Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

15 July, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Ideas that failed
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 9:56 PM

One of the hardest aspects of game development is realizing when you have a terrible idea. Nobody wants to admit their idea sucks, and in an industry with sometimes very fragile egos it’s a dangerous thing to start picking on someone else’s idea too hard, especially your those belonging to your boss. Choosing which features to cut is called “knifing your babies” for a reason.

So, keeping this in mind, let’s talk about some ideas that just didn’t work out. Things where it seemed like a good idea at the time. Give specific details about why the idea seemed like a good one at the time, and why it didn’t work out. Super extra bonus points for developers that own up to their own mistakes. :)

One of my mistakes was when I was still working on Meridian 59 at 3DO. Spells cost reagents to use, and you mostly get reagents from killing monsters. Or, you can buy them from NPCs for a fair bit of money. The problem was that the main mage spells used to kill monsters cost one reagent every time you cast it; so, it was really expensive for a mage to go out hunting without falling back on weapons.

Our solution was to revamp the damage spells to be enchantments. So, if you “punched” an enemy with the enchantment, it would do better damage than most mages would do while punching. The problem? We got rid of the “blast” type spells in this revamp. We wanted to add in the spells later (at higher level with increased damage), but we never got around to it before 3DO took us off the project. We did finally put the spells in as intended, but it nerfed spellcasters in PvP while it helped them in PvE. Since M59 is a PvP-focused game, this was a mistake.

I also talked about a few of these types of mistakes in my post about EverQuest 2.

What do you think? Are there any big ideas that just failed once the dust finally settled?


  1. I think one that jumps out at me was the entire Outcast System from Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. Although technically it didn’t fail since it never got beyond the design document stage. I think for all the issues we dealt with in discussing and poking holes in that facet of the game’s development the very nature of that kind of punishment system seems doomed from the start because there are far too many people who thrive on the chaos they can generate from circumventing the whole point of a punishment system like Outcasting. If you were to gauge the success of a system from the number of rabid people on both sides of the issue then Outcasting must rank up there as one of the all time biggies because I don’t know of anyone who was on the fence about it. You either loved the concept or hated the concept.

    But we never got the opportunity to even test it out, not even in Beta 1 and that for me is the other failure. The lack of willingness to roll out even a rudimentary version of Outcasting so we could see just how the thing worked in practice because we sure as hell beat it to a pulp on the pre-beta development boards as a development theory.

    Comment by Wanxi Brodo — 15 July, 2006 @ 10:09 PM

  2. Wanxi: – that sounds like the Cardinal Mistake. Listening to players on forums. It’s just possible that you completely emasculated the game back in preBeta and that its other foibles could have been fixed quickly given the groundwork of a functioning Outcasting system ;)

    Personally? I’m worried about most of Faith. So much of it is “shot in the dark” material that i’d have to be crazy to assume it would all be just accepted, playable and fun. Currently i’m mostly worried about the melee combat system because among others, Steven Davis of PlayNoEvil has raised extremely valid concerns about abstraction/simulation and i’m terrified that my sim-designer’s brain has gone too far for the game-player mind to cope with.

    We shall see, i suppose.

    Comment by Cael — 16 July, 2006 @ 4:57 AM

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