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Dissecting Game Designs - Part 1

This article shares my experience with game designs. This is after spending the whole of this year cross analysing and evaluating 170 games for my game review site

Gavin Koh, Blogger

September 15, 2011

4 Min Read

Ever since the beginning of this year when I knew that my life would change in the career department, I immediately started off on a plan to get myself noticed by game companies. After some brainstorming, I decided to start off two blogs, one on writing game reviews and another one on my appetite for coding. I was banking on these two web sites to help me net some exposure and hopefully place some opportunities on my plate for a career in game development.

I have tried four companies so far (all of them overseas), and hopefully something will eventually come my way. Despite the dearth of opportunities, I am not giving up. 

About reviewing games
The focus of tonight's knowledge sharing is related to my journey in video game journalism. In just nine and a half months, I have achieved a lot more than I expected for my game review site. It is really nice to know that I have regular readers for my review site and that they value my cross analysis of at least 170 games.

As some of you may know, blogging can be quite addictive, especially when you put your heart and soul into your creation. Before you know it, you will be nurturing your website with tender loving care, in addition to sacrificing loads of your time as well as sowing heaps of commitment.

But, I digress, let's head towards the topic for today. First, a bit about my game review process - it involves the following daily commitments:

  • playing a game quite thoroughly (sometimes over a couple of days),

  • taking tons of screenshots along the way,

  • thinking of what to write for the review,

  • and most importantly, dissecting the game design - coming up with a list of all the pros and cons of the game, no holds barred.

Dissecting game designs

If you have read some of my articles, you know what I mean when I say "dissecting the game design".

After playing through so many games like I have, you will start to see a pattern. What I have learnt are that there are common elements that help mark a game as one of great distinction, or one of average quality, or one of outright awfulness.

Here are eight common elements that feature very frequently:

  1. Story

  2. Tutoring effectively

  3. Game play innovativeness

  4. Elevating immersiveness

  5. Suitable challenges

  6. Ancillary factors - visual and aural

  7. Game resolution

  8. Business factors

I'll cover the first two and return to cover the rest in part 2 of my article.

Story Most often the lack of a story is one of the biggest factor to make or break a game. The absense of a story puts players off since there is no close bond established with them. This lack of bonding starts a buildup of ennui and very soon, players will just walk away from the game.

Conversely, too much of a story will bore your players to death. I have seen games where players are just thrown into what is supposed to be a rich and compelling background world, but the designers have forgotten just one word - pacing.

Every professional novelist is familiar with pacing: you must have a setting, you must introduce your protagonists and antagonists (and not too many secondary characters if at all possible), you must have a conflict or problem that the protaganists must overcome, the antagonists must be acting out their part as opposition in the story, and you must have a great resolution, not one that suddenly cuts off abruptly.

Tutoring effectively
Gone are the days when skimpy (or absent) tutorials were the norm. Most games nowadays come with extensive tutorials due to two surprisingly polar reasons:

  • the rising complexity of core games require a good tutorial to explain new game features that have never been seen before, or

  • there is a need to thoroughly instruct a casual audience. This will convince them that the game is simple and fun enough for them to stay for the long haul.

I have seen a huge range of tutorials, some really good ones, and some that have gone horribly wrong.

Some really good ones - 

  • explains all game play elements succintly (clarity),

  • gives the player the option to skip or to select the tutorials he needs (control), and

  • introduces just enough basic strategy to live by (coaching).

Some that have gone horribly wrong - 

  • presents tutorials in a shoddy manner - this is mostly due to poor tutorial design, poor sequencing, or localization issues (absence of clarity),

  • the use of non-interactive videos can go either way, for example if a video is too long, it gets boring, or if a video is too short, you risk missing something important (absence of control),

  • not value adding to tutorials - the lack of opportunity in building basic cognitive processes that a player may need would certainly alienate the average player; he may walk away complaining a game is way too difficult (absence of coaching).

End of Part 1...

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