Trying to ease myself into the new year, I’ve cheerily wasted the day playing a game just about fighting, before turning to the internet. Bill Harris brings to me the attention of the rarest, most precious thing in games criticism. That is, a mea culpa. Writing for the Mercury News, Dean Takahashi slated Mass Effect only to eventually admit there was something he was missing.

“The dumb thing about the way I played the game, as many pointed out, is that I didn’t make use of my Talent Points. I started the game doing so, but while on Feros, I didn’t pay attention to all the Talent Points I was accumulating after every encounter. Those points just sat there. They were waiting for me to assign them to specific character trait improvements.”

Yes, he’d forgot to level up. And you wince, but it got me thinking – we’ve all done similar mistakes with some game at some point, fundamentally misunderstanding it, and carrying on regardless. And I thought it’d be a good thing for people to come clean about in the new year, in a spirit of admission of humanity. And, clearly, I ramble about some of mine beneath the cut.

Polish your pegleg is a euphemism for masturbation. Don't listen to the bodycopy. It will only lie to you. I will tell you the truth.

Well, I’ll start with (I suspect) an apocryphal one – I think – Jim told me, about a German Gamer playing Monkey Island II. You’ll recall the section where you have to get six thousand pieces of eight. How the fuck are you meant to do that? Well, most of us worked out how to win the spitting contest. This gentleman, was more industrious. He recalled that you could get a single piece-of-eight if you polished the peg leg earlier in the game. Going back, he started repeating the process, over a series of years trying to amass the 6000 gold.

Yeah, SURELY apocryphal, but that’s the core of it. We look for systems and once we have an idea of how something works, it can be terribly difficult to requestion those assumptions. We’ve all ended up, polishing that peg-leg, metaphorically speaking.

(No, not a metaphor for that. Mucky pup.)

Puck fucks up Magicians. It's what he does.

The one which I come back to was during my teenage years, when I was playing the Bard’s Tale. I wasn’t alone. Instead of working on our GCSE maths lessons, my comrades and I were busily copying each others maps of the Catacombs of the Mad God and similar. It was a case of a game perfectly matching our needs and environment. We wanted to play a fantasy game. It was a fantasy game whose square-based maps were perfectly suited for cartographic immortalisation on graph paper. Which was the one thing we had in surfeit in maths lessons. Hell, it’s not as if we were going to do any work.

So, for a good couple of weeks, we all went home, adventured, then returned the next day to collate our mapping exploits. And the maps sprawled. The Catacombs one was stretching over three double-page spreads torn from maths books, carefully assembled when Mr Roses’ attention was elsewhere. Which, admittedly, was about 95% of the time.

Three page spreads. This dungeon seemed endless, and we were quite lost until…

Well, there was a moment of realisation. That bit looked a bit like this bit and…

Bollocks. The actual map looped every 22 squares. We’d have noticed it earlier if it wasn’t for a mapping mistakes which meant the looping wasn’t perfect, and the whole thing was raising up by a couple of squares each time.

But, yeah, we’d spent the last couple of weeks trying to map a dungeon which looped. We may as well have tried to map the Asteroids screen.


Okay. That’s me proved my stupid credentials. What about you lot?


  1. Kast says:

    I think I read about something: In H-L2, crossing the coast there’s a barrier you need to raise by finding batteries. Without raising the barrier, you cannot get the buggy any further. One player assembled a ramp and, after hours of trying, finally managed to jump the barrier. Another player didn’t even try that and, assuming it was impossible, carried on along the rest of the chapter on foot!

    Can’t think of anything I personally have done off the top of me head. Besides the common Portal “rocket-portal-tube-cube” mistake of just using a chair to stand on.

  2. Alec Meer says:

    Wounds… too… fresh…

  3. Hamer says:

    Not a particularly interesting example, but I remember taking about *2 hours* to complete the final level of Red Faction – walking down endless, huge corridors fighting hordes of bad guys – because I hadn’t realised this was actually a vehicle section, and I had walked straight past the *bloody jet fighter* that would let you zip through it in 10 minutes..

  4. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Not exactly relevant, but this reminds of a really funny letter sent into PCG a few years back, which was like “Dear PCG, I have recently bought Half Life and am loving it, but whenever I get into the test chamber the experiment fails and there is a resonance cascade. Any hints or tips regarding the experiment would be helpful.”

  5. Pace says:

    I missed what turned out to be one very important part of Half-life (1). I was a bit of a late comer to games, I played Half-life 2 first, and a few other more modern games before going back and playing Half-life 1. The version I bought didn’t come with any sort of manual, but I figured I knew what I was doing, especially for such an old game. A few times early on I got a little frustrated when it seemed like I should be able to get somewhere, but I just couldn’t get there. There was always a box or something in the way that was just a little bit too high to jump over. And just a little goddamned bit. It got really bad in that section where you’re using a train-car like thing for a long time to get around on underground tracks. At one point I couldn’t get into the room to hit some button to open the way for my rail-car, so I had to finish most of the level on foot! It was possible, but just barely. And a royal pain in the ass. At some later point in the game progress became impossible, right in the middle of a huge onslaught of enemy soldiers, again, because I couldn’t jump quite high enough. After doubling my lifetime amount of swearing, and coming up with some new swear words of my own, I did some research and discovered that for some inexplicable reason (yes, we all know what’s coming) if you crouch just before you jump, you go a little bit f*cking higher. Just a little goddamned bit.

  6. Schadenfreude says:

    In my defence I was only ten, and it was my first point and clicker; but it took my over three months to find a shovel in Monkey Island 2’s opening chapter. :/

  7. Janek says:

    When I first started Eve I was unaware of the autopilot function. I did every jump manually, working out the route manually.

    It took me 12 days of my initial two week trial to discover it.

  8. Chris R says:

    LOL @ John P’s post. That is just pure awesome.

    The only thing that comes to mind is also the infamous Portal puzzle… but my chair fell over, and for the life of me I couldn’t get it back in the upright position….. so I went and collected every single chair out of the previous room, threw them all in a pile, and scaled my little chair mountain to victory. I felt so smart… until I saw what you were SUPPOSED to have done. Pah.

  9. I_still_love_Okami says:

    I played Ultima6 on the C64 (yea, there was a version for it!) when I was 12 and barely able to read and write english. Ultima 6 was way over my capabilities.

    The game started with a battle against a group of gargoyles in the throne romm of Lord British. I managed to win the battle and then tried to talk to Lord British, but couldn’t. There was some kind of message, but I didn’t really understand it. The whole game also seemed unwieldy and tiresome to me, since I had to move every character seperately, one tile at a time. What I didn’t knew was, that I was still in combat mode.

    I don’t know how much time I spent, moving my character’s through Lord British’s castle in combat mode, trying to talk to anybody or pick somethin up or get the hell out the castle.

    At some point I realized, that I had to press “C” to exit combat mode (Ultima6 on the C64 had no mouse support, you moved your characters with the joystick and used different keys to execute different actions), allowing me to smoothly move through the world and, joy of joys, talk to people.

    Of course, talking to people didn’t really help things along, since there still was this isssue about my really rather basic english skills and Ultima’s fake medieval language (I needed some time to understand, that ‘thou’ means ‘you’).

    I’d also like to point out, that I learned most of my early english by reading fantasy books and playing video games. Which resulted in me knowing words like “disembowel” “dismember” and “decapitate” but beeing unable to name a single tree or flower in english…

  10. Fat Zombie says:

    I’d like to say that not only did I fail to do the proper solution to the “ventilation shaft/tube puzzle” in Portal the first time around, instead stacking chairs to the vent…

    …After reading online that the proper solution was to portal a rocket into the tube, I went back in-game, and due to a simple mistake in words, spent ages attempting to break the opening to the ventilation shaft with a rocket, frustrated by the fact that the opening just wouldn’t break (There’s no space to get a portal in!) and completely ignoring the large, glass tube up in the ceiling.


  11. dartt says:

    Today I was playing Open Transport Tycoon, I built a huge train network with a hub connecting a bunch of farms, I set up a complex signalling system and spent millions on tunnels to cut out sections of trecherous terrains, I ordered up the trains and gave them their orders. Then I set about thinking where I should send the goods produced by the factory that was receiving all this stuff from the farms.

    The factory that…

    The factory…


  12. Arnulf says:

    The tale about the looping dungeon in Bard’s Tale reminds me of my (futile!) endeavour to map the Underworld in Ultima V on graph paper. Tasks I’d wouldn’t even consider for one second today. But the lengths someone took to experience the wondrous world of Ultima…


    Yes, yes, I was also stumped by the curious expressions in Ultima IV and V! Years later I got into my hands the complete works of Shakespeare in a double language edition. On the left side was the original, on the right side the german translation. If I had only be more attentive before!

    But I learned to read English by reading science fiction and fantasy novels. And by playing games of course.

    By the way, that was the weirdest Youtube review of a game I’ve ever seen. Was that English or Scottish? (It can’t be Gaelic, I’ve heard that before… )

    And I would like a transcript please! :D

  13. Meat Circus says:

    1: I played all of Half Life 2 without ever realising the pulse rifle had an alt-fire.

    2: In Ico, I once took a two-hour detour to because I didn’t realise that Yorda could be encouraged to jump across gaps.

    3: In WoW, I was level 12 before I figured out how to repair armour and sell grey loot.

    4: In Prince of Persia: Sands of Time I did that bloody lift section the hard way because I couldn’t figure out how to use the super-sand-power thing.

    5: The list is endless, because I am a moron.

    6: Two months into Eve and I’ve only just worked out that using autopilot takes five times as long as warping to stargates manually; that you can tell how hard a mission is going to be; and that my civilian shield booster is totally bloody useless.

  14. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    English, in a lovely Scottish accent. I wouldn’t worry though, none of the Americans on youtube understand it at all. And they speak English as a first language! Supposedly!

  15. Meat Circus says:


    at some later point in the game progress became impossible, right in the middle of a huge onslaught of enemy soldiers, again, because I couldn’t jump quite high enough.

    I remember that: it’s some green crates in the middle of the mine cart ride section. You know, I never actually figured that out, I eventually assumed it was a bug in Half Life: Source, and opened the debug console and set gravity to 600 from 800. It worked…

  16. baf says:

    I managed to get through the entirety of the original Doom without knowing you could move faster by holding down the shift key. I only learned this when I played some add-on level (one in the “Final Doom” package, I think) that was literally impossible to pass without it. I finally read a hint file to find out what I needed to do, and it said that you needed to run off a particular ledge in order to clear the lava below. Not knowing what it meant by “run”, I proceeded to repeatedly walk off that ledge and into the lava, wondering what I was doing wrong.

  17. Joel Esler says:

    In HL2, I was struck by the no-jumping bug in the Citadel. Only I didn’t realise it was a bug and assumed there was some super gravity in effect. I spent an hour scavenging for scrap to build a ramp over what was meant to be a jumpable barrier.

  18. cannon fodder says:

    @ Kast:

    You mean you can get a cube for that bit?

  19. baf says:

    Also, I’ve met someone who slaughtered ever single monster in the dungeon under Lord British’s castle in Ultima Underworld II on his first visit to that area. It didn’t even occur to him to do otherwise. “What a tough game!” he said. It wasn’t supposed to be. That area is a hub that you return to throughout the game, and had optional high-level encounters sprinkled around in corners of the map to keep it interesting on return visits.

    He wound up rendering the game unwinnable when he killed everything on the ground floor of the goblin tower, including the NPC who opens the door to the next floor.

  20. Dan F says:

    In Twilight Princess, at the beginning of the game, you have to catch a fish or 2 so a cat would stop being annoying. I had the gamecube version, and for some reason, I could not catch a fish for my life. Almost 3 hours later, and after several friends tried to catch a fish (one said “wow it was so much easier on the, wii version, you should really get a wii!”), I finally threw the controller at a wall. Thinking I may have broken it, when I calmed down I plugged in another controller. Lo and behold, I caught a fish in 2 seconds. Turns out the C-stick wasn’t working. And I was about to proclaim the game the worst in the series.

  21. Sam says:

    @baf: what, you can run in Doom? (I never played Final Doom, so clearly I never encountered any indication you could run until you mentioned it…)

    @Meat Circus: Yeah, me too with the armour repairing in WoW (which made me more paranoid about dying than I think I was supposed to be, since my equipment looked like it was steadily going to vanish…)

    And, like apparently everyone else, I did the Portal puzzle the “wrong way”; however, in my case, I actually tried it the “right way” first, failed to break the tube and decided that it must be unbreakable and…

  22. Darius K. says:

    Hey, you can map Asteroids, you just need to understand toroidal geometry. Hell, you may have gotten extra credit for that in math class.

  23. Ben Hazell says:

    Reading these comments I’ve only just realised how I was supposed to do that Portal puzzle.
    I kinda felt it was a neat twist to remind you to think normally as well as with portals. I stacked PC boxes to climb up.
    Afterwards I found there was supposed to be a better way, but I’ve never known what it was. Now I do :)

    I also remember that it took a friend coming over to realise that the T Rex in Tomb Raider could be killed.

  24. Goose says:

    On my first run through Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, I totally didn’t realize that I could mow down tons of zombies using the gravity gun and the saw blades that are lying around. Instead, I spent way too much time shooting every last one of them in the “face” with what little ammo I could find.

    I can’t remember where I found out about the sawblades, but I remember smacking myself pretty hard in the skull once I did. My second run through the game was much less ammo-constrained and several times more fun.

  25. Solario says:

    The running feature in Half Life 2 didn’t occure to me till I had finished that, every episode and half of Minerva.

    I tend to surpress these things, but I’m sure there’s more.


  26. DoomMunky says:

    I created a custom civ in GalCiv2 based on the Terrans, who start on the homeworld Earth, with the habitable planet Mars right next door. Now it’s good strategy to colonize all the more remote planets first, before your opponents can get to them. So I churned out a bunch of colony ships and sent them out to the furthest reaches of space, colonizing what I could find. After I’d found all the habitable planets that I could, I discovered a ship from another civ heading toward my home system…yep, it’s a colony ship, and it’s on the way to Mars, which I’ve forgotton about.

    Rushing production on a colony ship for it put me 1000bc in the red, halting all production and putting me in such a hole I had to restart or face an INCREDIBLY difficult climb out of debt. So hey, live and learn, right?

    Except I didn’t learn, and did the exact same thing the very next game. I’ve been taking a break since, as every time I load it up I’m reminded of my own stupidity.

  27. Winston says:

    My dad had a PC when I was 10 or so. It had little character mode platform games that you played with 2, 4, 6 and 8, for down, left, right and up.

    It took me about 3 years to realise that they meant the keys on the keypad, not the ones along the top.

    I had been wondering who thought that layout made sense…

  28. Pace says:

    Ha ha, I think we have a winner!

    Meat Circus; Glad I’m not the only one. If I knew how to cheat then I’d have done the same thing.

  29. grey_painter says:

    I started to feel a little bit stupid when I found out I was more or less the only person to do that portal puzzle the way it was intended to be done…

    Other than that nothing drastic springs to mind. I usually make poor choices for spreading out points in RPGs when leveling up, thats just baseline stupidity rather that completely misunderstanding the concept of the game.

  30. Coyote says:

    X-Com: I finished the game “the hard way” because I didn’t realize you could save a game in mid-battle until I was almost done with the whole thing. One “bad enough” mistake in a battle, and I’d re-start the entire battle from the beginning. And I chalked up a lot of higher-level squaddie deaths to “acceptable losses.” So I had to assault Mars with a bunch of newbies.

  31. unclebulgaria says:

    There’s a puzzle in Tomb Raider 2 where you have to jump over a series of spinning fans. Only when you jump straight at them you die. In my case, for around an hour at a time. There is no way around this, believe me. Turning sideways or backwards makes you jump around 1/10^9th of a pixel higher.

    Hand/forehead moment!

  32. Janek says:

    Coyote, nothing stupid about not save scumming. Hooray for you. (I also didn’t know about mid-mission save, with angry results when a particularly grueling alien base met a power cut).

    I’ve just thought of another one. When I first played Dwarf Fortress, it took me a week or so to figure out you could designate more than one tile at a time. And that was only because I accidently moved the cursor before hitting enter.

  33. Raff says:

    I finished Deus Ex with no knowledge of the Walk key.

  34. StolenName says:

    @ Schadenfreude

    Ahh dear man, I got screwed in Le Chuck’s Revenge when searching for a docket to get a coat, or something. It was on the first island and after literally days of scouring the place for it, all we had to do was shut a door and it was hanging on the back. WHAT THE HELL? Since when is it ever necessary to shut the door in Monkey Island? Ahh well.

    I think my worst moment in gaming was in Final Fantasy VII when battling Ruby weapon (which is unbeatable with physical attacks, located in the desert surrounding Dio’s casino place, thing). Cid struck all lucky sevens (7777 health), which forces the character to continually use physical attacks until the enemy is dead. BUT THE BOSS IS IMMUNE TO PHYSICALS. After watching this for a few minutes, laughing my head off, I had to reset and start again. However, I got my own back when Cloud went 7777 on Emerald weapon, thus eliminating one of the most challenging battles in the game.

    Oh, I saved in the middle of an elevator in Mass Effect and lost about three hours of gameplay. That was balls.

    @ Raff

    lol. So no sneaking missions for you then?

    @ everyone mentioning HL2

    errm, I’ve never completed any of them. Does that make me a bad person?

  35. Seth Tipps says:

    Well, I think most of us will probably be guilty of playing stalker straight through without paying much attention to side quests. I did this, but because I couldn’t get the PDA to switch mission objectives. I never knew you you could kill the poltergeist, for the simple reason that when I tried and sprayed the room with bullets and a grenade, there was no blood (lucky %#&!). It also didn’t help that I had failed to discover that the creature you encounter in the first underground section that does the mind blast thing can be killed. I wound up discovering my mistake when I accidentally killed the one standing over Fang’s body in the second lab.

    In half-life2 I didn’t notice the most important car trap until just after I had killed the last zombie at the section, thus using up way too much ammo for anyone’s good. And I definitely didn’t think to pick up the saw blades.

  36. Seth Tipps says:

    Oh, and how many of you figured out what the “Scroll of Icarian flight” in Morrowind was for?

  37. Electric Dragon says:

    In The Longest Journey, a) the up and down keys allow you to scroll through your inventory without having to go back to the inventory screen every time and b) the item in hand cursor helpfully flashes when it is above another object it can be successfully combined with. I discovered neither of these (and didn’t even notice that sometimes the object flashed) until about halfway through, making the game suddenly a whole lot less laborious.

  38. drunkymonkey says:

    The biggest moment I can think of is a horrible yet hilarious little bug that was found on an old Premier Manager game for the Amiga. I attempted to give Paul Gasgoine a payrise, as I thought he had been doing quite well for the club. Unfortunately my club did not have enough money to support one, so clicking the option told me that I wouldn’t be able to. I then proceeded to come off this payrise menu only to be informed that Gasgoine was not prepared to come from this interview without a payrise. I was left stuck on a screen about giving a washed-up football player a payrise I couldn’t afford and he couldn’t live without.

    For an eight year old, that’s quite a bewildering experience.

    @John P: that is a masterful story.

  39. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    It took me a year or so to realize there was a key that let you grab stuff and move it around in Oblivion. I’d once spent an hour trying to get a sword to sit the right way up in a display cabinet.

  40. Smee says:

    I played through all of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time without realising that there were more sand dagger abilities other than “Rewind”. Meat Circus, I feel your pain over the lift section.

    I also didn’t realise that all the weapons and psychic powers in Advent Rising had an alternate fire mode.

    I played Worms 2 for about a year before I found out that you could make the worms jump up ledges by backflipping. If the worm I was controlling was ever below another worm on an incline, I used the Ninja Rope to get over him.

    Right-Clicking to rotate your buildings as an Engineer in Team Fortress 2 is the most recent one, I think. After about, oooh, 13 hours as that class? It still makes me mad when I go through a teleporter only to come face-to-face against a wall.

    Too many little things to do with Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper to remember.

  41. Nihohit says:

    Me being one of the (seemingly) rampant non-native english speakers here, I was also stumped by playing computer games in my early years, but – I still remember the sheer joy of playing the tactical mode of Star Control 1, even though I had no idea what wirds like fortify and Mine meant. for me it was just random word choosing until ships collided and the battle begun – and still, it was amazingly fun!

  42. StolenName says:

    @ Drunky Monkey

    And that’s why Premiership Manager games are never any good for anyone! My little brother got hooked on the blasted games for years and effectively confiscated my bloody console … grrr.

    @ main article

    That incident with Mass Effect is an interesting one, which to be honest, highlights for me the necessity of reviewers to also read through the instruction manual of the game they’re reviewing. When I receive games, it’s always the same promo disc in a jewel case for PS3 or dodgy Xbox 360 case for 360 games but hardly ever a manual. It makes me wonder if this could be why some reviewers are claimed to “not get games” as they’re missing that key component of the game as a package.

    In this case, the instruction manual for Mass Effect mentioned the importance of upgrading using the Talent Points.

    However, I’m not sure how to upgrade weapons was mentioned as it was only four hours into my first play through when I discovered the install function. I was informed that I needed to make space in the inventory for new items so I cleared out all the old weapons but there still seemed to be an excess number of items I couldn’t account for.

    That’s when, scouring the inventory screen, I noticed the hit X for upgrade thing. Gah, that gave me the shits and made the game a hell of a lot easier.

  43. FP says:

    Playing Portal the first time around I completely missed the idea of the double fling (dropping from floor to wall to floor to wall) on the first map that requires it.

    I ended up putting a portal directly above me and one directly below me and then while I was endlessly falling through the two I tried to shoot an exit portal at the tiny section of non-metal wall, this took me about 20 minutes because it takes less than a second to fall between ceiling and floor which doesn’t give you much time to aim. :)

    On the plus side I managed to do the rocket/pipe puzzle the “right” way.

  44. darkripper says:

    I played Jagged Alliance 2 for almost a month, killing thousands of my mercs because of the poor shooting. Recently I re-bought the game on steam and found out the game is easier using stealth-based characters.

    Also, I played most of the CoD4 singleplayer without grenades because I was too lazy to bind the 4 and g keys to mouse buttons.

  45. chronnus says:

    I played through 3 quarters of Mafia, memorizing (and in some parts mapping on a piece of paper that I kept below my monitor) the city streets when I friend told me that I could press TAB to get the map to show up. D’oh!

  46. Therlun says:

    The Monkey Island thing is a myth.
    You can only polish the wooden leg a very limited number of times. Try it.

  47. malkav11 says:

    I never used grenades at all in Call of Duty 4, but that was mostly because they didn’t seem to be much use. (That, and I could just shoot everyone dead without *too* much trouble.)

  48. paper says:

    In the original Final Fantasy(NES) I didn’t know that you had to EQUIP equipment. I remember thinking, “wow, this game is really hard, I guess I have to level up a lot to get anywhere.” Now every time I see an NPC say “Don’t forget to equip your items” in a game I can understand the intent.

    In Portal, the first missile gun stumped me. I spent about half an hour peeking into the room and setting up precise portals to make it shoot itself, and when I finally got it to work the missiles would just disintegrate. It was only then that I noticed that the far wall was just glass…

  49. Zoetrope says:

    Here’s a very recent regret since I just learned about this highly useful World of Warcraft fact today.

    Over the holidays, I got a 10-day-invite pass from one of my old guildmates to play WoW again, now improved with the Burning Crusade expansion and a faster leveling speed. I really wanted to check out the new BC content for higher levels, but I had stopped playing my main character at level 47.

    I knew that to enter the Dark Portal (which takes you to the higher level content in BC), you need to be level 58. So I spent a good chunk of my holiday break furiously powerleveling to gain 11 levels before my 10 day preview was up so I could see some of the new content.

    Today, I finally reached level 57 and was chatting with guildmates about how I’d be able to accomplish my goal with some time to spare. They did the obligatory round of “grats!”, but a mage also quickly remarked that they have a new portal spell that allows them to send anyone (even a level 1 character) directly to the capital city in the heart of the new BC content area.

    Long story short, I managed to burn myself out on WoW again in record time and haven’t log on since…

  50. PleasingFungus says:

    Paper: I spent a little bit trying to get the missile turret to shoot itself, too. Managed it, but the missile just clipped through the turret and kept going. So I moved on. (Got the “right” solution to the pipe puzzle, then was rather impressed when I heard of the people who used chairs. Guess it’s mutual?)

    FP: I’m not certain, but I think that one of the advanced maps requires you to do that. Ridiculously hard.