Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie XI

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 3, 2010

The eleventh (now annual) “Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!” column by Earnest Adams is up at Gamasutra.com. This year’s Twinkie Denial Conditions include:

* Long, Boring, Unimaginative Boss Battles: Self-healing bosses warrant a special mention in this section.

* Save Points Before Long Non-Interactive Sections: Meaning if you die once you FINALLY regain control and can, you know, play again, you have to sit through the same crap and make-work transitions.

* Movies Without a Pause OR Replay Feature: If you weren’t paying rapt attention when it came up and told you how to win the game, you are SOL.

* Plot Inconsistency With Game Mechanics: The age-old “Why can’t we just use Phoenix Down to save Aeris?” problem

And more!

Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie XI at Gamasutra

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Calibrator said,

    Welcome to the Ernest Adams Show, presenting:

    “How to make a living by lecturing stuff everybody already knows but consciously ignores, part XXIV”


    Todays show features important tips for budding game designers (and studio executives):

    – Extending gameplay (and saving resources) by extending already tedious boss battles! Don’t make them long, make them EPIC!

    – Extending gameplay (and saving resources) by strategically placing save points at inconvenient places! Give the player the chance to enjoy the gameworld a second or third time!

    – Extending gameplay (and saving resources) by simply increasing the random encounter rate! The path is the destination!

    And *BONUS*:
    – Extending gameplay (and saving resources) by making cutscenes unskippable!

    Tune in next time to continue the stooory!!!

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    I love Ernest Adams Twinkie Denial articles, but they have been getting a lot weaker with each progressive entry. It also annoys me that he basically copy-pastes most of the article from readers’ emails. I’d really like hear a lot more on the individual subjects from HIM, such as examples and alternatives and an examination of why those denial conditions cropped up in the first place. Instead we get a slightly expanded version of “reader so and so is right on – bad game desinger!”

    Every publisher and developer should have giant posters with the denial conditions on them though, pasted up on every cubicle wall, taped above the urinals and on the back of stall doors, affixed to vending machines, and attached to the ceiling above every designer’s bed . . . with periodic random quizes on them from management.

    Tales of Vesperia had an especially bad save point positioning before its final dungeon. There is one save point at the beginning and one at the end. The dungeon takes 4-6 hours to navigate. W…T…F?!

    So much of this crap is left over design from arcades and the NES, where you were trying to rob quarters with the former and prevent players from realizing the game was only 30 minutes long with the latter. (or less)

    -Save points can be solved with fuzzy saves if you still want tension between saves and don’t want the player abusing quick saves.

    -Tedious boss battles can be solved by making the fight interesting with choices and unique attacks. Oh, and you wouldn’t need self-healing bosses if you designed and balanced damage and attacks and health gained per level correctly. The “self-healing” boss arose because in early games you couldn’t give anything over 9999 health. That wouldn’t be a problem if developers hadn’t given players attacks that do 1000s in damage. Duh.

    -Extending gameplay artificially is for the birds, too. Give me the great gameplay, however long it lasts, and then end the game. Doing otherwise is like stretching out an exciting short story to a horrendously slow novel, or watering down good booze into cheap drivel. Don’t do it. The problem of course, is that every developer (AAA that is), wants to charge $60 bucks for their game, and they can’t get away with that if the game is awesome but ends in 4 hours. This is one area where indies have a major advantage – they can make whatever length of game they like and charge accordingly.

    And of course, some denial conditions are just developers being thoughtless or lazy.

    1. Left handed controls. Include the option. 10% of the world is left-handed. I bet a lot of developers are. Speak up and yell at your right-handed co-workers to include this simple thing.

    2. For that matter, re-mappable controls. Inverted and inverse aiming and camera controls included. For consoles too! How hard is this? Answer: Not very. BONUS: If you do this, issue 1 above disappears on its own! Amazing!

    3. Subtitles – FOR EVERYTHING, cutscenes and movies included. Some people are deaf (or hard of hearing). Again easy, developers just don’t think of it as often as they should.

    4. Make the game pausable ANYWHERE at ANYTIME. In battle, cutscenes, movies, etc. The UPS guy can arrive at anytime, as can company. By the way, things like phone calls also happen frequently. You developers cared enough to make the story and game, don’t make us miss any of it.

    5. BONUS: Port games between different consoles and the PC well or don’t port them at all. P.S. This means you MUST address issue 2 above, because frankly, none of you ever make wise choices when remapping console controller controls to a keyboard and mouse on your own. P.S.S. Make sure the game you just ported from console to PC can actually BE COMPLETED with a keyboard and mouse before shipping it. I see this far too often. If you don’t do this, please die in a fire. 😀

    And on that harsh note, I’m out!

  • Chevluh said,

    I’ve alway felt the phoenix down thing is unfair though, because it’s not a case of inconsistency but of players not paying attention to what’s written on screen. Phoenix downs treat KOs, not death, just like resting does. It’d be like people complaining sleeping doesn’t cure death in Might & Magic.

  • Xenovore said,

    @ Calibrator: Not sure what your problem is…maybe you’re jealous? =)

    It’s pretty clear to me that many game designers are A) ignorant, B) inexperienced, C) cocksure, or D) all of the above. So yes, we need to be listing these design flaws, and restating them over and over until game designers get a clue. And who better than Ernest Adams, who obviously already has a pretty good handle on what’s good design and what’s bad.

    @ LateWhiteRabbit: And what is your problem? What’s wrong with Adams just taking submissions from readers and putting his stamp of approval on them? 90% of the time a design is quite obviously bad, so why go into further details (especially if the quoted reader has already done so)?

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    My problem is that I LIKE Ernest Adams and want to hear more from the guy.

    Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t have to go months between reading articles by him. I just think that if you have a famous (or infamous, depending) article series that you only update ONCE a year, you might put just a bit more effort into it.

    I criticize because I care, in other words. ;P

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    (D) probably describes me, though I think I’m not nearly as self-confident as I once was. Getting smacked down to reality a couple of times can do that to you.

  • Miral said,

    The final boss battle in DeathSpank (part 1) has earned my ire (and a ragequit) for having a self-healing boss. I haven’t yet stumbled across the moon-logic “win” strategy the designer was apparently aiming for. Or possibly I just suck. But it’s very off-putting to have a fully leveled character with the best equipment possible and only be able to bring the boss’ health bar down to about 2/3 before he self-heals and I run out of my own limited supply of healing items. Which don’t get returned if I die.

    I’m sure I’ll get through it sometime, but it definitely threw me out of the “fun groove”. Which is a shame, because the rest of the game was a lot of fun (if a bit simplistic).

  • Calibrator said,

    @Xenovore: What is your problem with *us*? 😉

    You apparently didn’t get what I was targetting: There is a guy making a living by telling designers/companies how to behave (which is alright – it’s the job of a consultant) and the public, which is alright, too, if he wants to “bath in stardom” or simply to stay in business.

    All of this isn’t the problem. It’s not like he is peddling snake oil here…

    The “problem” is that lots of his expert wisdom appears to be generic and *even more importantly* seems to be readily and willfully ignored.

    Guys like, for example, Bobby Kotick literally GIVE A SHIT about what is “right” – they only care what makes the most money. Obviously, this is the very mainstream part of the business but that is what Adams is targetting and this where he works, isn’t he?

    Lots of indie designers obviously don’t give a shit either as they explore old and new concepts and try things either so clever or so stupid that every once and a while a new “basic” is defined.

    Finally, there is Joe Budding Game Designer (somebody who may successfully enter the industry or stay a hobbyist forever) who needs some kind of authority, a voice of advice and reason, some star to gaze at and perhaps strive to.

    And this is why these consultants will always have a place to live. Even if their role in the industry is perhaps smaller than they (want to) realize.

    And by the way: I’m not jealous as I neither get money from the industry or gamers (I am the one with the open wallet buying products) nor do I want stardom/glamour.

    @Jay: I’ve never read a blog of a person so attention-craving, yet so humble like you.
    I think you are doing a fine job. Keep on trucking, man!

  • Xenovore said,

    @ LateWhiteRabbit: Ok, I’m there with you on that — I would definitely like to hear more directly from him as well. But I’m still happy he’s doing what he’s doing. =)

    @Calibrator: It seemed initially that you were railing against Adams, but I guess you’re not…?

    Quote: “The ‘problem’ is that lots of his expert wisdom … seems to be readily and willfully ignored.”

    I certainly agree with that. Like I said, many designers seem to be ignorant.

    As for indie designers… True, they have more leeway to do things their own ways (and possibly come up with new designs that are fantastic), but they will be doing themselves a disservice if they ignore Adams’ wisdom.

  • McTeddy said,

    I have to respectfully disagree with people’s opinions of designers… well… they ARE egotistical… but still…

    Something that many people don’t understand is that this is not a magical world. Everything that you play was designed, programmed, art-ed up, tested, lot checked, marketed ALL under a budget of time and money.

    While I hate to take the industries side on anything… People keep bashing developers for being lazy, ignorant, and greedy… yet they know little of what the developers have gone through for them.

    The issue is NOT that game developers chose not to follow your rules… it’s that they have limited time and money that needs to be allocated. They choose the important things first… in theory.

    The issue is NOT that healing enemies is bad. It’s that when enemies heal TOO MUCH that it unbalances the game. Balance is fixed through testing. Testing takes time and money.

    Skipping cut scenes may be easy back when we played AVI’s… but not so much in this day of scripted cut scenes. Ensuring that everything that was supposed to happen during that cut scene is called correctly takes time. Making sure it works takes Testers and Programmers/Designers, all costing time and money.

    These lists DO have a place. I won’t argue that many things at least deserve consideration. But thing’s can happen in development and it’s not by choice or ignorance. I don’t know what they knew at the time or what issues they were dealing with at the time. But, why is my uninformed choice better than their knowledgeable one?

    If they have the choose of adding a movie theater to watch past movies or fixing the crashing bugs… they are being GOOD designers and developers.

    Developers usually have their reasons for doing things and deserve respect for the decisions that they made.