Game Design Secrets of the Greggman

1997-03-28

Like most people in this industry I think I know what makes a good game. Of course also like most people I've never released a game that is actually considered good. Something always conspires to get in the way. As Mark Cerny once said, "Everything has to go right to have a hit, but only one thing has to go wrong.". I do strongly believe that if all the rules below are followed a good game will come out if it.

Actually that's not true.  I'm proud of a few games.  Gunship, M.C. Kids, parts of Gex and Crash Team Racing.

Of course a point I like to make is that there is a big difference between a good game and a hit. There are several hit titles that are not good games. A simple example would be any almost any Simpsons' game for the NES or SNES. Most of them did very well in the market because of the popularity of the Simpsons but most of them were very bad games.

Good game design is of course different to different people and different depending on the type of game you are creating. I'm not a big sports game fan and so I really don't have any great ideas on how to make a great sports game. Also, some sports people like simulations and others like arcade style play. Those two types of people or going to find different types of games to have the 'better' design.

My favorite games are platform games, action adventure games and platform shooters. My basic philosophy in game design is to look at my favorite games and compare them to bad games of the same type. The differences should point out why one game is good and another not.

Good Platform games:
  • Super Mario Bros 2
  • Super Mario Bros 3
  • Super Mario World
  • Donkey Kong Country
Bad Platform Games:
  • Lion King
  • Chuck Rock
Good Action Adventure Games:
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Zelda: Link's Awakening
Bad Action Adventure Games:
  • Soul Blazer
  • Illusion of Gaia
Good Platform Shooters:
  • Mega Man 2
  • Super Metroid
Bad Platform Shooters:
  • Mega Man 3-6
  • Cool Spot

Platform Games

For me, I define a platform game to be one were the player runs around and jumps on platforms but also for the most part does not shoot. This distinguishes between games like Mario and Mega Man or Sonic and Turrican. It also points out that games like Aladdin and Earthworm Jim are more like Mega Man or Turrican than Sonic or Mario. The cute graphics may make you think they are similar to Mario but if you were to replace the graphics of all these games with rectangles you'd quickly see which ones are more like a Platform Shooter than a Platform Game.

Here are some of my design ideas on Platform games. Many of them may also apply to other types of games.

Action Adventure Games

Action adventure games are often grouped together with RPGs (Role Playing Games). I wish this didn't happen because the markets for the two types of games are as different as sports simulation vs. sports arcade game. An Action Adventure is a game where all the actions of the main character happen in an arcade action style. They require quick reflexes and speed. An RPG is a game that doesn't require any quick reflexes. Instead the player chooses from a menu which action each character should make and then watches as that character performs the action either successfully or un−successfully.

I should say that I find Zelda 3 (A Link to the Past:SNES) to be the ultimate example of a good Action Adventure and so most of my examples will be from Zelda

Platform Shooters

A Platform shooter is a game where a character on the screen runs around on platforms and shoots. Examples: Mega Man, Elevator Action, Turrican, Terminator, Bionic Commando. This as opposed to the more common style of shooter where you fly or drive a ship either up screen or across screen. Examples: Axley, Space Megaforce, Spy Hunter, R−Type, Scramble.

It's harder for me to come up with specific rules for a shooter. They all seem the same at a certain level and yet some work and some don't. Here are some ideas on what I notice about my favorites.

 

 

 

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Silas Warner