‘Bad’ Design

Sure let’s shoot from the lip while it’s 3.30 in the morning and I’m winding down from Thesis stress, but whatever.

Earlier today I watched a video about Dark Souls 2 which was brought to my attention by a friend bringing it up claiming the video was absolutely totally wrong, and that led to me saying something contentious about how Dark Souls fans are weird because they view design one way and they shouldn’t, and that then led to me passing up a fine opportunity to use the word methodolatry, which is of course the worship of a way of doing things without necessarily appreciating the choices leading to that way of doing things, except mostly my friend seemed to just ‘be wrong’ and I didn’t see any way to explain that so I just instead said ‘okay’ and moved on to talk about other stuff.

And that then led to watching a bunch of this game design stuff and thinking about it and coming to the realisation that what was annoying me me off, broadly speaking, is as with almost all things in a discussion of games, is cargo cult criticism. The shape of a critique but not the substance of it. The specific issue here with Dark Souls is whenever anyone says anything is good design.

Design is not a spectrum of ‘good things’ on one end and bad things on the other. The damage design of Hotline Miami is not good design for the map design of Doom, and the engine design of Willy Beamish is not good design for the conversation system of Life Is Strange.

A design is not a school of thinking or a collection of shorthanded trope terms (well it is but in this case I’m not talking about that way we talk about design). A design, in the context of the mindset you have when making a thing is, broadly, the things you have constructed and how they hang together to achieve your purpose. There’s useful shorthand to be had there! After all, a webpage that lacks in reader accessibility is bad design, because it’s cutting out people for no good reason, and that’s something we can largely agree upon as a ruleset for standard practices of web design.

But that’s only really doable because web design is itself a generally agreed upon purpose. Web pages have, almost always, a fairly limited range of tasks they want to do, which can be compared in complexity to a very fancy book.

When you get into dealing with a game things are really, really different because some games are confrontational and some games are meditative and some games want to be able to change their purpose and some games want to have very tightly controlled ways to experience them and none of these things are bad but it does mean that for any given individual game, there are going to be design decisions that do not serve the overall design well, but that doesn’t make them ‘bad design.’

The example that stood out to me in the video in question was the idea that in Dark Souls 1 the entire world, more or less, was one large, existant map; loading times aside, you could have all the parts of it exist at once and nothing would jut through anything else, and the whole world could be looked at from ‘the outside’ and still be navigable. This is really satisfying, and sort of aesthetically pleasant but if you didn’t know that’s how it worked you wouldn’t necessarily have your enjoyment of the game ruined for you. Videogames are full of hacky cheats to dupe your perception and there are plenty of ways to convey that same effect of bigness and interconnectivity without requiring a literal perfectly constructed realisable model of the world. Dark Souls 2 doesn’t do this – it’s full of nonsense that doesn’t work, with its ‘map’ full of overlapping areas or things that can’t fit there or disconnected places or so on.

Now, in the Youtube comments, place of sin filth and vile foolishness there are, there are people arguing that such a thing is ‘bad design’ and Dark Souls 1 is ‘good design’ and I want to drown these people in porridge. Because to me the real thing is that either of these facts are known to the people in question has nothing to do with the design. You don’t have to know these things to progress.

So there. There’s my complaint. Look at what a design is trying to achieve, try to think of choices in terms of being ‘at odds‘ with other choices, rather than ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

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