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video game designMany aspects make a video game stand above the rest. When I write a review of a game, there are certain factors that stand out immediately, and based off these, I can have a pretty good idea of the quality level of a game rather quickly.  Of course, over the many hours spent with a game, my opinion may change slightly, but there are a few key design elements that give me a general idea of what to expect.

Obviously, there is more to making a standout game than just some key points, and even hitting these key things does not guarantee that a game will be good. However, without hitting on these important factors, you can almost guarantee that a game will not be nearly as great as it could have been. As with any art form, there is no perfect formula. Still, if a game is designed with some of these principles in mind, it has a much higher chance of appealing to a broad range of players and being successful.

These are the most important elements of game design that I look for.

Immersion

One of the things that leaves a deep, lasting impression on a gamer is how immersed they are in the world. A good video game design makes you forget that you are playing a game and makes you feel like you are in a living, breathing world. Of course, there are certain “gamey” elements that can break the immersion, and sometimes these are unavoidable. The key is for the developer to find a way to restore the immersion quickly and not use these mechanics too much.

video game design

A great example of an immersive game is Skyrim. When a player enters the world of Skyrim, they become their character. You are thrust into a beautiful, massive world that feels almost as alive as the real world. You can play the game how you choose, and this makes your character feel like it is you. Some mechanics feel like a video game, but for the most part, Skyrim makes you forget that you are playing a video game, and that is a special feat.

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Music

Music is one of the most underrated parts of a game. A good soundtrack can literally change the feeling of a game. Just like a movie, music helps put the player in the right frame of mind for whatever challenge is ahead. An epic boss battle can be made even more special when accompanied by appropriate music. Music is usually something we gloss over, but take it away from a game, and it would feel naked.

video game design concepts

When you talk about video game music, it is hard not to go back and think about Mario. The music from Mario is so iconic that even people who do not play video games can easily identify it. Even all the way back in the 8-bit era, the music in Mario helped set the tone for the game. The pace sped up with boss battles and became creepier as you entered castles and ghost houses. I wonder if Mario would be nearly as iconic as he is without his music backing him up.

Addictiveness

In order to keep a player coming back to a game, there has to be something about it that gets them a little addicted. I am not talking about drug abuse level of addiction, but there needs to be something, otherwise players will move on to the next big thing quickly. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a game addictive, but it seems to come down to character progression.

video game design concepts

Games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Diablo are some of the most addictive games because they make you care about your character. You want to keep going back and leveling up or getting that new piece of gear. Of course, if it were that simple, everyone would do it. Addictiveness is one of those qualities that is hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it.

Visuals

Visuals are a little overrated, but they are still an incredibly important part of game design. Can a game be good without high-end visuals? Certainly, but it is going to be hard to appeal the masses without sharp graphics and a good art style.

video game design

There is a reason that every video game review touches on the games graphics and art style. While it is not the most important thing, it is still an important part of video game design.

Conclusion

Of course, some more basic aspects of game design need to be touched on for a game to work. It needs to be fun, the controls need to work and the mechanics need to be functional. Those are fundamentals. These other aspects are important after the basics are addressed, and without these, a game will never reach a higher level.

What do you think are the most important aspects of designing a good video game? Let us know in the comments!

  1. theDrew4you
    May 4, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I'm sorry, but NO. None of this is important at all!

    The only thing a game needs is playability. Everything else stems directly from the gameplay. If gameplay is not your number 1 priority, what are you even doing making games, or calling yourself a game designer? If you're not designing gameplay, you're not a game designer. I'm sorry, you're just not.

    You do not code immersion, the player is part of that equation, and you simply cannot dictate the player's mood. If the player is immersed, it is because they like playing your game more than they like being aware of their surroundings. It's just that simple. Immersion is a feeling, an emergent phenomena, not bound to any part of the design. It simply grows out of the play itself, which the player is ultimately in control of, not you.

    Music? Wow. Really? While lack of music is often noticeable, but not always detrimental to play, music appreciation is, again, an aspect of the player's mood and personal tastes. Great music to you is horrendous to others. No music is better than bad music, and bad music is a matter of opinion. Yes, there is tone and atmosphere and motivation and all the rest, but if that's your number 2 priority when making a game, you're not making a game, you're making an album. Go back to writing music. Leave the game design to game designers.

    Addictiveness is bad. Always. It is a trick played on players to make them believe they like playing your game, when in fact, they like satisfying that addiction. Do not trick your players into liking your game. Make a game your players like, and they will play it. Adding "addiction" is like adding crack to the food you're selling and claiming it's great food because nobody can stop eating it. Well, no duh! You've gotten them hooked on a drug. Addicts are not happy. Why would you want unhappy players? If they leave your game for the next big thing, then you're not doing something right. Don't shove an underhanded trick into your game and claim it's a good thing.

    Games do not require visuals. Visuals are about the least important aspect of games. The entire industry has had this lesson beat into them over and over and over, yet they never seem to learn. You need a way to interact, and yes, that is often graphical, but interaction is not sole dependent upon the quality of the graphics. Tempest? Pac-Man? Tetris? Minecraft? Do I really need to keep beating this rotten horse? Really?

    You want to make a good game, focus on the playability. Focus on the actions, the game controls, the feedback, the fun, and everything else will fall into place.

    This article is misleading. It should be removed.

    • Jackypack
      July 14, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Of course you can control the player's mood. If sad music can make you cry, or Mona Lisa's face creeps you out, then it's probable that a game's music and visuals will also affect you emotionally, as well as immersing you. The gameplay is not everything.

      What defines 'game'? Several websites define it as an activity that provides entertainment, for example a video game.
      Do not underestimate game music. If music is created with the purpose of being implemented into a game then it's one of the game's many entertaining aspects. It helps to define 'video game'.

      You have an interesting opinion about addictiveness. But exactly what in a game is addictive? If I understand you correctly, you mean that the addiction in a game is something that shouldn't be there, something that isn't a true aspect of it. But you didn't specify that aspect, and I certainly can't find it.
      I believe that when a player is addicted to a game he's simply enjoying the true game, and he's enjoying it a lot. Some maybe even allow their addictiveness to have a negative impact on the rest of their lives, and that is of course bad. But none the less the addiction is part of the game (only for the addicted), whether it is the music, the rewarding feeling of upgrading your character, the intriguing storyline or whatever else it might be. Therefore the addiction helps to define the game. Thus the addicted player likes the game.

  2. TenaciousD
    July 4, 2012 at 8:45 am

    You hit the nail on the head!
    Music (HALO, GTA, did I mention GTA!!)
    Addictiveness (Super Mario)
    Visuals (Crysis..HF 2 vs HL 1 etc..)
    Immersion (GTA, HALO, etc..)

    But I feel creating really original content is getting harder. Just look at the FPS arena, you really need to put a lot of effort into FPS games these days because it is such common game format. Shoot, reload rinse repeat a few dozen times.

    And I agree with Laga Mahesa about gameplay, but also impressiveness. Think about the older GTA games like GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas. The open 'sandbox' was a real selling point and if you look at what a lot of people actually did in the game, which basically involved running around killing people, it really didn't matter to some if there was a storyline at all, and lets not forget the poor graphics of San Andreas that even though made the game less polished didn't really dent the GTA series that badly at all.

  3. Prakash Senapati
    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    to me story presentation is an important aspect too like dead space and max payne

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Agreed.

  4. Yang Yang Li
    June 13, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Really?
    Not once did you mention intuitive game play! Making a game that the user can play without a steep learning curve is perhaps the most important. There are some games where a steep learning curve is acceptable if it includes a good tutorial that walks the player through everything he or she needs to know. But when I get a game that requires me to work hard to figure out how to play it, I will often get frustrated and quit. The game must also have tight and smooth controls. I do not want to play a game that is George Bush and will give me headaches.

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      I agree that sometimes a small learning curve is good, but sometime I enjoy just being throw in the mix and having to figure things out for myself.

  5. Laga Mahesa
    June 13, 2012 at 2:46 am

    Gameplay. A game can be as pretty and massive as they go, but if it sucks in the *game* department it has no chance, regardless of marketing.

    Longevity. How long is it? Is the length variable? Can you conceivably play it through again? Does the story have alternative paths and endings? Can the game's lifespan be extended through modding without jumping through artificial hoops set there by the anti-modding designers?

    What's the single player experience like? What's the multiplayer experience like? Don't half-heartedly tack on one of these as an afterthought expecting praise and adulation. For myself, it will always be single player - after multiple times being burned with online play (where 'deathmatch' becomes 'trollmatch' within 60 seconds), I auto-ignore all such offerings.

    Get a good concept, argue about it for a month or six, flesh out the world on paper and then worry about the graphics and other pretties. Don't do it the other way round.

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Awesome post, thanks a lot for your thoughts!

  6. Tanguy Djokovic
    June 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    How about developers stop trying to have the best graphic and instead focus on the storyline? too many recent games sure are nice but either have a <5h gameplay or have a really crappy story behind it...

    • ecd4a4d35dce1b96560e85a8ce64f578
      June 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      I am loyal to the Deus Ex series because of the great storyline. Great game if you haven't played it. ;)

      • Dave LeClair
        June 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm

        Deus Ex is awesome. I was really surprised how good the new one is.

  7. Dany Bouffard
    June 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I think innovation and moddability is something that seem to be important to me too.

    • ecd4a4d35dce1b96560e85a8ce64f578
      June 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      That's why I love Unreal Tournament & Quake 3 Arena. I wish we had more of that nowadays though. :(

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      Modability is good. Helps extend the life of a game a great deal

  8. Alex
    June 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Maybe it is just me, but I think great games can also be simple ones. For example, I always really liked Guitar Hero, really just for the simple concept of trying to match the pattern, or Super Monkey Ball (ever heard of it? lol), where the concept of rolling around levels is always constant but it is done somehow in a way that always kept me engaged.

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      I loved Super Monkey Ball when it came out for GameCube. I wasn't as much of a fan of it on Wii, I found the motion controls didn't feel great on it.

  9. Allan
    June 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Another important part of game design is actually releasing a game that people want to play, and have been waiting years for. I'm talking to you Valve - where is the next chapter in Half Life?

    • KnoxRobert
      June 12, 2012 at 8:37 pm

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    • ecd4a4d35dce1b96560e85a8ce64f578
      June 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Yes. We. Need. Half life 3.

      Period.

    • Dave LeClair
      June 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Someday... just don't hold your breath lol

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