The 6 Biggest Dick Moves in the History of Video Game Design
No matter how hard a video game is, what's important is that it's fair -- it lays out the rules, you agree to them, and away you go. But every now and then some malcontent designer adds a feature that pulls the rug out from under you and laughs when your ass hits the floor. Until the PlayStation 5 comes with an extendable middle finger, this is the closest designers have come to telling gamers to go fuck themselves:
Shadow of the Beast Is Nonstop Dicking at Every Turn
When Shadow of the Beast was released in 1989, it was praised for its ground-breaking visuals and haunting atmosphere by the three people who managed to finish it. The game is ostensibly an open-ended platformer, but it has to be completed in a very, very specific order in what we hope was just an incredibly misguided way of padding the length of the game and not the product of developers who held stock in monitor manufacturers and anger-management clinics.
"... to Hell."
You start in the middle of a field with no instructions, so like any conditioned gamer you head right. You soon find a well you can sloooowly climb down, but the bottom is locked. All you can do is climb back up and keep moving.
Everyone's least favorite part of gym class, now in 16-bit form.
You come to a castle where you can go left or right. If you go right you'll fight your way through hordes of enemies and your reward is a one-way drop to a boss you can't kill.
Look on the bright side: at least it isn't the sequel.
Did we mention that there are no save points? So you die and start all over, and this time when you enter the castle you go left and find another fork in the road. One path leads you to a gun that can kill the boss ... in a room that traps you with an electric field.
"This gun would look pretty good against my head."
Assuming you don't quit and go for a relaxing nature walk, you restart and take the other direction at the fork. Down this road you'll find that the castle's stalwart defenders are protecting a wrench that's just lying around for no good reason.
The final boss is guarding a half-empty Mountain Dew and some Cheetos.
OK, now everything's falling into place. You get the gun, use the wrench to turn off the electricity, use the gun to kill the dragon ... and have your quest stopped dead by a locked door, the key to which is waaaaay back to the left of where you first started the game (that locked well you thought we forgot about was the exit). If you're wondering why the front door of the castle isn't locked, the only answer we can come up with is that the developers are a bunch of floppy dicks.
Eldritch horrors? No problem! Wooden doors? Shit!
By this point you've probably head-butted your computer out the window, but if you persevere you're rewarded with the final boss: a giant foot that's defeated with the subtle strategy of "mash the attack button and hope he dies before you do." Congratulations!
And then you face a bonus boss: the realization that you could have been doing something productive with your time.
Fable III Speeds Up a Crucial Deadline -- by Months
Time is kind of a funny concept in games -- in most open-world games, the main story mission will be some urgent quest to save the land, but you can then spend the next five years wandering around the countryside and finding creative new ways to set innocent villagers on fire. If a game ever has an urgent mission and really means it, you'll get some kind of timer on the screen (as in, "Escape the headquarters before the reactor overloads! We have four minutes!"). Imagine, then, if a game gave you just such a timer, then spontaneously detonated the bomb with a third of the time still left on the clock. That would be a serious dick move, which brings us to Fable III.
The all-time king of rushing you through to the end.
Most of the game is about organizing a rebellion to overthrow the evil ruler, Logan. But once you take the crown, there's a twist -- Logan reveals that an evil primordial slime monster is going to attack the kingdom in a year, and the only way he could prepare for that was by acting like a huge dick. It isn't clear why he didn't just say, "Hey folks, I've got to raise taxes a bit because an ancient evil is coming to annihilate the very concept of humanity, k?"
He could have at least shaved his "I'm obviously evil" beard.
Anyway, you, the player, are the new king, so the monster is now your problem. The gist of the plot is that you're supposed to decide between pissing people off to raise money and save their lives or making everyone happy but also ripe for the slime monster to pick off like Skittles.
But because the clock ticks down only when you complete story missions, the smart/cheap player who doesn't like moral complexity can buy a ton of rental properties, play the game until the day before the attack, then just sit around for hours while the treasury rakes in sweet, sweet landlord money to fund the kingdom's defense. So imagine your surprise when the game tells you that you have 121 days left until the attack, then suddenly shunts you to the final battle. Surprise!
Apparently, they forgot to add "hibernate."
That's right -- the game immediately skips ahead four months and stops time with the monster on your doorstep, preventing you from making any further preparations. If you didn't raise enough money because you had this weird idea that you still had a third of a year to do it, you get to eat shit while the monster slaughters your people.
Your year as king does feature other time jumps -- you shift from having 365 days left to 339, to 294, and so on. But 121 to zilch is a big damned jump, especially since the game gives you absolutely no warning. It's like they realized how lame it was that you could bypass the entire moral dilemma with investments and patience, and rather than find a creative solution to that problem they responded with an even bigger dick move of their own.
Dark Seed: Only Clairvoyants Need Apply
Dark Seed is an adventure game based on the artwork of H.R. Giger, and never have constant dicks been so appropriate. You play as Mike, an everyman who has to stop a race of aliens from taking over the world. Let's set the tone: minutes in, you discover that your home has a balcony. If your first instinct is to tie a rope to a gargoyle and climb down instead of using the perfectly functional front door, then this is the game for you, assuming your asylum allows computers.
"I was going to install a fireman pole, but that seemed too impractical."
You see, the next day Mike steals a gun from a police station and becomes a wanted man, because people don't usually steal guns to sell for charity money. If you didn't have the foresight to create a back door into your own home to elude the police after you committed a crime you had no reason to expect was coming, you get arrested, run out of time, and doom the world.
That'll teach you to take the stairs.
The whole game is like that. Early on you run into a neighbor who invites you over later. If you don't show up, perhaps reasoning that there will be time enough to watch this guy play fetch with his dog after you save the world, you'll miss your one and only shot at acquiring a stick. Much later you'll be trapped by a monster dog, unable to distract it without the only stick in the universe.
Because that thing would obviously love to play fetch.
Actions in Mike's world affect the "Dark World" you shift into, but you'd have to be psychic to know that opening a door on Day 1 unlocks a path on Day 2. If you try to figure it out by trial and error, you'll run out of time. Time is critical because, as people are wont to do, Mike falls asleep on the spot when it gets late. In the Dark World he just dies, but in the normal world all his stuff gets stolen, presumably by kleptomaniac hobos. That makes the game unbeatable, and it lets you keep playing only to mess with you. So every game day is a desperate race against Mike's narcolepsy.
We could spend all day listing examples of Dark Seed's dickery. You frequently need to find tiny objects in cluttered screens, like this bobby pin.
You know the one.
Don't see it? Here, let us circle it.
"Oh, now it's obvious."
The pin is of the utmost importance, because of course it is. Late in the game you get arrested by the Dark World Police (great band name), and they confiscate all your shit. To escape you need to get arrested in the normal world and hide three key items under the cell pillow so they'll magically appear in the alien jail. It should come as no surprise that there's no indication you should do this, and if you don't pick the right items it's game over.
There's one extremely obtuse hint about leaving behind a key, but did you guess that the pin would be used as a lock pick, thus making it a key? Of course you didn't, because you've eaten something other than LSD in the past three weeks. Honestly, you might as well just give up and let the aliens run things, because they can't be worse than the people who designed this.
And while we're on the subject of impossible adventure games ...
Clock Tower II Punishes You for a Minor Mistake You Made Hours Ago
Clock Tower II is a survival horror game about the worst family reunion ever. Alyssa goes to visit her relatives after being released from a mental asylum and finds that one of her cousins is hacked apart, another is now a knife-wielding psychopath, and someone totally touched her stuff while she was away despite her repeatedly telling them not to.
Which would bring out the knife-wielding psychopath in any of us.
Gameplay centers on a hunt for clues interrupted by random encounters with someone trying to kill you. One of these stalkers is another cousin ambling around in a suit of Samurai armor -- he was hiding from the first stalker but was driven insane by the "gangrene paste" that coats the helmet, which is why you should always get antiques appraised before buying. But the armor just sits there until you examine it -- only once you have a good look does it start a light, leisurely stalking.
Pepe Le Pew started it, but this guy perfected it.
If you resist the urge to peek inside and avoid the glacial pursuit, the guy inside gets stabbed to death by a little girl. Then, much later, this happens:
"I wonder why there's- oh."
Game over! By failing to examine the suit of armor at the beginning, you doom yourself to fatality by hurled armor, the leading cause of death for mental patients investigating murders in creepy houses. If you had started the chase, the main villain would have had nothing to throw at you, because apparently every other item in the house is bolted to the floor. The game abruptly screws you over for not taking an optional action hours ago.
The closest the game comes to offering a hint is: "The armored samurai will sometimes move, while other times he will not. Whether he moves or not plays a major factor in determining the ending." That's so uselessly obtuse, the "I AM ERROR" guy started a petition to have it reworded. It makes a mockery of the concept of a hint by not actually telling you which of these options is the good one, and it also implies that whether or not the armor moves comes down to chance instead of your actions. The developers expect you to guess that the insane stalker zombie dying is, in fact, a bad thing. The next hint should be: "Go play Silent Hill instead."
Old-School Games Have a Tendency to Make Doors Vanish
Old games are full of unfair dead ends, which we usually dismiss as relics of their time. But when the developers purposely and dickishly screw up a concept as simple as doors, they cross the line between "unfair" and "programmed with a raging hate boner for the player." First, we have Dirty Harry, an NES game based on the Clint Eastwood movie. While the film was about a loose-cannon cop hunting down a serial killer, the game is about a vaguely man-shaped lump chasing other vaguely man-shaped lumps around a series of ugly hallways.
"Eh, close enough."
Needless to say, the developers took some liberties with the source material. For example, we don't remember the part in the movie where Harry goes into a room and has the door he came in through replaced with taunting graffiti, leaving him to putter around until the viewer restarts the movie.
"Up yours, loser!" was considered too family-unfriendly for a Nintendo game.
There are no words for how unfair that is. It's cheap when a game punishes you with permanent defeat because you forgot to pick up a seemingly inconsequential item hours ago, but at least that was still technically your fault. This is just the developer saying, "You lose because we said so. Deal with it." It's like they programmed in an older sibling who rips the controller away because they want to watch Wishbone.
On the other side of the wall we have Phantasy Star, an RPG about a distant planet and its jerky emperor. You'd think the game would end after you slay him in his flying castle, but then you have to go report back to the governor who asked you to kill him, like an excited kindergartner completing a hand-turkey made from the blood of the teacher's enemy. When you show up at the governor's mansion, a trap door opens and you're dumped into the game's true final dungeon.
"Don't blame me -- I voted for the 'no trap doors' candidate."
You'll spend the next hour trying to figure out what the hell is going on, because there's apparently no way through the place. The dungeons in Phantasy Star are first-person treks through identical brick corridors that look like they were made in MS Paint, and doors don't show up unless you're facing them. The developers understood their technical limitations and put doors at the ends of tunnels so you could actually find them, but at some point they decided to curb-stomp reason and put the door to the final boss on a random wall. Here's what said wall looks like from one step back:
Now take one step forward ...
... turn ...
... keep turning ...
... and voila! Door out of nowhere! Hope you happened to randomly look in that direction, sucker! But hey, at least we know where the door from Dirty Harry disappeared to.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Suddenly Changes the Game's Rules, for One Puzzle Only
Early Sonic games aren't complicated. You run, loop loops, and beat up robots. Sonic 3 sticks with that simple formula right up until you reach the Carnival Night Zone, at which point the game screeches to a halt even faster than the sequels that made you fish and commit bestiality.
Donkey Kong just got an erection and he doesn't know why.
After years of ineffectually trying to take down Mario, Big Barrel turns their attention to Sonic with far more effective results. Halfway through the game you end up stuck before a visible path that's beneath you but blocked by a barrel. If you jump on the barrel it gets pushed down before snapping back into place, and since Sonic is doomed to only ever run and jump, the apparently simple solution is to work up enough momentum to displace the obstacle. Easy, right?
Thousands of you just had traumatic flashbacks.
Nope. Doesn't work. Oh, it looks like it should, but you always come up juuuuuust short. This, of course, serves only to make you try harder. Maybe your jumps are a teensy bit out of sync. Maybe if Tails would stop trying to help and just fuck off, you'd get the rhythm down. But it doesn't matter how perfectly you time your jumps, because the real solution is unexplained, illogical, and moronic.
Sonic actually has one other skill that's useless 99 percent of the time -- if you press up or down he'll look in that direction. But this works only when he's completely stationary, and if you ever stop moving while playing this game, you're doing it wrong. So it's no surprise that most gamers immediately forget about this. But this is the one part in the game where that skill is required. If you press up or down while standing on the barrel, it will magically start moving as if Sonic developed psychic powers. And this allows you to generate the momentum needed to displace it.
Thousands of you are now lamenting the childhood you wasted on this one goddamn scene.
The fact that you can control the whirling kaleidoscope barrel wouldn't be bad if it was even remotely hinted at. But there's nothing in the game explaining it, nothing in the manual, and no audio cues. There's barely even any initial feedback when you find the solution. Everything else in the game has an instant response: if you press jump, Sonic jumps. But when you're on the barrel, Sonic stays completely motionless, and the barrel's first movements are minimal. Jumping on it, meanwhile, looks so, so right.
So ... close ...
If it was a slower-paced game, it wouldn't be a difficult problem to figure out, but stopping to think about a puzzle in Sonic is like trying to talk it out with the aliens in Doom. As a result, we're guessing that hundreds of thousands of players never saw anything in the game beyond that fucking barrel.
Ed would like to thank his good friend Susie for explaining the Sonic 3 solution all those years ago. Codie tries to be entertaining at her site Codiekitty.com and on Twitter. You can follow Simone on Twitter or her fArt blog.
For more ways video game assholery, check out The 7 Biggest Dick Moves in the History of Online Gaming. And then check out The 34 Most Infuriating Examples of Video Game Logic.
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