Friday, May 27, 2011
There are a few reasons I haven't talked about all these game design ideas that are circulating via buzzwords. Things like "videogame choice", "innovation", "non-linear", "difficulty rather than punishment", and others, will not only serve to strengthen the possibility that I be written off as another bandwagon jumper, but also serve to allow me to write about subjects that probably exhausted their entertainment value very shortly after they became circulated via buzzwords.
This doesn't even touch the fact that I think there is way more to making a good game than any of the ideas listed above, or ideas in your buzzword dictionary. Many great games don't even employ a lot of these ideas. I referenced this in my System Shock 2 review.
So, you're probably thinking something to the effect of "Okay, so you don't like buzzwords. Any Dilbert reading geek deosn't." You are correct, and my intolerance of buzzwords is only a very small part of the point of this post. Since I hate them so much, and I'm sure all of you are yet still dying to hear what I think about these ideas as a game designer anyway, (and because having buzzwords on my blog will make it get more search hits), I've decided to cover all of them in one article. It may stretch out over more than one post, but at least I won't have them floating around on my "write about this" list. ;)
Let's start out with a nice popular one. How about choice? Videogame choice isn't one of those old arts that has merely been forgotten. In fact, back when the first electronic games were being developed, designers didn't have the choice of having choice.
The first games were simple things like Tennis for two, Pong, Asteroids, PacMan, etc. None of these games present the player with choice in their role or anything other than how they avoid death and defeat the opponent. This isn't criticism. Choice is not a crucial element for a good game, and apparently it isn't a crucial element for a popular game either, based on how many games that present you with none and still impact the market and sell for years.
Of course, I feel this way because my favorite game(System Shock 2, which I linked to my review for above) has no choice in it at all. It's still a good game.
All in all, choice can be good. That is, when done right. A binary choice at the end of the game, is not done right. Now something like Mass Effect 2, where the game is riddled with choices from beginning to end, is better. Note, it's not perfect. There are plenty of inconsistencies or other problems with Mass Effect 2, but lets face it. Mass Effect 2 was a successful game, and a good game. One of the reasons, was because of the choices it allowed you to make.
Thusly, I admit that videogame choice is actually a good thing. But only with the note that it is not completely necessary, and that you need to do it right.
Now lets talk about innovation. In all honesty, I would be more receptive of this idea if all game design related discussion didn't center around it. Yes, I agree that coming up with creative things in your game that set it apart is important. It may even be crucial in may cases, but it isn't always. I'm going to hit you over the head with Mass Effect 2 again. ME2 didn't really innovate much, it basically took a great idea, and tried to improve the gameplay that centered around it. ME1 was innovative though, which probably had a lot to do with ME2's success.
Innovation isn't something you can put in a box and carry with you. There is no recipe for innovation, and no step by step guide. Innovation is important, but there are much bigger risks involved. You have to look at this from the perspective of a big company too. They aren't going to spend millions of dollars developing an innovative game if they're not pretty sure it will succeed.
That said, innovation is only successful when it's aligned with the market. You can have the greatest new idea for something that has never been done before, but if the market doesn't want it now, your innovation will do nothing for you.
So yep, innovation is good. It is only so important however, and always more risky than cranking out something you know everyone will buy.
So, I've talked about innovation and video game choice, but what about this whole "non-linear gameplay" thing? Well, that basically means you aren't strapped to taking the same path through the game every time. It means there is more than one path to the end of the game. You don't have to do the same set of challenges in the same order every time you play through.
My opinion of this is very similar to my opinion of videogame choice, given System Shock 2 wasn't completely linear. It can be good, but isn't essential. The biggest advantage of non-linear gameplay is that it increases replay value. Someone can play through the game more than once and have a totally different experience each time. This is great from a gamers perspective, but maybe slightly less great from a distributors perspective.
Sure, the gamers get twice as much gameplay, thats great right? But distributors know they can't get away with charging double for their game just because it's non-linear. They have to rely on using this technique to hit a bigger audience and charge only so much more for the game.
I guess that about covers the most popular ones for now. It may be that my writing brain can't think of the others right now, but they would have to go in a second part anyway, as this post is stretching out a little long.