It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ll have to correct that.
Last week I had an interesting conversation with a man named Elgin Summerfelt, who is a career counselor in Cambridge, MA. He told me that one of his friends had found it very useful to create a philosophy and theory behind how he did woodworking, and urged me to create a similar sort of thing for gaming. I’m going to take his advice today.
Games have always been a great force in my life, ever since I was nine and bought my first Nintendo Entertainment System. The most memorable ones, the ones that were the guiding force behind what I believe constitutes a worthy candidate for “Game of the Year” in a video game magazine, all had the following:
- 1. Easy mechanics that didn’t take long to master, but required you to use them in challenging ways to get through the game.
Reasoning: Games that are too easy are boring, plain and simple. Great storylines are a big part of a good game, but if you get mechanics that make the storyline too easy to access and progress through, it isn’t rewarding enough for the player. They will feel like there’s no inherent challenge and they’re just watching a movie. A good example of a game that took this too far was Final Fantasy 12, released for the Playstation 2. In Final Fantasy 12, they gave you the option to queue up actions for your characters to take when not given input by the player, such as stealing an item from an enemy, or using a specific magic spell first. The problem was that they gave the player too many of these options, so you could easily get into battle, allow the party to fight the enemy without touching the controller, and do other things while keeping an eye on the TV to make sure your characters didn’t die. This made it a more cinematic experience than a game experience, and was a major downfall of the title. It was still a good game, despite this flaw, but compared to other entries in the Final Fantasy series, it was lackluster.
In contrast, a much earlier game that was produced by the same company, Secret of Mana, mastered the balance between player action and inaction very well. One of the main fight mechanics was a charge-up meter that allowed you to do different attacks with the weapons you found, and this was a great reward for gameplay. Charging up your weapon to unleash havoc upon the enemy when you released the button was a great way to offer the player consistent rewards for improving the weapons (since every time you improved it, you got a new combat move) and kept the story moving forward by offering you bosses to kill that would grant you new weapons and with them, new combat options.
- 2. Great storylines.
Reasoning: Without a good storyline, the player has no reference to why they are supposed to do what they’re supposed to do. An engrossing storyline keeps the suspension of disbelief active and allows the player to be engaged in characters that tell a story that the developer created; ideally one that will make a good impression on the player.
- 3. Creative and memorable graphics.
Reasoning: This doesn’t necessarily mean GOOD graphics. Some games do just fine with minimal graphics, and to a degree, graphics are limited to what the engine running the game can handle anyway. But the graphics used have to be memorable enough to the player that there’s something there to say, “Hey I really liked that,” about a combat move, a magical spell, environments, or whatever else. One of the most memorable games for its graphics was Chrono Trigger, which had a very unique combat system. In every battle, you had the option to create combination attacks using up to three characters, which were sometimes very powerful, but the point of them was not just to create powerful attacks; the point of having them in there was graphics that exploded all over the screen, in increasingly powerful bursts. Both combat moves and magical spells were utilized, sometimes in tandem with each other. This led to a very rewarding experience as you played through the game; it was a lot of fun watching all the double and triple attacks that you could pull off.
- 4. Background music that matches the mood of significant events in the game.
Music that does its job well can turn a good game into a transcendent one. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was a game that did this well; so was Final Fantasy 7, and Diablo and Diablo II also pulled it off nicely. Path of Radiance had many missions where motivational music happened right on time to coincide with conversational events setting you up for things later on, which got you motivated and ready for the impending battle, which improved the game experience immensely and made it more fun. Final Fantasy 7 had a character named Aeris who died midway through the game and the music surrounding her death was EXTREMELY well done; the entire experience was enhanced and made unforgettable for anyone who played the game. Diablo’s first entry in the franchise had foreboding, dark music that was very appropriate for a dungeon crawler, and Diablo II followed suit in this while adding town music for each act’s levels that was quality sound work. I was particularly a fan of the Act II town, which was set in a desert and had music that evoked Middle Eastern themes.
Taken all together, these elements would make a AAA game memorable and worth playing for just about anyone. If any of them are missing, the experience of playing the game would be made lesser, and cost the game regard amongst its peers.