Ask a gamer why they love their favourite games. Most of the time, people don’t list off bullet points as to why they love their favourite games. Usually, it’s because of the memories you’ve made with it .
I can recall countless nostalgic memories of childhood games – Super Mario World on the Gameboy at my sister’s soccer tournaments, Sonic Adventure 2 in the late hours of the night, and unlocking Mewtwo for the first time in Super Smash Bros Melee.
All of these experiences are what makes gamer’s love games. The euphoria we feel when a new virtual experience hits us is a phenomenon that’s only existed for the last 30 years. I think the big reason I began studying game design in school and on my spare time is due to my fascination with the medium and how it communicates it’s messages.
Game design is interesting because of how vast it is. There isn’t one way to design a game and, even with similarly made games, there aren’t specific right ways or wrong ways (except never ever design fetch quests.. those suck). The form a game releases in relies on the values of that game’s designer and who they perceive to be their audience.
For example, Masahiro Sakurai, the developer of Kirby, wished for his first game to designed with beginners in mind. With platformers dominating the 1990’s, Sakurai wanted to have a game that introduced non-gamers to the fun that games could provide without the harsh win-lose conditions of most platformers. Alternatively, Donkey Kong Country wished for it’s platforming and level layouts to get tougher as an alternative to the Mario line of games.
Many of the design choices in retro and modern games are directly pulled from the designers culture and who they perceive their audience to be. Just take a look at some Japanese studios vs. North American ones. Two games that are current and strongly show what I mean are gems like Nier: Automata (Japanese Developed) and …. Mass Effect:Andromeda (American Developed). Euh…
I guess it’s a bit unfair to compare these two, especially when one of them is Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s release took over headlines for weeks, as it was riddled with poor animation and bad reception across the board. Though many members of the team did care for the game, it’s failures were a result of the values held during development. I.e release quick, make money.
Thus, the direction for the game was not in a place of passion and instead was taking on another instalment to a well-off franchise to make a bit of money out of it.
Nier on the other hand came in with graceful polish. PlatinumGame’s has made quite a reputation for themselves with the many quality games they’ve released in the past 10 years. Nier: Automata makes up for it’s unorthodox gameplay style by crafting an experience that nails story, pace and difficulty.. It’s game play was vastly different from other games on the market during this time of year and it still managed to wow gamers old and new. It’s being contested as a game of the year on some sites but we’ll just have to see if this Japanese inspired game has enough to hit.
The difference in what’s good and what’s bad is quite fascinating. Obviously, each gamer will have a different opinion on what they like – I hold an extremely unpopular opinion of not enjoying the Pokemon games. However, I’m always interested in the whys behind game design, from the most simple questions as to “why did they place a Goomba here” some underlying choices that made of easy development such as “why are there less than 200 coins in each Super Mario 64 level?”
Of course, making money will be at the forefront of making a game, but I believe learning for what different game developers do and how their game turns out is valuable in predicting how gaming can evolve. I’m a firm believer that even though graphics and genres are stagnating, there is much room to explore in regards to what makes a good game. And that’s something I will continue to explore.
How do you feel about game design? What are some questions you’d like to see me tackle regards to new games and their design? Please comment below and I’ll be sure to hit you up!