Seven deadly sins of game design

There are a few very obvious game design flaws that for some reason still commonly get perpetuated today. They're especially infuriating when found in otherwise good games. The only explanation I could find was artificial lifetime enhancement, which is a bad idea because it can in reality dramatically shorten the lifetime of the game since many gamers just won't want to finish it. Which also means that they won't buy the sequel either.

Here's my list of sins, with a few arbitrarily and subjectively selected saints and sinners for each of them...

  1. Checkpoints
    No matter how great your level design is, no-one wants to play the same thing 50 times (except in Guitar Hero of course). Checkpoints made sense on consoles when memory units were small. Today, they are unacceptable if they are more than 10 meters apart. They're made even worse if going back to a checkpoint means watching the same unskippable cut-scene for the umpteenth time (Gears of War, I'm looking at you). Let us save whenever we want or even better, save all the time.
    Saints: Viva Piñata, Oblivion
    Sinners: Ninety Nine Nights, Gears of War, Crackdown, Rainbow Six Vegas and almost any Mario game
  2. Infuriating boss fights
    Boss fights are alright if they can be done. The idea should be to find the weak point, exploit it a few times, have fun doing it and get going. Once again, doing the same thing 50 times is the opposite of fun. Malus points if you need some magical object that you may not have found yet, or if the boss fight lasts twenty minutes.
    Saints: Most Zelda games
    Sinners: Kameo (I had no trouble myself but I know too many people who struggled endlessly with that water boss because they didn't find and didn't know they needed the regeneration orb), Tomb Raider Legend, Ninety Nine Nights, Condemned
  3. Mini-games
    The game I put in the disc tray is the game I want to play, not some lame mini-game. Why do so many RPGs insist on breaking their own gameplay? If I wanted to play mini-games, I'd pop Rayman or Warioware in (not Fuzion Frenzy 2 or Wii Play, avoid those at all cost).
    Saints: Any game that stays true to its own gameplay
    Sinners: Jade Empire, Fable, Oblivion (for the lockpicking and persuasion), Condemned (for the mentally-challenged forensics), Splinter Cell: Double Agent (a timed Sudoku puzzle in an infiltration game? WTF?)
  4. Unskippable cut-scenes and dialogue
    I'm all in favor of storytelling, and the dialogues contribute to a good immersion. But once I've seen them, I want them out of the way.
    Saints: Most Zelda games
    Sinners: most Japanese games, Lego Star Wars (in story mode), some portions of Gears of War (preceding direction choices) and some Rainbow Six Vegas cutscenes
  5. Long reload times
    I can understand some loading times, especially seeing the complexity of modern games, but when reloading the level you just played takes 20 seconds or more, there's a big problem, especially in conjunction with sins 1 and 2. Why do they have to reload the level entirely? Can't they just reset it? Please? Alternatively, game designers, don't make us have to reload the same level over and over again. When you spend more time reloading than playing is when you're most likely to drop the game.
    Saints: GRAW, Rainbow Six Vegas
    Sinners: Condemned, Tomb Raider Legend, Gears of War
  6. Bad camera
    Have you ever seen yourself instinctively (and pathetically) stretching your neck to try to see beyond the border of the screen because the camera can't be controlled and doesn't look where you want to aim? Just let us move the camera from your automatic angle when we need to.
    Saints: GRAW, Rainbow Six Vegas, Oblivion
    Sinners: Gears of War, any 3D Sonic game
  7. Control schemes designed for mutants
    Modern controllers have so many buttons you could control a nuclear plant with them. That doesn't mean that every single button should be used by all games, up to the click on the sticks. Games should be simple to handle, and the buttons should fall naturally under the fingers. The pad should feel like an extension of the body, not some alien device. Overloading buttons with multiple functions depending on the context or how long you press them is just bad design. Simplify your control scheme instead.
    Saints: Guitar Hero (that's what I call a perfect controller with absolutely natural controls)
    Sinners: Gears of War, Rainbow Six Vegas, GRAW

What are the things you can't stand in modern games?

This post was written with my good friend and fellow gamer Fabien Royer (a.k.a. Gh0st D4wg).

Follow-up: Is Bioshock perfect game design?

Archived comments

  • Ludovic said on Friday, July 6, 2007

    I agree on almost all points, especially 5 and, OMG, 6 (aaargh!). However, I disagree about mini-games. I think mini-games are a very good concept that can lead players to specialization in a layered gameplay structure, for example. Sure, it can be done badly, but that doesn't mean it's inherently wrong. I'd like to add: 8. Dead ends with deep backtracking: you're missing the Amulet Of Khrak to continue the story, but you need to reload a game from last month to be able to go get it. And since complex stories with branching and all are delicate to write without falling into this, game designer tend to write mostly linear storylines (well, it's called a storyLINE, isn't it?), where failure is not an option, and you have to retry until you succeed (remember Wing Commander, compared to X-Wing/Tie-Fighter?) 9. Poor immersion: this might be a bit of a personal taste here, but when I'm playing a 20 or more hours game, I'm expecting to feel immersed in its world and athmosphere and all. If I just want to have fun, I play Guitar Hero or Zuma for 5 minutes (or 5 hours). "Actual" games (as in: games with "long" gameplay) should be more immersive.
  • InfinitiesLoop said on Friday, July 6, 2007

    Crackdown = sinner with load times if you ask me. Gears of War with its contextual 'points of interest' feature I thought was a nice touch which takes it out of the sinner category for camera angle in my opinion. FPS with bad camera control = uhh, a recent metal gear comes to mind. And in defense of Crackdown it seems like it only 'check points' when something worth saving happens. It's automatic and it doesn't disrupt gameplay at all, which is great considering long load times. One thing that I hate about crackdown... the damn advisor. Advisors are so common they need their own category in your list. Crackdown's advisor is an idiot -- most of the time what he says has nothing to do with anything, and he repeats himself all the time. I'll be trotting down the street for a few minutes and he'll bust out with "I can see my house from here!". huh? And yeah, after beating all the missions I pretty got it that agility orbs increase agility.
  • BulletBait's Blog said on Friday, July 6, 2007

    This article about bad points in game design is kind of interesting... Source:
  • Kevin said on Friday, July 6, 2007

    Good post. I especially agree with point 5. PGR3 was another sinner on that point, if memory serves. One thing that drives me mad is when two games where you're doing exactly the same things (e.g. GRAW2 and Rainbox Six Vegas) which are written by the same people have different controls. Reload in GRAW2 is "A", reload in Rainbox Six is "X", and in a firefight you can guarantee I'll hit the wrong one... As far as I'm concerned, "A" should always be used for the thing you're doing most often - at least in my case that's where my thumb naturally goes.
  • Fabien said on Monday, July 9, 2007

    @ Ludovic: Regarding mini-games: I tend to agree that if they're done right, mini-games should "blend" into the rest of the gameplay and "layer" it. One could argue that if a mini-game achieves this level of integration with the rest of the gameplay, it ceases to be a mini-game entirely :) The point here is that most developers create mini-games that resemble gamaplay "warts" instead of taking the time and effort to interweave them seamlessly into the rest of the actions defining the gameplay.
  • Robin Debreuil said on Thursday, July 12, 2007

    my 2: 1) Games that have no 'game' elements, like strategy, teaming up and backstabbing, knowing when you've been had, rewarding alternate approaches, thinking etc. Think of all the things that are fun in a card game, where a lot of games today are like the card game 'war', with better graphics. Clicking over and over until you win or lose. 2) Games where the controls and 'special moves' are so numerous and rewarding that the person who has spent the most time in the manual wins. C&C type games have almost all went this way, they used to be fun, but now it isn't very different than work (learn some arcane thing, repeat over and over until 5pm - then again I'm a programmer, so maybe I'm the only one that sees it that way).
  • Shawnee said on Thursday, July 26, 2007

    this so stupid because it did NOT HELP ME AT ALL! [deleted about a thousand exclamation marks] LEARN HOW TO WRITE! [and here too]
  • Shawn Burke said on Saturday, August 11, 2007

    Awesome post Bertrand. Bad friendly AI. I love games that make me feel like it's not the whole world against me - Call of Duty 2 had some fantastic sequences that acheived this. It's always incredibly frustrating when the bad guys are smart and are great shots, but your AI 'team mates' are stuck in the corner or running in circles, or worse, blocking you from getting to cover or in a door or whatever. I'll pile on; Guitar Hero suffers none of these problems either. :)
  • Gregor Suttie said on Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Oh i cant have anyone dissing gears of war - it just doesnt come out of my xbox disc tray end of - online its the best game out there by a long long way.
  • Bertrand Le Roy said on Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Gregor: Gears is without a doubt a fantastic game. We both finished it at least once. It may be that it's so great that makes its few flaws so infuriating. It got so near to being perfect... You'll notice that most of the games we cite are actually very good games.
  • Count Gamula said on Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    Gears of War is a pile of Llama crap sauteed in camel urine...PS - Halo called and would like it's match making system back...
  • Tales from the Evil Empire said on Friday, August 31, 2007

    Yes. This being out of the way, let me explain why (just in case you haven't read one of the million