The 13 worst game design crimes

Tom Senior at

Having the first option in a menu be “Start New Game” rather than “Continue”

A minor gripe, but an easy fix. Many people who play games are quite busy. Chances are they've spent five minutes watching a parade of developer/publisher/hardware manufacturer/middleware intro logos before even encountering the start menu. If that player has pressed "Start Game" once, how many times are they likely to ever press that again? Shift it down, have the cursor rest automatically on continue and let players get into the game that little bit faster.

Invincible story characters

Martin from Oblivion. Iron fists just bounce off his stupid face.

Maybe designers should keep a hypothetical player in mind when building levels. I propose the "frenzied psychotic maniac in a hurry" model. They're a nightmare. You're trying to tell them a story, but they're jumping on the tables and kicking crockery everywhere. Release them into your world and they'll embrace every exploit, try to vault over every barrier and worry at every loose thread of code. Now give them a weapon, and then introduce them to the main character at the center of your story. What will happen next? Everyone who said "tea, biscuits and a sing-song," sit down. Better luck next time. Today's prize goes to everyone who said "giggling murderous rampage"

Developers have found a few ways to cope with psychotic player behaviour. Bioshock locks important characters behind doors and cages, which only adds to those feeling of isolation. Admirably, Dark Souls and Deux Ex let you start a fight with anyone. These are both much better solutions than the dubious Elder Scrolls workaround, which makes important people invincible. Remember Martin from Oblivion? That's him being punched in the face by Tom above. Freeze him, electrocute him. Throw him off a cliff. He'll regain consciousness moments later, march up the mountain and reintroduce himself. This may seem fairer than an instant fail-state, but it breaks the logical consistency of the world to such a degree that it's impossible to feel any concern for the safety of those characters ever again.

NPCs you must follow who walk at a different speed to you

Captain Price is a crack shot that moves like treacle.

If I was to construct a new circle of hell designed to send victims slowly potty over a period of hours, I would force my victims to follow someone who always moves at a pace slightly slower than their own. If you run, you bump into their back over and over again. If you walk, you slowly fall behind. You can race ahead and backpedal, but it's still not quite right. This happens in games all the time. There's no reason why Captain Price can't run to that door around the corner at a reasonable pace. Why can't the old woman you free from the Spider Queen's web in Diablo 3 mount those five steps to the exit faster than a wad of creeping algae? Who knows, but it sure is annoying.

Bullet sponge bosses

Look out, Jensen. Sponge at nine o'clock.

The bullet sponge boss has a health bar that's five feet long. It's probably huge and visually impressive, for the first minute or so at least, but you quickly learn that it's an idiot. Its behaviour involves picking randomly from a small selection of attacks. It probably has glowing weak points somewhere. You engage the bullet sponge boss by shooting/slashing those weak points over and over again, wearing down its vast reservoir of health points in tiny increments. The bullet sponge boss does not win by reducing your health to zero, it feeds upon the ache of despair that takes root when you start to believe that this thing will never, ever die. This old fashioned model for boss encounters doesn't just doesn't wash anymore. Otherwise great games have been marred by this crime.

Wonky cameras/ambiguous jump angles in third-person platformers

"NYAAAAAAAARGH."

Jump angles are defined relative to the camera position in third person platformers like Assassin's Creed, which can lead to infuriating hiccups. Pillar hopping challenges are a classic test. Your character bearhugs some cylindrical chunk of masonry, and must awkwardly shuffle around its circumference to get aligned with another pillar. You line the camera up, you indicate a direction, press jump and watch as your little dude backflips spectacularly into a yawning chasm. Not good.

Exit Game commands that don't exit the game

If in doubt, there's always Alt-F4.

If someone presses "exit," they have a right to expect an exit. It's an unambiguous command. It doesn't mean "hey let's leave the session and then restart the game on the main menu screen." It doesn't mean "the player has indicated they want to exit the game, let's ask them if they're sure they want to exit the game." It means they want you to go away now. Their time with you is done. You may weep in the background as you close down swiftly to reveal a clear desktop, but keep it silent.

That's all for now, but there are many more mistakes out there, waiting to be named and shamed. What are your biggest pet design peeves?


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