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What makes a good game?

October 22, 2009

These idea's aren't new. Well, not relatively, anyways

What makes a game fun? Does a game have to be fun to be a “good” game? What makes some games better than others? These questions and others can be difficult to answer, because like any other art, much of it is completely subjective. There is, however, some vital information can be taken from the players, to whom the decision of whether or not a game succeeds or flops ultimately lies. The player will pick up a game, play it for a few minutes to a few hours and then make a verdict. Even though a lot of it is opinionated, there are still some things that players enjoy, and some things that will make players dislike a game. People like to be challenged, but don’t like to be frustrated. They like consistency, but not repetitiveness. This idea of “what makes a good game” is too large to cover in a single post, so today I’ll go over a few ideas of what I consider to be important to the development process and final product.

Here are some important sections of gameplay. These aren’t the only things to consider, but it’s what we’ll take a look at today:

  • Concept
  • Controls
  • Immersion
  • Difficulty
  • Execution

Concept

A great concept alone isn't enough to make a best-seller

This is the first thing that can make or break a game. No matter how much effort a person puts into the game, no matter how good the graphics are, or how long the game is, if the idea was never good the game is doomed from the start. There are a couple of common traps that can be easily avoided if you’re paying attention. One misconception that some developers have is that if the idea was proven before, it’ll be good again. This thought is simply not true. More often then not, if a development team decides to make a game because of another successful game in the same genre, what happens is that people have this thought: “Well, this is good, but not as good as this other game”. This isn’t the worst thing that could happen, and could still make the team money, but if you’re in the business to shoot for second, third or fourth place and make a quick buck in the process, this probably isn’t your kind of blog. That isn’t to say you can’t use ideas from other games (after all, nothing is ever 100% original), but try and come up with some new and creative ideas of your own. However, just because a game’s concept is original doesn’t automatically make if fun. An innovative idea, though, is still a great place to start

Controls

Players should only have to worry about the game iteslf, not about how to control it

The controls in a game seem almost like a seconds thought. Nobody can afford to think like that. Even after a concept is proved to be fun, something so trivial as good controls can lessen the fun, or even completely destroy a game. One thing to always keep in mind is that a video game is not a movie: Games are a give and take experience for the player where the player has to interact with the game, otherwise it isn’t a game at all. So, if the player is inhibited in any way from interacting with the game, the experience isn’t being conveyed as clearly. Wouldn’t it be terrible if a great game was ruined because the player couldn’t even experience it how it was intended to be experienced? There are many different types of games, and therefore many different rules for building the controls, but a few rules always remain: Controls should be tight and responsive, and never burden the player. A good rule to stick with is this: If the emphasis is taken away from the gameplay experience and shifted to dealing with bothersome controls, even for a second, changes need to be made.

Immersion

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If the player is immersed in this game, the forest might as well be real

One of the best ways to get players to enjoy a game more, is if they feel like they are a part of the world they are experiencing. This can apply to any game, from Fallout 3 to Tetris. Fallout 3 is a game about a post-apocalyptic world, where the player traverses seemingly endless wastes in the ruins of Washington DC. The game is credited for it’s ability to make the player feel the weight of living in this war-torn world: The struggle of finding food, the constant fear of encountering enemies, and the hopelessness of the entire situation. Fallout is able to accomplish this by using a combination of sound, art and various gameplay elements to accomplish this, and the game is made all the better for it. In a game like Tetris, the rules are changed but the idea remains the same. Tetris is likely the most successful arcade puzzle game of all time, and immersion actually plays a big part; The hypnotic music and the addictiveness of the gameplay come together to put players in a “zone” where the only thing they are conscious of is the game. They aren’t bored, or thinking about other topics on their mind: They’re entranced. Immersion plays a huge role, so never dismiss it just because you don’t think you need to worry about it.

Difficulty

Some games are harder than others

Difficulty is tough topic to discuss, because games that are relentlessly hard, and ones that are always easy can be of equal fun. Deciding how to set the toughness depends largely on the game, but some common rules do apply. A game should start out easy, and progressively get tougher, by teaching the player skills that they will build off of and use to tackle obstacles. These obstacles can an enormous range of things, but should always feel like something the player can handle, but will still challenge them. If the challenges stop coming, the player gets bored.

Execution

A developer must jump many hurdles. Failing to jump any of them can hinder the player from enjoying the experience.

Lastly, you have the execution. The execution isn’t one particular topic, but rather a combination of other areas put together to fulfill the ideas set forth in the concept and carried out to the best possible level. It isn’t enough for the gameplay to be good, but rather it must be consistently good. A great concept can be ruined by uneven difficulty progression, slippery controls, or a number of other things. It is a developer’s main goal to not let anything come in between the concept and final product, in order to achieve the clearest expression of ideas, and convey them without any sort of hindrance between the developer and player. There isn’t really any way to focus on perfect execution alone. Instead, pay attention to the details, and the ideas that come together to form the game. Every small area of development is important, and ignoring any one of them can be a fatal mistake.

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