Featured image taken from Super Mario Bros 30th Anniversary Interview.
“I can do better than that!”
A common utterance of gamers. Usually heard shouted at the top of their lungs as they frustratingly die for the umpteenth time due to bad game design or some game-breaking bug that caused the gamer to lose hours of progress. In the past, we would have stewed in silent anger and kept playing. Telling ourselves that we’re just bad at the game. Today, however, it’s far less about cheap deaths and unfair difficulty but character design and story. Regardless of whether or not it’s the gameplay aspect or the aesthetics, gamers are far less likely to accept flaws while the complexity of making a game seems to be increasing exponentially as time goes on.
Good game design is usually unheard of. Not because it’s not possible, it’s just that no one really highlights it. I think good game design is akin to good CGI in movies. You wouldn’t notice if it was there but it would stick out like a sore thumb if it was bad. It’s just human nature that we notice flaws. And there’s another reason why it’s harder to notice good game design, unlike movies where movies are a purely visual media and over with in a few hours. Games could go on for dozens of hours and while there is that minute to minute gameplay that keeps a player interested, there is also another layer of design for long-term interest. That could range from having a good progression system to balance for multiplayer that keeps people coming back for more.
A lot of times, as a game writer, we tend to focus on the superficial aspects of games. Does it look good, does it play well, does it interest me because of how well written the story is. And to be fair, that is what is presented to the consumer. A movie is not advertised as “edited with Avid” or a book as “written with Stylewriter 4”. It doesn’t change what the final outcome of a game will be by knowing what technical creativity was used to achieve it. But I feel it would behoove the industry as a whole to have more technically savvy writers critiquing and providing feedback instead of a trend moving towards reacting to the animosity between the consumer and gaming journalists.
I feel that gaming is big enough that we don’t have to continually bump into each other and be at each other’s throats. We don’t have to always be following the hype train and be upset if a game doesn’t meet our expectations or be so defensive if other’s don’t find a game as fun as we do. Why can’t there be different segments of fans like how the music or movie industry do? There will be the huge games like how there’s a new Marvel blockbuster each year, but there could also be a market for smaller but more poignant titles.
What is my part in all this? In addition to covering games traditionally with game news and criticism, I would like to surface game designs and provide my best guess as to why certain choices were made. But to be able to put some weight behind my guesses, I need to learn game design. The reason behind this is because not every game is a Super Mario Bros. in the sense that not every game is so beloved. Being a beloved game means that out of the multitude of gamers that have played the game, a subset of that would be knowledgeable enough to put the game under a microscope and dissect it. It helped that there are interviews with the developers on how the game was made but you get my point. More eyes mean more chances for something to come out of it.
It’s a lofty goal, and I might need to take some game design classes. As well as some writing classes while I’m at it. But it’s time I give back in some way to the game industry however little it might be or feel to most people and maybe, just maybe, I get good enough that I can have my own game out there for others to play. Maybe.