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Bad Design 1

posted on October 11th, 2005 by jay

This column looks at design flaws in popular games. Nearly all of the examples of poor design are from games that are either good or great, so don’t assume we are picking on these games solely because they suck and it’s fun to make fun of crap. Perhaps it is the games’ quality that makes identifying one specific design flaw so easy. The flaws are also not unique the only these games; hopefully each specific game we examine will hold a flaw that is common in many other games, some sort of universal design flaw. This will ultimately make the column much more valuable than if it were just a place to piss on a game for a specific and unique quirk.

Tell me, how is it I know English?

That being said, welcome to the first installment of this potentially never ending series. Today I’ll be looking at Civilization III (yes, I know IV just came out), Jade Empire, and an old cult classic for the Sega CD called Dark Wizard. All are awesome games with unawesome parts.

Jade Empire: Absurdly Silly Dialog – Bioware insists on letting the player define their character. This is noble, but results in RPG dialog that is preposterous. A new character in Jade Empire appears to suffer from amnesia. You walk around speaking to people you supposedly know asking them the most basic questions about yourself, the other people around you and your environment. If a coworker walked up to me to at work and asked me to tell me about the people we work with I would tell them to seek medical treatment. In Jade Empire, people answer your most basic questions seriously then nearly everyone fawns over you as if there is nothing sexier than a man with severe brain damage. People speak and act in a completely unbelievable way and it really damages the beginning of a game that otherwise has very good dialog. Give us backstory and context in a different fashion, like the old chapter introduction movies in Baldur’s Gate.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Civilization III: Micromanagement Hell – Have you ever fought a war in this game? Firaxis, along with every gamer out there, knows they were a drag. They say they’re looking to fix this in Civ IV, but I still want to bitch about it anyway. Going to war early in the game can be painful without making the player contemplate suicide, especially if it is brief. But fight a war late in the game, full with planes, soldiers, tanks, missiles, etc. and you are in for hell. It feels like the designers made war painful on purpose. The problem, for those who haven’t played this game, is that you are forced to micromanage the war effort. You can automate some things, but you will still need to keep an eye on all your units and pay attention to all the moves the enemy makes. Each turn late in the game takes 45 minutes. The accumulation of all the small decisions you’ve made through the entire game come back to haunt you as you are forced to deal with every city, unit, piece of research, and confrontation every year until you finally smite all your enemies or make it to year 2050. If I can’t manage Civ III, imagine Bush trying to manage a real war.

– Update: they fixed it somewhat, Civ IV wars still can drag forever

I wonder why the Sega CD failed to capture a wide market.

Dark Wizard: Abysmal Graphics – Bad graphics are not a design flaw. Well, they may be, but they are obvious to everyone and probably don’t need to be listed. I agree, but every now and then a game comes along that doesn’t have bad graphics, it has timewarp graphics. Dark Wizard is a Sega CD strategy RPG that looks worse than the SRPG’s on the Genesis. There are Master System games that look better than this title. Another example of timewarp graphics is Dragon Quest VII for the PS, but it’s not as extreme as Dark Wizards because the SNES has stuff on par but not blatantly better than DQ VII. I don’t have a problem with bad graphics; I grew up with 8 bit and have watched the evolution of graphics into 600 billion bit. I just draw the line at games that look so dated it must have taken extra effort.

Next time I’ll complain about the SRPG Gladius, Free Radical’s Second Sight and Kingdom Hearts. Here’s a preview:

Kingdom Hearts: Developers didn’t integrate Walt Disney being a Nazi into their design – Not allowing Sora to team up with Eva Braun was a huge oversight by Square. It not only robbed the game of historical significance but left us wondering what potential gameplay we missed out on. With any luck this will be addressed in the upcoming sequel.

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