We don’t live in a perfect world, and some video games remind us of this with some very questionable design choices that either limit a players gameplay experience or annoy them to the point of them rage quitting the game from frustration. Whether it’s game mechanics that ruin pacing or features that suck the fun out of a game, the industry has its fair share of examples. I will explore some of the worst, most common problems display in many popular and beloved titles, I guarantee those reading will have come across at least one of these examples in a past game you’ve played.
Fast Travel Mechanic
Fast travel is massively debated as either a game mechanic that is necessary for modern adventures or RPGs or as a mechanic that removes traversal of the game world, thus removing much of the experience a game has to offer for players. Now, it can be argued that some game worlds have nothing interesting to offer the player, but that is more of a concern when designing a great game. If you’re not adding interesting things aside from the main story content, then fast travel is there as unintentional backup for when the player notices the lack of side content allowing for convenience. Bethesda RPGs (Fallout/Skyrim) use fast travel for any place you have been to, which is there for good intention but will likely be a crutch in the long run for players to quickly warp to previous areas. Even without modding the game these RPGs tend to have some dynamic content that players have an opportunity to explore by simply traveling on foot from A to B. This only becomes obvious when mods are added allowing for endless opportunities for exploration.
The Witcher 3’s use of fast travel is a good example of using such a mechanic as only signposts within the world can allow for fast travel rather than on demand from any location. Although with that smart decision comes the decision of the “dotted line of doom” that leads to quest markers, something worthy of its own article.
What we can learn from these examples is that Fast Travel isn’t a gameplay mechanic that you need to disregard, but it is something that can be potentially useful if your game content itself suits its function. You can design a massive game world with interesting content and also add Fast Travel as a feature. The best way to implement that would be to limit its functionality to locations that have been discovered to the player and to have least travel markers. Another way is to go The Witcher 3 route and enable certain fast travel markers around the map. This will limit the numbers of travel markers greatly which will force the player to travel by means of running, vehicle or horse, etc, and in the process, the player will have a greater opportunity to explore what the game has to offer without skipping over it.
A fetch quest within any game is the equivalent of filler, it involves fetching an irrelevant or useless item or piece of information for an NPC quest giver for the reward of either experience points or progressing the story. It is usually portrayed as a bland task with no substance and is usually mundane with nothing interesting to offer a player, hence why it is usually a part of side quests or secondary missions. The worst case scenario is when fetch quests are chained in which you are required to travel back and forth between NPCs and fetch multiple items for minimal reward.
It is popular to see these quests featured in free to play MMO games as they are simple to code, and as I said, act as filler for a game padding it out between major story quests. A more recent and talked about example of the use of fetch quests was in the popular zombie game Dead Island. In Dead Island, survivors on the island of Banoi would usually have you go around the island finding miscellaneous items for various personal reasons for the reward of money. There was no other incentive apart from money and most of these were side missions. In Techland’s more recent Dying Light, some fetch quests did make a return but a majority of these quests added various extra challenges to them. So instead of being a boring side quest it was more of a test of your abilities, and there was more sense of accomplishment.
There is nothing bad about using Fetch Quests within a game but there are many examples of how not to implement them. If the quest has something that can add to the user experience apart from simply obtaining an item then that is a good start. Another way to implement a fetch quest properly would be to weave it into the game’s narrative, making what you are fetching in some way important to the world or a known character.
A quick-time event (QTE) is a mechanic of “gameplay” developed for video games to give a player a series of button prompts to press to get through a cinematic or context sensitive sequence within a game. It is likely the most hated thing within the game industry as it sucks most of the control and fun from a game and normally comes off as lackluster leaving a player with no sense of accomplishment. In some cases, if a QTE isn’t completed correctly or on-time, the player may die within the game prompting a restart of that QTE, or in more modern games with the advent of easier difficulty modes the QTE simply autocompletes based on how the player performs in it.
The reboot of Tomb Raider and its sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider are prime examples of a bad decision and that bad decision being remedied. In the 2013 release of Tomb Raider, QTEs were abundant and were added for many key game sequences whether it aided the story or even simply gameplay events. It was one of the most annoying things and really tarnished the pacing for the game.
In the sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics must have listened to the feedback of the community because every QTE was essentially removed from the game, the only thing left in from the previous game was the ‘ledge hang fail state’ in which you needed to recover from a bad ledge grab by pressing a button.
This example of QTEs used in Tomb Raider is a perfect reason why QTEs can hinder a game for players and for its overall reception, people will look upon QTEs harshly, and I would say it is rare that there is a chance that such a mechanic could work within a game. Some Point and Click games might use this idea mainly because that genre is suited for it but within any other game genre it is highly unrecommended to add QTE mechanics.
What Can We Learn
There are thousands of examples of when a game mechanic can fail, or work or sometimes do both and still retain it’s player base. To put it simply, it is easy to avoid using one of these ideas in a way it doesn’t work. Larger developers may still add mechanics like this on purpose with an original intention, but the execution may fail on release and that seems to be the case.
The best course of action when creating a game is to look at past examples and talk to the gamer community. The best opinion is the one of the players who will play your game, they can have the best idea of whether or not ideas can work well or not before a game is out. I wouldn’t say let that deter development choices from your own original concept but take what information you can get from the public and use it to help mold your own project and make sure that gameplay can always feel fulfilling instead of dull.