Badly conceived or implemented elements of otherwise great games

I once read an interview with Sid Meier, inventor of the Civilization computer game series, in which he said that a great game forces a player to make “interesting decisions”. He described these as decisions that each had its own set of rewards and consequences.

Take Civ III. Is it better to build a Wonder now while there is a lull in activity? Or can you afford to spend a couple of turns building a much needed Warrior and risk another tribe beating you to the Great Wall? Or maybe a Temple is needed first in case the population swells as you build your Wonder, sending the city into disorder or forcing limitations on productivity.

It was especially in the early stages of Civ that the application of Meier’s theory made for one of the greatest strategy games ever written for computer. But especially in III, there was always the problem with late-game tedium, and in my opinion, the major cause of it was the unbelievably badly conceived and implemented idea of pollution.

The rest of late-game could still be an exercise in improvement and edification. Trying to isolate that final enemy city and keep it in check while your empire blooms into hugeness. Expanding production and coverage to keep those power and culture points accumulating with each turn.

But pollution? There was nothing interesting about it. No choice to be made. You had to — had to — stop whatever it was that you were doing and clean up the mess (requiring as many as six workers for a mountain) or else lose all the productivity of that square as well as cause greater pollution on subsequent turns. There was no “Well, I can ignore pollution in favor of this other thing” because there was no other thing. There was no reason to leave pollution alone.

Couple that with an interface that fought you every step of the way… as soon as a worker completed its task, you were yanked back to the other side of the world where the real action was, meaning you had to scroll your way back to the square either to finish the clean-up or restore the square’s production… and you have a game element that contributed nothing, presented no interesting decisions, and served no purpose other than to interfere with the more interesting aspects of the game.

Automating the cleanup was no better because then you had to scroll all over the map, tracking down where the workers had gone and restoring productivity to the squares. It was a crying shame that every turn consisted of a pointless easter egg hunt for something absolutely irrelevant to all the important decisions you were trying to make.

Thinking about this got me to wondering what other games people have played that suffer the same flaw. I don’t do shoot-em-ups or racing games, but I assume that the great ones also require interesting decisions to be made among choices. Shoot or run or hide? What weapon to use? What are the consequences of one plan of action versus another? Decisions made much faster than in Civ to be sure, but decisions nonetheless.

Have other gamers encountered this sort of game-killer in other games? And what were they?

Have I been missing something all these years? If your city governor is set to manage your productivity, aren’t the cleaned up tiles automatically put back into production?

I guess so, but still… why have the pollution element at all when there is no good reason not to clean it up? There is no “interesting decision” to be made about it.

I guess the decisions are when to build the workers and how many to build. It might be tempting when you’ve built all the RR and mines and irrigation that you want to go ahead and use the workers for population growth but this makes you keep some at the ready for cleanup.

The various minigames and upgrade systems in the Final Fantasy games after VII have gotten progressively more annoying and distracting. Triple Triad and Tetra Master were insufferable.

Omg, you mention civ3, and not CORRUPTION! It completely ruined the 4x nature of the game.

One of my fave games is Rogue Squadron, based on Star Wars. The bulk of it is an absolutely blast, cruising around in a high=speed, very maneuverable fighter and shooting it out with the bad guys. Unfortunately, there are two or three scenarios where you have to run a snow speeder around the legs of a walker so you can trip up its feet with a tow cable, just like in the movie. These sections are sheer tedium compared to the flying and tedium. They ruin the levels they’re on for me. I’ve beaten them all, but got no pleasure in it. A grind, if you will.

Halo for the X-Box was pretty busted.

There was an assortment of weapons with different traits that made any one uber or useless depending on the field and quarters. Knowing when each weapon came into play and what tactics to use for each one was a blast.

Until we figured out that the pistol had:

  1. The same accuracy over distance as a sniper rifle
  2. No delay between shots
  3. Was a single-shot kill if you hit someones head

Outside of the off chance of bouncing a grenade around a corner, it became entirely a twitch game. Without getting a group of twitch-masters, tactics were toast. Teh laimo.

Where to start?

Badly implemented ideas - AI in various squad-based shooters such as Rogue Spear. Cool idea, that you can set up a tactical plan for your team to go in, clear out the bad guys, rescue the hostages. Actual result - team of four highly trained antiterrorist agents charge into a room, stand in the same doorway and spin around randomly until they get shot. End result is that you play most missions as a “lone wolf”, or you have a team and bring them in one at a time in FPS mode, carefully staging each person just where you need them. Still fun but a great idea that could have been better.

Perversely stupid stuff - Soldier Of Fortune (1 or 2, I can’t remember which) has one real PITA section that plays out on a street. You have to get from one building to another across the street by running up into one building, out onto a balcony, hopping a ledge and balancing on a street sign, then running and jumping across to the other balcony.

The move is tricky, it’s just an exercise in carefully wiggling around so that you are in juuuuust the riiiiiiight spot. If you go one inch to far you fall to the ground and have to run up and do it all over again.

It takes a few minutes to find out what you need to do and then it takes numerous tries to get it right.

That’s a bit of a pain but it’s a puzzle, fair enough.

Once you’ve made it though there’s another move EXACTLY LIKE IT - more minutes spent inching around a sign and then doing a 5-key combination to run-jump-spin-climb-oh-damn-I-missed-and-fell-down-do-IT-ALL-OVER-AGAIN-GRRRRRR.

Who came up with that brilliant idea? It’s like games where you have to Run For 5 Minutes (literally hold down a key and just charge along for an extended period of time without doing anything, and if something goes wrong you start all over again).

I’m not much of a gamer. I’ve recently played SimCity for the first time, though, so the OP made me think about this:


Everything needs water, right. . .commercial, residential, industrial, power plants. But, you can’t jack up your “public works” budget so that it’s out of your hands.

Road design is one thing. The design of your roads directly influences how your people populate and use the areas.

But, water? Everyone needs water, and laying pipe is cheap, so it’s just a matter of laying enough pipe so that everyone gets water. It’s not a challenge. You can’t “overwater” people. The “underground” view is sometimes too dissimilar from the above ground view so that you think you watered everyone, but invariably someone doesn’t have water.

You get a message that people don’t have water, but it doesn’t say where, and you need to figure out how to read the overlay maps, or just look at each zone individually, or wait for some zone to fall into disrepair, so you can query it and see “Reason for lack of development: no water”.

It’s just this huge variable that you’re always dealing with that just distracts you from really planning and growing your cities.

Power is MUCH simpler to deal with.

Final Fantasy X. Blitzball. Nuff said.

BlitzBall was awesome. I still load up FFX from time to time, just to get in a little Blitz. If they came out with a stand alone BlitzBall video game, I’d be all over it.

I’m still trying to figure out how, in Pharaoh, a storage yard full of blocks of marble can collapse. Or, worse, catch fire.

System Shock 2 had your guns and stuff wearing out over time to give a sense of desperation to a game that already had plenty. But they set the decay way too high, so you were stuck in this spaceship built by people that couldn’t make a pistol that was good for more than 40 shots without a complete repair job.

I thought at that point a rogue AI would be the least of your concerns.

The “no saving games” feature in Hitman. It had its cool points (you really got to know the harder levels) but it was just too damn hard by the end. I don’t know how many times I played through that level in the harbour. It took me about thirty minutes to get through the gate, walk around the entire harbour pretending to be a terrorist and shooting dogs whenever I saw them while making sure no enemy saw me shoot them, carefully navigate through enemy-infested territory, kill off the ones I had to, raid the weapons truck, dispatch some guards, and get to the boat…

and then I was shot and killed on the boat and had to start again.

I agree that pollution in Civ was a bit of a pain. Mind you, by the time it came in, you could usually have 4 workers doing nothing but cleaning it up.

I found moving large armies much more annoying, since I didn’t want to move them in one large stack.

Fortunately Civ 4 contains imrpovements - onwards and upwards!

For poor implementation, I nominate the Close Combat series. Good games, but in campaign mode, you can’t change history. At least in CC3, it doesn’t matter how well you do, or which side you play, the game is going to progress according to the historical timeline. I’d much prefer the option to have the game adapt to the results earned by the player.

The whole idea of “Let’s give them fewer saves in order to make the game harder”. That’s bullshit, man. Specifically for me right now, I’m playing Conflict: Desert Storm II–Back to Baghdad, and it’s a fine game but they only allow you two saves per level. But these levels are pretty expansive (there’s only 10 of them in the whole game) so you have to go allllll the way back when you die.

I understand why the gamemakers might make it an option to play that way, but to make it where you have to play that way is very aggravating to me. I’ve searched the ends of the internet trying to find a cheat code for unlimited saves, but all I can find is one for the first Conflict: Desert Storm game, which boggles my mind even more.

Four? Damn, I usually had thirty or more on the task.

You can’t just stack the marble blocks on each other, or you won’t be able to get them out when you need them. You have to separate them with wooden blocks – like 4x4’s. So, termites and/or fire ruin your storage yard. The marble cracks, and is discolored.