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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XIII
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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XIII

December 21, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Harmful "Upgrades"

Players of video games work toward goals the game sets for them, some of which produce rewards of varying value. These can even be negative. In an RPG, you'll occasionally pick up a cursed item that does more harm than good. You can usually check it first, though, or get it fixed, or drop it. On the other hand, something that you buy in a game shop with in-game reward money -- equipment upgrades, for example -- really shouldn't do you damage. A correspondent named Cyrad writes of the popular action RPG The World Ends With You:

Equipment comes in the form of clothing you purchase from stores. In addition to stat bonuses, each article of clothing also grants a passive ability that is unlocked/activated when you establish a good relationship with the store clerk. These abilities were usually things like "your attacks randomly debuff enemies' strength" or grant you a defense boost when heavily injured.

After spending most of the game unable to find shoes with decent stats, I finally found a pair that I absolutely loved and spent a fortune buying a pair for each party member. The clerk later revealed the shoes' ability, which granted a minor perk at the cost of making every enemy attack knock me off my feet.

Getting repeatedly hit-stunned while attempting to heal is the most common way in the game to die, and by this point, most enemies spam unavoidable projectiles. The unlocked ability essentially made this item suicide to wear. The ability cannot be toggled or removed. The shoes cannot be sold. Any new duplicate I buy will also have the ability.

You punished your player for buying an upgrade, Square Enix? Bad game designer! No Twinkie!

Overuse of One Location

The example for this one is an oldie, but the principle applies regardless. Deunen Berkely wrote, "Thou shalt not repeat multiple missions in the same cave/building/area over and over. You see this most blatantly in Star Wars Galaxies MMO, but other games fall to the temptation as well... you are trotting through the cave and see NPCs or items that don't react to your mission, or worse, you have to kill everybody to get to the bottom.

You fight your way back out, only to get another mission just a few activities later that sends you back into the same darn cave, kill everybody again, reach different things around said cave/building/area, and then fight your way back out again. By the fifth time, it's really dull. Puts the grind in grinding, you know?"

We can use a location for several missions if it's big and diverse enough, as in the Grand Theft Auto games. But you shouldn't do this too much with a location that the player explores completely in the course of a single mission.

Converting an Enemy to Your Side Nerfs Him

This is a corollary to an earlier TDC, Bad Guys With Vanishing Weapons. You spend a lot of time clobbering a serious bad guy with a big weapon and what you actually find on his body is a pointy stick.

In this case, Sean Hagans writes, "Entire nations run from the character's name and the only thing standing between him and the total fulfillment of his overlord's plans (usually imminent world domination) is your party of heroes... You SOMEHOW are able to barely make it out of the battle with your lives.

Due to your soundly punishing argument, the villain has a change of heart and joins you (OMG! I get to use HIM! YES!!!). Much to your despair, the villain is seen to be named 'Bob the Boy Wonder' and can only perform a basic slash attack with his slightly over-sized blade of dull wood."

Not fair. Now a fair (and very funny) example occurred when the Avatar from the Ultima games showed up in the very last level of Dungeon Keeper. He was the ultimate enemy, but he could be converted with enough work -- and when he was, you got to use every bit of his awesome power.


Recently Lars Doucet told me that his company, Level Up Labs, does a "Twinkie pass" over their designs. They check each game's design against the No Twinkie Database to see make sure they haven't included any Twinkie Denial Conditions. It's nice to know these columns are having a real effect. Send your own complaint (check the database first to see if I've already covered it) to

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Game Designer


Lars Doucet
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An honor to be mentioned in the Twinkie Column! To be fair, there's so many Twinkie Denial conditions that I'm sure despite our best efforts we missed some, but it continues to be an ideal we aspire to.

I started reading this column back around 2000 when I was still a teenager and it's one of the main things that got me into game design!

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Keith Burgun
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The designation that you needed to draw out for the long animations was this: do the animations have an effect on gameplay, or don't they? As a general rule, forcing players to watch animations in a turn-based game is BAD, because "time" has no relevance in that system. Compare that to something like Street Fighter, where "time" is of utmost importance. The fact that Ryu's spin kick takes 2 full seconds to perform has everything to do with gameplay and so of course it is an animation that must be watched.

So, for turn-based games, either have no animation at all, OR do what I'm doing for AURO - asynchronous animation. This means that when you attack, a little explosion animation plays out, but you don't have to wait for it to finish to keep making inputs.

Jason Lee
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I've noticed a neat trick is that some turn based games "stack" animations. While one animation is playing, you can actually issue orders and play out other parts of your turn while its going on. I've noticed that in Hero Academy while rushing moves I don't have to wait for my previous move animation to finish while I'm issuing my next order.

Also, X-Com gets a pass for it's cinematic camera animations, due to the fact that the twinkie denial condition specifically mentions a "known result". Much of X-Com revolves around hoping very hard that the 65% chance shot connects and does just enough damage for you to pull through, or else you're completely screwed. Therefore every time you wait for the animation to play out during these pivotal moments there's a lot of anxiety around whether you'll pull through or not; the familiar animation becomes a great moment of suspense. You can clearly tell they did a lot of tuning to make sure that these special moments in X-Com come just enough times to make them exciting and awesome every time.

Roberta Davies
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It's player-death animations that really get on my wick. (Possibly because I die so very often.) All right, I failed, and I know it. What I want is to get back into the action. What I don't want is to view that same damn death cutscene YET AGAIN. Even if it only lasts a few seconds, that's too long -- especially when I'm dying frequently, e.g. trying to negotiate a trap-filled area or puzzle out a boss fight.

Simon Ludgate
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I wonder how many times Far Cry 3 fails the "Turning the Avatar Stupid or Incompetent in a Cutscene" rule?

Darcy Nelson
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Enough to make a good drinking game?

Larry Weya
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Great article, some of these things seem obvious, so much so that the can easily slip into your game.

Laura Stewart
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I have another example for your Cutscenes Making the Avatar Stupid. In Fable III, when you get to Bowerstone and go to meet the Resistance, you end in a cutscene where you are pinned down by a group of sharpshooters, and no matter what gun you were holding one second ago, the cutscene arms you with the default Hero's Sword. I can understand the work that would have been involved with making a cutscene for every projectile weapon, but there was a default Hero's Rifle or Pistol to choose. I mean, come on!

scott anderson
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"When was the last time you were walking down the street, and some complete stranger randomly paused next to you, and started telling you why he came to the city, who his rival was, or how his business is going?"

- Ernest Adams clearly does not live in an urban area with a large homeless population :).

Jason Lee
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New mod for Skyrim: The Hobo City Guard Division

Tynan Sylvester
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Sadly, the quest rewards aren't very good.

Mihai Cosma
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Wow, i was about to make a huge rant post this weekend about the huge amount of outright bad design decision in Far Cry 3.. Hope to get a few of those on your list. :)

Ernest Adams
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Check the No Twinkie Database, and if they're not there, send them to me. I haven't played Far Cry 3.

Rob Allegretti
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Good read. The Twinkie the Kid lunchbox made me laugh rather hard.

Jamie Mann
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I recently fired up Rock Band 3 (X360 edition) for the first time in a while, as a friend was over. Normally, I just grab a guitar and get jamming - I'm here for the music - but my friend likes to create custom characters, so we fired up the character editor. And mama, there ain't no twinkies being given out today.

Aside from the so-minimalist-it's-useless documentation in the manual, and the fact that you don't appear to be able to share characters between user profiles[*], the character editor hides most of it's functionality away until after you've unlocked content by playing the game. So at first glance, it looks like you're restricted to some basic body-manipulation options and a small set of pre-defined costumes.

Once you've played through a few of the career elements, more stuff is unlocked (clothes, shoes, hats, tattoos, jewellery, instruments, etc) and the character editor itself shows a lot more options for customising your character [**]. But the initial view is so restricted that it's both misleading and disappointing for new players.

However, this then leads to another issue. Many of the more interesting items (e.g. a horned helmet) are locked until/unless you complete a specifically named Career Goal. However, there isn't a direct link from the Character Editor to the Career Goal in question, so you have to exit the editor, navigate back to the Career mode and then try to remember which of the several-dozen goals you need to play...

[*] which, to be fair, may well be an artefact of the way Xbox Live's profile management system works
[**] again, to be fair, the loading screens do give you some information about the character editor

Lou Hayt
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The term "randomly generated" is misleading and not technically correct - I think a better fit would be "procedurally generated", because only a part of the algorithmic process is "random".

Implementing procedural generation badly is indeed a risk to watch out for, so I agree with the title "Bad Randomly Generated Challenges", but I respectfully disagree with the opening paragraph - saying that procedural generation is bad design seems very strange to me, because its the other way around IMHO.

BTW levels that use procedural generation can be fine tuned like levels that are built by hand - to do this right the designer needs to fill the role of a programmer, even when using a high level tool.

Ernest Adams
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I'm not saying that procedural generation is bad design. It can be fine if it's done well. I'm saying that bad procedurally generated levels are bad.

Eric Schwarz
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Putting "visually stunning" areas outside the playable space unfortunately is the result of level design becoming increasingly linear and compartmentalized. Call of Duty has massive vistas which are quite beautiful, and you are guaranteed to only be able to explore a small hallway inside them, usually full of trash and stone walls to look at. It's honestly kind of flabbergasting to see artists and designers spend must what be thousands of hours, all to make completely non-interactive background scenes. Want to drop my jaw to the floor? How about you show me an amazing-looking level - and then let me play through it from top to bottom.

Brandon Binkley
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One of the tricks learned in level design/building is to landscape outside the playable area to create the illusion that world continues beyond the playable area.

In 3D games with the ability to pan the camera angle. this is important if you want to have a visually realistic area. Without this kind of trick, we would have to limit ourselves to indoor areas or literally play in or on boxes or create a complete continent (or planet if water borders aren't acceptable).

By no means do I mean to rant on this one, but I did want to pose the counterpoint and reason for why there is pretty unplayable space in games.

Chris Hendricks
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"you can't turn a tactical Twinkie into an FPS Twinkie without paying a price"

I love when I read sentences that almost certainly have never before been uttered in the history of the world.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kevin Fishburne
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I've been reading this site for many years and I'd love to know who hired the Church Lady as a moderator and why. These ominous (and frequent) bannings for reasons we can't determine because the post was censored create a chilling effect for commenters. If for example we're in the midst of a discussion on an incendiary topic and the conversation begins to get heated, the fear of getting banned will inevitably change the discourse.

At the very least have the courtesy to give a specific explanation as to why the commenter was banned. The failure to do so is worse than simply leaving the comment intact, as it generates fear of the unknown across the site. And yes, I've read the comment guidelines several times. They're vague and as such could be interpreted in a manner resulting in repressive enforcement by a moderator. We'll never know though, will we?

Lynn Goh
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Very interesting article that definitely helps