Identifying Good Game Design


  • Posts: 14
(warning: Language)

This video has been around for a while, but I've used it a few times, and it always spurs some good discussion.

I think it's a good case study of what works and what doesn't in games with simple mechanics like Castlevania. He makes the very good (and often overlooked) point that just because the mechanics are simple does not mean the game itself has to be. The difference between good and bad is the thought you put into your game.

I see this sort of quantity-over-quality mentality a lot, and it's really too bad.

As for the discussion, lets talk about games you've played with exceptionally good -or bad- design, and what exactly made them that way for you. Like any other art form, dissecting the games you love (or hate) can make you better at making a better product yourself.


  • Posts: 323
Good topic! Hmm... let me pick a game...

Like Katamari Damacy! No, not the sequels that are getting worse and worse scores with every single one that comes out... but the original, PS2 one.

The very first thing I noticed about the game was just how blatantly off-the-wall it was. The atmosphere was so goofy and weird, yet very appealing and it gave you a sense of fun. It wanted you to have fun playing through it and gave you funny characters and a little story that, while not the most engrossing story ever, provided a simple goal and it was appropriate to the lighthearted nature of the game.

So you start off as the Prince, and roll that katamari around and pick things up to eventually accumulate enough stuff to replace the stars in the sky that the King of All Cosmos has destroyed. I think part of this game design appeals to old-school sensibilities of picking up things to gain better abilities and such. What this game did differently though is make it so that almost EVERYTHING can be picked up and attached to this gigantic ball of mass destruction, and as you got bigger, more areas were unlocked, given both more options and a sense of exploration/accomplishment.

Also, when the King of All Cosmos is astounded by the katamari you rolled, it feels pretty darn good. There are different objectives too, which spices up the gameplay, like only picking up a certain kind of item, or doing it within a stricter time limit. Unlocking Eternal Modes so you can just keep on rolling with no pressure, and explore the level. You can also find presents and attach what is inside to the Prince, giving an almost personal touch to him. I think that most players enjoy customizing and feeling involved with the game.

Several times in the game I also found a number of great 'set-ups' like bowling pins lined up on the ground and your katamari to be meant as the bowling ball. Sound effects were lovely too; hearing people yell when you pick them up is very satisfying, haha. A large factor that contributed to this game's appeal was its music which, in keeping with the more lighthearted tone, had a bevy of funky tunes that sounded great.

This game, while seemingly silly and almost lackadaisical in its approach had a lot of thought behind it, as well as care in making it a fun game to play. The vast amount of charm inherent in the game only sweetens the deal.


  • Posts: 14
 I love Katamari too (pun... intended?). It's so simple in concept, and yet every time I play it, I find something new.

 The whole game is one big easter egg. You'd find all of these seemingly out of place characters and objects, but they always made me think about how they got there. There was this subtle story being told in each level, and it made the world feel somewhat real and alive, despite the fact that the whole thing was so balls to the wall crazy. The world is so densely populated by all of these fantastic and humorous characters, it's really goes to show how attention to detail can really enhance the overall experience.

 The music, the visuals, the gameplay... it was all masterfully cohesive. It remains one of my favorites.

I guess I'll select a game to analyze; another one of my favorites, if not my absolute favorite: Shadow of the Colossus.

Shadow was the kind of game that changed my perspective on what a game should be. It came to me during a time in my life where most of what I played where these lengthy, prosaic JRPGs that, for the most part, had unoriginal stories to tell, and told them in ways that were just as cliche. I just kept playing them, and even enjoyed them at times. I attribute it to being young and naive.

 Then came along SotC, a game with practically zero dialog. You were alone, in an absolutely beautiful forgotten land. The only other living things you would encounter would be your horse, and these giant monsters that you had to track down and kill. Some people griped about the horse rides to the next mark, but to me, this is where the game really shined.

 This was truly a storyteller's game. Instead of some drone of an NPC shoveling lore down your throat, the world of Shadow showed you its history, simply by being there. All of these temples and towers that lie in ruin beg the question of who constructed them, and why were they all gone? Buildings that you may never see during your playthrough (since you only see about half of the world if you're just going to kill the colossi) hold such elaborate detail, and clearly suggest purpose, all of which is up to the player to consider. The ending is really the only time you see dialog, and most of it is cryptic enough to keep you guessing, but it makes you question the nature of your quest, shedding only so much light on the origin of the colossi, and why such a beautiful paradise is now a forbidden land.

 I played ICO, the spiritual predecessor to Shadow a year later, and though I didn't need to play one to enjoy the other by any means, there were just enough parallels between the two that made me want to ask these questions all over again. Still, when I think about that game, I want to fill in the blanks, and know that the answer will always be just out of reach. THAT'S SO COOL. Nobody even tries to do that. Most games give you all the answers before you ever feel compelled to ask; there's nothing fun about a world you completely understand. The magic is lost that way. Shadow makes sure you only understand enough to know which way is up, and that makes it one of the most magical games I've ever played.


  • Posts: 2
(SPOILER ahead)

ICO. That game really shocked me when I played it. It glued me to the screen, let my heart ache as I walked through the gigantic chambers of the Queen's castle. I felt so small and so important at the same time for that sparkling little white angel, Yorda. Yorda who speaks a totally unknown language to you; that learns to trust you as you fight for her freedom just because you feel the need to do it; that runs shyly with you hand in hand (a 'tech' that has been later used by Molyneux in Fable III); that calls you by 'ICO!' when tries to let you be aware of something or simply remembers you to not forget her (how could you, by the way?); that survives to her previously written destiny of being an empty shell for the Queen's twisted soul only because of the bond grown between her and ICO. Because that's what the Queen didn't manage: such bond. Yorda kept in her cage was nothing but an empty shell, pure as light and shining for what she never felt through all her life. So much philosophy in a 3 characters' theatrical play. And I cried, at the very end. I cried joyful tears and that wonderful beach is a place that I'll keep forever in my finest dreams.

I replayed the game only to discover Yorda's full translation and I got a smack in the heart when her last two words were not translated. Whatever those word really means, I'm sure that are something superior to me.
Christopher Sacchi - Wannabe Writer/Emotioneer |LinkedIn|Blog|
Play Dreamagine

"We do not stop playing because we grow old,
we grow old because we stop playing."


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  • Posts: 2740
I whole heartedly agree with everything you both said about SotC and ICO. Those are master pieces.

HUGE spoilers here, and I don't know why the spoiler tags aren't showing... oh well..
I specially like the last colossi. The whole "quest" of the last boss. You loose your best friend, you are already HEAVILY corrupted by the colossi, the boss stands still in the top of the ruined temple, IT'S RAINING, and you have that epic music, Demise of the Ritual. When you see that colossal creature, that music, and remember the fact that, for the first time in the game, you are completely alone, it just gets into you, like it seems everything is lost, and you won't survive this last encounter. You were SO close! And defeating him for the first time, without walkhroughs, is quite difficult. It took me A LOT of time to discover his weak points. Yet it feels a great satisfaction when you beat all odds and defeat him.

The other thing about the ending, in the beach, is that you have control of the character. As you walk around, you think that, perhaps, she managed to escape too. As you see her, you start to hope that she's alive. You feel just like ICO felt as he ran through the sand, towards Yorda. It's just epic!
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  • Posts: 14
While we're on the topic (more spoilers, i guess), that same beach can be found in Shadow. There's no boat, though. Given everything that happens at the end, it seems to point to Shadow being a prequel. But, the thing I love so much is that I'll never really know for sure.


  • Posts: 438
Good Game design=
Gamers are almost always happy,
 know what to do,
 how to do it,
 find it funny to play
 even when completed, they will replay the game
 rate 4 or 5

Bad game design
Gamers are angry
 don't know what to do
 hit random buttons
 feel themselves losing time
 quit for another game

I've seen many games that had some wonderfull concepts but were hard
or the ultimate goal was over human reach...
In these case the same gamers search the developer to suggest changes(one example is Starfighter:Disputed Galaxy, best game of 2008 on Kongregate but the ultimate goal is to have 12800kills, which requires almost 60 hours of repetitive gameplay!)
Currently working at:
Starwarrior 2097(my main project)
How to make successful games in Kongregate and the world(article)


  • Posts: 17
The best game I ever played had no graphics, and in it's original form the mechanics were fairly simply.
Didn't even have a story line perse...just grow to the biggest...or most powerful, or most honourable in the land.  Those were the official markers from the game developer.  The greatness of the game came from the other players...all 50,000 of them.  Some being your friends & allies...others enemies and nemesi..
Nothing beat the thrill of of turning one time enemies that could destroy you into stalwart allies that would die for you.
Or of turning 24 complete stranger into a team to survive and overcome the onslaught of the other 2000 kingdoms.

The game I speak of is Utopia


  • Posts: 20
Two that I think have a lot in common and work for similar reasons:  Portal and Braid. It's fair to say these are generally considered gaming masterpieces, and yet, they're both super short games by modern blockbuster standards.

They're the fancy dessert as opposed to the bag of chips. Rather than triggering player satisfaction via Higher Number Acquisition (e.g., you're level 3 and now you're LEVEL 4 ISN'T THIS A MUCH BETTER LEVEL THAN LEVEL 3 WOOOO HERE'S A NEW SWORD), they trigger it with .. learning. Yup, learning. One of the natural dopamine releases.

They present you with a simple concept, and then force you to figure out how to execute it, correctly, in increasingly skillful ways. Ways that require practice and repetition. Beating your head against a wall, failure after failure, until you get it right. And it's that moment of finally getting it right that releases that surge of brain chemicals that makes you post a positive review on IGN or whatever and talk about the game years after you played it.

SotC is like this, too. Another one that did it for me is Stuntman for PS2.

Designing a game like this is difficult and risky, which is I'm sure why more of them don't get made. If it's so difficult that many players give up before they break through that wall, it's doomed. It takes time to craft challenges and to playtest to find the right level of difficulty.

The games that I worship the most are designed this way. I find in general the stuff I geek out about falls into a few categories:

* Skill-learning games where succeeding is naturally satisfying because it either is, or is like, solving a puzzle. Portal, Braid, SotC.  I would even lump something like competitive StarCraft or some of the better FPS games into this category.

* Creative games.. Minecraft, Little Big Planet,

* Games with super elegant and deep background systems that result in interesting emergent behaviors. The Sims would be a good example of this, or Dwarf Fortress.

* Games that succeed, for me, on story and ambiance, even if gameplay is a little meh. I'm thinking specifically of Morrowind, but many well-received point and click adventures would fall into this category too. Like, is Monkey Island gameplay really that great, or is Monkey Island great because there's a three-headed monkey and a rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle.

There's my 50 cents or so. =)


  • Posts: 59
A small contribution to the thread here.  I also wanted to chime in about Katamari from the perspective of a parent (BTW PS2 is the most advanced console system we have in this house, and it's still plenty entertaining with a ton of great games for like $2 at gamestop.  FWIW I've never seen or played a Katamari game past the 2nd one, so these comments are all re: the origin of the series). 

Anyway my son was 2 years old when he first got hooked on that game.  It was the first time he really felt 'ownership' of the character on screen.  Here are the reasons I think it is one of the best gaming experiences of all time:

1) Easy to play.  A two year old can pick it up and play it intuitively by pushing the analog sticks.  It's for this same reason that I think all the touchscreen & motion sensing devices have a promising future.  I see my little kids run to jump in and play anything on a touchscreen, while computers or consoles still put them off with a bit of a learning curve.  Katamari didn't have that.

2) Music. Yeah you probably knew I was going to say this.  But we still have that whole soundtrack loaded into the regular playlist.  On a personal level, that soundtrack was once of the first things that got me thinking I really wanted to try to bust into game audio in the first place.  If you find yourself humming a tune, you don't know what it is, then you say 'oh yeah it's from that game," and then you go play that game... the music is a resounding success.

3) Characters.  The other main thing that is awesome about Katamari is how gaddang annoying the King of the Cosmos is.  I LIKE how he constantly interrupts, the game pauses, and you can't even press X to shut him the hell up.  It gives the whole experience personality.  If this were the exact same game, but packaged differently with a less memorable 'game chaperone', I don't think it would have found the cult success that it has.   I think it was a ballsy move for the developers to go ahead and build the whole game around that weird-ass character, but it totally worked.  Big risk, nice reward for the devs I'm sure.

4) Unique.  I'd heard about the game, and it was the concept of snowballing an entire room up that seemed unique enough for me to even want to try it out.  Unique gameplay doesn't guarantee success... and by now there are so many genres & subgenres already identified, it's probably really tough to come up with something new that isn't just "new for the sake of being new."   If you can come up with a really unique gameplay angle like Katamari did, and have it actually relate to the story, then it's a success.

« Last Edit: June 23, 2011, 07:04:29 am by OpenHeartSound »
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