What Makes a Game Good?

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Published on April 13, 2018

Having read through a review, it is not always obvious why the reviewer pinpointed certain aspects of a game and how it contributed to the overall rating. In the simplest terms, the question becomes, “What makes a game good?”

A feature series written by each of the viewport members, the aim is to provide readers with insight into what considerations are made when each of us review a game. Since videogames vary wildly even amongst the same genre, the topics brought up will be broad. I will briefly mention specific games or series to help explain specific concepts, but it should not be taken as any indication that they are the standard to which things will be judged.

Story

It may sound odd at first, but the overall plot or story of a game isn’t that important to me. A simple “good vs. evil” or “friendship prevails!” setting is dandy. Instead, the qualities of characters and how the story integrates them with the game world become the primary objective. Games that touch on the extraordinary are perhaps the easiest way to explain this. These games exhibit elements that are not explainable through realistic norms and generate mystery and a desire to learn more about it through the world that’s been created.

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This concept even extends to fantasies based on realities, examples being the Metal Gear Solid and the Yakuza series, where mechanical craziness and gang strong-arm politics are prominent themes. Both are filled with a cast of characters that don’t fully understand it all themselves, leading them to change perceptions just as the player does. Characters often make or break the game for me; even a game with little plot can be pretty enjoyable as long as the characters mesh well together with varied personalities to create enjoyable bits of conversation.

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Music

If it’s not a few select scenes from a game, whether they be cutscenes or boss fights, it’s often the music that sticks around long after finishing a game. Sweeping orchestral pieces, rock anthems, upbeat pop tracks, and atmospheric pieces work wonders to push a mundane game to its limits.

Even those who have never played Revengeance likely know the theme.
Even those who have never played Revengeance likely know the theme.

A clear example would be Metal Gear Rising where each major boss has a theme befitting of their overall design. As you reach different phases of the fight, the music changes seamlessly, ramping up and often introducing lyrics. It’s such designs that give the heightened tension during a dramatic moment and makes it that much more memorable. When things need to mellow out, or you’re wandering in uncharted territory, the soft melodies playing in the background, such as those in the Elder Scrolls series, make the treks more pleasant or even ominous depending on the area.

Art style

Overall graphics add their enhancement, but it’s great to see what developers do with a game’s art. Color palettes may seem inconsequential, but the colors of characters, clothing, and the environment all play an instrumental role when considering the previous topics.

The muted tones of the ruined city area in NieR:Automata helps create a contrast between the bygone metropolis and the earthy greens and browns of the nature reclaiming the area. The black and white dress and hair of the main characters make them somewhat akin to phantoms, beings that share some resemblance, but are otherwise otherworldly. Through the palettes that were chosen, the lore of the locations and its characters are reinforced.

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Adding on to the character aspect, animations are a subset of the overall art style, be the goofy animations typical of the Rareware games of old, the over the top demon-slaying sword-and-gun play of the Devil May Cry series, or even the idle motions and body language of characters in L.A. Noire. These animations can be subtle in nature or gratuitous eye candy that becomes a trademark of the character, but they all work towards the same goal of making the character’s backstory and established role in the game more believable.

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Going through this article, it could be somewhat reasonably deduced that the reviews are formulaic in nature, looking for each thing and just checking it off a list. In actuality, a game could have many of the points I chose to discuss and up being average or even mediocre; how is that? What pushes a game beyond is when its various parts compliment one another, creating a lasting experience that I can’t help but think about every time I end a play session. It makes for something to look forward jumping back into. At that point, finishing the game isn’t really the end at all. It invites further reflection that lasts far beyond the first playthrough.

Categories: Features

Alex Nester

One of the review contributors and co-host to the podcasts, Alex gives the non-review content for the site a solid once-over. There’s probably an RPG on the back burner that needs finishing, but that’s a task for another day.