4. Expecting too much of the player
Your player has a quest to find the magical garden, a place of wonder and mystery. Everywhere they travel they find stories about the garden's beauty and its power, and of the incredible beasts that lurk within it. The only thing they can't find is that stupid garden.
But they've only got themselves to blame, because everyone knows the garden can only be found at full moon while holding a rose. Don't they? That old farmer said it way back at the beginning of the game. I mean, come on!
Unfortunately for many game designers, players just aren't that good at mind reading. What might be a glaringly obvious hint to you could be just a little too vague for your frustrated player. Our fourth most common mistake is forgetting that your players don't have a direct line into your head and may need little reminders sometimes.
High-profile sinners: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Secret of Monkey Island
Why it happens:
It happens when a game designer gets too caught up in the fun of playing their own game that they can't take that step back to see their game with fresh eyes. You might get so fixated on creating the perfect maze to hide a magical star in that you forget to tell your player that they're even hunting for a star in the first place. Or worse, the instructions you give just aren't very good, and as a result your player finds a 'star' but it's the wrong one and nothing happens. It's always better to break down your instructions into smaller tasks. Step 1: find the maze near the Snowfall Mountains, step 2: find the star hidden in the maze. This way your game is constantly, but unobtrusively, guiding the player. If they still get lost after all that, don't worry - your player's probably just a little slow.
How to avoid it:What do your friends think of your game? What about your parents or your teachers? What do your neighbours think? If you ever want to find out whether your game makes sense to a new player, your first step should always be getting new people to play it. It's called 'beta-testing', when your game is largely completed and you are running through chasing down the bugs. You need people who have never seen your game before. Just remember, when they break your game (and they will always break your game), don't get angry - they're giving you important feedback!
3. Challenging the player (too little)
Your player is a clever person. They're learning all the time. Learning to use the tools in your game, learning to apply them in different sequences, learning to be better at your game. Game designers have to stay one step ahead. You need to make sure that as your player gets better, the game gets tougher. There's an important phrase that game designers like to throw around. It's called the 'Difficulty Curve'. Simply put, the Difficulty Curve charts how difficult your game is from start to finish.
Your game should always start out easy, with tutorial levels and simple challenges. It's only sensible, otherwise your game will seem overwhelming, or impossible. The start is the easy part, the hard part is ramping up the difficulty in the later levels. The third most common mistake happens when a game flops right before the end. Whether the player suddenly becomes too powerful or the game designer has run out of ideas, the last few levels are just too easy.
High-profile sinners: Red Faction: Guerilla, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Why it happens:
There's a number of reasons for a game to run out of steam. The publishing deadline might be approaching or the game's funding might have run out. Maybe all this effort designing the game has gotten boring.
How to avoid it:
One person can only come up with so many ideas before they hit a wall. It's more efficient, and often more fun, to work in a team. This is especially true in game design. Working together, game designers can discuss new ideas and challenge each other.
Stay tuned next week when we round up the top ten mistakes made by game designers!
Looking forward to seeing you again next week