Lost in Blue: Cardinal Sin 1

I would like to revive this blog after our short break with a short post. I will continue with two more articles about Lost in Blue. As you can see, the game inspired me quite a bit. At the same time, I will begin yet another recurring topic: the Cardinal Sins of Game Design. If you are interested in Game Design you should be familiar with Earnest Adams’ Bad Game Designer, no Twinkie column. It is collection of “irritating misfeatures” that frequently appear in games. They are little, disruptive peculiarities like the extensive use of crates or monsters which drop unrealistic items when slain. Although it is a quite entertaining and inspiring collection, in reality the twinkies (or “no-twinkies”) seldom have a profound impact on the player. Players might notice but learn to accept them as they don’t really spoil the game.

So now, I would like to start a collection of the very, very bad errors of game design. Where are the grave sins that make the players throw away the controller and break the cartridge? Yet again, we come back to Lost in Blue and take a look a hidden game design catastrophe lurking deep within.

Forgive me father for i am about to sin

The climax in Lost in Blue involves a bit of sneaking not unlike Metal Gear Solid. The player has to infiltrate a camp of the bad guys and find a way to ecape from the island. The player learns quickly that one of the enemy leaders has an important key in his pocket. The player has to find out how to obtain that key. Of course, it seems like the best way to do it is to approach the leader while he is asleep. So the player waits until it gets dark and enters the bedroom of the leader. However, the leader suddenly wakes up and kicks the player out.
We have a classic example of a twinkie: a puzzle that requires extreme lateral thinking. Instead of doing the obvious thing, the game expects the player to collect sleep-inducing mushrooms and feed them to the leader during lunchtime. This is a bad thing especially since players may not even know that there are such mushrooms on the island. However, there are other ways to escape the island so this counts just as weak game design, not as a cardinal sin.
Here is the sin: by careful sneaking, it is possible to enter the bedroom without being noticed by the leader. When this happens the game does … nothing. You cannot search the leader’s body although he is sleeping right in front of the player. Clearly, the game makes it possible to enter the bedroom but does not expect that it will happen.

Um? Excuse me? I would like to steal something from you. Would you please wake up so I can put you to sleep with this mushroom? Hello?

Seen from the perspective of the player, you tried numerous times to get inside that bedroom and as you finally did it the game completely ignores your achievement. It feels like punishment for being a hero. It is clearly the moment when players experience rage blackouts and start destroying gaming hardware.
The bad thing is that it isn’t just frustrating negative feedback. It is worse. It is no feedback at all. A message like “I can’t search the leader now” in this case would be a twinkie, but it wouldn’t kill the game. The player would recieve some kind of reaction to his effort. No raction means that the game doesn’t care what the player is doing and thinking.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
 – William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

One way to understand games is to imagine them as “reverse-theatre”. Usually it is the medium that delivers some kind of performance and is being judged by the reciepient. In games, the reciepients deliver the performance and the medium judges. Looking from the perspective of the actor in a theater, applause can certainly be good thing. Also, sometimes the actor’s goal is to provoke and challenge the audience, so outrage in the audience can be valuable as well. But the worst nightmare of somebody performing on stage is no reaction at all. It means that the performance completly failed to leave any impression – negative or positive. It means that nobody cares.

So here is the first cardinal sin of game design: ignorance. A game that ignores the player’s actions and achievements. How to avoid ignorance as a game designer? Thorough game testing, sophisticated procedural content or at least diligent planning. Of course all this takes time. But the important thing about sins that unlike twinkies, they are deadly for the product. In case if Lost in Blue, the cardinal sin is well hidden and almost at the end of the game so players choke it down and it only leaves a bitter aftertaste and polarized reviews. If the players would encounter it at the very beginning, they would discard the game outright.

I would be glad if we could collect and share other examples of ignorance in other games so we can examine the phenomenon. Also I would like to ask my colleagues to search for other cardinal sins, I can’t imagine it is the only one.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “Lost in Blue: Cardinal Sin 1”

  1. Chris

    Earnest Adams has put all of his Bad Designer No Twinkie articles on his website in the No Twinkie Database:


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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