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Cornerstones of Great Game Design

The Cornerstones of Great Game Design

Uncover the secrets behind the great game design. Learn about the fundamental principles that form the foundation of great games. Elevate your game development expertise.

Have you ever wondered what the most popular games on Steam, the PlayStation Store, or the Xbox Games Store have in common? Beyond the incredible or uniquely stylized graphics and smooth-functioning mechanics; the heart of the game is what people fall in love with. Game designers are the ones responsible for those creative storylines, engaging gameplay mechanics, and intuitive user interfaces that hook players in.

When all of these components hit the mark, a video game transcends simple entertainment and becomes a means to explore your emotions, connect, express yourself, and delve into your imagination. Whether an expansive open-world experience, competitive multiplayer dynamic, or even state-of-the-art online slot, the latest game creations and developments show off exactly what modern game design can do.

Let’s explore a few hallmarks of great game design.

Immersive Gameplay

Gameplay can be classified as immersive when players feel transported into a tangible, vibrant reality. From tiny details like flickering lights or twittering birds to the broader environment – a roaring stadium or a dreamlike fantasy world, for example – every element works together to craft an authentic experience. While rich visuals set the stage for the journey itself, sound design is equally important. A complementary soundtrack or the sudden rise of ambient noise adds a multidimensional depth, serving to toy with the senses.

Potentially the most important part of immersive gameplay, however, is player agency. How does the gameplay work exactly? Does it let players have free reign over what they choose to do next? Will they be able to explore the forest or interact with certain characters as they please? Will their choices have rewards or consequences? Players yearn for games that give them a sense of freedom and autonomy.

A Sweet Spot Between Challenge and Reward

The best games out there aren’t difficult to the point where players choose to abandon the game; nor are they so easy that they don’t provide any sense of accomplishment. Instead, they find the perfect middle ground between challenge and reward. Many games even allow the player to tailor the gameplay to their difficulty level, providing total liberty to ramp up the difficulty or tone it down whenever they please.

Let’s take Super Mario Bros. Wonder as an example. The game lets players choose to play as Nabbit if they want easier gameplay and equip certain badges that give them different advantages for specific situations. There’s also a variety of levels that cater to different skill levels; which ensures practically anyone gets to enjoy the newest installment (as of March 2024) of the Super Mario series.

Strong Creative Direction

While we’ve discussed how creative elements add to the gameplay experience; creative direction comes long before the actual visual and auditory aesthetics. The creative direction of a game concerns the overall vision and style that it will adopt. The very second players look at the cover of a game on a shelf or click on its summary page on an online store; they should be able to immediately grasp what it’s about and establish expectations.

For instance, browsers can easily understand that MLB: The Show is a simulation video game that recreates a realistic experience of Major League Baseball; while Outlast is a survival horror game that is all about terror and suspense. Through fonts, colors, imagery, and other components, people want to understand the premise of the game and whether or not it suits their interests.

And in an industry that’s so dynamic and ever-evolving, gamers often seek out fresh and innovative titles. Although there’s a market for familiar genres and continuity within a series; the industry thrives off of novelty. Let’s face it – a carbon copy of Among Us likely isn’t going to do nearly as well as something that’s never been done before.

Taking Feedback and Making Improvements

Once a game is released to the public, it doesn’t mean that the development process is over. It kick-starts a new evolution phase where the game development team will fix any bugs, improve any shortcomings, and find out what players want. That way, the game stays fresh and relevant instead of becoming overshadowed by competing games or becoming insignificant.

When game designers and the wider team listen and respond to player suggestions, they take their game’s reputation to the next level. If a game has poor design aspects like subpar graphics and unbalanced gameplay mechanics and the game team ignores these complaints, the game will naturally see a declining reputation. Take No Man’s Sky, for example. Rather than completely abandoning the game; Hello Games decided to take player feedback to heart and transformed the game entirely, resulting in a reputation overhaul.

Reasons to Get Players Coming Back for More

In the same vein, it’s important to keep players happy with updates and even come out with new downloadable content (DLC) or additions to the game. These efforts craft a stronger community and provide players with added value for their investment.

A great example of this is the farm life simulation game Stardew Valley. Created and developed entirely by Eric Barone, the game is famous for its cozy gameplay and incredible community of players. Its most recent 1.6 update featured community-request additions, a brand-new farm option, and other features that gamers had long been asking for. This alone sparked a massive resurgence and showcased commitment to Stardew’s player base.

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