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What makes a good computer game?

This is a difficult question to answer especially in a trend setting society that we have today, the following theories can help guide as towards a good game design.

A computer game can be broken down into many different criteria all affecting the overall quality and playability of the game.

  • Game Balance
  • Game play
  • Interactivity
  • Look and feel

Game Balance

This is an important aspect of making a good game, player – player balance: the best way to explain this is that all players have the same advantages and disadvantages.  This is created in games using symmetry, for example in Golden eye (N64) in multiplayer mode the golden gun each player will spawn equidistance from the gun and have similar obstacles in reaching it, (the only way the gun can be obtained is by shooting person holding it). The advantage can only be gained by good game play.

The second element of this theory is player – game play: this allows the player to have progression throughout the game being rewarded with achievements the further you go. Doing this keeps the player interested by rewarding effort i.e. new levels new weapons. If the rewards were too easy or too hard to achieve the game would be pointless.

The final element to the balance theory is Game play – Game play: a good example of this is in Golden eye again with the golden gun, when you pick this weapon up it allows you to kill the enemy in one shot, which would seem an unfair advantage the game evens this out is by giving you less ammo in fact one shot. If you miss you get shot! So it’s up to you to choose the gun or not, each choice and its outcome must be clear to the player.

Game play

A good game should involve choice, this choice must not be one sided for example if you take the left path on a game its clear but on the right you get attacked by enemy, so obviously you would always choose the left. However if you were to add a powerful gun to the right path, you may change your mind. There is now an upside and downside to the choice. No choice in the game should be dominant and have a perfect outcome i.e. you pick up a map that shows you the way with no obstacles the game would have no purpose and is effectively over. There are two different choices tactical (dealing with what’s in front of you) and strategic (influence of the game over long period of time).


This for me is a massive part of the game making procedure, if the player is able to interact or relate to a game it allows them to be part of another world, universe or something out of the ordinary. With the way the gaming industry is these days player interactivity is an integral part of game making, all you have to do is look at the Nintendo Wii. But before the Wii was on the scene, player interactivity can be found in most games from changing clothes, cars, weapons and choice of player this is usually made at the beginning of a game.  Direct control of the player is another type of interactivity, user decides if player goes left or right, up or down. Nintendo have taken this to a different level incorporating user movement with player movement. The third element to this theory is “first removed” control of a player for example if you choose to pick up a big object or wear lots of armour what kind of affect it will have on the player. Following this is “second removed” control of the player, choosing what effect the surroundings have on the player or what they might discover, extra lives, new paths or new weapons. Interactions made by the player should have consequences for example you blow a bridge up used by cars, cars then fall off the end.

Look and Feel

The game must have the right atmosphere, walking down a spooky hall way with all the lights on and bright colours does not seem right in fact it would no longer be scary. Using the right texture, sound or lighting is vital for setting the mood; this will make the game believable. Good graphics and physics will help make the game seem realistic, even if the physics can be bent from time to time, the Matrix game is a good example of this slow motion shots and running up walls this can be defined as “super physics”. Physics determine how a car moves, player jumps or how your enemy moves; if this is right along with atmosphere the player should hopefully “suspend disbelief” and become absorbed in a believable and exciting game.

All this would be useless if the story line was rubbish, cut scenes on games are like movies now intended to drag the player in and believe me if done right can be better than watching a film. A good storyline should consist of “plot points”, events that define the plot.

  1. Reversal, you expect one thing to happen but the opposite happens
  2. Discovery, surprise when you find hidden passage extra level
  3. Calamity,( Resident Evil is good at this) walking down a quite hall and monster jump out

Along with these I also think a good ending is vital for a player to feel satisfied and possibly an alternative ending to entice more game play.

One thing that has t been mentioned is user choice, a game is marketed with a certain audience for example gears of war is not meant for a four year old girl. With this in mind it can affect all of the above theories; the consumer is where the game begins otherwise there would be no market. Original games are a rarity most popular games follow trends i.e. golf, football, racing even first person shooters (ghost recon).  Following trends will sell the game but I think originality will engrave the game in the players mind.

So there are many elements that make a good computer game and you only have to look at some of the classic games to see where inspiration comes from, we would love to hear your opinion and dont forget to check out our facebook page – “80 & 90s games” or our blog about 80s & 90s games.