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It's time once again for another edition of that annual favorite, Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! Since last year I've collected up another batch of Twinkie Denial Conditions from my readers, which I present for your edification and entertainment. I've also finally fulfilled an old promise to set up a No Twinkie Database of all the TDCs, organized by category. Just click the link and it'll take you to my website.
And away we go! Some of these are biggies that I really should have mentioned years ago.
This one bugs the heck out of me, and I'm apparently not the only one. Joel Johnson writes:
I'd like to point out the painfully irritating sections of games where they "change it up." Mini-games are fine by me, but when the game is an FPS except for two levels where you drive a car, race style, that's not a lot of fun. It's just padding that hides the fact that there isn't a lot of content in the main game. Other examples of this include the obligatory "stealth mission" not uncommon in FPSs (if you want to make a stealth game, make a damn stealth game), on-rails shooting-gallery sections of FPSs, the rhythm sections of games like Grand Theft Auto, etc. Optional mini-games are fun, and can be a refreshing change of pace, but optional is the key word here. Levels where a player must complete a game that uses a completely different skill set in order to continue back to a point that uses the original skill set can be irritating as hell.
Bullfrog was often guilty of this -- I remember some wildly atypical levels in Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet, and Populous: The Beginning. They padded out the game, but because they made just about everything you had learned useless, they were very annoying. Keep them optional.
The first time my wife sat down to the play the original text adventure, Colossal Cave, she saw the opening words:
You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.
Then it just sat there, waiting. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked the guy who was showing her the game. "Anything you want!" he said proudly (this was 1979, and games with parsers were brand new). But she didn't know what she wanted to do. The game didn't give her any incentive to do anything in particular, and we've lived with the same Twinkie Denial Condition for nearly 30 years -- it still happens, believe it or not. Andrew Harrison wrote to say:
When I played Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (PS2), it sometimes happened that I would start a game from a checkpoint without a clear indication of what it was that I should be doing: no information in the pause menu, no one to whom I could talk, no way to revisit an explanatory cinematic segment, not even a blip on my radar. Often I simply wandered around until I found enemies and then progressed in their general direction, hoping that their defeat was my goal. If the actual goal was to destroy some piece of machinery or flip a switch, I could potentially wander for a very long time before trying the right thing. I think that designers should try to avoid those situations.
You're darn right they should; in fact, it's one of Noah Falstein's rules for game design: provide clear short-term goals. And if he starts up a saved game, give the player a recap, a journal, or something else he can look at to see what he was supposed to be doing.