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Friday, December 17, 2004


Patrick Sullivan

Poor User Interface, with a subset that seems to be fairly common in poor/frustrating 3rd person games these days going to Camera Control. Nothing ruins a game faster, IME.

Cristopher Boyer

In 3d games, I would say a poorly planned Field of View. Lately I've been hearing more and more about how some games make people feel ill, and the root cause in many of these cases has been that the FOV is set by default to somewhere around 75 degrees, when the normal human FOV is somewhere closer to 90. And the more realistic the game looks, the more sensory disconnect you have and that can cause nausea and vomiting. And nobody wants folks retching when playing their game. =)

Dave Allen

There's a severe lack of polish.
It usually shows up in the form of blatantly obvious (non-killer) bugs. If you, the player, can find a ton of things that "just aren't right" in a game, without even attempting to find them, it feels like a product created just for money; there is no soul.

I say: "No one likes to play an unloved game."


Unpolished games are usually bad. Less polished a game is usually the worse it is, and vice versa polished games are usually good, event if there are no innovative elements present.

By polished I mostly mean free of bugs in code, design, graphics, etc. I realize that "polished" is kind of an abstract quality, but it's usually really easy to notice if the game is polished or not, at least for me...


Hmm, it's always a combination of many factors that eventually make a game bad. Sometimes one factor can be present on its own but the game can still come out on top, like the new Vampire: Bloodlines game. It was buggy, but fun. So it was still good, imo. Just really buggy.

Anyway, that being said, here are factors that can contribute to a bad game:

1) Like you said, poor feedback for player actions. This, in and of itself, can be broken up into MANY categories and applied to many different aspects of a game, some specific to certain genres. For instance, the simple feedback of firing a gun, shooting a wall, shooting a monster, etc... Or the high level feedback of the environment reacting to a flipped switch, triggering a cinematic, etc. Then the ultra high level of branching storylines that are affected by the players actions. There's so many realms of good, and of course bad, feedback. However, the feedback MUST be there and for each different level of feedback, different rules apply. I don't really have time to go into all of my theories on that, right now...

2) Stagnant gameplay. If a game doesn't have a constant level of rising action and introduction of new challenges and elements, it will get boring. Discovery is an important part of fun, lack of discovery removes the motivation to continue playing.

3) Quality issues. Bugs, poor quality art assets, instability, etc. These things go without saying but they can take a mediocre game and make it a failure, or keep a great game from being spectacular.

4) Usability issues. If a game is too complicated or hard then it will fail. You should never have to RTFM to play a video game. However, this also plays into standard gameplay elements and user experience issues. For instance, you should always be able to skip movies. You should never have to do the same thing twice. You should always have a way to get past frustration, ALWAYS. A frustrated player that quits and trades your game in for something else is NOT going to become an evangelist. However, it shouldn't be too easy, either, or it won't be fun. (Unless, of course, the game is meant to be easy and the fun is found through elements other than challenge.) However, it's always better to be slightly too easy than to be insanely or impossibly hard. If it's too easy, a player can always turn up the difficulty. Which means, always give the player an option for difficulty.

5) Breadth or lack of scope. The scope of a game, at least in my definition, is the amount of gameplay elements planned and implemented. Some of these are large, some are small. It is a very important thing to find an equilibrium of features, not too many, not too few.

The second a game starts to have too large of a scope each feature will then become stretched thin. An example of this would be Omikron or Uru. Omikron tried to conquer the adventure/fighting/FPS game and ended up being the worst of all 3 genres in order to include them all. It's better to shrink the scope and make something smaller and fantastic, than giant and mediocre. Uru failed in this by trying to make the single player game easily mesh into an MMO environment. Because of this, the MMO game was not as good as it could have been because it was being held back by single player and the single player was not as good as it could have been because it was working within the restrictions of an MMO. The scope in these cases were too large.

On the other side, a game could have too small of a scope and, in turn, would be simplistic and ultimately boring. However, this is a less common problem, since sometimes simplicity can make a game fun. However, it hardly ever makes a game a SUPER hit anymore. Aside from the realm of online, Flash based games, the days of Tetris may very well be over and we may have to move on. ;)

6) Poor initial concept. Let's face it, the original game concept is the foundation from which the rest of the game is built. If this concept is flawed, then the game will have a higher chance of failure. There's always a possibility of a mid-production revalation that converts the horrible idea into a brilliant one, but that's just a chance.

7) Me too! Me too products will make a quick buck but more often than not, they will end up dying in the end. This is true for both games and mundane software. Me too products do not aspire to greatness and therefore, will never achieve it. Much of Corporate America thinks in this mode: "What works? Hey, let's just emulate that!" That's a flaw in logic and only the most successful software, games, or otherwise, understand and take advantage of such a flaw. If you wonder why someone is on top, innovation and creativity will almost always play some role in their success.

Summary: Clones == bad.

That's all I have time for, on my lunch break. Maybe I'll think of some more, later. :)


Anna Karenina begins with the famous sentence “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Good games are all alike (in the sense that they provide an entertaining, challenging, relatively bugfree experience), while bad games are each bad in their own special way.

I have doubts that you could say "here's what makes a game bad" and have much more than either very vague concepts or a detailed list of all the many ways that games have been bad.

Essentially, there are lots of ways a good game can go bad. Too many bugs, too much repetiton, not enough repetition, too hard, too easy, etc...

It really is like walking a tight rope -- you can't deviate too far to either side without falling.


I agree with the field of view point, one that I haven't heard explicitly mentioned before. Outside of inducing sickness, I can't stand playing a game with a very narrow field of view which causes the game to feel very claustrophobic to the extent that I have to keep whirling my viewpoint around just to feel like I can see anything. Halo 2 suffered from this somewhat, in my opinion. Along those lines: guns that are too large in first person shooters. I need to see what I'm shooting at!

One big thing that's a pretty general complaint, is artificial constraints placed on the player. Be this control-wise, or other. For instance, there was a Sega-made Dreamcast game by the name of Outtrigger. I wanted to like this game very much, but the game limited how far up or down you could look to something like +-30 degrees. Very sloppy, in my opinion, and it really killed a lot of fun. This extends to other areas of control as well (something I've found Sega does a lot in their games), but also to things like invisible walls (Fable had far too many of these for it's style of gameplay) or badly designed adventure games that artificially limit your progress until you complete some obscure set of tasks that is unrelated to proceeding forward. Another example is not being able to talk to NPC's in Grand Theft Auto. For all the freedom the game has, this one simple task I wanted to partake in was utterly impossible. Bloody hell, you can engage in supposed sexual acts with hookers, but you can't talk to random people! Granted, it's not really the purpose of the game, but it felt like an artificial constraint when I was playing.

Finally, bad sound really kills a game for me. I have very specific tastes, and to illustrate what I don't like, toss in Sega GT. I can't stand those too loud and in-your-face sound effects and crazy Japanese game-music. This isn't a rant against Japanese music, just the style of crappy game music I tend to notice more often in lesser Japanese games. I guess it's really more a case of arcade-style sound effects and music. Irritating, non-atmospheric and ultimately detrimental for a game.

Scott Miller

Alan, I think we can all go home now -- you pretty much covered the subject with a king-sized blanket!

What about gameplay polish? How many games have we played in which the actual underlying rules and mechanics of gameplay seemed off, or annoying?

Is replayability important -- do bad games lack it?

Many more areas to cover...


I don't think there's much point in this, as has already been stated, many things can make games bad.
However, there are no deal breakers. With perhaps the exception of feedback, even this isn't a question of more = better. Afterall bluffing games require you hide/delay information, which is basically breaking feedback.

The only thing I can think of which is an absolute garuntee is if the designers don't know what they're doing. That is they don't have a plan. Don't nail down what they're trying to do (make a game). Don't know how this game is going to act upon the players. However even then they can just luck out or have an intuative 'feel'.

2) Many very sucessful games have all the content explored far before players stop playing. Take Everquest, Tetris, Counterstrike.

3) While bugs are always bad they don't necessarily change how well the game plays, just remove the decisions from the programmers.

4) Suprisingly but many frustrating things actually highten the desire people have to play games, take downtime in MMORPGs (which provides time to get to know your fellow gamers). Losing in CS (which makes you want to kick their arses next round even more.

5) So, whats a 'feature' exactly? If you're talking about the number of game rules or game complexity?

6) Other than games with blatant marketting gimicks which were also bad for a whole other hoast of reasons (bmx xxx, etc) I can't think of anything that fits in here. Any examples?

7) Thing is how do you tell the difference between a 'me too' game and a derivitive works? I mean the difference is basically one makes changes which make the game worse and one makes improvments...


How to Write an Awful Game, by PaG

1- Boring
The game should be boring. Nothing should require any skill, you should wander around just looking at boring stuff and not interacting with anything. This is very important: if you ask the player to do anything, he may end-up enjoying it. Make sure he never has to do anything or if he does do something it shouldn't require any skill whatsoever. Great example of this can be seen in the FMV craze of the 90s.

2- Make it Easy to Stop
You should never give the player multiple goals because when he reaches a goal he may be compelled to keep playing to reach the second goal too. Give the player exactly one goal, at the baginning of a level, and make that goal finish at the end of the level with a looooong load time for the next level. That way, should you have erred and made your game good enough for the player to actually achieve one goal, the player will be satisfied with himself for having reached the goal and he won't have any problem putting the controller down.

3- Make it Repetitive
Make sure the player does the same thing over and over again. If he must kill enemy, make sure all weapons behave the same and make sure all enemies are alike. Diablo without multiplayer, in a single environment, with the sword as the only weapon and only 2 types of enemies is what you're looking for here. Beware of depth in the gameplay! Superficially chess may seem repetitive, but all the games require unique strategies. You must avoid that and make sure there is one single and obvious path to success.

4- Complicate Controls
Why put multiple actions on one button when you can use many? Modern console controllers have a dozen buttons -- use them all! Keyboards have even more keys -- bind a specific action to each. If you have to screen in which the player can do similar things, make sure that thing is done differently in each. Also, remember to reinvent the wheel: well established and standard interfaces are for sissies, come up with your own weird stuff to show how smart you are.

5- Make it Ugly
Graphics should be done with a complete lack of artistic sense. Characters should all look the same (while still having bad proportions) and so should the environments. Avoid any animation that is not strictly necessary: you don't want your game world to feel alive!

6- Corny Sounds
Music should be bad and clichéd. If you can get something that sounds like a bad rip-off of the Braveheart soundtrack played on a cheap Radio-Shack synthetizer then great! Sound effects should be bland and life-less.

7- Lots of Boring Story
The story should be omnipresent and interrupt the player whenever he's doing something (see Metal Gear Solid 2 for a great example of this). If you can make it both full of clichés and incomprehensible then good for you! Characters shouldn't have any personality and they should describe their boring life in detail during unskippable 30-minutes long cutscenes. Remember that the story ties very well with what I said under "Fun": don't make the player do anything!

8- A Bland Game Concept
Every single aspect of your game should have been used in at least 10 other games. Avoid any original idea at all cost. Moreover, the base concept should lack all appearance of focus (an action-rpg with multiplayer and single player elements mixed with turn-based strategy, adventure gaming, simulations, sports and puzzle games would be a great example!) Make sure your publicity is in line with this, it should say bland things like "Can you save the world?" or "The realm's destiny is in your hands!".

If you do all of this, I'm sure you'll be able to have the worst game ever! Good luck!


What about gameplay polish? How many games have we played in which the actual underlying rules and mechanics of gameplay seemed off, or annoying?

Is replayability important -- do bad games lack it?

Many more areas to cover...

That's another one, good call Scott. Kind of like the core game concept, if the core concept of gameplay - which is a seperate entity from the concept of the game sometimes - is flawed, then the game will be a failure. How does one quantify what makes gameplay fun? Seems to me that up to this point, we've been licking our fingers and stickin 'em in the wind, most times. However, I think we're right in the middle of a game design revolution of sorts, as we are starting to find answers to the question: "what makes something fun?" Needless to say, if the gameplay design of a game is not a valid answer to that question, then the game would be "bad." But that's a useless thing for me to say for the sake of discussion, so let's talk a little bit about what makes gameplay bad... I think there is perhaps one main thing, one which will always make a game bad.

Repitition == boring. Yes, even in Tetris games this is true. This is why Tetris gets harder and harder as the player progresses. However, in the case of non-realism based, Tetris style games, one main source of fun is the self-challenge: "can I beat my own score?" This introduces a form of self evolving gameplay, as you get better and better and therefore the challenge continues to evolve as you do. However, consider if Tetris was the same, or close to the same, level of difficulty throughout. It would no longer be fun, at least not for very long.

Now, the example of Tetris is a simple one, but it contains the fundamental core aspects of gameplay that play into MUCH more complicated projects. However, I am by no means saying that every game needs to get incramentally harder. Switch difficulty with exciting, or active, or mysterious, etc, whatever the driving force/central aspect of the game may be. The point is, the game should evolve concurrently with the player, but with the player as the driving force for that evolution. Perhaps this also crosses over into the realm of player feedback.


Now, as for replayability, I honestly don't think this necessarily plays into whether or not a game is good. A game can be good, fun, and make evangelical players, even if it is only good once. The entire adventure game genre falls into this category and most single-player FPS games. Half-Life 2, for instance, is not very replayable for most gamers. However, it's still a fantastic game and I think you'll find that it doesn't make any of the mistakes I've talked about, thus far. :)

Also, to all the other posters, I don't think that figuring out what makes games bad is useless, not at all. Sometimes you have to work through the maze backwards in order to find some things that you may have missed before. Another analogy, sometimes it's better to draw upside down so that your artwork isn't harmed by preconceptions.


-Lack of story elements and logic, in a game that tries to show one.
-Bad interface or bad control. That can be in the gameplay, or the general interface...it doesn't matter.
-Predominance of cheap deaths
-Absence of a potent AI in the NPC
-Absence of an equlibrium in how a game progress in terms of hardness
-Too limited interaction in terms of gameplay. If you are in a game that has an interesting environnement, you should put some interactions with it.
-Lack of costumizations or options regarding your character.
-Graphical clipping
-Sounds skipping


What are the common qualities of bad games?

In no particular order:

(These where created with the FPS genre in mind btw.)

1. Not introducing(enough)new ideas or ways of doing things in gameplay(typically just copying what others have done before).
2. Bad balance of game pace.
3. Not very innovative/creative or optimal use of game technology.
4. Boring gamedesign/graphics, with too much use of repetitive/flat low res. textures and squared surfaces.
5. The story is typically also very cheesy and not executed/progressing in a very interesting way.
6. The player is typically also not rewarded/motivated, for doing any extra effort.
7. No replay value(there is typically only 1 way of doing things, and the maps only has 1 route. This coupled with gameplay that is typically also too repetitive, kills the fun for a second playthrough).
8. The gameplay is too predictable and doesn’t introduce any sudden changes/surprises or interesting plot twists.
9. The games characters isn’t interesting.
10. Typically released with errors, that should have been fixed before release.

Feel free to run DNF through this small checklist! ;-)

Robert Howarth

A lot has been covered already, and besides stating the obvious (bad story, bugs, lame gameplay, etc):

- There's no jumping in the game and it's a first person shooter. Which brings us to the next point...

- Lazy port jobs (the only good pc port i've seen in years is Riddick)

- Games billed as graphics intensive with state of the art visuals powered by expensive licensed engies, yet all the little non-monster/player related items look the same as they did 10 years ago (i.e. - the little phones that barely look like phones on desks, square tires on cars, etc). The immersion factor goes out the window.

- No quick saves

I'm sure I can think of more later. :)

Michael Labbe

Why do we hate anything?

Emotional response - The game does not resonate with the player in a way that causes an emotional reaction.

Contemplative response - The game does not cause us to think or reflect upon consequences.

Viscereal response - The game does not have satisfying flow - the speed of driving, the satisfying Quake gib, the Diablo kill.

All subjective.

Very few games get all three of these right. Getting one of the right can give you a hit game. Getting none of these right guarantees people regarding your game as rubbish.


Lol! PaG :)


Alan - sorry, I have to take issue with this.

"Usability issues. If a game is too complicated or hard then it will fail. You should never have to RTFM to play a video game."

You *may* be right that it 'will fail' (or at least is *more likely* to fail), but that's not what Scott asked. He asked what made a bad game. It would be sheer idiocy to attempt to play, for instance, Elite without reading the manual first. That was and is a fantastic game. I find it amazing that people attempt to play complex strategy games like Civilization without reading the manual, although they do. Simply being complex enough that reading the manual helps you play the game does not make a game bad, though it may reduce its appeal.


some trivial and rather historical ideas are all I can come up with here.

1 - this one is really old school - collision detection! Anyone who remembers the years when platform games dominated gaming as much as FPS games do now will remember that the one thing that was guaranteed to absolutely torpedo your game was bad collision detection. Nothing's more frustrating than a shot going right through the middle of an enemy, or your player falling to his death right *through* a perfectly solid platform.

2 - maybe more relevant now, but the only examples I can come up with offhand are old - do what you say on the tin! I can think of three old games, two so old I can't remember their names (the other an obscure old basketball game called NCAA: Road to the Final Four, and don't ask me how I remembered that) which have detailed instructions how to play them in the manual. One of the others was a combined soccer management / playing game, the other was a driving game. The basketball game had an odd control mechanism which involved directly controlling one player and 'calling plays' for the rest of your term with certain preset keys that were carefully detailed in the manual. Without exception, pressing these keys did absolutely nothing. I gave up on that one quick.

In the racing game, it was even more ridiculous - I discovered shortly after starting to play the game that there was absolutely no need to steer. The game had a 'steering auto-assist' thing built in which had been coded to be substantially too helpful and would happily steer the entire course for you. It was like Scalextric - all you actually had to do was control the throttle. That one didn't last long either.

The soccer game was even worse. It had a barely-passable management section, but the actual games themselves came down to setting the player up with a few setpieces (penalty kicks, corners) in which they could supposedly control the player who would either score a goal or not. The rest of the game wasn't controllable in any way. However, more crucially, neither was this part, despite the control instructions in the manual. Hammer any key you liked, press 'em in any order, type in the entire text of the King James bible - the result on screen was in point of fact entirely random and did not respond to input in any way.

These are fairly egregious examples of bad games, but it's all I can come up with right now. If I think of anything better, I'll mention it. :)


I like Alan's list and it covers pretty much everything.

I just want to throw out "imbalance" though. This applies more than to just multiplayer games. Improper game balance can make your game complete trash by negating what would otherwise make the game fun or interesting.

The whole game has to have a balance. All features of the gameplay need to have the right level of importance and signifigance and strength. Many times in (usually mediocre) games will have good and interesting features that go unnoticed because it's not given the right level of worth to the game (or sometimes something else has too much). Examples are easiest seen in MP settings. The initial HL2 Death match release for example saw over 50% of the kills coming from the magnum. This reduced many of the other gameplay features of HL2DM like the other weapon choices, health/armor collection, and using physics as a weapon. Additionally the same can be seen in SP with poor AI detracting gameplay elements (sure you can make use of feature x, y, and z to kill your AI oppenent but if you only have run and gun because of stupid AI then those features are worthless). A good SP example in my opinion is in the Metal Gear Solid series (2 especially) there is a whole complex series of unsilenced lethal weapons with ammo for the guns and other such stuff. However in 90% of the MGS game you are trying to use non-lethal methods of killing oppenents and/or stealth to avoid detection. So for some reason you spend the game collecting all these arms and only ever use them when the game automatically forces you into a direct confrontation.


The lack of (entertaining) challenge(s) is what I think the most common element of bad games. Anything else gets into specific game genres and subjective opinions.

For example 3D games are an immersive expirience, portaiting a somewhat beleivable world. If anything is so flawed that it breaks immersion, be it horribly broken collision or extremly bad graphics, then the game would be bad.

OTOH a game like Breakout, no graphics worth mentioning, no story, yet pretty damn fun.

So is the question "what makes a bad FPS-type game?" or really bad games in general (any genre).

What is an entertaining challenge, well as I mentioned I think it's pretty subjective. Some prefer mental challenges more than "mechanical" (aiming/reaction) and vice versa, to various degrees. Or maybe an emtional challenge (dealing with fear in a horror game).

I'll take Doom3 as an example, I found that game to be horribly bad, probably the worst I've ever played. There sure wasn't anything technically or artistically flawed with it. Best looking thing I've ever seen. In fact the beautiful graphics is what made me play it through (after disabling the extremly frustratingly boring "gameplay", ie. disabling AI). It actually became more "fun" after that because I at least could enjoy the environments. But there are plenty of people who loved Doom3.

What is a satisfying challenge to one isn't to another.

Sticking to things that all games have in common, the obvious things I can think of are

- Mentioned before, that something is horribly broken (bugs or just plain bad quality).

- This kind of belongs to the point above, but if the game is overly complicated to understand (broken design). Unless understanding it isn't part of the game's challenge, like for example in an advanced/realistic flight sim learning how to fly is a rewarding challenge for those that are into that kind of game.

- That the game doesn't have a challenge that appeals to at least some players.

- That the challenge is too monotonous, gets boring fast.

- Also mentioned before, if the game is a copy of an existing game (maybe with even lesser production quality), so there's nothing new, the challenge is identical and has no new flavor at all.

just my rambling-when-I-should-be-sleeping-2 cents


Thinking about this the two items I totally agree on are: Feedback and Non-change (to the point of bordom).

But, if you think about this that actually breaks the definition of a computergame, if the feedback is so poor that you can't actually interact then its a movie dynamically generated using your input as a seed.

And if the thing changes so little as to induce bordom (like how much less than tetris or pong can you change?) its pretty much a painting.

I don't deny there are other factors which can create a bad computergame, but I don't think you can nail any of them down and say 'this is always bad'.

Its sort of like the rules in any other art/entertainment, they tend not to be rules only guidelines because some of the very best stuff breaks the rules and still looks/sounds/tastes excellent.


I agree with Alan on replayability. I don't think a game being replayable has anything to do with how good it is. Some of my favorite moments in gaming history occured as one-offs in The Secret of Monkey Island. I replayed the game simply to remind myself of how funny or unique those moments were; otherwise the game was not replayable at all.

It's something I haven't considered before, but I think that there is too much push to make games that have a high replayability these days. If you can create situations that are meaningful to the player, then the player will likely play the game again to reacquaint themselves with that situation and how they felt the first time when dealing with it.

That said, it's fantastic to make an "emergent" style of game where the user can experience new situations every time; but in many cases, this goal is simply beyond the scope of current technology.


Here is the typical life-cycle of a bad game for me:

1.) General introductory phase where many elements come together to induce a purchase.
2.) After the install (which usually follows rather quickly on the heels of the purchase) I experience the first hour or so of the game. During this phase I try not to cut short of one hour, just out of fairness for the game.
3.) Following the first hour, something has not clicked. It's not that I don't enjoy the graphics or plot, but the realization of the alternate game universe has not fully occurred. At this point, I may not even know that something hasn't clicked, but I'm going to know soon because...
4.) When I'm not playing the game, I'm not even remotely concerned about returning to the game. On a lucky chance I might remember I purchased it and continue to play it hoping that the critical plot twist (or whatever it may be) is just around the next corner. Ultimately, and inevitably...
5.) The game for which I had (high/mixed/low) hopes is now just a box that I glance at from time to time, humbly occupying the lowest spot on my stack of recently purchased games.

For me, a bad game is not necessarily a game that has critical shortcomings. Rather, it is one that has failed to serve it's primary purpose in this world: satisfying my interactive-entertainment needs.


A lot of good points have been mentioned already; but I`ll add my two cents anyway ((-8
I believe, that (almost) all bad qualities fall into one of two broad, yet distinctive categories.

As for the discovery - that's simple. In a good game you're always discovering something; when there is nothing more to discover, the game ends for you.
I do not mean just findind new content here - discoveries include, for example, new strategies, new way to do the same old thing, or maybe new achievements - like in tetris and puzzle games.
That also covers replayability - if you can never discover everything playing once, then you play again and again...
So, to sum it up - the less there is to discover, the worse.

The control category is somewhat trickier. What I mean to say is that _I_always_want_to_be_in_control_. If I am not in control of something (or at least do not seem to be) - the game is bad.
That mostly covers interface issues - when the interface doesn't let me do what I want, I'm not in control.
But not just interface - lack of feedback is also lack of control. Like, I just did something and the game does not react properly... or even at all.
Unskippable movie sequences, story getting in the way of common sense - these are also example of taking the control away from the player.
The less obvious example is the game "Storm: Soldiers of the sky" (or something like that). It's a some-kind-of-futuristic-flying-craft simulation, and it seemed to be pretty good - good controls, good gameplay... but the storyline ruined it - for me, at least. Every mission briefing was STUPID. It was like the commanders just did mistake after mistake, and that's why the missions got harder and harder (which they of course should, in a game like that). So, in the end I felt I am not in control - and do not like the game.
Although, come to think of it - the player shouldn't be in control of that. But then - he probably should at least seem to be.

To conclude it all:
If the game doesn't have much to discover, it's invariably bad.
If the game takes control away from the player, or simply get in the way - it's likely to be bad.

And if the game has a lot to discover and the player is (or seems to be) always in control of what's going on - the game will not be bad. Not a great hit, maybe, but not bad either.

Brask Mumei

A lot of focus on FPSes here... Odd to see things like "Square corners" resulting in a "bad game". Wolfenstein was a very good game, yet has the squarest corners possible.

I do agree with the assessment that the best way to approach this question is to inspect specific bad games.

When I think of Bad Games, one jumps straight to mind. Black and White. It is unusual in so far as one could easily mistake it for a good game.

The game *is* highly polished. Loving care has gone into the graphics. Extensive work on tutorials, etc, has been done to ensure the player knows how to interact. Interaction is nice and straightforward.

The first hour playing Black and White had me believing this was the greatest game of all time.

The next hour had me wanting to break the CD into many tiny pieces. Unskippable movie animations. Unskippable movie animations that were your feedback to tell you that you hadn't harvested quite enough logs yet. Did I mention they were unskippable? Trying to train one's pet on the "wrong" world only to find out on the 'net that the AI isn't engaged until the next world. (Then why did the game tell me how to train it on this world?) A fighting subsystem which the wonderful UI of clicking on the enemy meaning attack while clicking on the ground meaning move. Of course, the camera is *shaking* to ensure you have limitted chance of actually clicking where you meant to. (The first "training" fight is also set insanely hard, IMHO)

I stuck with it, of course. Until I got to the next world (of 5 worlds) where the game confiscated my pet. The pet, I will remind you, was the entire selling point of the game.

In another game, we could call these bugs and oversights. However, the rest of the game had been polished to such a gleam that one could only conclude that these were intentional. Surely one playtester suggested that skipping a movie might be a good idea? Surely some of the time spent supporting iFeel mice could have been spent handling an Esc press? I read how every quest had been rated independently on "Funness" and unfun quests brutally slaughtered. Yet I was still given the task of finding twenty sheep in a giant island! Yay! Needle and haystack, next step in fun! (If it were *one* sheep, maybe I could live with it. If I got progressive rewards for each sheep, sure. If I knew there were 40 sheep of which I had to find 20, sure.)

Thus, I wouldn't say it is bugs that result in a bad game so much as misfeatures. If they seem to be bugs, I'll be willing to look for or wait for the patch. If it is misfeatures, I'm liable to delete the game in frustration. I hear tell that many of my frustrations have since been patched. I will never know, as I'm not giving B&W another chance. Some game design decisions are unforgiveable.

- Brask Mumei

Scott Miller

Lot's of good thoughts here -- it's really helping me see all the possible angles. And not to single out anyone's comments as better than others, but I really liked Nevermind's observations on discovery and control. This is a very high level view of what makes a bad game, and I think it's right on the money.

If I had to classify myself as a game player, I'd call myself an "explorer." I love to discover new content, new story, new gameplay angles (such as the gravity gun in HL2, which opened up all sorts of new gameplay options), and so on. What bores me is when a game offers nothing new...been-there-done-that. So calling this "discovery" is a good way to put it.

Dave Allen

Yet you really enjoyed Doom III?

Robert Howarth

Scott didnt really enjoy Doom III, he enjoyed Half-Life 2. :)


"If I had to classify myself as a game player, I'd call myself an "explorer." I love to discover new content, new story, new gameplay angles..."

That's strange, because i would consider myself like that and "hated" (well not really that strongly...) Half life 2 for that very reason. Half life 2 was too controlling for my liking. There was virtually nothing to discover in the game. It was dissapointing to find that when i tried things to make the game more interesting (on the second time through) by taking a suitcase with me from start to finish - my plans had to be moth-balled due to the fact that although the small demonstration teleporter was able to transport any physical object, the larger human sized one would not. IMO, there really was nothing extra to the game that was really worth playing through again as the level of hardness was pretty poor - completing it through first time on the hardest level.

I suppose i also disliked Doom 3 for that same reason, but at the same time Doom 3 seemed to know more what it was about. I picked up a sense of confusion from half life 2. What did this game really want to achieve?

As for what makes a bad game? IMO, i think that as Nevermind said, the most frustrating games were the ones that took complete control of the game out of my hands. No matter how well i would perform in a mission i would be handicapped because either some scriptwriter or developer decided that the game wasn't hard enough or didn't have enough twists.

I would also say that having narrow objectives is only useful and complementary to gameplay when it suits the game. X-wing suffered from having narrow objectives in missions were you would have to know where everything was coming from and at what time, using which trigger. For the opposite reason i felt that Starlancer was better story and gameplay-wise for having the approach that is more like real life. You were not automatically failed because one spacebarge out of 8 was destroyed when you were the only intelligent player present to defend that particular fleet. Saying all that though, i have fonder memories of X-wing. But that's nostalgia for you.

As a gamer i tend to alternate between FPS, RTS and RPG (with some adventure, fighting and racing stuck on the sides). Ever since Quake 3 i have never really found any FPSes that i would replay many times (even now i sometimes load up a team arena match and frag some bots). Granted Q3 never had a story (at least not one worth mentioning), but there was something responsive about the game. Your actions were law and you always knew were you stood. There was also always the added incentive to beat your own score and as you played your gameplay improved with your skill, your knowledge of the weapons, maps and enemy tactics (whether AI or human). You could also customise the game to your needs and tastes. Changing the colour of skins, changing the level of detail in the game. That tends to be lacking in most games these days. Overall i feel that Q3A is probably one of those games that embodies exactly what Nevermind was talking about: control and discovery.

RTSes are harder to define in what makes them bad. Poor response, HUD and unneccessary user management systems and controls are the main reason. Most RTS games would be perfectly fine if these were addressed - although balance of armies often comes up in discussion of good and bad RTSes.

RPGs are the only exception to my experience of bad / poor games. Maybe i've been lucky, but the RPGs i've played have all be well thought out in terms of UI, discovery and control. There is always a reason to replay or keep you playing for hours on end - not just the story. Exploration is one of the greatest pulls for me to these games and the chance to "live" and experience an almost living, breathing world different to our own (Kind of the reason i liked games like Privateer and Freelancer). It's like taking a virtual tour through the mind of a writer.

IMO, RPGs and adventure games are the gaming equivalent of books - long and involved (player involvement) storyline, plenty of "world" to explore and even though they are edited, you are almost guarranteed to have some of the better bits being left in. FPSs are the equivalent of movies - more shallow, shorter and there are always great bits left on the cutting room floor.
RTSes? Well, they are the equivalent of board games. ^_^

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek

To me, lack of a gradual learning curve is the mark of a bad game.

When I first start a game, I want to be playing as soon as possible. Controls should be clear and intuitive. I should start out with a singular goal and some idea about how to accomplish it. It's nice if the game has the kind of depth where I can balance the game environment in five different windows, but right now just one will do, thank you very much.

Also, I don't like to sit through an hour of tutorial - invariably with lots and lots of increasingly boring text - just to get to grips with the basic controls. A tutorial is better than having nothing to go on, but it is still a patch if you ask me.

A good game should gradually open up it's possibilities to the player. This might make it difficult to keep the game interesting when you replay it, but I never said writing a good game is easy. :-)

Anders Højsted

I think Nevermind covered it; but I'll put in other words:

When I come up with an obvious solution for an obvious problem and the game won't let me do ti.

Scott Miller

Duoae, despite HL2's linear levels and solve-one-way puzzles (most of them, at least), the game had enough discovery-like elements that it satisfied me.

Doom 3, though, didn't, as it pretty much played the same note the entire way and left the explorer in my wanting more.

Anders, I'm glad you mentioned that about not being able to solve a problem in a way that seems logical. This happened to me in HL2...

It was after first meeting and then playing catch with Dog, and then the attack began and I had to part ways with Alyx, with Dog helping me on my way to Ravenloft (sp?). Before entering Ravenloft I needed to climb a tall elevator shaft, but the ladder was blocked by a grate that was about 15 feet high.

Well, I didn't see the lock! (All I needed to do was shoot the lock and the grate swings open, allowing me to climb on up to the next level.) So, I used the grav gun to arrange crates and a cabinet on top of each other, and then I climbed up my little tower to a spot above the grate that was blocking the ladder. So here I am, right next the the ladder, and yet the game will not let me climb up!? I struggled with this for about 15 minutes until I finally concluded that this was not what the designers had in mind as a solution. So, I looked around some more and finally noticed the lock.

The problem was that the ladder was flagged as unclimbable until the lock was broken, even though I had solved this roadblock with an entirely legitimate solution.

When this happens, it really takes you out of the mindset of being absorbed in the game's reality, and you realize you're just picking your way through narrowly designed puzzles.


A game is entertainment; anything that distracts the user from having fun is bad.

There is a fine line between challenging and too hard. I don't have much time between work and being a husband and dad, to play games. So I expect a finely crafted experience. When it is hard I want the thing I am stuck on to get easier each time I do it until I can walk it.

I could say much more but so much has been said already ;-)


"Duoae, despite HL2's linear levels and solve-one-way puzzles (most of them, at least), the game had enough discovery-like elements that it satisfied me."

That's fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

"The problem was that the ladder was flagged as unclimbable until the lock was broken, even though I had solved this roadblock with an entirely legitimate solution.

When this happens, it really takes you out of the mindset of being absorbed in the game's reality, and you realize you're just picking your way through narrowly designed puzzles."

That was the kind of thing i was talking about when i said that HL2 seemed confused. In one instant it was trying to get you to use the physics inventively to overcome obstacles and the next it was trying to force you through a narrow "corridor" of gameplay.

"A good game should gradually open up it's possibilities to the player. This might make it difficult to keep the game interesting when you replay it, but I never said writing a good game is easy. :-)"

Yeah, i felt Second Sight (PS2) was very much like this. Very good game with a pretty tight story. Unfortunately it's not immediately replayable (for me at least).


I wrote an article a while ago on what Nevermind calls Discovery (what I call variety, or Breadth and Depth). Read it http://www.pagtech.com/Articles/BreadthandDepth.html>here.

The quick version: breadth and depth are the two kinds of variety. Breadth is the amount of different stuff the game has (different weapons, levels, etc.) and depth is the variety of strategies and approaches the game allows (emergence, mostly). Diablo is an example of a broad but shallow game, chess is an example of a deep game that's not broad and Magic: The Gathering is an example of a game that's both broad and deep.


One of my favourite pastimes is to philosophise about gameplay, so this is an unique opportunity to present you my 'rubber band' philosophy.

Games are made up of many elements which I like to call functional properties (FP). For example running around is a functional property, firing a gun is one etc etc.

I stongly feel that any FP should be related in some way to any other FP in a game. For example: the movement speed of an enemy should be related to the reload time of your weapon, or more critical to the movement speed of a player controlled character. Getting these basic things right will go a long way in providing enjoyable gameplay.

However, implementing this sytem in a rigid manner will result in quite a boring game (you could imagine it would become quite repetitive). This is were the rubber bands start snapping in. I think that good games will stretch relations between FP's, but only to a certain extend; Paces would change, the difficulty level would change, weapon power, behaviour, architecture, levels, story or simply any FP you can think of would change. And they would change over time. Think of rubber bands tied together. pulling one will always result in any other rubberband changing form.

BAD games wont stretch any functional property or will stretch them beyond the point of snapping.
GOOD games will stretch their rubber bands just before the point of snapping.
REALLY, really good games will not stretch their bands in a linear fashion, but in a 'around the corner or zigzag motion' fashion.

Personally, for me, the godmother of all rubber bands would be player control (how fast do you walk, how high can you jump, what is the acceleration/ deceleration curve). With all other rubber bands related to it in appropiate proportions.

Downfall to this theory is that many rubber bands are subject to personal preferences. (my preferred amount of health pick up may differ from yours).

In essence I would say that the relation between different functional properties and their behaviour over time determines the critical line between good and bad games.

(many fiends mock me over my ideas, feel free to do the same, but hey, just my 5 cents)


A good article,PaG. Only, Diablo is not a broad but shallow game. It is broad all right, and of course not as deep as chess... but it's deep anyway/ It has ton of different strategies, with multilayer (PvP) option adding greatly to their variety... I do not Diablo could ever be so popular if it had nothing except monsters, maps and treasures.

And this leads to the thought, that maybe _the_ bad quality is not just lack of "discovery", but of "depth".


Ok much has been covered, and these may seem trivial but they REALLY bug me...

1) No Demo - plenty of other games to try, Im not risking $50. I dont believe the hype. Is Pirates! any good? who knows. No demp = no sale

2) Poor installer. If you cant code a better installer than installshield, use installshield. Better syill just ship the game on a DVD as a directory that the installer copies. How many games really need to do anything but copy files anyway. Check out the bug ridden disaster that is the Alexander installer

3) Startup logos - I don't give a damn who made the game, just let me interact. If you think I paid $50 to watch a bunch of adverts you are wrong. I dont need to be told to challeneg everything. And if I delete your stupid marketing logos dont even think about putting them back with every patch.

4) No Tooltips. Seriously these aren't hard to implement. I learned to play Rise Of Nations purely by tooltips. If you have a single button with no shortcut key and tooltip you are just lazy.

5) Cheese : Large breasted women, hunky men with stubble, other poor cliches like this just prove your writers have never had an original idea in their lives

6) Alt+Tab and windowed support. If your engine can't support this recode it. If I want to keep an eye on my taskbar clock and mail icons as I play your game, you better let me, or ill find a game that does.

I could rant for ages so i better stop now ;)


Damn, I always come in late on the interesting threads.

One thing that I think has been under-mentioned so far is simply one of interest value.

I find that there are many worthy games out there, for example the Zelda Games, Splinter Cell, some strategy games, and so on, which I simply find uninteresting. Therefore it doesn't matter whether they are beautifully controllable or if all the perspective issues are fixed, or anything of the sort. I find more and more as an adult gamer that I simply have no interest in silly child-like games with hokey plots and bad characters and so on any more, and that these kinds of games, although they have their place, lack charm because of their aesthetic qualities.

I suppose what I'm saying is that there is a pscyhological/aesthetic side to games that is often woefully under-done in the face of concerns about the gameplay or the technology, and so these games lack that certain something.

On the other hand, excellent aesthetic, character design, writing and so on can really make a lot of other issues in a game easily forgiveable. Max Payne 2 is a classic example. It's a repetitive room-to-room shooter with not much variation in its action from one end to the next. The controls etc are well done, but by no means special or innovative. Yet it is one of my favourite games this year on account of the richness and chaarcter of the setting, its believability, its writing (which for a game is really good) and voicing (likewise) and so on.

The GTA games are another example of the same effect in action. They are not the greatest games to control, but they have an aesthetic charm that makes up for the fact in spades with its street-life appearances, its music, the voices of people wandering by, the effects of shooting people and so on.

I suppose the summary of the summary is, for me it's all about world design.


What are the common qualities of bad games?
Besides bad graphics/sound/interface?

-Bad 1st half hour.
A game should grab you by the head and suck you in during the 1st (half) hour. Ofcourse, there are different kinds of grabbing: Morrowind and Half-Life 1 have “a very interesting beginning” while games like Painkiller or Medal of Honour throw you right in the action. Both are an option.

-Bad settings which are not corrected by Unique Selling Points. (ww2 for RTS or FPS, fantasy for (mmo)rpg's.) If your setting is standard, you better have some other thing about your game that makes up for it.

Most others are already mentioned.

I think replayibility is in particular important if it is a short game ( like Max Payne) because the gamer needs to receivea certain quantity of gameplay hours. I don't believe in the ”yeah, it only lasts 10 hours but they are 10 very intensive hours” defense that companies often come up with. Games like Diablo II and Morrowind take very long to finish but on top of that they offer extreme replay-oppertunities

Scott, bad games do not necissarily (sp) lack replayibility. Some bad games do offer it but because the game is so bad you just don't feel the urge to actually re-play it. I do think a lack of replay value makes a good game a bit less good, even more if it's a short game.

Every game has bad elements. Some are upfront, some only become visible after a couple of hours. The thing that decides if it's a bad game or not is just a matter of putting the good and bad (not the ugly) on a scale.


Quick tip: (might be obvious)
To all the people who add comments about a game has to be "addictive, "cool graphics", "involving story":

This is ofcourse true but also very subjective and therefore, you have to make these "variables" operational in order to manipulate (or judge) them.

Jesper Juul

Bad pacing:
When the developers were so in love with their their latest tool, mechanic, or feature, that they felt they had to subject the player to 20 hours of crawling through monotonous tunnels or something worse.
Can also seen as a basic failure to understand (or to examine) what would be interesting to the player.


I didn't bother answering the Difficult Questions query with any specific qualities, because a totally general answer would basically amount to listing every abstract feature of a game and prefixing it with 'bad'.

But it's definitely worthwhile hammering out the specifics. My current pet peeves are:

1. Long loading times on console games. I realize this isn't always the fault of developers, who are rushed by their publishers to get their games out yesterday, but it's killer for pacing on a micro-level.

2. Story-games that completely seperate story and game, a la Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. Good fun for a while, until you realize how arbitrary the gameplay is and how it has nothing to do with the story.

3. Over-GUI-ization. This is a major trend that started in the last decade, one I especially hate and have been trying to raise awareness of. Developers have been appropriating User Interface techniques left and right, without asking themselves how it impacts the experience of the game. Instead of touches that enhance and preserve the atmosphere, we're now inundated with helpful tip windows, Powerpoint presentations, factoid loading screens, and so on.

Scott Miller

Superb contributions so far. Scanning through everyone's comments, I'm not sure if I saw anyone mention these two yet:

o Unfair circumstances -- does the game not give you a fair chance to overcome a problem/hazard? (In some games, you must first die before you learn how to solve the problem, which is entirely unfair.)

o Inconsistent rules -- can you open a door in one level, but an identical looking door won't open the next level?


scott - my partner is currently playing a rather intriguing PS2 game called Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. In a rather extreme interpretation of Unfair circumstances, the designers have built the game in a such a way that it is utterly impossible to finish without losing several times. The mechanics work like this: you level up like in any typical RPG. You also have a D-Counter, which starts at 0% and works its way up to 100%. When it hits 100%, game over (there's a story-based rationalisation, but it's not important). Doing normal stuff - walking around, fighting, whatever - makes the counter go up very, very slowly. During the game you learn two or three extremely powerful attacks, but using them makes the counter go up very rapidly. Now for the clever part. When you 'die' and the game ends, you can restart either from the beginning or from your previous saved game, but things won't be exactly the same. Certain character experience, attributes and equipped items are carried over from when you 'died'. Thus everything is a bit easier. The difficulty is pitched such that without doing this you simply cannot complete the game - enemies are too strong to defeat with normal attacks without restarting and levelling up further, and using the super-power attacks too much also ends the game.

Each time you start over, new things happen in the game that didn't happen the previous time.

I really like this mechanic - I think it's an ingenious way to make the unfair circumstances problem work *for* the game, in that it makes playing over an integral part of the game, 'rewards' it in some ways, and allows the game to utilise the experience gained by the player the first time he played through without the irritation of standard 'unfair circumstances'.

Anyway, just thought that might be an interesting case of innovative mechanics to throw in there.

Robert Howarth

>>Unfair circumstances

Speaking of that, I hate when games autosave and that moment happens to be when you're at 9% life; are completely out of ammo, and 20 monsters are incoming to get you. :)


I'm not sure exactly where this fits, I think it's somewhere along the lines of too much linearty and not enough feedback.
When I tried to play Final Fantasy X (despite my strong distaste for the genre, and series in particular), I encountered a few situations like this:

-watch movie
-okay, now I get to play. I see, I just have to run to the end of that bridge/town/area. I wonder if I can talk to these people? Nope, okay, walk to edge of screen
-watch movie

I don't know what kind of contrived gameplay mechanic that is supposed to be, but I don't appreciate the designers telling me that moving a character from one edge of the screen to the next is a fulfilling gameplay experience as long as there is a long cinematic enclosing that supposed interactivity.


Walter said:

"3. Over-GUI-ization"

A good one, which I would extend to include making the UI more flashy, interesting and/or information-dense (thus more useful) than the game world itself!


Replayability for a lot of single player games is pointless when your average user doesn't even finish most games. HL2 is the best thing since sliced bread yet with my limited gameplay time I'd rather experience a new game than replay HL2.

For multiplayer the best replayability is gained through competitive play or coop. So just make a good match making system and something to handle annoying players.

Tony Marklove

Aaron said:

"... I don't appreciate the designers telling me that moving a character from one edge of the screen to the next is a fulfilling gameplay experience as long as there is a long cinematic enclosing that supposed interactivity."

I absolutely agree with this. Games should be about PLAYING through the story, not about playing through tedious 'game' sections in order to be rewarded with a movie.

Although cut-scenes are not bad in every single case, I think a good guideline for developers to follow is to consider each case where cut-scenes/cinematics are being used and consider why they are being used. Is there any possible way the player could be taking part?

Coming from the other direction, when you are initially designing a game, assume the player will play the whole thing. See what you can come up with in order to get around any resulting difficulties, before giving up and cramming in a cut-scene.

In my opinion, the best game developers often seem to try to limit the number of cut-scenes, and other immersion sapping techniques.

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