What makes a great game? A game can easily be made with the right technical skills but creating a great game is not that simple. In this article, we briefly go through a few key elements that make up a great game.
So what makes a game fun? The main factor and the most important factor in a great indie is the game concept. This is the core of the game, the deciding factor whether the game is fun or not. More often than not, developers will take a familiar idea, a proven concept on the market and add in new and interesting mechanics. This brings about a fresh new look to an existing idea while retaining the familiarity of an existing concept.
An example of such is Slay The Spire, a deckbuilding roguelike. It takes the familiar concept of building a deck to fight against opponents and adds on a roguelike twist to it, making each playthrough unique.
Next up on the list of things that make games fun is the mechanics of the game. Game mechanics are the different elements that make up the gameplay. It is the shooting in Call of Duty, it is the jumping and platforming in Super Mario Bros. Mechanics can then be further broken down three distinct parts: controls, mastery and gratification.
Firstly, the controls for the game need to feel smooth and intuitive to the player. A great example of such is the age-old classic game: Super Mario Bros. The controls are simple to pick up, with A being jump and the D-PAD to move. The jump button allows the player to hold the jump or let go of it earlier if they wish to, giving them a more precise jump to land at a more specific spot. These simple yet precise controls allow players to pick up the game many years down the road and are still able to enjoy it thoroughly.
Secondly, mastery. Mastery is the competence of skill and strategy in a game that the player acquires through playing. A great game should be easy to learn yet hard to master. The game should be easy and straightforward to learn, giving a low barrier of entry to the general player population. After learning how to play, the game should have an increasing amount of difficulty to present to the player, giving them a challenge so that they will not get bored easily when playing the game. The original Defense of the Ancients, or DotA in short, shows such formula perfectly. The game is easy to pick up for players even if they have not played a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena or the original Warcraft 3 which the game is derived from. However, the game starts to be challenging as you play and learn, giving them a sense of achievement as they rank higher through playing the matches over and over.
Lastly, gratification. Gratification is the feeling players get when receiving a reward for taking a risk in the game. It needs to be well balanced to provide the player with an appropriate level of reward for the level of risk taken. The choice of low or high risk allows the player to control their own play style and lets the player play the game at their own pace, while the resultant reward should appropriately match the risk. This gives the player gratification based on how much effort they put in, allowing them to feel more justified when entering a more high risk situation.
As an indie studio, the amount of funding available will be sufficient for the game to compete with the AAA level of art fidelity. Never the less, art should not be neglected. A thematic wrap to a unique art style can and will make or break a game. Some indie games like Journey have simple art styles which can be pulled off with a small but talented team. Other games like Gris and Ori and the blind forrest have made aesthetic their core focus and are successful because of it.
Last but not least, the audio component of the game. The audio component is a more tricky part of a game. A good audio in-game allows the player to have a more pleasing audio sensory feedback and the lack of it is what gives attention to it. A simple BGM which does not distract the player from the ongoing gameplay helps to boost the general mood of the game, be it exciting or calming. The SFX gives impact to the player's action, allowing the player to have a better sense of what is happening on the screen. The lack thereof will result in a clunky feel to the game, even though it does not directly impact the game on a general whole.
All in all, a great game starts from the initial concept but is an amalgamation of the idea, mechanics, art and audio. All the points mentioned are essential in the development of a great game, big or small.
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