Or, The Top 10 Pieces of Evidence that Suggest Game Developers weren't Hugged Enough when they were Little

I am given to understand that "Video Game Developer" is a fairly thankless job. Oh, sure, you may get the adulation and appreciation of millions of fans if you're lucky... but usually you're just another name on a credit roll and when the deadline for a game is coming up, you can find yourself working extremely long hours with no breaks trying frantically to get everything finished in time for launch. Even after your work is complete and the game is released, gamers – the very people you shed blood, sweat, and tears to make the game for – will spend hours endlessly critiquing every facet of your work and pointing out all the things you did wrong. It is therefore somewhat understandable that some of the development community may feel a sense of bitterness towards gamers in general.

However, sometimes it seems like this bitterness boils over and seeps into the game design. Occasionally, a feature, mechanic, or other element gets introduced into a game that seems to be there for the sole purpose of frustrating the player. It's occasionally justified with flimsy excuses like "lengthening play time" or "increasing the challenge" or even "keeping things interesting." Usually, though, these are all fairly transparent defences of a simple truth - someone on the development team is out to get you. Here are 10 of the most egregious examples of developers seeking to take revenge on the gaming community.

A seldom used but extremely potent method of getting back at gamers is to reduce the time and budget of the testing department so that your game can be released with as many glitches as reasonably possible. These can be anything from mild annoyances to crippling bugs, but you can score some serious bonus points if the glitch is a) unavoidable and b) completely game-breaking.

Top honours in this category go to the Atari 7800 port of Impossible Mission, which lived up to its name in the most literal way possible: the mission truly is impossible. In Impossible Mission, you have to search for pieces of a password, and the Atari 7800 version places some of these password parts underneath computer terminals, making them impossible to access and, thus, making the game unwinnable. Bubble Bobble Revolution resurrected this idea exactly two decades later by making the game's third boss never spawn, thereby rendering the level unwinnable and stopping the game at level 30 (out of 100).

Some developer out there is giggling away as he reads this, recalling the fantastic joke he played on the gaming community...

Random Encounters are already kind of a jerk-move, but they've been grandfathered in from an older era of gaming, so most RPG gamers tend to just accept them as part of the experience. However, one time-honoured way developers past and present love to vex their gamers is by introducing areas and dungeons with the random encounter rate turned up to 11. Dungeons of this nature can be summed up as: "Take a step - battle - take a step - battle - take a step - take another step - battle - pull hair out in frustration." Those developers who REALLY have issues may even go so far as to make the dungeon a maze to maximise the amount of time gamers will stay in them.

Being one of the oldest RPG franchises, Final Fantasy has a long history of doing this, often at seemingly random points (why, precisely, did the train station in FF7 have more thugs running around in it than prohibition-era Chicago?), although they're far from alone in that category... Apparently there's a Pokemon developer or three with some unresolved frustrations, because Mt. Moon is horrible in this department and the Cinnabar Mansion is a random encounter nightmare...

World Decay is a relatively new method of developer vengeance that came about when games started telling time and date based on either internal timers or console clocks. Developers started making games that, in their words, "played themselves", continuing to change and evolve even while the player was absent. This was done ostensibly to convey a sense of realism; something cataclysmic could happen in-game while you were sleeping and the world you visit tomorrow may not be the same as the world you left yesterday.

In reality, this is actually just an application of basic human psychology first made famous by the founder of Radical Behaviourism, psychologist B.F. Skinner. Basically, in order to "train" a living creature, be it a dog or a monkey or even a human, you can provide "stimuli" in a manner that will elicit the response you desire. World Decay is an example of "Positive Punishment" - adding an adverse stimulus when the desired behaviour is not performed. Basically, when you fail to do what the game wants you to do (I.E. keep playing), the game "punishes" you by screwing up the in-game world or your player character. For example, if you don't sign into Animal Crossing for a few days, your neighbours start to move away, weeds start popping up all over town, and your house gets infested by roaches. If you're a player in a competitive MMORPG, you may lose rank or standing in your faction if you fail to keep up with your PvP combat. MMORPG developers LOVE doing this, because it "encourages" (read: threatens) gamers to keep playing their game and paying the subscription fee... or else.

Oh, the Escort Mission... this is one of the longest and most cherished methods of gamer abuse in all of gaming. It is mostly a product of 3D gaming (somewhat surprisingly, 2D escort missions are almost unheard of) and has expanded to invade nearly every genre of the industry, although MMORPGs, FPSes, SRPGs, and flight simulators seem to be the genres most fond of using it. The idea is fairly simple: you must escort an NPC from one area to another, ensuring no harm comes to them and fighting off any enemies you encounter along the way.

The problem is that escort missions are frequently crippled by incredibly poor AI and a lack of ability to give orders to your charge. For example, if you were escorting a non-combatant through a battlefield in real life, you might urge them to hang back and find cover while you take care of all the enemies in the area. In gaming, however, the person you are escorting will happily traipse right into the middle of a heated firefight and get stuck running into a waist-high wall before being capped by an enemy sniper. Half the time escort missions feel like you're protecting your charge from their own stupidity as much as you’re protecting them from the enemy.

The developers in charge of Phantasy Star Online took this to a new level of spitefulness when they had you escort one of the weakest NPCs in the entire game through a two level dungeon AND A BOSS FIGHT. Somewhat mercifully, in the Gamecube remake, someone had apparently given the developers one of those stress toys or something, because they had the NPC disappear during the boss battle to make life a little easier. However, that still doesn't change the fact that said NPC can be one-shotted by some of the more powerful enemies in the dungeon segment. Makes the whole escort stint an exercise in extreme frustration.

This nasty trick is usually put into a game with the justification that it adds challenge and keeps the players from trouncing the computer. Basically, you are pitted against an AI who can seemingly read your every move. Sometimes the programming just works out so that it seems that way, but sometimes it turns out that the computer is doing just that! The AI has a distinct advantage over human players in that it can read your button inputs, process them, and react accordingly, all before the input actually triggers. This shows up frequently in fighting games, where the enemy can perfectly block almost any combo you throw at them, and will only attack you the split second you let off of the block button.

However, other game genres make judicious use of it too. It can occasionally be used creatively (Mega Man Zero 2, Super Ghouls and Ghosts and Metal Gear Solid all had enemies or bosses with psychic AI and they're actually regarded as quite memorable), but more often than not it's just used to add artificial challenge. One of the most frustrating instances of Psychic AI surfaced in Sonic Shuffle, a Mario Party imitator made by Sega. Instead of rolling dice, players are dealt a "hand" from a deck of cards and can play a numbered card on their turn to move that many spaces. A player may also choose a card from an opponent's hand if they want to try their luck and hope for a better card than what they have in their hand. Unfortunately, while you can't see the AI's cards and are essentially guessing when you draw one, the AI can definitely see yours. It constantly steals your best cards and takes whatever number it needs to land on the best possible space. Frustratingly, there are three computer players in the single player game and all three seem to exist for the sole purpose of driving the player crazy, with no way to combat their cheating ways save by judicious use of the "save/load game" buttons. Apparently there's a developer at Sega with an axe to grind with the gaming community... my sneaking suspicion is that it's an ex-Mario Party dev who wanted to sabotage Sega for stealing his idea and punish anyone who dared to buy this game.

It can be pretty frustrating when an AI demonstrates a seemingly precognitive ability to react to your inputs, but sometimes the AI takes it a step further and outright CHEATS in order to beat you. This happens when the AI has the same equipment/characters that you do, but has either higher stats than player characters or abilities/weapons/items that are impossible for a player to acquire. It becomes quite visible when a game doesn't even bother to cover its tracks; I'm sure anyone who has played a Mario Kart game has thought to themselves, "...wait, I just smashed you with three red shells, knocked you over a cliff, then used a golden mushroom to give myself a speed burst and you STILL managed to catch up with me?!" Apparently some Nintendo dev thought it would be hilarious to make the computers do all sorts of zany tricks to make life miserable for the player... tricks like "have unlimited uses of items, some of which are unavailable to the player" (Super Mario Kart) or "ignore being hit with a weapon" (Mario Kart 64).

It gets even worse with the NPC trainers in the Pokemon series. "Wait, how'd you get a Pidgeotto at level 9? I thought Pidgey didn't evolve until level 18... For that matter, what's with that level 50 Dragonite that knows Barrier?" And those are just the obvious ones! The enemy AI uses different stats for the same moves a player can use, which means that attacks launched by the enemy AI are more accurate, deal more damage, and trigger secondary effects like paralysis more often than the exact same move used by the exact same Pokemon if it's controlled by a player. Player Pokemon also suffer the negative effects of Paralysis, Confusion, Captivation, etc., more often than AI Pokemon.

Nintendo has some truly twisted developers within its ranks if this is their idea of entertainment...

Nerfing - also known as blunting or wimping in some circles - is the act of taking an item, skill, spell, or other aspect of a player's character and making it significantly weaker in a subsequent patch. It is usually done under the premise of balancing a game, although its true purpose is simply that the developers have had enough of your complaining and are going to teach you a lesson you won't soon forget. Nerfing is only possible in games that contain patches and updates - a growing roster in today's world of ever-more-connected consoles and games, but formerly restricted to online PC games. The act of nerfing has its roots in the MUD (Multi-User Dungeon for those of you who are not awesome enough to recognize that acronym) community, which served as a precursor to modern day MMORPGs. More than most other entries on this list, this inspires genuine anger in fanbases that goes beyond frustration and annoyance (much to the delight of some twisted developer, who sits in his throne cackling and stroking his goatee) and has been recognized as being extremely detrimental to a MUD or MMORPG's playerbase.

The Star Wars Galaxies developers really took this idea to town in a pair of updates that are notorious amongst the MMORPG crowd for the incredible scope and scale of their nerfage: The Combat Upgrade and the New Game Enhancements (CU and NGE respectively). As the developers sat typing at their keyboards, gritting their teeth as tears of rage rolled down their cheeks, they successfully did what no other commercial MMO has done before: nerfing the entire game. Scores of weapons, items, and skills were made useless overnight and entire classes were removed from play. The player reaction, predictably, was outrage. Enough outrage to make headlines on the New York Times and the BBC. Which is pretty damn impressive for a MMORPG fanbase the size of SWG's, no matter which way you slice it.

A little advice, SOE? When I'm feeling angry, I like to hug a pillow. Maybe try that next time instead of destroying EVERYTHING.

There comes a point where aggravation and a thirst for vengeance evolve into a desire to inflict physical harm. That realm of blood-soaked rage is where the Rapid Input mechanic was born. As the name implies, Rapid Input involves inputting some command into the game rapidly. The two most common variants are rapid button tapping and control stick spinning. These terrible, terrible crimes against the gaming community have been the death of countless controllers and have turned the sinuous, dextrous fingers of many a gamer into withered, broken claws. While Rapid Input is a pretty low blow on its own, it takes on a whole new level of sadism when it is combined with an incredibly good AI opponent or, even worse, pitting players against each other in a contest to see who can tap buttons/spin control sticks fastest. This fierce competition has bred a number of "tricks" that increase one's input speed (like spining the control stick with one's palm or using a spoon to rapidly press a single button), none of which are particularly kind to controllers or gamers.

The Mario Party series - particularly the original - is notorious for having some of the most cruel and torturous Rapid Input sequences around, even going so far as to combine a nigh-unbeatable AI with very high stakes mini-games in an attempt to screw over gamers as much as physically possible. However, perhaps one of the most arduous and downright spiteful cases of Rapid Input malevolence came in Banjo Tooie; hearing the name "Canary Mary" still causes a dull throbbing in the thumbs of anyone who's had to race her in Cloud Cuckoo Land. The Canary Mary race is fairly simple in premise, just tap the A button rapidly to win. However, Mary herself is disgustingly fast (requiring an obscene speed of button tapping to emerge victorious) and the race is LONG, requiring you to keep mashing the A button for 90 seconds nonstop. I actually developed a repetitive strain injury when I beat that challenge the first time around; I elected to use an autofire controller on subsequent playthroughs.

I'm pretty sure putting a Rapid Input sequence in your game violates some clause of the Geneva Convention and rumour has it there is a special UN task force that is still searching for the sick mind behind these cruel mini-games...

When games moved beyond idle, five-minute amusements and started becoming true adventures, a way of saving one's progress became required. Thus was the save feature born, the ability to preserve one's game at set intervals to be resumed later. However, for some very bitter and hateful developers, this was just a new avenue through which gamers could be attacked and revenge could be taken. Under the hollow guise of "adding challenge" to a game, they decided to throw in the idea of limiting how often a player could save. Sometimes a player had to pay a price in in-game currency. Sometimes, as with the original Lunar: Eternal Blue, the cost was in experience points. But the most truly twisted form of save restriction came in Resident Evil. In RE, save points were found in the form of typewriters. However, before one could use a save point, one had to find an ink ribbon, forcing the player to rummage around the evil haunted mansion of death and hope they didn't get killed before saving their progress. But the most beautifully sadistic caveat of this little exercise in abuse? There were a limited number of ink ribbons in the game. That's right: save too often, and you will run out of ink, rendering you unable to save for the remainder of the game.

That's pretty damn low, Capcom... Perhaps some sensitivity training for a few developers amongst your staff is in order...

This is perhaps the most sadistic trick a developer can pull on an unsuspecting gamer. While formerly quite common, this merciless method of messing with gamers is almost completely extinct these days. The idea is that if a gamer fails to pick up a critical item or perform a required action at some point in the game, the game becomes unwinnable. However, the game usually won't let you know that you've screwed up and you're free to keep going (and keep saving) until you run up against an insurmountable obstacle/death trap that you are now completely unable to bypass. Oh, and you can't backtrack and pick up that item you need, since that would make it way too easy.

Sierra were the undisputed kings of this, especially in the "_____ Quest" games. Did you sell your hovercraft in Space Quest I at the first offer, instead of waiting for the second offer where you get a Jetpack in the deal as well? Gee, that's a shame, because you'll eventually get to a point in the game later where you *REALLY* are going to need that jetpack... Hey, you didn't eat that pie when you were starving or feed it to the baby Eagle in King's Quest V, did you? Ooh, too bad, now you won't be able to use it to fight off the Yeti (Yes, that is an actual example from the game). Truly there has never been a game company that hated gamers more than Sierra did and to this day I have difficulties picturing their development team as anything other than a series of haggard, malnourished twenty-somethings, with one shaking hand resting on a keyboard and the other wrapped firmly around a bottle of hard liquor, their bloodshot eyes staring with barely-comprehending rage at pages upon pages of malevolent game-code designed with the sole purpose of breaking the spirits of their fans and customers.

As this list should prove, video game developers hate your guts and would love nothing more than to see you incapacitated by the same choking rage that they have been forced to endure for the last three decades. If any of you devs out there are reading this, I would just like to say – on behalf of the gaming community – we’re sorry. Yes, we are relentless in our criticisms and we can be downright insulting with our demands, but we do it because we love you and want to see you succeed. We really do mean well and we don’t mean to make you angry; we absolutely appreciate all the hard work you do. So, once again, we’re sorry.

Now can you please stop with the escort missions?


List by darkknight109 (05/24/2010)

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