It’s common to hear people arguing about what makes a game good. Message boards are full of topics where people discuss how one game is better than another for whatever reason. People disagreeing on the internet, imagine that. It depends on who you talk to but I really feel like games suffer due to wasted resources in the wrong areas of focus. What I want to do is talk about what I feel the most important aspects of game mechanics are. Be advised that I am only speaking of mechanics. There are several other factors that lead to how well games sell or are remembered; marketing, release window, etc. With that said, I am going to go on the record saying that the most important mechanics of a game, in order, are controls, game play, audio design and graphics. Allow me to emphasize why I feel this way.
I don’t think anyone will say otherwise that controls are the most important aspect of a video game. Without controls, you don’t have a game. If you have no way to interact with the program in front of you then it is just a movie, podcast or whatever. A game is by definition something you engage in for amusement and since video games populate a virtual space, we cannot interact with it without some control device. Yet again, controls have to work well. They need to be intuitive so that they make sense when being used. A lot of good games suffer from poor controls and/or clumsy button mapping. Resident Evil 4 is a great example of both ends of the spectrum. RE4 on GameCube had quick and fluid response time that combined with intuitive button mapping which makes it my gold standard for game controls. However, some ports of RE4 are abysmal in comparison. The PS2 version tried to mirror the button mapping of the GameCube but since the layout of a DualShock 2 is so different from a GameCube controller, it came across as a bit forced. The PC version of the game requires that you aim with the number pad and not the mouse. The Wii version is the best port or RE4 and the controls for it work fantastic. It’s worth noting that the best versions of the game are on what some consider the weaker consoles.
Once you can control a game, you have to make sure that people will actually want to. Game play comes second in game mechanics. Once again, a game is used for amusement. If you play one that isn’t fun, you aren’t going to want to play it much more. The problem is that you can get too much of a good thing. In other words, what is fun for an hour may not be fun for another seven hours (think of long RPGs). At the same time you can’t change how a game plays every twenty minutes or else people will get confused and frustrated (I’m looking at you Brütal Legend). Developers have to work hard to maintain a balance between keeping things engaging while not being so different to cause unfamiliarity. Overall, a game needs to be fun. But since fun is such a relative term, what is fun for one may be boring to another.
Now things get tricky. I imagine this will cause some debate but I feel that between sound and graphics, sound is more important. I am admittedly an audiophile which may influence my opinion some but I have played interesting games that only use audio but never a game with just video. My example is the Xbox Live Indie game In The Pit. You use stereo sound to locate targets while the screen remains is blank. I think people expect for video to always be accompanied with audio. However, sound alone is a widely accepted for of entertainment. The best example I can think of is a silent movie verses a podcast or radio show. I don’t know of a silent movie that has been made in the last 90 years while talk radio and podcast are everywhere you look… well hear. Obviously, I still feel graphics are important but perhaps more people will now understand why I still prefer retro games to modern ones.
Obviously these aren’t the only things that go into making a good game but I feel they are the most important. Things like a story and writing are good too, but as a lot of older games prove they aren’t a necessity. Even with new games, a story isn’t always needed. Peggle anyone? I am curious to see the comments on this one. I want to know why people agree or disagree with me.