Monday, March 16, 2009

A Great Debate

I'll jump start this sucker with a debate that goes on continuously in the gaming community: What's the most important aspect of a game? Contenders for this position are Graphics, Music, Gameplay, Story, Difficulty,Replay Value, and Concept. I may not have said one that you pull for, but these are all the pieces of the puzzle as far as I can tell.

So, what makes or breaks the game? In the current market, all play a significant role in the success of the game. But they can't all be number one. Let's break this down:


Welcome to the modern world of gaming! We've got great graphics coming out our butts! I mean, have you SEEN games like Crysis, Resident Evil 5, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Little Big Planet? The level that CG Graphics have risen to is simply astonishing. Not only are amazing graphics possible, but they're expected. Especially here in America, land of the ADD people. Let's face it, we're impressed by shiny things over here, and it doesn't get much shinier than this stuff. You wave state-of-the-art graphics, and you will have buyers. Good graphics help immerse you in the fictional world of your choosing, while sub-standard graphics broaden the gap between fantasy and reality.


From the minimal bloops and bleeps of the Atari 2600 to the epic soundtracks of the PS3 and XBox 360, music in gaming has come a long way. Much like graphics, the purpose of music in a game is immersion. A well written soundtrack to a game will pull you deeper into it in the same way a movie's soundtrack does. Similarly, a poor musical score will actually do more to pull you out of the fantasy experience. Also like graphics, music has become more emphasized as time has gone on.


This is the one thing that conclusively draws the difference between a CGI movie and a game. This consists of any and all input from the gamer themselves. This historically has been in a tug-of-war with its opposing side, which brings us to:


The yin to gameplay's yang, the positive to its negative, this is what lies at the opposite end from gameplay. While this is not to say that a game can't have both great gameplay AND a great story, it is VERY difficult to balance the two in such a way that both shine. In the earlier days of gaming, gameplay almost always won out over gameplay. Why? If people wanted a rich, deep story, they'd go see a movie, right? Well, this line of thought has all but died out. With rich epics such as MGS4 and BioShock, it has been shown that great gameplay and a great story can in fact coexist, but only in masterful hands. Traditionally, those who favor grand stories lean towards the RPG, which is rich in story, but has less immersive gameplay. Those who want more gameplay flock towards FPS, platformers, and action/adventure games, which may not always offer a good story, but are bound to have great gameplay.


The people who hold this up as the tip of gaming are few, but enough to mention. The hardest of the hardcore demand a challenge, and they expect their games to deliver. Games that live in infamy here include Devil May Cry (#3 in particular), Ninja Gaiden, and the almost laughable "Impossible Mario". These games are known for their punishingly difficult learning curves, and a graveyard full of controllers broken in frustration over them.

Replay Value

It's hard to argue with getting all you can out of what you paid for, so it's easy to see this being held high as the bar to be jumped. Replay value simply means how many times the average gamer is going to play the game through. This is, however, hard to evaluate, as it is strictly a matter of opinion. While some people (myself included) will play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion until the disc breaks, some won't even finish a single playthrough. So while this is incredibly important, it's difficult to market towards specifically (outside of strictly multiplayer games), as it depends on the customer's taste in games.


While some may couple this with story, I must separate them. Concept does not refer to the game's story, but rather the idea behind the game as a whole. For example, the game Portal does not have the richest of stories, as there is very little in the game to clue you into who you are, where you are, and what all has transpired. The concept however, is sheer genius, giving you the simple but amazing ability to link any to flat surfaces in space, and running you through an increasingly difficult and clever series of puzzles that must be solved using your portals.

Alright, so the contenders are lined up. Who is it? Who regins supreme as the foundation of gaming?

Before I throw this out, let me state that I believe this is truly a matter of opinion. While each one has arguements, each one is important, and almost every one has single-handedly carried one game, or many.

But, as far as I'm concerned, the winner gameplay.

Gameplay is where it all started. Did Pong have a rich storyline? Realistic graphics? An epic soundtrack? No. It was all gameplay. What is it that made Mario a legend? Mario Bros. didn't exactly have a amazing story, nor realistic graphics. So why is it STILL a great game? Gameplay. Mario heralded the idea of "play control". What made it a great platformer was the tight-fitting controls, such as changing Mario's momentum in mid-air, and running and sliding into tight spaces. To me, gameplay is what it's all about. Story and concept come in a close second, but second nonetheless. Feel free to disagree, because as I said, it's all a matter of opinion. But that's my two cents to launch this little blog. ^_^


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