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Many 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!