The Essential Vitamins of Games

Here’s the first part of an essay I wrote on game design, hope you enjoy it…!

The Essential Vitamins of Games

Computer and video games are designed to be fun, but what exactly makes them fun? Why is one game fun when another isn’t? And more importantly, if a game isn’t fun, is it possible to narrow down exactly why it isn’t?

Why is one game mechanic tedious where another is challenging? Is hard work and great fun just the same thing viewed from a different perspective? What drives people to play a game for hours and hours on end, and queue up overnight to buy the next instalment?

For a long time game reviewers have attempted to classify games using percentage marks such as “Graphics”, “Sound”, “Playability”, and “Presentation”… but what exactly is “Playability”? Isn’t this the most important ingredient of a game? Is the playability affected by the quality of graphics and the sound? Some people would actually say it isn’t, but I’m not so sure.

Here is the theory I am going to describe in this essay:

  • In order for a game – any game – to be fun, you have to have 3 key ingredients that I’m going to call Vitamins A, B and C.
  • Any game that is weak in one of A, B or C will suffer unless it is very good in the other two ingredients.
  • Any game that is weak in two of A, B or C is unlikely to be perceived as a good game.
  • However, crack all three in one game, and you’ve have a theoretical blockbuster.

Vitamin A – Entertaining while doing ‘nothing’

The game engine must be entertaining to interact with.

How do you know whether a game has ‘Vitamin A’? Easy, just play it without actually achieving anything, and see if it’s still vaguely entertaining. Don’t collect any items, don’t kill any bad guys, don’t get any score, just interact with the game engine and see what’s left.

So – do the graphics look good? Do they look realistic? Is the music good? If it’s a movie tie in, is there entertainment in the fact that it looks like the movie?

Is the frame rate high enough? What about the walk animation, or the mechanic of jumping? Does it feel responsive? Do the enemies look good?

This is the Vitamin A of the game – it is, in essence, a reward to the player for doing nothing other than purchasing the game. It’s basically just a feeling of entertainment just by being in the game world. In the days of Doom and Quake there was entertainment just from the fact that a game was 3D – it was new and interesting to be able to walk around a 3D simulated world. Now 3D graphics are standard, so we have to think of new ways to make the game engine different, fresh and interesting. This might come from cell-shaded graphics, the Wii’s motion-sensing peripheral, or realistic physics in a game.

We’ve all played games that are high in Vitamin A and deficient in B and C… they are called tech demos! Physics games are extremely high in vitamin A, since the entire game is based around interacting with the environment.

But in order to make a complete game, you need objectives and rewards, which is where Vitamin B comes in.

2nd part coming soon :-)

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2 Responses to The Essential Vitamins of Games

  1. Pingback: The Essential Vitamins of Games Part 2 | Dave's Blog

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