Fighting Through Bad Game Design

Call of Duty Black Ops SOG

Yesterday, I got off the late bus and finally picked up Call of Duty: Black Ops, joining the masses currently playing through another one of Treyarch’s well-received stabs at the CoD franchise. So far, I’m a huge fan of the campaign, and it’s managed some intense and epic moments, and the pace never lets up on you from the moment it starts with its memorable opening missions.

However, during the first Vietnam level, S.O.G., I’ve run into a bit of a problem with some bad game design. It turns out I’m not the only one, either. If you haven’t played the game (and even if you have), there’s a point in the mission where your objective is to take a hill back from the NVA. They are storming across and hopping down in trenches, and your mission marker tells you to get to the bottom of the hill.

This proved almost impossible.

The problem is, the enemies infinitely respawn in typical CoD fashion, and it seems to defy the traditional method of just getting to the next waypoint. I sat there for well over 30-45 minutes, dying time after time, unsure of what I was supposed to do. It turns out, after some Googling (and seeing that many others had this problem as well), that I’m supposed to run to separate unmarked barrels and interact with them to push them down the hill and set the enemies on fire. If that’s the case, why aren’t these barrels labeled, and why does nobody tell you what to do?

These kinds of problems with game design always drive me a little bit crazy. Typically, I will spend a long time getting more and more frustrated at the game itself until I finally have to go look it up. A similar thing happened on the “Final Climb” level of Forgotten Sands, where two small sections of the platforming seemed broken.

What do you guys do when you encounter bad game design? Plow through it until you solve it yourself? Look it up online? Rage quit? Is this just a case of me being a noob? Go!

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

9 thoughts on “Fighting Through Bad Game Design”

  1. I know exactly the fight your talking about and yes it is very broken, And to me it was the nail in the coffin between me and Black ops. I tend to plow though problems and don’t stop until I’m past it but sometimes when its just not fun I will stop and move onto something else.

  2. I didn’t have that problem at all. I got through it okay (second or third attempt) and I had no idea you could push those barrels! I just ran down from trench to trench and shot anything not speaking American.
    To answer your question it really just depends on what game and what part of my life it was. I used to plough through it when I was young but when I started getting magazines with guides I’d use them when I got really stuck on a bad section. Then the internet. Now it rarely happens since I can simply apply ‘game logic’ to different scenarios since I’ve encountered so many variations of the same problem. For example: W@W had plenty of poorly designed levels so the solution was to attempt a logical approach first (move from cover to cover and take potshots) and when that didn’t work ( enemies and grenades, ’nuff said) move onto less orthodox tactics (eg. Kamikaze, dart about the place like some sort of psycopath killing enemies as brutally, efficiently and quickly as possible or else just run away and let the AI deal with it) until a more advantageous checkpoint occured.

  3. Eddy, it didn’t occur to me until now that there was something broken but I share your pain. I sat at that SAME spot when playing through that mission and failed MULTIPLE times. My solution after getting mad was to just run around trying different things, finally achieving it. But it didn’t occur to me really that the game was broken at that point. Same problem though.

    If I can mention on the BO issue, the game has a fun story, but it has issues. Its online is so absolutely horrible that I prefer going back to MW2. Latency issues are terrible in BO Online.

    But back to the original topic. When I run into hard parts. I usually get angry and keep trying. I’ve only rage quit once in a game and that was on Ace Combat 6. I had to put the game down for around 3 months before coming back and beating it. Usually Ill plow through it. If its one I can not solve, then I check online.

  4. Yeah, I ran into the same issue with that part of S.O.G. when I was playing it. Good to know I’m not the only one. lol

    Confusing the player with waypoints is pretty ridiculous; I’m surprised they didn’t catch that in testing.
    What I like about Left 4 Dead is how they teach the player things with little blurbs that come up at the bottom of the screen or near important objects or locations. It lets the game give you a hint while you’re looking at that object or location, or gives you a short tutorial on basic controls or features while you’re experiencing the control or feature firsthand. Despite the occasional hiccup in some games, for the most part, interface and player guidance is becoming easier and more fluid.
    Most games still have a ways to go until they master the art of tutorial and player direction, but some shining examples stand out. Aside from L4D, Super Mario taught the player controls in the first screen without intrusion. It was easy since the game was simple and modern games that are more complex may require full tutorial missions to outline the game’s features, but it’s perfectly possible to introduce features and advanced controls without distracting the player.
    Waypoints need to be either mastered or removed. Waypoints are awesome for showing the player where they need to go if they’re lost or in a vast area or showing them an important object or enemy that needs to be dealt with. At least with Black Ops, however, they misuse waypoints in a couple ways. Obviously, you have the mistake with S.O.G., but honestly that was one case. The bigger mistake is that they give you a waypoint as soon as you enter a new area. It’s nice to know where I’m going, but after a few missions, I was just blindly following waypoints and not really being immersed in the environment. My focus was drawn to the waypoint, not to mention the enemies, and so I never got to the feel my surroundings or the experience, at least in some cases. I don’t have stare at the scenery to get the feel of an environment, but if I’m given the challenge of figuring where to go and how to defeat the enemy – instead of being guided along to flank the enemy or find a rocket launcher to kill some tanks – then I’m both challenged by the game and being immersed in the environment. This is really what’s holding back some FPS’s, or at least Call of Duty, from being awesome. I’m not challenged anymore, I’m just playing a Military Channel documentary. It’s not really watching a movie though, since while I’m guided along during the action bits, I have to input buttons during cutscenes to perform functions that should be performed anyway. That’s the point of putting cutscenes in FPS’s; to perform actions that don’t need “X” to execute because it’s a special function, like rappeling, which should be handled by the plot, not the character. Pressing a button to advance the plot is silly and awkward. If anything, let the playing control their rappeling more; let them slide down and find select a window to breach while being able to fire their weapon. Pressing a button to initiate an action that the player doesn’t interact with after pressing the first button is both not giving enough interaction and putting a random button press where it is unneeded and awkward.

    Other than that, game design issues arise from either lack of testing or designers’ silliness. There are excellent game designers and there are bad game designers, and it’ll always be that way.

  5. I’ve heard both Gameinformer and IGN both say “Whenever you’re stuck, just kick the barrel!”

  6. When I come across bad game design, I get pretty frustrated. It’s really only happened to me in the Elder Scrolls games, so if I come across it there, I just open up the game’s command line and do some noclipping or disabling. Oh wait, that’s bugs.

    As far as bad game DESIGN, if it’s a one-time offense or really just a minor detraction, I’ll use the internets to help me push through. I can’t call it bad game design, just primitive game design, when I get stuck in older games like Dark Forces or Half-Life.

  7. I actually saw a npc kick one of the barrels so I tried on the other and it worked, still sat there killing guys for a good 5 minutes before that though… Im surprised no one picked that up during testing

    Anyway, its a minor hiccup in what is a pretty great campaign

  8. Ha, so once I knew what to do, I went back last night and beat that part on the very first try. So far, I’m liking the game over all, but just like other Call of Duty titles – when it’s frustrating, it’s REALLY frustrating. For all of its great moments, there are plenty of moments where the game gives you no clue what to do. Sometimes your goal is to run ahead, sometimes it’s to stand back and fight finite enemies, and for me it’s always hard to tell. I think as good as the series is, Call of Duty is starting to show its age in terms of gameplay.

  9. Eddy, that was exactly what I thought after completing Black Ops. It was good but as far as FPSs go it’s getting left behind. They havn’t changed the format at all and refinements can only go so far. I think BO is far enough.

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