[MUD-Dev] Re: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! -- By Ernest Adams

John Bertoglio alexb at internetcds.com
Mon May 18 23:06:55 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

From: J C Lawrence <claw at under.engr.sgi.com>
To: mud-dev at kanga.nu <mud-dev at kanga.nu>
Date: Monday, May 18, 1998 4:53 PM

>Most of his points apply very well to MUDs, as well as having been
>active topics here:
>"Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!"
>By Ernest Adams

>Boring and Stupid Mazes

<Cut...No argument, he is right>

>Games Without Maps
>I have a notoriously poor sense of direction inside buildings, so
>maybe it's just me. Still, in the video game world where all the walls
>and floors use the same textures, places look too much alike.

I added a mapping element to AR because I have such a bad sense of
direction, I get lost in areas I designed. The teleport spell was the first
one added so I could get somewhere when I got lost.

>Bad game designer! No Twinkie!
>Incongruous or Fantasy-Killing Elements
>Sometimes an adventure game will present you with a puzzle, or other
>obstacle, that is completely outside the fantasy you're supposed to be
>having. In my opinion, that's a case of the designer running out of

Too right. Better another wave of orcs than a pointless puzzle.

>This leads quite naturally to my next complaint, which is...
>Pointless Surrealism

Points well taken.
>Which takes me effortlessly to...
>Puzzles Requiring Extreme Lateral Thinking
>These are puzzles of the "use the lampshade with the bulldozer"
>variety. The designer may think he's being funny or even surreal, but
>he's really just being adolescently tiresome. It's lazy puzzle design
>- making a puzzle difficult by making its solution obscure or
>irrational. You can add to the player's play-time by creating
>ridiculous obstacles, but you're not really adding to his or her
>enjoyment, and that's supposed to be the point.

Again, bring on the orcs.

>Puzzles Permitting No Lateral Thinking At All
>You come to a locked door. The obvious solution is to find the key,
>but it's also the most boring, so maybe the game provides some other
>way to get it open. But like as not, there's only one solution,
>whatever it is.
>In text-adventure terms, this was known as the "find the right verb"
>problem - you were dead in the water until you figured out exactly
>what verb the game was waiting for you to say. Break? Hit? Smash?
>Demolish? Pound? Incinerate? And a lot of games today have the same
>problem: an obstacle which can only be overcome in one way. The game
>doesn't encourage the player to think; it demands that the player read
>the designer's mind.
>In the real world, think of all the things you can do with a locked door:
>  -- Find the key
>  -- Pick the lock
>  -- Force or persuade the person who has the key to open it
>  -- Trick someone on the other side into opening it (maybe just by
>  -- Break the door down, burn it, cut it, dissolve it with acid, etc.
>  -- Circumvent it - go through a window instead, or cut a hole in the
>The list is limited only by your imagination.
>OK, I know this is a tall order. As a developer, it's difficult and
>expensive to think of all the ways that someone could try to get
>through a door and to implement them all.

The real cost is rendering all those darn pictures.

>Still, now that we have the
>have the power to create "deformable environments" - that is, your
>gunshots and explosions actually affect everything in the real world
>and not just your enemies - it's time to add a little variety to our
>worlds, to reward players who do some lateral thinking.

Not so hard, especially with modern disk space and memory. The original
Wasteland (an EA game of some note) allowed you to blow up walls (never
required, there was always another way in) if you were stuck. Of course,
dynamite was hard to find and you had to choose your targets carefully.
Also, blowing up things is not very subtle. You sometimes get more than you
bargained for by taking this appproach. The key is scaling risk, reward and
cost/hassle to make the puzzle reasonable.

>Puzzles Requiring Obscure Knowledge From Outside the Game
<Totaly correct on this one. Not normally a problem in conventional muds.>
>A Switch in One Room Opens a Door In Another Room A Mile Away
>Nor does it have to be a door - I mean any item which affects a game
>obstacle a long way off.

Not just game obstacles. A classic problem is: (translate to your world) A
guy in Atlanta wants you to get geoducks from Seattle. You slug your way to
Seattle and find the lady in Seattle will sell you the clams but only after
you bring her some lobster from Maine... and so on and so on. A otherwise
brilliant game from MicroProse called Darklands was marred by this
*feature*. (BTW, a totally overlooked game. Based on dark ages Europe if
everything people believed was actually true. Great magic, storyline and
spectacular use of saints (hundreds of them) to build subtle power in the
game. Lost my copy. Would be glad to purchase if it has the manual.)

>Only One of [some large number] of Possible Combinations Is the Right

<Right on, again. >

>Kill Monster/Take Sword/Sell Sword/Buy A Different Sword/Kill Another
>...or in other words, the canonical RPG experience. You may have heard
>John F.  Kennedy's joke that Washington D.C. is a city of southern
>efficiency and northern charm.  Well, in my opinion most RPG's combine
>the pulse-pounding excitement of a business simulation with the
>intellectual challenge of a shooter. I play games of medieval
>adventure and heroism to slay princesses and rescue dragons; I don't
>play them to spend two-thirds of my time dickering with shopkeepers. I
>want to be a hero, but the game forces me to be an itinerant
>second-hand arms dealer. Earning money by robbing corpses doesn't make
>me feel all that noble, either.

Some disagreement here. However this is often used as an artificial method
of making the game longer. My favorite variant is the sci-fi game where you
are asked to save the world but then forced to go out and earn a
living...you don't even get an expense account!

>You Have 30 Seconds to Figure Out This Level Before You Die

<Anyone remember any examples of something so stupid? >

>Stupid Opponents
>So let's get imaginative! How about some cowardly monsters who take
>one potshot at you, then run away to fight another day? Or maybe some
>monsters who duck in and out of cover? How about one that runs off at
>the first sight of you and brings back half a dozen friends - if you
>can nail it on its way out, then it can't raise the alarm. Or what
>about some who try to sneak around and come up behind you? Or who
>offer direct battle, but run away when they're injured, rather than
>fighting idiotically to the death? Maybe we could have some monsters
>whose job is to lure you out of cover so their friends can shoot at
>you. (That was the role of the flying saucer in the original coin-op
>Battle Zone.)  Or even - gasp! - some monsters who are smart enough to
>do all these things, like, say, people are! Zounds!
>None of these ideas are new; it's just that we don't see them that
>often. Why? Laziness again. Dumb monsters are easy to program. Smart
>ones aren't. And it's easy to balance a game with dumb opponents. You
>just figure out the appropriate ratio of monsters to "health"
>powerups. To make the game harder, you change the ratio. But it's
>boring. Let's put a little thought into monster design, give our
>customers a new challenge.
>Two other things I'm tired of - these are aesthetic rather than design
elements, but I'll
>throw 'em in for good measure.
>Poor Acting

<Inherent problem with live action...movie quote: "That Barney Rubble, now
there's an actor.">

>Neat, Tidy Explosions
>Look closely at a picture of a place where a bomb went off. It's a
>mess. A real mess.  Things are broken into pieces of all sizes, from
>chunks that are nearly the whole object, to shrapnel and slivers, down
>to dust. And they're twisted, shredded, barely recognizable. Things
>that are blown up by a bomb don't fall neatly apart into four or five
>little polygons - they're blasted to smithereens.
>I suppose for the sake of our stomachs we'll have to preserve the TV
>and film fiction that people who die violently do so quickly and
>quietly rather than screaming and rolling around; but I don't see any
>need to pretend that high explosives are less than apallingly
>destructive. Bombs ruin things - lives and buildings. They leave the
>places they've been shattered and unattractive. Let's tell the truth
>about them.

Bullets are messy. Blades even more so. Carnage is brutal and always
glossed over in games. Again, this is more of a problem in visual games.

How about single shot kills? People have been known to absorb appalling
amount of lead before expiring. I recall a case where a man took the full
magazine of 18 round 22 cal rifle and went on to kill both people. Now, he
died later. That many holes will usually kill you.

>Scott Kim tells me that I'm being a bit harsh by labeling some of
>these misfeatures as "lazy" puzzle design. He points out that puzzle
>design is hard work to begin with, and unless you're quite familiar
>with the games of the past, it's easy to make the same mistakes again
>without knowing it. In addition, a lot of people come into puzzle
>design from other fields like programming or art, and so don't have
>much experience at it.
>I'll buy that. But now that you have this handy list, at least you
>needn't make these mistakes, right?

Point taken. Those who fail to grasp the lessons of history....

>Ernest Adams is an audio/video producer for Electronic Arts, currently
>working on the Madden NFL Football product line. Once upon a time, he
>was a software engineer. He has developed on-line games, computer
>games, and console games for everything from the IBM 360 mainframe to
>the Nintendo Ultra 64. He was a founder of the Computer Game
>Developers' Association, and is a frequent lecturer at the Computer
>Game Developers' Conference and anyplace else that people will listen
>to him.  Ernest would be happy to receive E-mail about his columns at
>eadams at ea.com. The views in this column are not necessarily those of
>Electronic Arts.
>J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
>(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
>---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
>...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

John Bertoglio

>MUD-Dev: Advancing an unrealised future.

MUD-Dev: Advancing an unrealised future.

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