I love this quote from Peter Molyneux at the GDC: ""Mini-maps are shit. They're shit because you make these multimillion-dollar games, and people play them staring at these little dots."
The last game I had that problem with was Saints Row. Learning streets and landmarks takes time, while the mini-map provided instant knowledge, so I spent nearly all of my time looking at the mini-map while driving to missions and shops around the city. Whenever I didn't watch the mini-map, I was able to appreciate and enjoy the city itself. The mini-map effectively placed a big chunk of the game into shadow.
Of course, avoiding mini-maps can be difficult, as Molyneux's upcoming Fable 2 clearly demonstrates. I'm sure developing the AI to make that game's dog into a guide has been no easy feat. Still, any designer should at least begin with a determination to replace such an obviously flawed mechanism.
What other features are common yet obviously distractions from core gameplay?
For example, could the need for inventory screens, which remove players from focus on the gameworld, be largely negated by letting the player sort the desirability of equipment elements? In other words, could choosing equipment preferences be a simple one-shot decision at the beginning of the game, like character class? At character creation (revisable at any time thereafter), I prioritize damage-dealing (1), fire-wielding (2), cold-resistance (3) ----> blunt protection (18). And so the game automatically switches or does not switch out my character's gear based on how well an item's stats match up with my chosen priorities (damage-dealing over protection, fire damage over cold damage, etc). Is that clear at all? The question at the heart of all that is whether or not the need for inventory management can be minimized.
Another possible example is directing a player toward a major quest by designing minor quests to nudge the player in that direction. Depending on the quest, environmental indicators might also be possible. For example: if there's more ash and destruction to the west, then the bad guy probably went that way.
Anyway, back to my question: What features are common yet obviously distractions from core gameplay?