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.
I wrote that back in the post “What Makes Games Good“. I’ve since made better sense of some things that were floating around in my mind, but I can’t claim that everything is nice and neat.
In one sense, this might double cover some things. A game that has a higher framerate will be better than that same game with a lower framerate. This was partly covered in the Feel post, because it will result in lower lag or latency. There’s nothing wrong with something being good under multiple categories, and framerate is good also because the game looks smoother, not just because it plays smoother. The truth is that video games are played on a computer of some type. Games that are well designed to run on the users hardware are better than games that are not. So with that in mind I’ve created a new category.
-Screen Tearing(lack of)
-Small install size
Normally when people talk about technical proficiency in games, they talk about some new graphical techniques that are in the game. Way back when John Carmack was in his twenties that was probably a forgivable error. Nowadays, it bothers me that we have buggy games full of aliasing, with constant screen tearing being praised as well crafted engineering. I never want to say bad things about people whom I admire, but the priorities of the AAA industry are insanely out of whack. The list above is a list of things that absolutely, undeniably, make one game better than another.
I already discussed latency in the Feel post.
When I talk about resolution I’m referring to the resolution that the game is set at, as well as the resolution that the in game media is at. A better way to write this would be Visual Fidelity, but not to reality, only to the vision of the artists creating the game. If the game is supposed to look like a magical fairy land with candy-canes everywhere, then the higher resolution the textures, poly-count the models, and finally, the higher resolution the monitor I’m playing it on, the more I’m going to see the true vision of the artists. That doesn’t mean that we need super-high resolution stuff, because if the game is designed to be somewhat abstract we may quickly reach a saturation point where we are close to the true vision. In other words, we are close to seeing the game the way it is supposed to look, and we get there by having higher resolution.
We also get there by having higher framerate, proper anti-aliasing, and a lack of screen tearing. These are the things that typically don’t get as much attention, because it’s harder to advertise these things in screenshots when you’re selling your game. Mostly this is because low framerate, aliasing, and screen tearing all look worse in motion. For an example of each:
And two examples of screen tearing: (Don’t bother clicking on these images)
Finally, here’s a low framerate video on youtube. Notice how stuttery everything looks. Keep in mind, this would feel even worse to play.
This is actually a favourable test, since I artificially limited the framerate to 20fps. That means that the frames are at least mostly consistent in terms of rate and latency. It’s much worse to have a framerate that averages 20 fps but fluctuates around this point. Here’s what a real framerate looks like:
Keep in mind that this is only 60fps. We can go a lot higher and I can genuinely feel the difference in latency.
As bad as the screen tearing and aliasing looks in still images, it looks even worse in motion. Aliasing in motion makes everything look like its crawling, because, for technical reasons, the pixels that “hit” the object change as the camera changes. Screen tearing makes individual frames ugly, but because the exact vertical position of the tear or tears changes each frame it makes the game look even worse in motion. Also, screen tearing is worse the more things change for each frame. That means that screen tearing is worse the lower the framerate, yet another reason to have high framerate. As for framerate itself, obviously you can’t tell in screenshots, since each individual frame looks the same. Then, when demoing the game, companies use ridiculously high performance hardware or pre-rendered cutscenes. In my opinion, those are dirty tricks, plain and simple.
Bugs and stability is pretty straightforward. I’m not sure that having your game not crash actually makes it good, but having your game crash definitely makes it bad. Likewise, a game that runs as intended doesn’t really make the game good, but having glitches definitely makes the game bad, with the exception (no pun intended, programmer joke) of glitches that are totally awesome, like walking through a door and then suddenly being catapulted out of level and to your death. I do feel that, as someone who has made one very simple game and is working on a more complicated sequel, games are hard enough to make that if you can make a very stable, mostly bug-free game you really deserve some praise. Double that if you are making a game that is a big budget thing with hundreds of thousands of lines of code.
Finally, the smaller the footprint the game takes up on the users hard drive, or storage device, the better. It’s fine if people want to argue that this is a small thing, but really, I’d rather download a game that is 100MB’s from Steam then a game that is 18GB’s, and I’d much rather have the first game on my computer, since storage is not unlimited. On loading times, like I said with bugs, lack of loading times does not make your game good, but loading times definitely make your game worse. Having said that, I have a massive amount of admiration for people who work on games with GB’s of media that they need to stream in and out, and if you can pull of a game with no loading times, or extremely well disguised loading times, then you’ve done well.
MENUS AND SHORTCUTS
So this is kind of a catch all for how user friendly the game is, both in terms of in game menus, such as rifling through the characters backpack, out of game menus, such as changing game settings, and finally completely out of game program friendliness. If a game is easy to install, easy to uninstall, has a nice shortcut, doesn’t make it easy to accidentally delete important stuff, yet makes it easy for players to mod what they would like in a safe way, that game is better than otherwise.
Menu design is a topic that I could probably get a lot of help with, although I do believe that Monochrome had a very minimal, yet functional menu system. Basically, we want our menu to be intuitive, and require the user to press as few keys as possible to do what they want. Additionally, we want the menu to match the tone of the game, and respond to the player as he uses it. To expand on that last point, that can be as simple as having the button the user is hovering over glow slightly, and then making a sound when the user clicks on a button.
What makes a menu intuitive, and what makes a menu functional are things I’m not sure I can put into words. It was quite easy for me to create good menus in Monochrome, because there really wasn’t a whole lot you could do in them, and since I had to create each “page” manually, I was incentivized to make each page as functional as possible. It would have actually taken me work to design a menu system that sucked. In addition to this, I also made a very subtle “barring” effect on the button the user was hovered over, and gave the user a mouse icon that fit the game.
There are probably people who work in UI design that would scream at me if they saw this post. I would agree, and this is definitely a section to expand in the future.
One of the reasons that I love “Dirt”, the racing game, so much is that there is a real sense of speed in the game. The same is true for Tony Hawk 3, and a whole host of other games, from racers, to first person shooters, to arcade games. The problem is, I didn’t have any way of fitting that in with anything. It’s not really a challenge in and of itself, and it feels like I should put it under Feel, but I defined that (poorly) as how the game responds to the player. I guess I could make a category “Spatial Simulation”, which would be about how satisfying it is to move through the world. That seems inelegant, since not every game is a spatial simulation, but it needs to be in here.
Secondly, games that encourage social play. Some of my fondest memories are of playing co-op games with a friend. This isn’t really because coop enables more tactics and strategies then playing by yourself, although it often does and that’s great, but mostly because it’s just fun playing a game with a friend. I really feel that more games ought to do this, as it truly enhances the experience. On the PC this might be very difficult to do physically, at least for games that require the mouse. In that case, we have the technology to do things over the internet, so let’s do that. At the very least allow LAN play. BTW, I talked about coop mostly here, but I think that competitive multiplayer is an unambiguously good thing, as are tournaments that spring up for popular games. That doesn’t mean everyone will like those things, just that they’re additions that are nice when they fit the game.
There’s definitely some more things that I am missing here, and this section will undoubtedly be expanded.
To wrap it all up, as of February 23, 2015 we have:
–Latency(covered under Feel)
Menus And Programs