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The Quixotic Engineer

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Features Every Game Should Have

Shigeru Miyamoto

I read a fascinating article last week over at Gamasutra entitled Game Feel: The Secret Ingredient, and it really got me thinking about game design. Game feel, as it is explained in the article, is an intangible quality that could be described by a game just feeling right. It's a fleeting elusive quality, something author Steve Swink believes may be tied to tight, responsive controls coupled with environments that respond to player actions with audio and visual cues. Game feel is important on a fundamental and subconscious level, where ideally the lines between man and machine begin to blur and thoughts translate naturally into on-screen actions

Today, however, I would like to take the time to consider aspects of game design that are much more concrete. While the feel may define a game's artistic merit and timelessness, there are very different aspects in play when we consider games as hobbies and entertainment. These qualities make a game fun to play with friends, playable for short periods of time, and challenging without being frustrating. Zack Hiwiller beat me to the punch with his excellent discussion of underused game mechanics, but I would like to consider the same question in a different way: what features should every game have, regardless of genre? Here's what I came up with, in no particular order:

  • Local Multiplayer: This one is a no-brainer. When I think back to the games that I logged hundreds of hours on, games like Super Smash Bros, Goldeneye and Mario Kart, their one common element was the ability to play them with friends over. Adding a solid co-op or cooperative mode can instantly add dozens of play hours to a game. The modern extension of this is the ability connect more than one person online from the same box (such as Halo 3), a feature that hopefully more games will adopt.
  • Unlimited Saves: Forcing players to reach some arbitrary save point is just a frustrating way to artificially inject challenge into a game. Allowing saves anytime not only makes it easier to pick up a game for 20 minutes, but also prevents the annoyance of having to repeat the same area many times over. This is an absolutely necessity in portable games; the otherwise terrific New Super Mario Bros. really flubbed it by enforcing the Super Mario World style "only save after castles" rule.
  • Good Voice Acting or None: Nothing shatters the illusion of a game world more than bad voice acting, second only to the bad writing that we've become so accustomed to. Considering the amount of time and money it takes to produce, publish and advertise a game, you would think that studios would cough up a little more to hire some real voice talent. If they aren't going to go that extra mile, then old-fashioned on-screen text might be the lesser of two evils.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head and by no means represent an exhaustive list, so I throw the challenge out to you now: what features would you recommend for any game, regardless of genre?

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2 Comments:

  • Hey buddy,

    I got referred to your little blog by the Brainy Gamer podcast and now you're in my feed reader.

    I'm going to second all three of your points and add my own:

    -Every game should have a wide variety of unique items to collect and an easy way to view them.

    For example:
    Trophies in Super Smash Bros Melee
    Cars in Gran Turismo Series
    Treasure in Pikmin 2
    Scans/Artwork in Metroid Prime Series
    NES games in Animal Crossing

    By Blogger Joseph C, At December 21, 2007 at 10:27 AM  

  • I agree, a good collection system can add a lot of value to a game. I think it's important too that you emphasized unique, because collectible items that are not unique (ex: flags in Assassin's Creed) can become a tiresome chore unless they provide a gameplay bonus (ex: orbs in Crackdown)

    By Blogger Matthew Gallant, At December 21, 2007 at 12:19 PM  

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