration over the same element means you probably should have realized it would be a problem beforehand.

That is why we’d like to add to our previous list of common mistakes. Having any of these in your game doesn’t necessarily mean it will fail; they’re simply some things most gamers don’t find very fun. As a game designer, your job is to help players have fun every step of the way.

1. Bad Enemy Spawning

There are a number of things than can be done with enemy spawning that can frustrate players. For one, spawning too many enemies so players get bored or overwhelmed. The former is a mistake many felt Bungie did with Destiny; players couldn’t help but yawn as wave after wave of enemies appeared in certain rooms. Making sure an appropriate number of enemies spawn can be tough, but necessary to make sure the difficulty feels balanced. We’ve all played a game where you walk into a room and immediately die from a million enemies swarming you.

A lesser mistake but still worth mentioning is how the enemies spawn. Most would argue that we’ve reached a point technology-wise where players should never actually see enemies spawning out of thin air. This makes it hard to suspend our disbelief while giving the impression that we’re playing a game that HAD to do this due to technical limitations. At least make them come through a door, hole, or portal—not a random corner in the room.

2. Unskippable Cutscenes or Long Dialogue Scenes

It’s no secret that 2015’s The Order: 1886 didn’t fair too well with both critics and players for several reasons. It didn’t help that Ready At Dawn thought their cutscenes were gorgeous enough that no one should ever be able to skip them. The visuals were amazing but a player should never have to sit through a non-interactive moment if they don’t want to. These are games we’re playing, after all.

Similarly, there are certain games that allow their dialogue scenes to go on for far too long. While RPGs are usually the culprit, it can be any genre. As a game designer, you should be able to tell when two characters, no matter how important the scene is, are talking too much to the point where players will start spamming buttons to get through it. It is all about options, and some players will appreciate a way to skip dialogue entirely and get to the action.

3. Uncreative Quests

It’s a lot to ask of any game developer to make every single quest entirely unique and complete with its own story, enemies, cutscenes, and even gameplay. There’s nothing wrong with having typical quests like fetch quests, escort quests, gather X number of Y, killing a specific enemy; but you should add some spice to each one. Players have done similar quests already in other games, which means you should put more time and effort into them.

One way is to have an interesting story like Skyrim’s “Waking Nightmare” quest that has an entire village going insane due to nightmares. Trade sequences are fine if the reward is great and the NPCs you interact with are interesting, like the one in Ocarina of Time. Puzzles, surprise boss fights, dramatic choices—use your imagination to make every quest memorable and fun.

4. Mandatory Tutorials

This is a problem we have touched on in other pieces before. Hand-holding tutorials are one of the easiest ways to annoy players right off the bat. The problem with unskippable tutorials is that you’re assuming the player has never played a video game before when they’ve probably played many just like yours.

If you do add a tutorial, design it so it doesn’t feel like one. The first Gears of War is a great example because the tutorial can be skipped and involves an alternate, unique route to getting out of the initial area. Avoid insulting and/or boring veteran gamers by forcing them through a tutorial that teaches them how to use the thumbstick to walk, X or A to jump, etc.

5. Slow Starts

Along the lines of the previous mistake, one way to make gamers immediately grow disinterested in your game is with a slow beginning. Although considered amazing games overall, plenty of folks couldn’t believe how many hours it took to finally get into the meat of the game in both The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Skywards Sword. Assassin’s Creed III is also a recent culprit where players didn’t get to don the iconic white assassin attire until several hours into the game.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have some story in the beginning to set up the game. However, some players just want to get into the action and set off on their adventure as soon as possible. This goes along with our Mistake #2 where if you must have lots of cutscenes and dialogue at the beginning, it would be wise to make it skippable.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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