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Bad Design 2

posted on February 4th, 2006 by jay

Last time I wrote one of these I said this entry would look at design flaws from Gladius, Second Sight and Kingdom Hearts. I hate to let down the droves of Second Sight fans, but this will have to wait until the third entry. Today I’ll be following in the strong tradition of the first article by covering a PC game, a console game and an older game. Also like last time, all are good or excellent games I highly respect. Now on to why they suck.

I want to be the Gentle Tom Boy, but it’s not on the list yet.

Tales of Symphonia: Excess Complications – I am a big fan of complex games. The more features and stats, the more I like a game, but even my madness has limitations. Tales has a few complications that I find excessive. The thing about excessiveness, though, is that if a feature is well implemented, if its placed into the gameplay nice and deep and it really matters, well then it isn’t excessive. Tales has a technique learning system that’s based on two letters on a sliding bar, a gem equipment thing going on, learning of new skills by using old skills, something called grade it keeps track of, a combo counter, the ability to select the title of each of your characters, a weapon upgrade guy in most towns, and a cooking system. Some of these things work, I kind of like getting new titles for my characters and equipping them, it reminds me of Breath of Fire 3, which I enjoyed. The cooking system is somewhere between useful and useless; the game forces you to cook to restore HP by only allowing you to carry 20 of any type of item, which is lame, but finding recipes can be fun. The mechanic that forces you to forget skills before you learn new skills is not something I’m happy about. Even if I could understand it, which I don’t, I am not sure it should be there. No effort to explain it is ever made, no one has amnesia, so it is completely artificial and tacked on to make a complicated game needlessly difficult to follow. Even more important than making complications make sense is making complications fun. Final Fantasy Tactics didn’t necessarily make sense, but it sure was a lot of fun. Tales forcing a player to lose moves they’ve already put time in to earn is not fun. For the same reason, the concept of weapon durability in a game is usually unfun. Players don’t like the feeling that while they’re making progress, they are also constantly losing something. It creates an anxiety that does its best to kill enjoyment.

Why, it's Baron Montelbam!
Another day, another identical baron.

Pirates!: Lack of Driving Force – Another great game with a great flaw. I know there are a lot of people who like sandbox style games, and I can enjoy them from time to time as well. The problem with games that are too open ended, such as Pirates!, or Sims for that matter, is that they ultimately become boring because there is no winning or losing. After enough voyages in your War Galleon, you’ll feel like a pirate having an existential crisis. All the ports look the same, the same three bad guys seem responsible for every misdoing in the Caribbean, even the women all blend together, and not in that hot Cinemax way. The game’s best asset also ends up being its worst. With such an open ended mission and so few different quests to embark on, a general malaise will settle over the player after enough time. It can be argued that this is a design decision and not a design flaw, but either way, I’m already bored with Pirates!. Not by coincidence, this over emphasis on open endedness also existed in the original version of the game. Sid tries to placate people like me by pretending there is a plot to the game. Instead of just having pirate quests to complete in the original, this one says, "Oh, your family was kidnapped by a guy," and then encourages you to complete some pirate quests.

Bowser laying down the law
This doesn’t have anything to do with my point about this game. I just think Bowser is awesome.

Paper Mario: Bad Puzzle Design – A party member in Paper Mario creates a light you can use to navigate dark passages. This is fine, but the design of when this character joins your party is faulty. Dark passages do not appear in the game until after you have this party member. This is a problem of “key before lock” puzzle design but also it amplifies the appearance that the game unnaturally created the problem of darkness for Mario to overcome. Had he encountered these dark places prior to gaining this party member, then it would seem to the player that darkness is a natural occurrence in the game world and it would have amplified the feeling of achievement because the player would finally be able to get through those dark areas.

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

Gladius: Basing a game off of a Russell Crowe movie is a good idea, but only if Russell is fully realized. The model of the main character in this game doesn’t get me nearly as hot and bothered as the real bird. Gladius also squanders the Gladiator license by not focusing more on cookie cutter villians and overedited fight scenes. Solution? Sequel.

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