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Developers: How to Make Your Games Suck Less

I’ve never paid full price for a computer game.  I’m one of the guys who waits until a game has been out for a while and is available for half price or less. Still, I’m one of your customers who buys instead of bootlegs, and I have several suggestions for removing some of the suck you’ve engineered into your games.

Limit the Opening Credits and Ads

The first time I load the game I watch those cinematic openings you spent so much time developing.  Then I watch the ads for the seven different development companies that had their fingers in the pie. Then I never want to see them again. I don’t want to keep hitting the space bar or escape key to get past each one, and I get really annoyed when you don’t even allow that. I want to play your game, not watch your spinning zooming logos.

The same goes for cut scenes during missions. The Grand Theft Auto series lets me space bar past the  scenes at the beginning of a mission, but the ones during the mission can’t be bypassed. It takes me several tries to get past some of the more complex missions, and I don’t want to have to watch those cut scenes over and over and over again. You’re supposed to be entertaining me, not annoying me.

Let Me Save Whenever I Want

GTA doesn’t let you save during a mission. Some missions are long and complex, and require a long setup before I get to the actual shooting. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to drive three miles, buy a new shirt, then drive another three miles to get to the action, but when I’ve got to do that over and over and over I’m cursing you out for your lousy game design.

I’m currently trying to beat the “Deconstruction For Beginners” mission in GTA 4. First I’ve got to drive to Playboy’s place and pick him up. No problem, but then I’ve got to drive and drive and drive and drive to get to the site. Then we take a sloooooow lift to the top of a twenty story building, where I snipe some bad guys. Then I get to take the same slow lift down. Then, finally, I get to the real action. I’ve yet to make it through that mission, and when I fail I’ve got to go through all that crap again. It’s stupid and frustrating and annoying and unnecessary. It sucks. At the very least I should be able to save at the end of that boring ride down the lift. But no, you’ve got to punish me by forcing me to go through all that boring crap over and over again.

And when I save, let me name the save file however I want, instead of forcing me to save it under the name of the last mission, or in the case of other games, the location or level.

The Diablo series is even worse, not allowing saves when and where you want. If I stock up on supplies and lose a boss fight I get to spend a half hour re-gathering supplies and weapons to have another shot at it. I figured out how to get around it by copying the save files to a temporary directory, then restoring them and re-loading the game, but that shouldn’t be necessary. Let me save before I go into the cave or the chamber or wherever instead of punishing my failure with boredom.

Allow Different Levels of Cheats

Some games allow a god mode, and nothing else. God mode is boring. Let me select a little cheat if I just need a little help, like restoring my health but staying vulnerable to enemy fire.

Starcraft, which does everything right, is a good example. I can cheat a little by adding a small amount of gas or minerals to my resource stash, or, with a different cheat, I can bank a massive amount.

Provide a Way Around Impossible Missions

In GTA San Andreas one mission, late in the game,  requires you to prove yourself worthy of hiring a getaway man by racing him. He gets a sports car, you get a clunky sedan, and during the race the cops show up and smash into you, while leaving him alone. (If you try parking a better car near the club where the race starts, the game removes it.) I must have tried that mission two dozen times, and with three or four different approaches, before giving up on the game. I’d already got my $9.95’s worth of fun out of it, but it would have been nice to finish. At the very least provide a way to bypass missions you just can’t get through, perhaps by paying a hefty fee to a NPC.

Stay True To The Game

When I buy a shooter, I want to play a shooter. If I wanted to play Pacman or Donkey Kong I would have bought Packman or Donkey Kong.

The otherwise excellent Max Payne games featured 3d dream mazes Max had to traverse to continue the game. They were wispy threads set in space, and required jumping from level to level (with no margin for error) to continue the game. Miss by a little and you fall into infinity and die.  It was stupid and had nothing to do with the game.

Half-Life 2 was even worse. Having read the games accolades for years I was happy to see it in the cheepie bins a couple of years ago. I started the game, sat through the unnecessarily long, un-bypassable intro, and got into the action, but before I could get far I was presented with a series of boxes I had to hop around on to get to the next level. Because this was first person perspective I couldn’t see where I was going and the slightest miscalculation resulted in me falling to my death. I tried it for an hour, cursed the developers, uninstalled the game and vowed to never, ever buy anything by Valve again.

Speed Up Loading

I’m talking to you, Biohazard developers. It not only takes half of forever to load the game, but once it’s running it takes just as long to load a saved game. That’s sloppy programming and there’s no excuse for it. Learn your craft.  Perhaps you should talk to Starcraft programmers.  The game loads in seconds, and so do saved games.

Fix Your Bugs

This is another one for you, Rockstar.

GTA San Andreas had been out for years when I found it in the cheepie bins. Halfway through the game I ran into a bug where one of the NPCs runs into a parked vehicle and, for some reason, it kills him, turning the mission into a failure. Run the mission again, and it usually happens again. A bit of searching revealed this had been a bug for a long time, and you never fixed it. That’s pathetic.

GTA IV loves to lock up too. After an hour or two of play, while driving, the thing crashes so badly it requires a hard reboot. This happens about half the time I play it. I’m not running anything fancy, just good old XP with all the patches and updates and plenty of memory (3 gigs). The game has been out long enough that you should have fixed it by now, but considering your pathetic response to the San Andreas bug I’m not holding my breath.

Developers and designers, there’s no excuse for most of these failings. They’re obvious and unnecessary. Fix them and I’ll be far more likely to keep buying your stuff. Keep up the crap and I’ll spend my game money on your competitors.

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8 Comment(s)

  1. I totally agree. I’ve had GTA IV since it came out and periodically I get bored with something else and come back to it.

    I hate having to go out with my cousin to the strip club for hours of game time so he doesn’t start acting pissy at me. It’s especially annoying when he calls you during a mission.

    My other peeve is games that require a guide. I got Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and each character has secret goals that unlock extra powers. However, the goals are secret. It usually involves having a certain character during a certain part of a certain level speak to another character.

    Love the site & podcast. Keep it up.

    Michael | Oct 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. I tend to get games some time after they released too. Gives em time to get out bug fixes, and by then the expansion packs are bundled with it, for far less than the original price.
    I just got Oblivion, and also discovered that the modding community has made so many free improvements on the game. True, it can be very challenging making some mods work together well, but some people like that kind of challenge (evidently me).

    Gotta scratch my head on what the hell you’re talking about with HL2, though. It can be difficult at times, but i dont recall anything like what you mention. Dont give up on Valve…they make some of the best stuff out there, seriously. My favorite team shooter is Team Fortress 2. Portal was a great little game. Valve is known as a company who does things right, and I have to agree.

    Something you overlooked in your rant was the ‘consolization’ of PC games. Developers are going ‘multi-platform’ in their games, and its hurting the PC versions, as they tend to look like ports, and severely limits their true potential. Many of your complaints about GTA can be pinned on it being multi-platform. And as much as I like Fallout3 and Oblivion, I gotta criticize Bethsada for consolizing their RPG titles.

    Wayne Rogers | Oct 21, 2009 | Reply

  3. Dave,
    I definitely agree with your views on gaming, having been a gamer for most of my life. I have played games that were as bad or worse than you describe, and I have played games that were brilliant, so I am fully aware of the difference. I have played so many games that have the problems you mention or just outright lie about features that I have downloaded bootleg games just to see if it’s worth paying for. I treat them like demos, if I like the game and it’s not too buggy, I buy it, otherwise I delete it. My other pet peeve is with what game publishers consider a “Demo”. To me a demo lets me play a set amount of the game without restriction and gives me a taste of the full game. Too many developers think that a video of the game play is a demo or they put a time limit on the demo. There is one site I will NEVER buy from who sets a 1 hour time limit and after that 1 hour you cannot play the demo ever again. That cost them a customer.

    Brian

    Brian Riley | Oct 21, 2009 | Reply

  4. I’m not sure what you are talking about on Halflife 2. I don’t think that there is anything in that game which is third person perspective, and I’ve played through it multiple times.

    Half-life 2 is in incredibly fun game, and I hope you give it another try.

    Portal, also by Valve, is one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played.

    Some of the stuff you are complaining about is just part of making the game challenging. The Diablo games wouldn’t be nearly as fun if you could save anywhere. You have to plan ahead and prepare for a big battle, because if you die, you still have to go in and get your stuff back and lose experience. Once there is no pain to death, you can storm in without caution.

    John | Oct 21, 2009 | Reply

  5. I definitely agree with most of your griefs, but saving whenever you want will probably never happen. There should be a few restrictions, but far fewer than there are now. Anything where you’re not in combat/fighting a boss/timed mission should be fair game. And as other posters have mentioned, Valve usually does a good job and I enjoyed HL2. If you’re interested, Crack.com has a really good article on the same topic.
    http://www.cracked.com/article_16196_7-commandments-all-video-games-should-obey.html

    SecretAgentX9 | Oct 21, 2009 | Reply

  6. I got Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and each character has secret goals that unlock extra powers. However, the goals are secret. It usually involves having a certain character during a certain part of a certain level speak to another character.

    A lot of early adventure games were full of that. Why do I have to give the sunglasses to the owl to move on? Because. Just because. (Because the adventure was written by an idiot.)

    There is one site I will NEVER buy from who sets a 1 hour time limit and after that 1 hour you cannot play the demo ever again. That cost them a customer.

    Popcap. Their games are simple, silly and lots of fun. (The dumber a game is, the more addicting it is. What could be dumber than moving falling blocks dropping from the top of the screen? How many hours of your life did you spend playing it?) The games are small, and are available unencumbered on bittorent. Plants vs. Zombies is the most silly fun I’ve had with a game in a long time. (Although it was a little too easy.)

    But you’re right, a one hour time limit is frustrating and stupid. They should give you a limit on the number of missions/screens, say, the first ten, and let you play them over and over until you’re bored with them and willing to pay to keep going.

    I don’t think that there is anything in that game which is third person perspective, and I’ve played through it multiple times.

    You’re right, I meant first person. I’ve fixed that.

    I just did a quick scan of my office and don’t see the Half Life Game. I may have tossed it during one of my rare office cleanups. And no, I won’t buy anything from Valve again. I paid them for a game that was unplayable, at least for me, and once is enough.

    On the flip side I’ve never played a Blizzard game I didn’t like. I may even buy Starcraft II when it first comes out, which will be a first for me.

    Loved the Cracked article, and they specifically mention HL2’s jumping puzzles. I never got as far as the one they mentioned, though. And they’ve got quite a few the same complaints I do. I wonder if game designers are listening?

    Dave Hitt | Oct 22, 2009 | Reply

  7. I’ve had little problem with games, but I do agree about bug fixing. Do it, devs, and do it FAST. Myst IV’s Disk 2 Not Recognised error was never fixed, thus making me miss out on a classic. Halo CE still has the annoying bug where the little Flood can clip into walls, thereby becoming unkillable and unreachable. There are a great number of bugs in many old Blizzard games, including a bug in Diablo II where certain quests can’t be completed because an item refuses to spawn or a boss will not spawn no matter what you do. I shouldn’t have to use a Hero Editor to finish the game.
    And seriously, if more developers knew what beta testing was meant to be, half the bugs wouldn’t be there. Blizzard rarely has issues with World of Warcraft, because they have public test realms specifically to catch the worst of the bugs well before Patch Tuesday. Save for the odd time when the community whines too much over something or the game loses balance, they have almost no bugs when Patch Tuesday rolls around. Open beta is also a great way to promote a game, and it lets the community feel that they’ve helped to contribute.

    I also don’t like how so many developers won’t go back and do what the makers of Monkey Island are doing – updating the game for the new times, without damaging the plot or the central concepts. Myst and Riven would look spectacular with modern graphics, and if Blizzard would make Orcs & Humans and Tides of Darkness/Through the Dark Portal compatible with modern operating systems at least, they’d be making a great number of young lorefags happy. Remakes are usually only good when the plot and concepts are left untouched.There are some absolute classic old games out there that would be incredible with better graphics and compatibility with modern computers/consoles.

    I never had a problem with Half-Life 2, though to my mind it’s not really a shooter – it’s more of a stealth FPS or first-person-platformer.
    Devs need to be more flexible with their labels – RTS, FPS and RPG are not the only game genres. There are other adjectives out there, and the better you can categorise a game, the more people can guess about its playing style.

    However, with that being said, games do need to have a dgeree of challenge to them. I like Silent Hill’s set save points because they forced you to plan ahead. I love some of Half-Life 2’s more puzzle-like aspects (which could have been HUGELY expanded). Portal is both frustrating as hell and the most fun you can have on a computer, because you are told nothing at all – but Valve cleverly set things up in such a way that you learn to play without it being given straight to you. Games need to be challenging, but also need to be good.

    dartigen | Jul 10, 2010 | Reply

  8. I know I’m way late to the party, but your criticisms are spot on…

    …ESPECIALLY the ones about “Deconstruction For Beginners”. This mission literally made me give up on GTA IV – a game I really wanted to finish.

    So let’s see, every time I fail this mission: 3-4 minutes of driving, 2-3 minutes of sniping and elevator riding… 5-7 minutes of sheer, repetitive, FUMING boredom – just to get back to the START of the actual mission???

    How could any professional game developer design a checkpoint system in this way?

    Anyway, I went online to see if anyone else had had the same problem, and was glad to find it wasn’t just me!

    NoNoRoman | Feb 23, 2014 | Reply

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