What makes games good – overview

When it comes to game design I’ve been massively influenced by two things, Tom Francis’ article “What Makes Games Good?”, and playing competitive sports, hockey and brazilian jiu jitsu, at a high level.

Tom Francis has, in my opinion, written the single greatest article on game design, tucked away on his fairly small personal blog. The article serves as the foundation upon which I am building my own, more refined, model of games. I cannot recommend that article enough, so please read it in full before reading the rest of this post.

As much as I love Tom Francis and as great as his post truly was I have to make it better. The following is a list of what makes games good using my own terminology wherever I felt that his was lacking, expanding upon and into the categories he listed, and sorting the broad categories from most essential to least essential.

These individual categories will be broken down into their own, much more detailed posts. This post is best used as a reference for later posts. I will mention that my most focused and lucid thoughts are in the Challenge and Feel sections, whereas my least focused are in Place, and Miscellaneous. That is the reason why Place is so long, it’s because I haven’t quite figured everything out yet. Secondly, if something doesn’t make sense now, don’t worry, it’ll make sense when given its own article.

Do you enjoy the tactics of the game as well as the level of difficulty?

Game Mechanics
—-Depth over Shallowness
——Does this game provide a way for the player to perform above their physical attributes?
—-—-All gameplay choices must NOT be equally valid.
pattern recognition
stress players to recognize and exploit patterns
 —Simplicity over Complexity
Complexity must exist only when required for depth
How hard is the game?
Can you just start playing the game again without 30 minutes of figuring out what’s supposed to be going on? Does the game require you to repeat things you’ve already done?

Do you want to be this character, in these situations, doing these things?

Do you feel like you and your character are “in this together”? Does he or she or it respond the same way as you do as a player?
If we were watching a film, would we like the protagonist? Is he funny, does he think and do interesting things, etc.
Has this character gotten worse then they deserve? Have they gotten better then they deserve?

Everything the game does to respond to the player, aside from game mechanics.

Are the controls easy to use, yet fully functional and comprehensive?
Do the controls react sharply, or do you percieve lag?
Responsiveness (does not refer to lag)
Do you feel like the game responds to you in satisfying ways, or does there seem to be little to no responsiveness in the world?
Visual and Audual aid    (not to be confused with game mechanics)
Do the shields beep when they’re down? Do audio clues give the player information about the world game state? Those are mechanics, but how they are presented belongs in game feel.

Do you want to be in this world?

If it rains, the beach sand must darken, or we have seen an incongruence.
—-The world must change, and change through its own actions.
—-Roughly speaking, the mood of the world.
——Whatever emotion the place evokes, so to must the music.
Ambient noise
A “real” world will produce it’s own signature hum. It also drowns out the natural ambient noise surrounding their gaming station.
Non-responsive visuals
May respond to the world, just not the player.
——Colour choices
Match the tone of the world through the colour palette.
Match the tone of the world through more jagged, or softer shapes
Detail Saturation
Match the tone of the world through more or less detail/realism.
World Logic
—-How does the world work, ecologically, politically, scientifically?
—-Human World
——Does not need to be actual “humans”, just whatever the civilization in the game is.
——–The structure of power, the castes, the role of government in this place.
The possible. The life like of the typical “human” in this society. The constraints that limited resources puts on this society.
The past of this civilization.
——The world outside the civilization. It must influence the civilization.
Players exist physically in this world.
——– Terrain
———-Influences the physical requirements of navigating this world.
The tone of the world to the player.
—-Flora and Fauna
Simply put, what is the ecology of the game world?
Suspension of disbelief/Supernaturality
What exists in this world that could not in our own? This gives us reason to visit this place.

Does the player feel that interesting things will happen in the future?

Set up
Tell the player something interesting is about to happen, and they’ll be excited now.
Don’t build something up unless you can make it worth the wait.
Events must have consequences to truly matter. Consequences should be set ups all of their own.

The less the game harasses the player, the better. This is entirely in a non-mechanical or challenge sense.

non-game-mechanic choices
It’s one thing to actually have a world I want to play in, it’s another to let me walk around in it.
   —- customization
——Give the gamer the option to personalize their experience, above and beyond what the natural course of gameplay will provide.

Kind of a cheat category. Lack of bugs, menus functional and consistent with the tone of the game, low or non-existent loading times, small footprint on the hard-drive. These things all improve the quality of a game, but I found it difficult to make a list for them. Technical Proficiency, Menus, seemed like they would work properly and I may add those back later.

The above list is very sparse, because I’m going to go in depth (massively in depth) about these individual topics. I considered providing simple examples of each, and I might edit them into this post.

Some games make sacrifices in some areas for benefits in others. For example Dark Souls has bad resumeability, but that may increase the atmosphere of the world. Lots of horror games have button mashy combat but that’s to enhance the fantasy of being scared. I could go on. Furthermore, I also propose that, while games actually do have objective merit, people enjoy games subjectively. What this means is that some people really love being in an alien world, and don’t care as much about the combat lacking depth, some people are the opposite, and everyone has their own particular values for each area of games, which changes based on what mood they’re in.

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8 Responses to What makes games good – overview

  1. Atherz097 says:

    Excellent article, and very useful, too. I will keep this list and the other article in mind. Mind if it’s a copy/paste into Notepad? 🙂

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  3. moodyyaser says:

    Parts of games I like:
    1- a secret impossible difficulty, but a hard difficulty more because it is more challenging.
    2- puzzle parts with adventure.
    3- the most, exploration of an enormous world, even if it’s the game.
    Note: Atherz led me to this blog, I’m the most commenter in his blogs, which means I can be most here, but not now sorry.
    And I don’t comment admiration, I only comment questions and suggestions.

    • tdcoish says:

      Those are very specific suggestions, and I’m trying to go for a complete overview here. Thank you for the comment though, and to respond.

      1) Difficulty is something that different people like in different amount, and since different people have drastically different skill levels I believe that games should offer difficulty levels spanning from medium-easy for a complete newb, to extremely difficult for a top 1% player.
      2) I don’t like puzzle games at all, because I hate not being able to continue if I get stuck. I believe that Batman: Arkham Asylum did puzzles the best, where solving them was completely optional and provided a very small reward.
      3) Almost everyone likes exploration in video games, you simply value it higher than most. I genuinely believe that 95% of games is stuff that everyone likes but people like in different amounts. Think how some guys care more about personality in a girl, and some more about looks, but everyone cares about both to some extent.

  4. Pingback: Miscellaneous | Notes by Timothy Coish

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