The Complete Rules For Games

By John Walker on December 29th, 2011 at 12:13 pm.

Look, it's pretty simple. One or the other.

I love rules. Not following them, of course – that’s for other people. I love writing them. And since I’m the best qualified to decide how everyone else is allowed to behave, it’s only appropriate that I be in charge of everything. So it is that I have been making clear the Rules For Games, both for developers and for players, in an ongoing series that shall be added to forever. You can find the first four parts below.

Rather concerningly, some readers have had the temerity to claim they disagree with the given rules, and sometimes that they will willfully break them. Well let me make it clear that this will no longer be treated with the soft touch of the past. In 2012, as I am crowned President Of Earth, I will be ensuring that any who fail to obey my every rule to the letter will be punished with eternity playing hastily put together Farmville copies on your gran’s computer. Do not cross me. Obey.

DO let me flush the toilets and turn on the taps. Scenery, in any game of any genre, shouldn’t be painted on the walls. And so many games before have put in a nice toilet flushing noise. Since all games do insist in including a toilet, as well they should, then all games should include the splishy sploshy noise of flushing it.

DON’T tell me that you’re a game any more. You want to capture something of Brechtian estrangement, break down that fourth wall with mallets and wrecking balls, because you think it’s a fresh and original approach. It’s not. It’s been done a lot, and it’s probably a sign that you’re not confident enough in your own creation. If you feel the urge to winkingly acknowledge to the player that they’re playing a game, then you need to go back to work to create a more convincing world.

DO feel free to let me quick save. I know, I know, you’re very proud of your checkpointing, but as it happens I don’t really want to repeat any fight in the game seventeen times because of your difficulty spike. And sure, you could consider it cheating, letting me blag my way through sections. But I sort of bought your game, and arrogantly feel like I should now be able to enjoy it as I wish. Perhaps that might be to opt out of quick save spamming. But perhaps it will improve the experience if only you’ll let me.

DON’T show me an unskippable animation when I die. It doesn’t matter how elaborate you make this, the maximum number of times I’ll ever want to watch it is none. And if your load times are horrible, this becomes infinitely more awful. If you’re only ever playing your game with God Mode on to test it, switch it off occasionally to see how the rest of us will suffer when we play. YES! I KNOW! I DIED! SHUT UP AND RELOAD! JUST BLOODY RELOAD! That is how the rest of us suffer when we play.

DO let me carry more than two guns. Just when did we all decide that we weren’t okay with that element of unrealism in gaming? Sure, it can be set in the retro-future on a spaceship made of time, but god forbid we holster an improbable number of weapons. Especially if you’ll then let me carry hundreds of bits of ammo for all the weapons anywhere. Where am I storing those? In my magic trousers? And if so, why can’t I stick a pistol and a rocket launcher in there too? I want to stick a rocket launcher in my magic trousers!

DON’T leave diary entries by one person scattered over miles of corridors, buildings and countries. That’s not how a diary works. A diary tends to be all in one place. Most people, when journaling their lives, don’t tend to scribble it out on the nearest scrap of paper and then leave it wherever they wrote it. Because that would be utterly insane.

DO feel free to hire a writer to work for your team from the start of development. Many really are amazingly talented, and their skill with coding is extraordinary, but this doesn’t always naturally lend itself toward crafting fine narrative. It does, however, mean that we end up with characters called Dirk Bluntly, who say things like, “This is the last time I’m going to take any more of this!” Which we don’t want as much as people apparently believe.

DON’T do anything to us in a cutscene that we could easily prevent during the game proper. It’s extremely unlikely that the enemy is going to capture Tanker McTankerton by pointing a gun at him menacingly. Because that’s what everyone else did on the way there, and he blew them all up with his grenade launcher. Which he likely would do here as well, if only you’d flipping give us the controls back.

DO however, let me do anything amazingly cool my character can do in a cutscene. If the best I can do is jump the height of a brick, then that’s what he’s limited to in the scenes too. If he can cartwheel up a wall, fire lasers out of his eyes, and turn into a spider, then I have to be able to do those things too. In the game. In real life would be good too.

DON’T have flying baddies in your game. Sure, there may be examples of the odd few that have worked. The rest haven’t. It’s so, so unpleasant. Like a lovely walk in the woods ruined by the constant assault of gnats in your face. Fun, people. We want to have fun. Not be constantly irritated. Fun.

DON’T give me a mounted gun that points back at the path along which I just ran, killing everyone by hand. This seems to be the absolute default now. They only serve one purpose: finding out that they didn’t bother to make the scenery destructible. Let me play with a mounted gun! Unless it’s a sequence in which you force me to use a mounted gun, probably on the back of a truck. Stop that.

DO agree to an industry wide standard on the location of save games. Save games are not a secret. They are not a treasure. They’re something most right-thinking people want to be able to preserve after a game’s uninstalled. They’re something many people need to get at when building a new machine, or simply continuing the game on another machine. They aren’t a DRM risk. We just want to know where our save games are, and we don’t want to have to trawl through seventeen different possible locations in the very bowels of Windows, trying to discern which lunatic name you’ve filed them under. When I install a game you let me choose the install location. Can you guess where I want the save games to go to? Here’s a hint. It’s not in C:\Users\John\AppData\Local\Roaming\Documents\Programs\Features\Gardening\Knitwear\Publisher\Developer\GameName\Sausages\X34265\

DON’T stop me from sprinting after three seconds. Look, look at me. I’m a fat man. I can sprint for more than three seconds. I can keep going for a good… four seconds. Before collapsing on the ground, red, sweating, pleading for the ambulance to offer me oxygen. But the character in the game? Lean McBuffington? He’s made entirely out of muscles. He’s a man who can sprint. Since it’s apparently possible for us to jog absolutely everywhere, maybe we can run further than from the living room to the downstairs loo. After all, games are supposed to allow us to live our dreams.

DO let me move during cutscenes. I know, you want to make film, and life gave you videogames. But videogames are amazing! You don’t have to sit passively in front of the screen, having the prescribed script play out at you as you sit nailed into a chair. Let me wander around! Let me jump on the tables, or spin on the spot. Let me see what objects can be picked up, and try to pile them on a key character’s head. Let me run around them in maniac circles. And you know what? Letting me look around but not move – that’s actually worse than taking away my controls entirely.

DON’T splash on my screen. I AM NOT A SCREEN! I’M A HUMAN! When it rains, this does not leave droplets running down the front of my vision. This is because I have a face, including a nose, chin and forehead. Concealed between these features are my eyes – two orbs that sit within the protective bonage of my skull, accompanied by the cleaning and dust-deflecting skinflaps of my eyelids. Were raindrops, or worse, splatters of blood, to become visible droplets in my vision, they would have to be on my eyes. I would respond to this by running around, screaming in pain and fear, clutching at my face and begging for help. You appear to be under the impression that I am a sentient monitor. Perhaps a screen mounted on top of human shoulders. I’m not one of these. I’m reasonably sure the character in the game isn’t one of these. So just perhaps can we please stop having splashes appear in front of our view? (Oh, and I’m also not a bloody camera lens, so can we also get rid of lens flare too? Kthnx.)

DO let me kill my friends. Sure, it’s a game over. But let me! I’ve got a gun. They’ve got a head. When the gun refuses to fire at them, well, perhaps you can argue some astonishing technology that recognises non-enemies and forces the safety. (If you could work on inventing this for the US army, that would be awfully helpful.) But when bullets and chairs bounce off them without comment, you’ve somewhat spoilt any notion of fiction you may have tried to establish. Also, if they get to be invincible, how come I don’t? I’m on the same side! So yes, it’s a game over, but let it happen.

DO let me choose my game settings from outside the game. I want to play games in a window, at the resolution of my desktop. The reason I want to do this is because anything else would be mad like a crazy person. So defaulting to showing it to me at 640×400 in EGA at fullscreen is perhaps not the way I want to kick things off with your game. First impressions count. When those first impressions are of seeing the name of your game overlapping the edges of the screen, looking as though it’s made out of LEGO, while IM windows are flashing demanding to know information from me immediately that I can no longer click on, it makes me think you’re a bit of a dick. And you know how you then insist that I restart the game to apply those settings? DO YOU SEE?

DON’T launch your game with an unskippable cutscene. It seems so crazy that I even have to type those words, let alone that so very many games might do it. Since you’re bound to be breaking the rule above, I’m inevitably watching this video at some embarrassingly low resolution, when all I want to do is get the bloody thing into a window. What I don’t want to do is be required to sit, transfixed at my machine, when I’ve clicked to load. I may well be making coffee. Did you even think about that? About my coffee? You can even give me one of those pointless screens saying, “Press any button to start” as if I’m on a PS2, before getting to the title screen proper, if it means not putting your opening narrative before an options screen. What are those screens for, by the way? Stop it.

DO let me pause cutscenes. It blows my little mind how few games offer this option. Doorbells and telephones wait for no man, and if I’m trying to follow your half-arsed attempt at a story, it’s not going to help if my takeaway arrives midway through Anthony Gunnington explaining to Ladyface Helpme that he has to punch fourteen aliens or the evil Gorgal will blow up the universe. This is especially bad on the few occasions when the scenes are worth watching, as I’ll then stumble into the next sequence clueless and annoyed. While some games do make them accessible from the menus, obviously many don’t, and it’s hardly the same. A pause button. Do it. Or I’ll blow up the universe.

DON’T install DirectX without checking which version I currently have. Nor a .NET framework, whatever that is. And yes Steam, I’m mostly talking to you. Just what are you doing? You know how you could know I already have the latest version of DirectX installed? BECAUSE YOU INSTALLED IT YESTERDAY. That’s how you could know. Or you could, I don’t know, check for the version number and notice it’s exactly the same as the one you’re now insisting on installing without even asking first. Especially if I’m playing the demo for a 2D puzzle game from 1989. Oh my goodness.

DO have your in-game volume sliders work. It’s beyond all my understanding – and I have over sixty-three understanding – why I can drag the slider down to a fraction of a millimetre from the bottom and still not be able to hear the TV show I’m watching on the other screen. I shouldn’t have to use Windows’ in-built volume controls to SHUT YOU UP. Especially YOU, Popcap. It’s like your volume sliders go, 10, 9, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 0. Your games do not demand my full attention, as brightly coloured as they may be. I might want to enjoy an evening of Peggle and light-hearted crime procedural dramas, and I need to hear the quips.

DON’T make it difficult for me to quit. In fact, since I’m telling you how to do your jobs, you should add this new requirement. A quit button. I know, it sounds cuckoo-crazy, but bear with me. From anywhere in the game, I want to call up the menu (by pressing “Escape” – not by looking at a device strapped to my wrist, tabbing through three pages, and finding the four pixel button for the options) and then choose “Quit to desktop”. I do not want to quit to the main menu. I do not want to quit to the level selection screen. I do not want to quit to that insane screen that asks me to press a button to start. I want to quit the game. Completely. In one go. I don’t, because I’m some sort of insanely fussy old pickypants, want to go through each of those previous pages one by one, until I’ve eventually climbed back up enough ladders to see the crack of daylight that is escape. Yes, you can ask me if I’m sure, in case I select the wrong thing because you probably haven’t bothered to add mouse controls to your 360 port. And then, PING!, I’m back at my desktop ready to continue with my day. Leaving a game shouldn’t be more of a challenge than a boss fight.

DO let me have as many save slots as I want. Because you’re on PC! You’re free! The most a save is likely to take up is about 10MB. My hard drive is, like, lots more megabytes than that! Millions of them! There is no reason in the whole wide universe why you need to restrict me to eight. I might want to keep my earlier saves without having to hand copy them from which ever stupid folder you’ve secreted them into that you won’t tell me anyway. Is it because you hate gamers? You work so hard, for so many months, and by the time your game is done you just feel nothing but contempt for your potential customers? “How many saves shall we allow in the PC version? We’ve got room for infinity of them.” “THREE. And store them in the Recycle Bin.”

DON’T give me a fight I can’t win. I’ve faced the boss for fifteen minutes, I’ve painstakingly shot out its legs, arms, wings and eight of its eyes, and now I’m going for the final blast! His stupid, stupid face. BLAMMO! Cutscene! The monster is alive and disappearing down a hole… waitwhat? No! Absolutely and emphatically no. All of the no in a big pile all at once. If you’re going to make me go through some tedious extended fight, let me bloody well win it. If your story relies on this baddy mysteriously surviving having his energy bar completely emptied, his body hideously destroyed, then perhaps your story is a big stinking piece of old underwear.

DO bring back maps on TAB. Especially shooters. “Oh, but we don’t need them now, because…” Indeed, I have an ulterior motive here. There was a time, kids, when you needed a map for a shooter. It would slowly fill in as you explored the level, so as not to give anything away before you got there, but to let you find your way back. I know, the very idea seems so pointless. Why would you need a map to walk down a perfectly parallel corridor? Well, it used to be that shooters let you explore! I know, it sounds weird and scary to hear it now, but it’s true. So, with my new rule that all shooters must have a map, I think the humiliation incurred by having to lay out your one way straight line should bring about some necessary shame.

DON’T make me deselect Start Menu and select Desktop Icon. Who still uses the Start menu? The Victorians? Obviously all I want is a one-double-click route to the game, launched from my desktop, so why the prejudice? Why does Mr Start Menu get a tick in his box, while poor orphan Desktop Icon only rarely even get offered as an unticked option at all? I demand an end to this apartheid.

DO make your “RESUME” button be in the same place as you “BACK” button on all menus. And not, for instance, “DELETE ALL SAVES AND KILL MY MOTHER”. It’s just basic courtesy, really. And common sense. And all sorts of other things that suggest if you don’t, you probably haven’t actually spent much time playing your own game. If I’m clicking my way back from advanced graphics settings, to graphics settings, to options, to the main menu, there’s a fairly good chance the next thing I want to do isn’t going to be to quit the game, donchathink?

DON’T show hints on loading screens that I absolutely couldn’t have been playing this far without knowing. “Press SPACE to jump” might be useful information if I’d, say, never played a game before. It’s possibly not the most invaluable of morsels given that it would have been utterly impossible to have gotten past the opening level of your game without bloody jumping. Let alone telling me over four hundred and seventy times. Context sensitive tips, please! Or how about just some random facts I might not know? Which is the largest nut? It really does cheapen the game experience to be loading the final level and be told, “Holding down SHIFT will make you sprint.” Oh, and write a minimum of 10,000 of them.

DO feel free to notice that mice changed in the last decade. Sometimes they have more than three buttons now! Well done for acknowledging the wheel – we’re all very appreciative. But it’s awfully hard to find a mouse these days that doesn’t have at least a couple of thumb buttons. It’d be splendid if you could have your PC game recognise them, just like the way you make sure your PC game can recognise all sixteen buttons on the 360 controller I have. It’s a thought, eh?

DON’T host your game’s “website” on Facebook. Look, this isn’t an anti-Facebook thing. Personally, I can’t stand it, but lots of people love it. And sure, if you must, give your game a Facebook page. But it can’t be the main page. Because that’s the modern day equivalent of having your game information on GeoCities. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and most of all, it’s extremely unhelpful to navigate. Web hosting costs money, yes, but it’s money worth spending if you want to be taken seriously. Which you do. Also, I don’t want to be “friends” with your game. Sorry.

DO speed up your credits. Oh my goodness, the vanity! It’s worse than cinema. I’m sure that the marketing department for your Austrian office look forward to pointing out their names to their mums, but you could probably put a lot more of them on screen at once. I don’t think the deputy VP of Translocation for the publisher really needs to scroll past as big and slowly as the project lead. Because if you’re not hiding a bonus nugget at the end, and I’m sitting through the agonisingly slowly scrolling list of Spanish accountants, your credits have essentially become a convenient hit list.

DO save my checkpoints – it’s not actually against the law for me to stop playing a game and then play it again later on. It’s not cheating. It’s not weird. It’s what people do. Why on EARTH should I have to start an entire mission from the beginning just because I wasn’t able to play your game non-stop from beginning to end? You lunatics.

DON’T tell me I’m leaving the mission area. If you’ve designed a level, let me walk around that level. Don’t give me the ability to walk around that level, but then announce that you’re going to kill me if I don’t turn around and go back to the invisibly marked section you’ve deemed acceptable for this moment. I’m not a prisoner released on an ankle bracelet, I’m a maverick with a lot of guns and a need to see that tree over there. If you didn’t want me to do that, why did you put that tree over there?

DO let me have the ability to turn off vibration on my 360 controller when I’m using mouse/keyboard controls, without having to pull its USB cable from the PC. There is little more terrifying in gaming than when the controller starts violently shaking my desk, making that horrible FLRRRRFLLFRLRLLRRLLL sound, because I opened a door or picked up a weapon. Although I’ll tell you what, horror games – you have my full permission to use this to the maximum effect.

DON’T use super-fancy CGI characters in your cutscenes, and then cut to the dodgy old triangle version of the same people that actually make up the game. It makes everything seem so much worse! And on that matter, don’t ever, EVER put actual real-life photographs in frames on people’s desks. It’s like having a big flashing prompt appear on screen that reads: “Look how unrealistic this game world is!” That seems somewhat counter-intuitive.

DO feel free to let your plot be comprehensible. Yes, you’ve seen a film where everything was really ambiguous, and you thought, “Gosh, I didn’t understand any of that, it must have been really clever! I’ll be clever too!” But you aren’t being clever. You’re being obtuse. If you’ve got a damned clever story that will bemuse until climactic moments reveal incredible links, or even an esoteric narrative that is open to the interpretation of the viewer, then great. But you don’t. You’ve got a story about four soldiers who shoot people until it ends. One of them dies.

DON’T Give me an ability that you’ll then take away when it’s inconvenient for you. If you let me jump, and then later on take away my ability to jump, then you are the same as a person who gives a child a big lollipop, and then snatches it away and jumps up and down on it shouting at the child, “HOW DARE YOU CONTINUE ENJOYING THIS LOLLIPOP! YOU MAKE ME SICK, YOU PUSTULE!” If I’m able to run (for the obligatory three seconds), then I’m able to run. Don’t snatch that ability away from me because… because for some reason you’ve decided it’s important to walk at half the usual pace across this patch of barren land where nothing’s happening because you hate people because perhaps you didn’t get the bike you wanted when you were nine. Good.

DO feel free to include a kitchen in your game. Bathrooms – oh, we’ve got bathrooms. There’s not a gaming character in the land who could possibly be crossing their legs and begging for help – he or she need only open two doors to have a near 100% chance of stumbling into a loo. But if they fancy some toast? They’re screwed. Buildings have kitchens, developers. Oh, and if you do, and you put a fridge in it, there’d better be something in that fridge other than one milk carton when I open it. Ideally a monster, but some ham and cheese would work.

DON’T inform me in an unskippable screen every time I load your game that this game autosaves. Because, and this is obviously going to come as a shock to every developer and porter on Earth so brace yourselves: very, very rarely do I ever end a gaming session by waiting for the game to start saving and then marching to the wall and yanking all the plugs out. Yes, this is a hangover from console versions, where apparently console users must habitually start wildly ripping cables out of things at random moments, such that they need to be so strongly warned. But people don’t tend to switch PCs off by throwing the mains switch in their house and tearing all the fuses out of the wall. They tend to shut them down like daddy Microsoft tells them to, long after we’ve quit out of the game. So what with NO ONE EVER DOING IT, do you think we could not have to sit through a screen showing us what a spinning icon looks like EVERY TIME WE START PLAYING? Please maybe thank you.

DO remember that if you let me carry on playing your game after it’s over, after I’ve saved the world and rescued all of humanity from the brink of death, that it would be nice if the game noticed. Of course when an ending necessitates that the world can no longer be played in, this doesn’t apply. But when it does, come on, at least have the NPCs stop pleading with me to sever the seven heads from the Great Beast Of Ab, when I just so spectacularly did that. Look at me – I’m wearing two the heads as a hat.

DON’T put a big pile of rocks in your game if you don’t want me to climb up a big pile of rocks. You know what I can’t climb up without specialist equipment? Sheer cliff faces, or vast, towering boulders. You know what I can climb up? Piles of rocks. They’re not barriers, they’re obstacles. And obstacles in games are challenges. And challenges are to be taken on. So when I either discover that there’s some invisible wall near the top, or tumble into the mad void outside of the game’s edges, it confirms for me that you’ve never been outside of a city. Nor indeed seen a rock.

DO let enemies weaken. In gaming, a baddy who has 95% health is identical to a baddy who has 3% health. And that’s crazy! I’ve been doing some experiments on humans I don’t like, and it turns out if you reduce them down to three percent of their total health, they can barely even pick up a gun, let alone successfully aim it. It’s as much as they can do to gurgle pathetic pleas for me to remove the final scraps of life. So how about there’s some level of deterioration when we attack? I’m not talking about wretched Soldier Of Fortune II style dismemberment. But maybe they move more slowly, aim less reliably, beg for mercy less convincingly? That sort of thing.

DON’T put music and cutscene volumes on the same slider. It’s weird how often this one’s done, where switching off a game’s horrible muzak results in silent cutscenes or missing dialogue. Oh, but also, when I switch the music off in your game, DO flipping well switch it off in the cutscenes too! And everywhere else you think I really actually do want to listen to your crappy music even though I muted it. I’m listening to my not-crappy music, and it just sounds awful when they dirge together. Worse even than yours on its own! Or, alternative, have good music in your game.

DO keep doing that completely daft thing where interactive objects are rendered differently from background items. Because if it was good enough for Daffy Duck, it’s good enough for me.

DO let me run the game in a window. I’m bemused we haven’t included this one before, and I’m pleased to report that just the assumption that RPS would be demanding it has seen this rapidly become the norm for PC gaming over the last couple of years. But there are still exceptions. No longer is it true that your game requires a PC’s undivided attention, and there are just so very many reasons why someone might want to be able to click outside of your game to do something else, without a cataclysmic alt-tab seeing monitors flash, sirens sound, and flocks of birds flutter away from nearby trees.

DON’T force me to set difficulty levels at the start of the game, and then refuse to allow me to change it. Difficulty levels are there to let me tweak the game to be the optimal playing experience. I’m not playing your game to take part in an international tournament – I’m entertaining myself. If I find, as I play, that my entertainment would be improved were it to be more or less difficulty, that is when I would turn to the difficulty slider. I do not care about a league table you think anyone other than three people all called variants of “D4RK_D3STROY3RR” is ever going to look at. And I care more about the career prospects of a Maltese may fly than I do whether I’ll be able to get all the “achievements” you’ve made available for those whose sense of self worth is low that a hastily scrawled jpeg appearing on their own game launcher is of any import.

DO allow me to choose whether your game keeps running when I click outside the window it’s running in. While my instinct is to demand that games psychically be able to tell if I want them to pause or keep running when I click outside of them, I’m willing to concede that the technology is not quite there yet. So instead a compromise – let me choose. Sometimes I want a game to pause mid-cutscene, or at a vital point, when I am forced to respond to an IM or send an email. Other times I want your slow-ass game to get on with its current tedious nothing-time while I check through Twitter.

DON’T ask me if I’m sure about every single thing I do. Again, here I ultimately want the psychic detection systems in place, so games can only ask me this when I have somehow clicked to close the game instead of return to it, and not when I haven’t, but again I’m exhibiting unusual levels of tolerance here in allowing intermediary measures. On this occasion, how about you don’t warn me I’m going to save over an older save game when I’ve had to overwrite an older one due to your ludicrous paucity of save slots, by laboriously double-clicking on one in order to make it available. It’s hard to do that by mistake. And talking of which…

DO allow me to make as many saves as I wish, until my HDD is full. My PC, as much as it may frighten you, is not a Sega Dreamcast. It has a great big hard drive, thousands of gigabytes all over the place, and this is more than enough room to slot in more than nine of your 300k save files. While absolutely no bastard is taking any notice of one of my earliest rules, that save files should be in one agreed location (something that Unity games have made a billion times worse – thanks) I can assure you that my PC is going to cope with as many of them as I wish to create, and I do not need to be sacrificing earlier saves in order to have – at the very least – a save at the start of each of your game’s levels. You dick.

DON’T have your game dump back to the end of the main menu, with no changes, after completion. So few games seem to understand this. If I’ve enjoyed your game enough to finish it, then I’ve developed a connection with it. Most people don’t finish most games, as awful as that makes humanity, so when someone does, it’s worthy of note. A game’s close is always sad – it’s the reason why game endings always seem so flat, so disappointing, no matter how hard they try. After 15 or 25 or 100 hours of interaction, the ending means all of that is coming to an end – this distraction that’s occupied me for so long is no longer here. Game endings are, I think it’s safe to say, like experiencing abandonment. So when this is met with flopping back to the same opening menu I’ve already seen thirty times, the lack of empathy with my situation borders on contempt. I finished you! We stuck together through thick and thin! And now it’s over and you’re like, “Oh, right, who were you again?” You have to acknowledge it! The screen now needs a new background, a la Portal, or new menu options clearly displayed that celebrate the new levels of our relationship. You just have to act like you care – just at least pretend that I wasn’t yet another of your sluts, tossed aside with a cavalier uninterest. Sniff.

DO let me skip your game’s tutorial. Even if you’ve, because you’re THE WORST PERSON ON EARTH, made your tutorial levels part of the overall game. Every time I read a book, I’m not required to learn the alphabet again from scratch. Every time I ride a bike, I don’t have to go through the stabilisers phase again. Playing your game should not require me to “learn” it from the start each time, unless I express a desire to do so. Which in turn means, stop making your tutorial a part of the main game, or I’m going to drop heavy things on your head until you have to learn the alphabet all over again.

DON’T call your game an “adventure” unless it’s, well, an adventure. This is a disease that has existed for many years, but the blight is spreading, as everything from platform games to brawlers are being described by developers and publishers as “adventures”. You may have what they think is an adventurous time in the game, but it’s like describing your visual novel as an FPS. Adventure games are a genre that go back to the very birth of gaming, identified by their being narrative focused tales of verbiage rather than reflexes. From the original text adventures, through their evolving path of text parsing and eventually pointing and clicking, thems adventure games. Every time you label your resource-management tractor sim an “adventure”, you make people hate you. You don’t want people to hate you.

DO write maybe five more barks for your NPCs. When non-player characters shout the same three lines over and over and over and over and over and over and over in your game, the only impression I can get is that you never played it before release. It seems improbable that you’d not have played your own game, but then at the same time you don’t have screwdrivers sticking out of your gored, bleeding ears, so what am I supposed to conclude? You went to the effort to write their three lines, and then you went to the effort to get a passer-by into the recording studio to grunt them out loud, so why not just make it eight, ten, twenty different lines? If it’s because you hate humanity so very, very much, may I gently suggest therapy?

DON’T make a platform game where the gimmick is you can shift between two overlapping worlds. If you think you’ve had an idea, and that idea is that in your platform game you can shift between two overlapping worlds, then you haven’t had an idea at all. This is a bit like waking up one day and declaring that you’ve had the idea to put foodstuffs between two slices of bread. That’s someone else’s idea. That’s the 4th Earl Of Sandwich’s idea, and he’s going to beat you up. Coincidentally, he was also the first person to think of a platform game where you shift between two overlapping worlds, and he died in 1771.

DO consider the possibility of happy things. It’s an odd realisation, that gaming so obsessively focuses either on attempting to recover from negativity or ambivalence. Someone’s kidnapped, needs to be avenged, trapped, pursued, dying… How about a game about someone whose day is going really well, and is about to get a whole lot better? Does no one have a positive tale to tell, an optimistic adventure to share? Where’s my game about everything going really flipping well?

DON’T release your game on Early Access because you haven’t finished having ideas for it yet. Early Access is for games you haven’t finished making yet. You need to have had the ideas first. Releasing the framework of a game, and then “listening to customer feedback”, is a cynical, artless act, and I will put fish behind all your radiators if you do it. Come up with your bloody brilliant idea first. If you expect me to do it for you, I also expect a salary and a profit share from the game’s success.

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279 Comments »

  1. p4warrior says:

    I agree with Mr. John on a lot of those, but I do take issue with a few. As some commenters here point out, the Direct X / .NET framework thing isn’t so simple. Also:

    “Don’t stop me from sprinting after three seconds.” Yeah, that sounds nice, but the problem is that developers are trying to limit you from a mechanical perspective, not a realistic one. Imagine COD with more sprinting around than there already is (insert MOTHER OF GOD image here). Also, it might not be entirely plausible that a solider wearing 100 lbs. of gear can sprint indefinitely. I don’t understand why Mr. Walker is willing to let games ignore reality on other items (like carrying lots of guns) but complains that three seconds of sprinting is unrealistic.

    “Don’t splash on my screen” I’m not really sure of games that do this much with rain, other than where it makes sense as in Metroid Prime and Republic Commando. The blood thing may be valid but again, it’s a mechanical decision to alert you that you’re close to dying, or perhaps a stylistic one in some of the overly gory games. A big health bar that decreases is just as unrealistic.

    “Don’t tell me that you’re a game any more.” Meh, some games do this and do it well. Breaking the fourth wall is a legitimate device so long as it’s employed correctly.

    “Do let me carry more than two guns.” Again, a mechanical decision that sometimes works. It totally depends on the game. I do agree that games have been doing this too much simply because Halo used it to great effect, but let’s take this one on a case-by-case basis.

    The rest of them are pretty spot-on I’d say, especially the one about giving the protagonist skills that are consistent from gameplay to cutscenes. It’s so annoying when you’ve fought through hundreds of enemies, only to be taken by four soldiers surrounding you in an FMV sequence. Movies and novels fall victim to this too, having heroes only fail and be captured when it’s convenient for the plot. It’s simply poor storytelling.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      Difference between blood on the screen and a health bar is blood on the screen is intrusive, usually crudely depicted and can lead to getting your character killed. Take Mass Effect 2 for example, it has damage direction indicators, they are red and quite unobtrusive. On at least one level the area was lit with red emergency lighting which made the damage indicators even harder to see, and since they decided to remove the mini-map from the main screen this made it tough to work out where the threats were coming from. Add in the red damage streaks that obliterated the screen when you were hit it, then it made certain sections of the game harder to get through than they needed to be.

  2. YourMessageHere says:

    What IS this curious insistance on playing things windowed? Why on earth would you want to purposefully surround the game with immersion-busting desktop background and permit IM windows and such to distract you? I’ve seen other people say similar things – is this a game journalism thing? When I play a game, everything else can go hang; why would any player (that is, anyone not required to annotate, screenshot and otherwise play for non-immersive reasons) behave differently?

    As such, fullscreen with VSync on by default at desktop res, all the time, every time. Of course you need to switch away from the game from time to time, which is why you make it perfectly possible to alt-tab out and back in. I particularly appreciate the ones that notice when you alt-tab and automatically pause. But this windowed thing I do not understand.

    I suspect that if I were to share a cinema with you, I’d be shouting at you to stop playing with your mobile phone, talking to your mates and eating loud sweets.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      Personally I can’t stand playing pc games fullscreen. It actually breaks the immersion for me, it’s too in your face. It’s like watching tv or playing a console game sitting a foot a way from the tv.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      I’d say the main attraction to windowed mode is being able to multitask. Not every game’s alt-tab support is that great.

      Sometimes you trade a degree of immersion for purely practical reasons.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Strontium Mike: so, you have a window in the middle of the screen with the game in? Do you have an abnormally large screen? Do you leave lots of space around the window? Sorry to be so full of questions, I’m just trying to imagine this. Why not simply have a smaller screen, if it’s all too much? Mine’s a 4:3 21″ CRT running 1280×960@85Hz, and I’m perfectly happy with this state of affairs, I wouldn’t want a huge massive screen as I too might well feel as you do, just like I always sit towards the back of the cinema. I’d still rather have the cinema dark and quiet, though.

      Abundant_Suede: I won’t pretend to understand the impulse to multitask while playing games, but of course, if you want to, you should be able to. Surely the solution is to make every game work with alt-tab, irrespective of screen mode? I mean, sure, give windowed mode-enthusiasts the option, but I’m sure this is a minority taste, so sort out the ability to alt-tab as a priority.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      There are lots of imaginary solutions to all sorts of problems that are never going to happen across differing hardware.

      A windowed game is much more responsive to multitasking than even alt-tab support, which is sporadic and can be slow to respond each and every time you might want to interact with something else, be it an IM client, a music player, adjusting your settings on Ventrilo…or writing a game review while in-game to reference certain features.

      Yes, every game should alt-tab cleanly. But every game should also have full windowed mode support. At least for everyone who doesn’t have dual monitors, that is.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      I have a 17″ 4:3 lcd monitor, I play everything (possible) in a 1152×864 window centered in the middle of the screen. If a game doesn’t have a windowed option then I have to scoot back as far as cables allow otherwise I can get dizzy from fast movement on the screen.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Monchberter says:

    If you are a console port DO still include full support for gamepads and don’t just assume that pc always means mouse and keyboard. DON’T expect us to have to juggle the two once we launch the game and most definitely DON’T REMOVE ALL OPTIONS TO PLAY USING A PAD ALTOGETHER, without needing third party software . Yes, that means you Mass Effect. Bad Company 2,Modern Warfare 2,etc

    Some of us have HTPC’s y’know.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      As a flipside, devs need to put the work in on making all the input devices they support actually work properly. There’s simply no need for me to ever again have to read a sentence which resembles this: “the ______ controls are a bit dodgy on PC, so it’s recommended that you plug your 360 pad in rather than try to use mouse and keyboard”. Everything you can think of has had a perfectly sensible control scheme for any given input device worked out somewhere. Your job as a dev is to find and use it.

      Of special note here: Battlefield games. They play really well with mouse and keyboard – except for aircraft. All Dice need to do is play the original Operation Flashpoint. That did aircraft (especially helicopters) with mouse and keyboard perfectly.

    • Aaarrrggghhh says:

      And please don’t deactivate mouse/keyboard when I plug in my gamepad in a game. Sometime those just come in handy.

  4. Metonymy says:

    Always a fan of brevity, most of these rules could have been reduced to “make more games like Doom1, less games like everything else.”

    When I play a game like Alice or Deadspace or Brink, all I can think about is how far we’ve come, from making games, to making idea-vomit, and then uninstalling a minute later.

  5. engion3 says:

    I don’t think developers play their game’s at ALL anymore. There are so many stupid things in games (most you mentioned) that instantly pisses me off and I know everyone else feels the same yet they are still in the game.

    Intro movies I can’t skip. WTF?! If I have to listen to that nVidia logo the second time I play the game I honestly quit and delete local content.

    Also, Doom 3 did it right (and Duke Nukem even better) if you have a toilet PUT A TURD IN IT. I GUARANTEE EVERYONE IN YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE WILL AT LEAST CHUCKLE AT THE SIGHT OF A TURD. JUST DO IT.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      If you ragequit at an unskippable intro movie I think you should consider professional help, and whether you actually enjoy playing computer games.

    • Aaarrrggghhh says:

      At least on a PC you can (in most cases) delete the local video files and thereby skip the intro movies.
      On a console, you are screwed. Just saying….

    • engion3 says:

      I do see professional help every 3 months and after playing modern warfare 3 have come to the realization the that skill based era of shooters is over (played css competitively for 2 years and am sick of it) and after Diablo 3 there’s nothing left to look forward to.

    • Delixe says:

      @AndrewC Do you enjoy watching the anti-piracy ad you can’t skip every… single… time you watch a movie you bought? What about the trailers you have to skip individually? It’s the same thing. NVidia paid for the ad and that’s just great because I didn’t pay €40 for Arkham City did I? Yet I am forced to watch that advertisement every single time I load the game.

  6. DOLBYdigital says:

    Classic list, I remember reading these over the years :)
    Agree with most of them however slightly disagree with 2 “Don’ts”
    1. Always allow more than 2 guns.
    For most games I agree this limit is just not validated by any sense of strategic choice. However some games handled the strategic choice idea well and the 2 guns do help this path out. So I don’t completely agree that all games should allow infinite guns.

    2. Don’t have flying enemies
    Again there are some games that don’t handle them well but there are plenty that do. So this seems like an over generalization to say they all stink and don’t use them. I would just change this one to “Do think about flying enemies and ensure they are balanced and fun to fight”.

    The rest are great!

  7. best_jeppe says:

    Totally agree with you John Walker. I hope game developers read this.

  8. Stephen Roberts says:

    I like how people have posted to scorn your choice of shortcuts and preference for quicksaves. Because both of those things boil down to choices. If you hate quicksave… don’t quicksave.

    There are so many still uncovered do’s and don’t of the gaming world and some of the list mentioned here are slightly too bendy to be perfectly adhered to (as the discussion on gun limits shows).

    Here are my two additions (because you were all dying to hear from me, Random bloke on the internet!):

    Don’t make invisible walls. Ever. Do proper level design. Stop the player character with actual things.

    Don’t give me achievements for basic tasks, such as the first level. The one achievement relating to the core story line should be on completion of the game.

    Do include an in-game encyclopedia where relevant, so that I can find out how-to’s on something where I wasn’t paying attention without checking the internet.

    This one is more suspect but still:
    Don’t fudge-hammer the tutorials into the game without making them optional. See Magicka and Half Life for how to do this well. See Assassins Creed, Dawn of War 2 (Especially Chaos Rising and Retribution) for tips on how to totally fuck this up. This kind of pissing about makes replaying a game very painful.

  9. GreenArchon says:

    Nice list. However:

    Who still uses the Start menu? The Victorians?

    I do, and I don’t have any icon on my desktop, actually, I hate installers installing an icon on my desktop :)
    But I must admit I don’t use the start menu for games, but rather for small programs I use once a month or so.

    • grundus says:

      I just have a few stuff pinned to my task bar. All those important tasks, such as Steam, MSI Afterburner or NVIDIA Control Panel Application. I only use the start menu because I have yet to work out the shortcut to open a new finder (ooh, showing my computing background there) window.

    • CMaster says:

      It’s Windows key + E to open a new explorer window.

  10. Legion23 says:

    I completly agree, oh crowned President of the World!

  11. grundus says:

    All I can say is PC gaming is weird. It’s as if they stopped acknowledging developments in PC hardware and software since 2001 but still release games on there. The points about the limited save slots, mouse buttons that aren’t recognised and (although this wasn’t your point) the game starting in a bizarrely small resolution are all extremely valid and puzzling.

    Also, I don’t know if anyone else does this, but if a pause menu looks similar to the main menu, 9 times out of 10 I’ll accidentally quit the game instead of resuming. Best case I can remember, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Pause menu looks like the main menu. Resume is at the top, Exit is at the bottom. I pause to change some settings, click Exit to resume the game, but all I’m actually resuming is a suspended Steam download and the Cloud sync. That happened quite a few times before I just gave up and started pressing ‘esc’ instead of clicking anything.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      In a slightly allied point, menus and other overlaid screens like inventories, logs and skill point screens which are NOT banished instantly by hitting ‘esc’ need to be consigned to history. Close enough to everything does this that the things which don’t really, really annoy. Particularly in games that don’t pause when you open these. In those games particularly, when I need to be back in the game, I need it right now, not when I happen to remember that you do your interface differently because you just do.

  12. LordHuggington says:

    A checkpoint-free world is the sort of world I want to play in.

  13. Shortwave says:

    This was amazing and every fucking Dev out there should read it and take it seriously.
    If you followed these simple steps you would get a lot more money and a stronger fan base.

    : ) And seriously, my G9x mouse is years old and still works great, but most new games can’t even use all of it’s buttons! (Without creating custom profiles.. Which get’s tedious and can run into problems..)

  14. Warped655 says:

    My own rule:

    -When I reach a cut scene, please let me go back and watch it again if I so choose immediately after and later on.

    -Autosave should also be in every game. So that if I forget to save for an hour and my computer crashes or something I don’t actually lose an hour of progress. Maybe at most 15 minutes.

    Most of the rules on this list I screamed “YES! PLEASE DO THIS/DON’T DO THAT”

    There were a few I disagreed with to a minor/major degree:

    -quick saves, I think they should be available in every game, but should be limited to 1 quick save per 5 minutes or something. or maybe a limited number of saves in between checkpoints. (Though yeah should be freely available always as an option when starting a new game)

    -two guns, I like not being able to carry everything, forces me to evaluate what I think will actually come in use later. Limited inventory in general can be a interesting gameplay element. Also, switching between +10 weapons can be irritating in the heat of battle. Overall though I think this can make a game a little harder, I like high difficulty.

    -flying baddies, depends on the game. There are games where flying baddies aren’t annoying. They certainly have the potential to be annoying/not fun though.

    -sprinting after three seconds, its a game mechanic. but honestly, Being made of muscles doesn’t make you a track runner. If you honestly want the character to sprint for like 5-10 seconds, the characters movement should be reduced heavily afterward due to exhaustion, not just resume jogging pace. The only exception is when maybe adrenaline would come into play and your body stops worrying about tearing itself apart from overexertion.

    -let me kill my friends, I actually mostly agree here, BUT WARN ME FIRST. because if I’m playing a game my assumption is that I can’t harm important friendlies. If you end my game mid battle because I was behaving like I normally would in a game because you did not warn me, I will be pissed.

    • Strontium Mike says:

      Why limit quicksaves, what’s the difference between loading the last checkpoint and the last quicksave? Presumably if you got through a section once you won’t have trouble getting through it again why is it considered necessary to redo what you didn’t have a problem with to reattempt what did give you a problem?

      As I replied to another post allow freesaving whenever wherever, but also add an iron man mode simple.

  15. ImOnTheRadio says:

    Great article, fully worth reading. I pretty much agree with every fact on this list. I also found your humour quite funny (You work so hard, for so many months, and by the time your game is done you just feel nothing but contempt for your potential customers? “How many saves shall we allow in the PC version? We’ve got room for infinity of them.” “THREE. And store them in the Recycle Bin.” , C:\Users\John\AppData\Local\Roaming\Documents\Programs\Features\Gardening\Knitwear\Publisher\Developer\GameName\Sausages\X34265\ etc..)

  16. YourMessageHere says:

    My take on the “more than two guns” thing:

    Stalker did it right. An inventory where guns and ammo and stuff all has weight. Doesn’t have to devolve into Deus Ex inventory tetris, doesn’t have to be complicated at all, potentially just a list with names and weights and a weight carried/limit indicator. If I want two guns and lots of ammo for each, fine. If I want seven guns, including two of the same, one to sell and one to keep (yes DXHR, I mean you), and relatively less ammo, fine. If all I want is one gun and as much ammo as I can carry for it, also fine. It’s not hard to do, or hard to understand. Even Xbox owners would get it.

    • Metonymy says:

      Ive always thought inventories were hateful busywork. A computer stores information like this in an array, and I’m using a computer, so what is the problem?

    • Felix says:

      You ignore the issue of volume. If anything, volume is going to be exceeded long before weight becomes an issue (unless you are carrying something dense, like iron weights).

      Inventory Tetris is a good metaphor for the balancing of odd-shaped objects of varying sizes. There are only so many ways of carrying the random shit you find. Some things make sense to stack, like three or so long guns with slings you can sling over your shoulders, etc. But it only goes so far.

      Why attempt to be realistic in terms of weight but ignore volume or handling of odd objects?

    • YourMessageHere says:

      The problem is choice. I choose to carry three guns, and slightly less ammo for each, but the game won’t let me: two guns with X ammo, no variations. This is bad. What I’m describing is a way to get what you want without the busywork. Just decide how much of what stuff you want to carry. Not that tedious, surely?

      And as for volume…no, I can’t agree. The problem becomes moot if you have a sensible weight limit. A person could carry half a dozen rifles without a problem. More than that and the volume problem is somewhat eclipsed by their inability to get up. Similarly, a volume cap would surely mean no more carrying more than one set of armour or clothing…no carrying more than three RPG rounds…perhaps you need to find a bag to carry certain items…it’s neither sensible nor fun.
      I mean, look at Deus Ex. The Inventory Tetris was simply something that made you move stuff around the screen to fit them all in – it didn’t really stop you carrying anything, it just made it unnecessarily bothersome and made the act of finding something and picking it up take eight times too long. But really, what I’m getting at is that limiting one’s carrying capacity, but giving you full control of how you use that capacity – that is sensible for a sort-of-realistic game, and makes for a fun challenge without imposing arbitrary limits.

    • PitfireX says:

      RE4!?

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Yes, there was some comedy RE4 dub thing I saw on youtube (I forget the name, but all the zombie things were mad fans of Aqua) which actually animated the RE4 inventory as tetris at one point, complete with music. That’s where I got the phrase. Never played it myself but I recognised the problem from Deus Ex.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Just to be That Guy, I nearly always use inventory mods anyway, as I am a total e-hoarder. Didn’t find one for DX:HR yet though, but often used them on STALKER and Fallout games. Then I can carry INFINITY OF STUFF

  17. volcano_fl says:

    I do understand that you’re mad about savegames, but in case you’re a Java programmer, YOU DON’T HAVE ANOTHER BLOODY CHOICE. Why? Java can be used on a lot of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Mac and mobile devices. This can only work if any file related commands in Java work with all operating systems. That means that Windows 7 automatically stores files that the Java application wants to save in AppDataRoaming. Windows could store it somewhere elese, but usually, you don’t need to look at these files in order to work with the program.

    And in case you don’t play a Java game, there can be other things happening. Once, all games used to store their saves and other stuff in the program folder, but Windows 7 doesn’t want them to do that anymore and redirects every storage process to AppData. So if the game was made in the time where everyone used admin accounts on their PCs (+1 for Linux users, they never did that), don’t blame the programmers.

    TL;DR: Java programmers can’t choose a folder, old games are catched by Windows 7.

  18. foda500orama says:


    DON’T give me a fight I can’t win. I’ve faced the boss for fifteen minutes, I’ve painstakingly shot out its legs, arms, wings and eight of its eyes, and now I’m going for the final blast! His stupid, stupid face. BLAMMO! Cutscene! The monster is alive and disappearing down a hole… waitwhat? No! Absolutely and emphatically no. All of the no in a big pile all at once. If you’re going to make me go through some tedious extended fight, let me bloody well win it. If your story relies on this baddy mysteriously surviving having his energy bar completely emptied, his body hideously destroyed, then perhaps your story is a big stinking piece of old underwear.

    DON’T show hints on loading screens that I absolutely couldn’t have been playing this far without knowing. “Press SPACE to jump” might be useful information if I’d, say, never played a game before. It’s possibly not the most invaluable of morsels given that it would have been utterly impossible to have gotten past the opening level of your game without bloody jumping. Let alone telling me over four hundred and seventy times. Context sensitive tips, please! Or how about just some random facts I might not know? Which is the largest nut? It really does cheapen the game experience to be loading the final level and be told, “Holding down SHIFT will make you sprint.” Oh, and write a minimum of 10,000 of them.

    DON’T do anything to us in a cutscene that we could easily prevent during the game proper. It’s extremely unlikely that the enemy is going to capture Tanker McTankerton by pointing a gun at him menacingly. Because that’s what everyone else did on the way there, and he blew them all up with his grenade launcher. Which he likely would do here as well, if only you’d flipping give us the controls back.

    DON’T leave diary entries by one person scattered over miles of corridors, buildings and countries. That’s not how a diary works. A diary tends to be all in one place. Most people, when journaling their lives, don’t tend to scribble it out on the nearest scrap of paper and then leave it wherever they wrote it. Because that would be utterly insane.”

    Skyrim, anyone?

  19. Joof says:

    “DON’T splash on my screen. I AM NOT A SCREEN! I’M A HUMAN! When it rains, this does not leave droplets running down the front of my vision. This is because I have a face, including a nose, chin and forehead. Concealed between these features are my eyes – two orbs that sit within the protective bonage of my skull, accompanied by the cleaning and dust-deflecting skinflaps of my eyelids. Were raindrops, or worse, splatters of blood, to become visible droplets in my vision, they would have to be on my eyes. I would respond to this by running around, screaming in pain and fear, clutching at my face and begging for help. You appear to be under the impression that I am a sentient monitor. Perhaps a screen mounted on top of human shoulders. I’m not one of these. I’m reasonably sure the character in the game isn’t one of these. So just perhaps can we please stop having splashes appear in front of our view? (Oh, and I’m also not a bloody camera lens, so can we also get rid of lens flare too? Kthnx.)”

    I loved this in Metroid Prime. =( Emerging from the water and having the water drain move down the visor. Having an explosion go off near by and seeing a reflection of Samus’s face. I thought it was awesome.

    • iGark says:

      Yeah, but in the case, you’d actually _do_ have a visor. Like in Republic Commando, where blood and oil gets splattered on your helmet, but that game had a lot of visuals involving your helmet getting damaged or splattered.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      I’d quite like to see a game which involved something like a visor or a helmet that the protagonist puts on and takes off for specific incompatible advantages (like Splinter Cell’s NVGs) which had this only with the visor. I like the effect when it fits. But it really grates in cases like blood (jam?) in CoD:BO or the rain in GTA.

  20. Felix says:

    Besides the issues with DirectX and game saves people have mentioned, I have to disagree about flying bad guys. Castlevania, for example, has a good amount of flying bad guys that work out great.

    Next, I disagree with the Start Menu/Desktop bit. Unless you’re using XP, putting something in the start menu takes a few presses of the keyboard to launch your game (Win key, then start typing the name of the game, might take two letters, then hit enter). Then there’s the taskbar which takes a keyboard shortcut or one click (and it’s at the bottom edge so you only have to worry about horizontal accuracy in choosing the right icon). Then there’s the case that you might delete your icon on accident, having to dig through Program Files to get to the EXE and “Copy Shortcut,” rename it, place it wherever. Or you could just find it in the Start Menu (few button presses) and drag-n-drop onto your desktop (or copy-paste). It is foolish to only desire a desktop icon.

    The last thing I take issue with is having the map on TAB. The only reason this should be is if there isn’t something more important to have on TAB. Besides, controls should be fully customizable.

  21. EthZee says:

    I agree with most of the points on this list.

    However, your stating a preference for playing games windowed rather than full screen marks you out as educationally challenged; your going on to explain it is so you can respond to IMs whilst playing makes me despise you intensely and entirely unreasonably.

    You shall be the first against the wall in the coming purge, etc.

  22. InternetBatman says:

    I would add three more things. Have responsible keyboard mapping. Shank is the worst offender here, but all 2D twin stick shooters should tell players to put their right hand on the numberpad. Generally keys should be placed close together too. This also means that some games need to uncouple some of their functions when they come to PC. Too many games are now taking an even easier out and saying “recommended on controller” at the start rather than even just having one person play the game for 15 minutes on a keyboard and figure out the most comfortable way to play the game.

    The second is having tips at the start that actually look at your key bindings. Shank is again a really bad offender, but it’s annoyingly common for games to either use a function (push the run key to run) and expect you to check keybindings or just use the x-box buttons.

    Finally, I know you mentioned it but I loathe menus that have a stupid push start screen. They’re even worse when it goes to the push start screen after you’ve exited the game. Seriously, it’s like some developers have only ever read about computer games and never actually played them.

  23. PitfireX says:

    I’d like to add if i may:

    DON’T show me a cutscene and give me back control just to have me walk 4 feet into another cutscene or load!!!!!

  24. Jason Moyer says:

    Weird, I always find myself deselecting ‘icon on desktop’ and selecting ‘icon in start menu’.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Ham Solo says:

    My goodness, spread this list to every developer/publisher ever, and to EA 20.000 times for their logo fieces in every game startup ever and their goddamn Origin… “oh, there was an error while downloading the game you wanted, please, download all the 8GB again.” Fuck that, I wanna pick up where I *was* left.

  26. Hillbert says:

    Let me pause at any time, especially during cutscenes. I’ve got kids and sometimes I need to deal with stuff right now.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I agree with the point about quicksaving at any time. For some genres, survival horror especially, it’s an effective tool for ramping up tension. It also worked like this in the first FPS Aliens vs Predator.

  27. perablenta says:

    Don’t make my character a mute if you can create a land of 10,000 NPC that can ALL talk. That is just rude.
    Since you wrote all my lines you might as well have someone say them for me. I am just wondering what would happen if I came across a mute NPC? Would I have to learn the sigh language and buy Kinetic ?

    Don’t make me look at your name as a developer in a 3 second intro, that I can’t skip EVERY TIME I start the game. I know your Bioware and I know your Bethesda, because you told me 10000000000 times already.

    Don’t just give the boss a 99999999999999 HP instead give him 1000 HP and a BRAIN. Put the I in the AI.

    Do explain to me how your sneaking system works THEN give me a quest/mission to play.

    Don’t tell me that I have to kill 10 more bandits/wolfs/robots/dudes with bad hair because I already killed 10000 of them just getting to you.

    Do let me change my characters skills from A,B and C to D,F and G maybe I don’t want to play the ENTIRE game again just to kill all the same NPC’s with a different weapon.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I actually prefer characters without voice-overs because it changes and I believe improves the writing style of the game. Revision is a huge part of a writer’s job, and voice acting limits that. Also, the more text you have the more likely a voice actor will screw it up, so you don’t see many paragraphs or soliloquies with heavy voice acting; it’s all written like movie dialog. Conversely, good voice acting tends to somewhat cover up bad or boring lines, so there is less of an incentive to write better. It means that voice-acting tends to concentrate the whole medium towards a mediocre experience, rather than have higher highs and lower lows.

  28. Premium User Badge

    jaheira says:

    From the Cthulhu Saves the World WIT: “And I’m a sucker for meta gags, so seeing Cthulhu complain, “I can save any time? What is this, a first person shooter?”

    I’m not sure how this gels with:

    “DON’T tell me that you’re a game any more. You want to capture something of Brechtian estrangement, break down that fourth wall with mallets and wrecking balls, because you think it’s a fresh and original approach. It’s not. It’s been done a lot, and it’s probably a sign that you’re not confident enough in your own creation”

  29. alms says:

    > DON’T show me an unskippable animation when I die

    DON’T show me an unskippable intro either, it irks me to no end when trying to beat challenges in Jamestown.

    > DO let me pause cutscenes

    This!

    >DON’T make me deselect Start Menu and select Desktop Icon. Who still uses the Start menu?

    I don’t (for games), but I’m beyond amazing when it comes to cluttering my desktop and don’t need any help :P

    And if you could add this one:

    DON’T make the game hang whenever it is alt-tabbed out of focus. If you really can’t handle alt-tab then provide an alternative shortcut.

  30. Just Endless says:

    Strongly disagree with “Don’t break the fourth wall.”

    Just thinking through my favorite games ever, MGS2, and 999 for DS, neither of those work metastory, there’s nothing left. Certainly the prodding ways of many games are inappropriate, but when done correctly, it leads to MASTERFUL storytelling.

    Truth had gone, Truth had gone, and Truth had gone.
    Perhaps my favorite moment I can personally recall IN A VIDEO GAME; fourth wall = shattered.

    And now I prepare for nobody to know what i’m talking about, as this is a PC gaming site.

  31. Brainz says:

    DON’T call a gamepad a controller.

  32. Thants says:

    DO have the mouse behave the same in your game’s menus as on the desktop. This one bugs me because it’s so obvious yet a lot games get it wrong. No one has ever wished that a game would change the cursor to a completely different acceleration-curve than they’re used to. Having the mouse work the same in menus as it usually does is ALWAYS the right choice. I don’t know how so many companies can get this wrong.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      This kind of suggestion doesn’t get included in the main article because we are so conditioned into thinking it’s the norm and that it’s okay. It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all.

      More of this, please (I’m getting my stone tablet and chisel set out).

  33. Thants says:

    DO have well implemented check-points. In a lot of games I’d rather be in the moment worrying about how to survive and not thinking about managing my saves.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      This reminds me of another Don’t. It’s kind of a recent invention:

      Don’t remind me that I’m going to lose unsaved progress when I quit the game if I have no fucking ability to save. See Borderlands for how it should be done.

  34. Ravenger says:

    DON’T assume that everyone uses WASD, and prevent those keys (and other important keys) being rebound. We’re not all right-handers, and some gamers even use non qwerty keyboards.

    DO allow users to completely re-bind all the controls using the majority of keys on the keyboard (some special keys such as Scroll Lock might be acceptable to omit.)

    Even supposedly PC centric titles like The Witcher 2 didn’t allow you to use the arrow keys or num-pad when they first released – not to mention Dead Space’s nonsensical binding restrictions.

    DO ensure that rebinding works in all circumstances. Recent games like BF3 and Skyrim have control systems that break in weird ways if you bind them away from the defaults. They appear to work mostly, but certain functions get messed up. A mediocum of testing would have found these issues.

  35. Goomich says:

    If you spent time money and effort to write books for your game, spend little more and add them in pdf/mobi/epub formats.

  36. Will762 says:

    Put a shortcut on the desktop?! Oh hell no. I HATE it when installers presume they can scatter shite over my desktop. Go away!

  37. Zarx says:

    DO let me turn off motion blur, Depth of field and bloom, I know you think that having everything more than 5 meters away a blurry mess, anything moving leaving a weird ghost trail and objects that look like they are emitting more light than you average light bulb looks cool but all it really does is kill my framerate and make everything hard to see. Or better yet let me adjust the level of said effects so I can tweak them to an acceptable level.

    Don’t make a 20+ minute unskippable linear tutorial level half of which consists of you not being in control of your character the intro to your massive open world game with dozens of potential character build for me to play around with.

    Do let me use the scroll wheel on my mouse to scroll through text, having to click the on screen scroll bar is not fun.

    Don’t try and sell me DLC in game, starting a quest only to have the NPC tell me I need to go buy a piece of DLC to complete it just makes me not want to buy it, and no I don’t want to buy some new hair styles ether.

    Do let me adjust the volume of dialog, music and SFX separately

    Don’t use SecuROM EVER!!!

  38. starclaws says:

    These articles from time to time are why I still come back to RPS again and again. I want to and EXPECT to see the Do/Don’t article. If it goes over a year without then I will leave RPS sadfacing. It is vital that developers know that they need to improve on things and some of their thoughtful ‘improvements’ aren’t necessarily better for the users experience.

    I always complain that games are more movie than game. You HAVE to watch that guy crawl around after getting blown up, you HAVE to watch that ship explode. I don’t care. If I wanna look at the water and see if I can spot a fish. Let me do that. I don’t care about your over-zealous explosions that make me yawn every time you do it.

  39. beema says:

    This list is marvelous! 100% spot-on agree with everything said. It’s pretty amazing how many of these things Deus Ex Human Revolution got right. It’s probably the best-made PC port I’ve ever played. A lot of these could apply to console games too, of course. It’s not like when I play on my PS3 I suddenly gain a tolerance for heaps of bullshit.

  40. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Some additions:

    DON’T use Games For Windows Live, under any circumstances.

    DON’T suggest gameplay your game can’t deliver on.

    DO allow player actions that should work in theory.

    DO add developers’ commentaries / concept art etc

    This reminds me of Adams’ No Twinkie! articles: http://www.designersnotebook.com/Design_Resources/No_Twinkie_Database/no_twinkie_database.htm

  41. vexis58 says:

    “DON’T make me deselect Start Menu and select Desktop Icon. Who still uses the Start menu? The Victorians? Obviously all I want is a one-double-click route to the game, launched from my desktop, so why the prejudice?”

    Whereas I think the opposite: It feels primitive to toss shortcuts on the desktop when I’ve got a perfectly elegant and serviceable menu to select things quickly. I never use my desktop for ANYTHING, because I can’t see it. I’ve always got a browser and other stuff open fullscreen and it’s easier for me to just press a key to open the start menu and click on the thing I want to open than minimize all of my windows, search for where on my huge desktop the program put the shortcut, and then double-click.

    The “All Programs” part of the start menu does get a bit cluttered (I try to clean it out occasionally, but I don’t use it for much), but that’s why I just move the shortcut for the game I’m playing right now into the main list of Start Menu links, and remove it when I move on to another game.

    What I absolutely HATE, though, are games that install a shortcut to my desktop without even ASKING me first. I’ll install a game, be playing it for a few days, then suddenly notice it put a shortcut on my desktop. WTF? Stop cluttering up the pretty picture I see when I start up my computer!

  42. El_Emmental says:

    already 6 pages ?

    Damn, I wish there was a clean, lightweight, “all comments, only text + working url links” version, so I could quickly read through it (it must be a pain to read all these pages).

    (sadly I have 0 skills in coding, so I can’t even build some GreaseMonkey script or similar stuff :( )

    - – - -

    I just read LionsPhil’s piece on OpenGL/DirectX and all that yada thing, pretty good and interesting read :)
    => http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/06/08/get-with-the-programmer-carmack-speaks/#comment-710564
    IMO he should have his own blog (on a free platform) for interesting facts like these – many people just love to hear how complex system are actually working, in a very simple way understandable by almost anyone.
    I would love to hear more on Direct X, what it achieved for devs, what it’s actually doing right now and in the future, and where are going the OpenGL/OpenAL/etc projects.
    Also, could we have good alternatives or are we “forever” (unless Windows disappears) stuck with Direct X ? (I kinda don’t like that monopoly, but if it’s greatly helping game devs I guess it’s tolerable)

    - – - -

    Regarding the rules:

    - “DON’T splash on my screen”
    => Exception : Metroid Prime on the Gamecube did the splashing thingy perfectly = you were wearing a complete space suit and water/vapor/anything would hit your visor “like the real thing”, without overdoing it at all.
    Bonus: sudden higher luminosity (energy blast, explosion) very near your head would briefly display your face reflection on the visor (briefly showing your face – a female face, a surprise for people not knowing who’s Samus Aran). The immersion in the suit was just well-done.

    - DO let me pause cutscenes : It’s so useful I never thought some devs would think of it. Now I know why you were crowned President of Earth.

    - Direct X/ Net Framework version : each devs use its own set of librairies, when it says “Direct X” it’s like saying “installing drivers” , it’s simply saying “we’re dealing with some Direct X related stuff, wait a minute”, it could be anything. Also, It’s extremely hard to determine if dev 1 and dev 2 are using the same version of the same .DLL, this is just the “best” system they could deliver to the user. Now imagine if Windows didn’t have a monopoly over the PC OS market, and we would have a Direct X for each OS…

    - “Who still uses the Start menu? The Victorians?” ha ha :D I used to try keeping it clean, but I gave up : today it’s an ugly pile of random shortcuts, the last place I search when looking for some shortcuts.

    - – - -

    The Rules I would like to see appear more often :

    - DO defines what is ALLOWED and what is NOT ALLOWED in your multiplayer games. No more debates about if that glitch is “okay to use” or if spawn killing is authorized. It would make community self-regulation and admin regulation much easier, avoiding most of the drama you get online.

    - DO provide tools for community self-regulation in your multiplayer games. Since the first plugin in Counter-Strike with the vote_kick command, every single game with a multiplayer part should have all these features : vote map, vote game mode, vote kick, vote ban (temp ban), griefing/cheating signaling system, vote scramble.

  43. jola998 says:

    This article was NOT good. For my health…

    I laughed off the chair and broke a rib :)

    I’ll add another DON’T: Don’t put the entire tutorial in tiny text which disappear after 5 secs just when you start a new game. I want to look around at the pretty (hopefully) world you created. Walk around, focus on the prologue etc. I keep the paper manual just in case there is a severe blizzard and i need fuel to keep warm. I DONT read it. (was that a double Don’t reply?)

  44. Ropashot says:

    I wish games got even half those things right, especially the save location, what was wrong with the way it used to be having the save in the game’s folder in a folder called “Saves”.

    Also wish games would go back to being more self contained, as in keeping all the crap they need to run within the game folder, not Windows folders or the registry etc. So when the OS is reinstalled the game still runs without even knowing it’s a fresh install of the OS.

    These days the worst thing about reinstalling the OS is having to reinstall every damned game you want to play and searching for save folders and crap they seemed to have tried to hide away, instead of just being able to keep all the games you want on 1 hard drive dedicated to storing games.

    Also DRM and B.S. internet requirements just push it over the edge.

  45. Lojix says:

    Now for Do & Don’t on gaming headsets :D .

    DO: Put the mute button on the left ear of the headset

    DON’T: Put the mute button on a little thing halfway down the wire of the headset. >:( .

  46. zarfius says:

    From a game developers point of view:

    First of all, this list is a very good thing. It makes game developers think more about different ways of solving problems in games and it’s always good to get feedback on what bothers players.

    However, keep in mind that game developers are already trying to solve these problems all the time. If they could solve all of them instantly they would. Developing games is an expensive, time consuming process with the ultimate goal of creating FUN games that SELL.

    Many of the problems in this list fall into the category of very hard to solve for very little benefit. Don’t get me wrong, game developers are gamers too. We feel the same pains when playing games and many of the things on this list ARE just plain LAZINESS.

    Many game developers have already solved many of these problems, but that doesn’t automatically make it possible to put the technology into all games. Each company has a different technology stack that they put a lot of blood and sweat into creating. They are not going to just give it away.

    Most importantly, putting REALISTIC FACE MORPHS into every game is just not technically possible. Yes, it looks cool. Yes, it makes the game more immersive. Does it change the gameplay? Probably not. Would you still buy the game without it? Probably yes.

  47. FakeKisser says:

    Great list. The only thing I’ll say, at this point, is that I hate cluttered Desktops. I keep mine with 2-3 temporary items, at most. I try to have nothing but the recycling bin on there. Therefore, I use my taskbar and the “quick-menu” on the start menu for games (when not using Steam or Origin or Desura or whatever). Maybe I’ll change that someday, but for now, I want do use that quick-menu on the start menu.

  48. num says:

    DON’T: force bind multiple actions to one key. It’s getting more and more popular to bind sprint, enter cover, exit cover, switch cover, jump out of cover AND vault over cover to the same key. The game decides which action to perform based on context, and no game has ever gotten it right. I want to leave cover and walk normally, it switches to a different cover. I want to switch cover to move stealthily? It JUMPS OUT alerting every enemy in the area. I want to vault over and tackle the enemy on the other side of the cover? It stands up, alerting the enemy and the only way to get to the other side is to re-enter cover and hope it lets you vault this time.
    Every action should be individally bindable to any key. If I want more than one action on one key, I’ll bind them that way. If i want more than one key per action, I’ll bind them that way too. But I never ever want to have 5 different things forced onto the same key. I will kill your mother, gamedevs.

  49. olafgarten says:

    About the DirectX comment, Whenever DirectX installs, it only installs certain components so it doesn’t take to much space on your hard drive, so when you play a game sometimes steam installs more components, the whole DirectX Library is over 500GB!