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No matter what video game you are making, there are three key elements you must get right

A long time ago I wrote an article for Gamasutra talking about how to spot bad games, which was critiqued because people felt the list was too subjective and broad for the time. About eight years later (and now over 2,000 games played from all corners of the industry), I feel it’s time to revise this topic. Today I’m going to cover the basic building blocks that make a game successful. These aren’t just necessary requirements for a game to be commercially successful, they’re also markers that can identify the success of a game’s design.

Game Feel

“Game Feel” is a term to describe how a game feels in the player’s hands and represents what it’s like to actually play the game. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re designing for or your intended audience, if your game doesn’t feel right to play, people aren’t going to stick around. …


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What are “pain points”, and why are they important to address?

One often-overlooked issue when it comes to the quality of a video game is the pain points: aspects of a game that make it frustrating to play. Like a skip in a record, these moments can at best take the player out of the moment, and at worse, ruin the game for them. We are going to talk about how consumers respond to pain points, and why if you send me your video game, it damn well better include an audio slider and control rebindings.

Defining pain

The concept of spotting pain points in video games is not something that is often talked about among consumers and reviewers. What we are referring to are elements in a video game that either break the immersion of the experience or make the game worse to play. …


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Why a practical and objective framework for assessing game design success is more important than ever

I have been running my own gaming site, Game-Wisdom, for more than eight years now. Over that time, I’ve tried to raise consciousness around what it means to study game design beyond reviews. That means looking more deeply at whether or not a game’s design actually works in more objective terms. Some consider that very concept impossible. Whether or not a game does well or poorly in terms of sales (and even reviews) isn’t necessarily a reflection on its actual underlying design in the way many might think.

In this piece, I want to delve further into this question of what it means to study and critique game design — and why developers should welcome this kind of analysis. …


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How horror games can learn from roguelikes

Ihave begun thinking about how I want to approach my fourth book on game design, which focuses on the horror genre. During October I tried to find current and recent titles that I could really dig into and enjoy. Instead, it made me think of my dream concept for a horror game and where I feel the genre needs to go. For today, we’re going to talk about why horror needs to take notes from roguelikes.

Fear of the Unknown

Horror, in any capacity, is about the unknown. The idea that you’re walking into a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen can itself be terrifying. There are many iconic moments in videogame horror that are just that — the dog jumping through the window in Resident Evil, the first appearance by Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, and the moment you realize just how much trouble you’re in with Outlast to name a few. …


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The trends and traps of modern mobile games

The mobile game industry, for better and worse, has grown a lot over the last decade, establishing its own niche in terms of design. No longer just an outlet for Facebook styled games or lesser versions of console titles, the mobile industry has transformed both its design and monetization models. Big-name hits like Genshin Impact and Arknights have shown a focus on a different way of building games that I want to look at today.


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Spelunky gets spelunk-ier

Spelunky is arguably one of the most recognizable action roguelikes and the game that began the trend of introducing roguelike design to new genres. The original’s use of procedural generation combined with challenging platforming remains unique to this day. Eight years after the re-release, though, Spelunky 2 doesn’t quite fill the giant shoes left by its predecessor.


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Achievement rates are a powerful tool for tracking and analyzing player engagement

I have recently been taking a closer look at the analytics that come with video games — more specifically, the achievement rates on games purchased via Steam. Looking at them has given me some insight into the hallmark of what truly makes a good game, and it has nothing to do with the number of reviews, accolades — or surprisingly — the number of sales. Today, I’m talking about player retention when it comes to single-player games, and what we can learn about how people continue to play (or quit) a game.

The Critical Contradiction

Before we begin, it’s important to mention that we’re not talking multiplayer or live service games in this article. Games that have further content added post-launch retain players differently than single-player experiences. …


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The most modern and approachable roguelike on the market

Supergiant Games has made a name for themselves over the last decade for combining great gameplay with imaginative stories and storytelling. Their breakout hit Bastion brought a level of craftsmanship and artistic care to the action genre. With Hades, the team tries their hand at making an action roguelike and gives us one of the most aesthetically and narratively pleasing examples on the market.

Escape from Hell

The story follows Zagreus (or Zag for short), the demigod son of Hades, as he attempts to escape from both his father and home of the same name. Aiding him on his escape is the full litany of Greek gods and mythological figures. Right off the bat, you can see Supergiant’s penchant for storytelling come through with Hades. You’re playing as a demigod, aka someone who is immortal. The writing of the world leans into the fact that everyone you come across can’t be killed, and they constantly reference previous battles and experiences each time you meet them. …


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The biggest gacha game to date

If you’ve been following the mobile/free to play scene in the last few months, it would be almost impossible to escape the name Genshin Impact. It’s a free-to-play mobile game with cross-platform launches on console, mobile, and PC, it’s aesthetically gorgeous, and it features gameplay not really seen in a mobile game to this depth. With the game officially launched worldwide, we have a title that depending on your platform of choice is either one of the best examples of a free-to-play game…or just an okay one.

Elemental Exploration

The story of Genshin Impact follows a pair of twins when an evil god captures one of them and banishes the other to a mysterious world. Your mission is to figure out how to get your powers back, save the world, and, of course, rescue your twin with the help of as many colorful characters you can collect. The world design and aesthetics are the highlights of this game. The look puts a lot of mobile games to shame and could easily stand next to titles like the Tales series or Dragon Quest. …


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Difficulty in video games isn’t what it used to be — player expectations have changed, and better design philosophies have emerged

Video game difficulty has often been a polarizing topic — whether we’re talking about the “live, die, repeat” cycle of roguelikes, the higher than normal skill floor of Soulslikes, or the idea of a game possessing a casual or “story” difficulty level. Regardless of your stance on video game difficulty, one thing is clear: the core design philosophy around difficulty has changed, and it’s important to recognize this when thinking about game design today.

Origins of difficulty

Video games were born from the arcades. This is important to recognize, because there are particular drivers that guide the direction of arcade game design. Also, because most early games existed in an arcade context, game design itself was highly influenced by arcade games for many years. One of the drivers that most impacted arcade game design was the need to get the maximum dollar value out of each consumer. The way this articulated in arcade games was generally in the form of increased difficulty — if the player continually died or lost, they might be motivated to spend more money to keep playing. …

About

Josh Bycer

Josh Bycer is the owner of Game-Wisdom and specializes in examining the art and science of games. He has over seven years of experience discussing game design.

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