Top 10 Lists : The Top 10 Elements Of Good Game Design ***SPOILERS***
Every single game has elements to it that make it a good video game. Different games put different aspects above others, which gives every game an element of uniqueness to it. But from all of the games we have today, what are the elements all successful games have? Well, that's what this list is about. We're going to consider 10 different elements of good game design (as the title said) and see how they rank up. Of course, this list is my own personal thoughts (and trust me, it was hard to give each one a rank), and you may have different opinions. So I'll ask that you read this with an open mind, and keep all possibilities open.
And who knows? Maybe you'll agree with me. So without further ado, let's get going, shall we?
WAIT! Before you skip over number 10, let me explain why graphics is here. Many people argue over whether graphics are important, or if they aren't important. I'm going to say that graphics are important because it's the first thing you see when you look at a game. Whether you notice it or not, the way a game looks has some bearing on what you think of it. That being said, however, I also think that it's less about graphics, and more about art style. For one example of a game with an awesome art style, we look at the game to the left, Jet Grind Radio.
Jet Grind Radio (or as I knew it, Jet Set Radio) was a beautifully illustrated game on the Dreamcast, which released in 2000. It revolved around you playing as different skaters going throughout the city and tagging (painting graffiti) on almost every available surface. To pull this off, they needed a somewhat modern art style, but also something that kept with the arcade feel of the game. So they came up with a sort of cell-shaded art style, one that was also somewhat influenced by Japanese anime art, with a nice flow to it that emphasized the graffiti art in-game. While it's not super realistic, this proves that when it comes to graphics, how a game looks really can affect your enjoyment of the game. In this case, I'd much rather have this art style, which I believe is better than riding around as real looking people tagging the city. Art Style is the reason we can still play games like Mario (with a light-hearted art style) - while they may not look the best, the way they look is unique and defines that game. And that is why it deserves a spot here at number 10.
Every video game needs to have something that makes it fun to play. A hook that makes you want to keep coming back to it. Whether it be getting the new high score, beating all the levels, or collecting all that there is to be collected, the element of addictiveness comes into play. With small games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, the game makes you want to keep playing. While this is more prevalent in arcade games, another genre that needs this is the classic MMORPG. And what better one to use as an example than WoW?
I haven't personally played World of Warcraft, but we've all heard the stories. Released by Blizzard in September of 2001, it was the fourth game in the Warcraft series. Attracting all sorts of players from around the world, many created their in game warriors and mages, and started accepting quests that took up every single ounce of their time. People went crazy - and kept going and going, defeating any boss that wanted to stand in their way. Everyone just wanted to keep playing - with no end in sight. It could be said that people were living their lives inside the game, neglecting the ones outside. Some people say that the reason WoW is so addicting is that your character is a reflection of yourself, and you don't want to leave that character left alone. It's for this reason that so many people played this game for so long. And that's why it's an important element of video games.
A really good tutorial can make all the difference in a video game. When first trying out a game, you aren't going to know every single thing about how to play it. But, at the same time, don't make it too easy for the player. We're not idiots, so tutorials don't have to tell us every single thing. I don't need hints popping up all the time, reminding me that this wall can be blown up, or that I can't jump on this guy. For my money, the best tutorial levels introduce the player to the controls with subtlety. It makes them feel like they're discovering the controls, instead of being made blatantly aware of them. A game that exemplifies this is one of my favorites - Mega Man X, for the SNES.
Mega Man X, when you start it up, doesn't take you straight to the boss select screen, like the previous Mega Man games. Instead, you start on an intro stage, where it looks like everything's going wrong. As you head to the right, you meet your first enemy, who promptly starts shooting at you. Quickly, you start to learn more about how to attack and dodge. As you come up to your first gap, you again realize that by pressing the B button, you can jump over the gap. Once you get to your first miniboss, you slowly start to learn tactics of dodging and waiting for just the right time to counter attack. Once you fall into the deep crevice, you learn to wall jump to get out of it. And after Zero shows up to save your butt with his awesome skills, he tells you that you'll be just as good him someday. Now you have something to shoot for, and as you go through this adventure, you use the skills that you developed in the tutorial. A good tutorial makes all the difference in making you better at games, but keeps you feeling smart. That's why it's here at number 8.
Music really sets the mood for a situation. Even the absence of music tells something about the situation you're about to be facing. In Super Mario Galaxy, the music is very majestic and rather grand, like the environment you find yourself in, yet still has that signature Mario feel. Another example is the Ace Attorney series, where every music track that plays perfectly accents your feelings - especially when you catch liars. However, there is one series where the music is simply moving - The Legend of Zelda, most notably Ocarina of Time.
If you don't know, the Zelda series is known as one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Many would say that their favorite is either A Link to the Past, or my personal favorite, Ocarina of Time. Every piece of music to me is memorable. Whether it's the Song of Time, Saria's Song, or Zelda's Lullaby, just hearing them instantly triggers memories of my adventures in Hyrule. The game's music is so good that these same tunes show up in future games, still paying homage to the game that so many have memories with. Because they trigger such memories, it shows how much a song can stick with you. Other songs not from the Legend of Zelda that have taken on near legendary status is the "Wily Castle Theme" from Mega Man 2, "Level 1-1" from Super Mario Bros. and "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. They all help set the mood for your experience, and definitely deserve their place here at #7.
While a main character is important, what good is he if he has no one to talk to? Yes, a supporting character gives your main character, well, support! Someone to talk to. Someone to develop with. Someone that helps you along your journey in a physical way, but also in an emotional one. A good supportive character is a person that you care about personally as the player - you want them to be with you because of their story and how much they mean to you and your in-game character. A friend, so to speak.
(This next game is so good I'll be a bit scarce on the story details, because you should play it yourself.)
*** MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW***
This brings me to my example game, The World Ends With You, for the Nintendo DS. The World Ends With You is an RPG, set in modern Shibuya, Japan. We meet our protagonist (not to mention your in-game self), Neku, a rather anti-social boy who really couldn't care about anyone else besides himself. He finds himself caught up in a deadly game, put on by a mysterious group known as the Reapers, where the players must complete challenges in order to stay alive. Neku meets a girl named Shiki, who makes him form a pact with her, meaning that the two of them are partners for the rest of the game. As the game goes on, Shiki shows herself to be very patient with Neku, and in the end, after learning her story, Neku starts to warm up to her. Until, that is, Shiki is taken away and Neku is then thrown into a pact with a boy named Joshua, who makes Neku grow as a person as well. And lastly, we meet Beat, an ex-reaper who joins up with Neku. I'll not mention any story beyond this, but suffice it to say that each partner's story helps Neku to grow as a person, which is exactly what a good supporting character does. This is why it's on this list, at number 6.
When playing a game, you need to feel important. You can't be just a guy on the side, adventuring just for the sake of adventuring. Every game's main character is important to the story of the game - Mario is the guy that saves the princess, Link is 1/3 of the Triforce, and when you're in Skyrim, you're Dovahkin! Every single character you play is important to what goes on, and without you, all hope would be lost in the story. This is especially important in RPG's, because you need to be the guy that gets things done. The ONLY guy that can get things done. And so for this one, I chose the example of the original Final Fantasy.
Released in 1987, Final Fantasy was a sort of Dungeons and Dragons, except without all the writing. You created your party of 4 heroes, and the reason you were those 4 was because you were the 4 light warriors, destined to save the world from the evil knight Garland. Only you had the power to stop him - there were no other light warriors available. You were it - the world rested on your shoulders. You were going to be the ones to restore peace to the world, the only ones who could. Experiences like that make you feel important, which all games need to have. It's a basic necessity. The more important you feel, the more you feel like you can take on anything the dangerous world can throw at you. Yes, player importance is of utmost importance, which is why it's here at number 5.
In a video game, you need to have obstacles. If you didn't, you would have just a straight shot through to the ending, without anything to stand in your way at all. Some games make that mistake, but others make the mistake of making the difficulty too hard. Sometimes the difficulty can spike without any prior warning, and that leaves you feeling like an inadequate gamer. Sometimes racing games, like Mario Kart, have rubberband AI (aka CHEATER AI) where the game constantly adjusts to how you're playing - if you do good the game gets harder, and vice versa. This isn't the right way to make challenges for a player. One game I believe had the balance of difficulty down pat was the recently released Portal 2.
Portal was originally released with the Orange Box on the 360. The game was almost universally praised for it being a great puzzler, and it's sequel was released in April 2011. Both games featured a mechanic where you have a gun with the ability to shoot two different portals, where when you go through one, you come out of the other. Using this simple mechanic, Portal and it's successor devise some cleverly thought out puzzles where you take advantage of the Portal Gun. The puzzles are challenging, but you never feel overwhelmed. Every single puzzle has a simple solution to it and the game never feels too easy, but also never too hard. When you finally find the answer to your puzzle, you feel smart - you get a real sense of accomplishment, which is what a difficulty level is for - give you just enough challenge to puzzle you for a second, but make you feel smart when you solve it. Portal and Portal 2 both exemplify this, which is why I chose them as the example for our number 4 - appropriate difficulty.
Many people could argue over whether story is important to a video game (and in fact, people HAVE argued over it). So instead of joining the battle, I'll choose to change my tactics. Here's a new way of seeing things. Story itself can have a role in all things - from games to movies to music to even art. They all can capture a point in time (fiction or non-fiction) and make you really want to care about what you see. But I think the idea that story is important takes a backseat to the importance of drama. Why? Here's an example with the game picture you see here - Tetris.
Tetris has absolutely no story to it. Zero. Nada. There's no reason as to why you have these shapes falling from the sky, or why it's important you dispose of them at all. But - there is drama galore. Once those shapes start piling up, and the music starts getting faster, you know that you're in a big heap of trouble. That pile is slowly growing ever so taller, until, WHAM! You get the all powerful straight block, sending that giant heap of ugliness back down a few notches (4, to be exact, if you did a particularly good job). Yes, this drama is what makes games compelling - for example, if Super Mario Bros. had no Princess Toadstool, the whole game would be one big PETA-rage-inducing conquest to eliminate all other life in the Mushroom Kingdom. The drama compels you to go through 8 worlds of non-stop obstacles, because there's a definite goal to be reached - saving the princess! So that motivation is definitely important for you to be playing a game, which is why it's here at number 3.
Gameplay. It's the one thing sets movies and video games apart. The interactivity of a game is what makes it a video game. Gameplay is very important - if the way you control things are difficult and annoying to do, why would you keep playing the game? Could you have saved Zelda if it was hard to aim your bow, or too difficult to strike with your sword? Probably not. And that is why it's so important. To further exemplify this, we go to a game with simple controls, but solid controls: Super Mario Bros. 3.
We've all played the Super Mario games, so I won't bore you with the details. They all have really tight controls where you never feel out of control of Mario. If you die, it's your fault - not the game's, which is how it's supposed to be. It's never hard to run fast and then take off into the deep blue skies. Jumping over a goomba? No problem - it takes no effort at all! Gameplay should be to the point where it's natural - you don't think about jumping, you just do it! Any control that makes you look at your controller to do it is the very example of bad gameplay. Gameplay should be fun and encouraging, and when it isn't, it really takes a toll on how you experience the game. That's why it's so important, and is also why it's here at number 2.
Instead of doing an intro, let me just paint the scene of this game. You have just lost your loved one to death, but you hear that there is a place you can take her to where she may be given a second chance at life. No matter what, you decide to head there, to that temple. Once there, a malevolent voice tells you that she may be resurrected if you are able to defeat the sixteen colossi - giants that roam the Earth. Though you are equipped only with a sword, a bow and arrows, and accompanied only by your horse, Agro, you accept this proposition - motivated only by your love for the girl.
After travelling through the vast hills, you arrive at the first colossus, and it is a sight to behold. Standing hundreds of times your size, you certainly realize that this will be quite a battle. As you run ever closer to the colossus, you notice there are patches of moss growing on the lumbering giant - patches that you can hold on to. As you ascend the monster, it shakes and rattles, trying to shake you off - but no matter what, you hold on with all your strength. As you reach the top of the colossus, you find a glowing insignia. You brandish your blade, and with one strike, imparted with all your might, you stab your sword right into the mark. The colossus screams out in pain, and you hold on tightly as it shakes in desperation. You repeat the process again, stabbing the insignia with every ounce of strength you have. And finally, as unbelievable as it seems, the colossus is defeated, and falls to the ground - with no life remaining in it. As you look at the remains, all you can think is one thing:
"One down, fifteen to go."
Is that or is that not the sheer epitome of immersiveness? What I believe to be the most important trait of good video games, is the trait that involves you in the game. The more a game can keep you thinking about what's coming next is directly proportionate to how long you'll be playing this game. A game like Shadow of the Colossus grips you by the throat and pulls you into the game - you know your mission and even though you know next to nothing about the girl you're trying to save, you WILL save her. Failure is not an option. If a game can get you to believe in it's story like Shadow does, why would you ever stop playing? You care about what happens, and so as long as that immersiveness is present, you will never stop until you've accomplished your goal. With all of that, I plead that immersiveness is the most important element of good video game design.
And so that concludes my list of the Top 10 Elements of Good Video Game Design. Many of you reading this list may believe that I got the order wrong - that maybe graphics are more important than music, or that addictiveness isn't that important as I said. That's totally fine - in fact I encourage that viewpoint. The reason we have such a diverse selection of games is because of our differing opinions. Some games put certain aspects above others, which all give it unique spins and gives us unique games and experiences. Guitar Hero obviously puts Music and Gameplay first, while RPG's usually favor Immersiveness and Gameplay. That's why we have such different games. With that last thought, I hope this got you to thinking what kind of games you would like to make, and encourage that creative side of your brain.
And who knows? The game you're thinking of just might be made someday...
List by 99Winters (05/24/2012)
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