the question of greatness

in a departure from some of the things i have written on here previously i wanted to think about gaming for a while.

now i’ve always been a bit of a gamer, right back to the SEGA master system and duck hunt, through to the SNES and super mario brothers, to the N64, goldeneye and zelda: ocarina of time, to the PS2 and metal gear solid and currently an xbox 360 and fallout3, mass effect 2 etc. and when i recently saw the television advert for the re-release of zelda: ocarina of time on the DS, i was genuinely excited and was trying to work out a way of playing that great game again (managed to borrow a game cube copy and go at it on the wii – brilliant), and it got me thinking about great games – what makes a great computer game?

clearly there are lots of possible answers to this, but i was moved out think of a few:

  1. i dont think its the graphics. clearly that helps and playing games now on the xbox 360, some of the cinematics and gameplays are stunning – some of the detailing is beautiful and it can help you to enjoy the game, but having played a fair share of games that have not been as visually stunning (usually as i have been hampered by technology), i can say that graphics are not essential, but they do help. look at the fantastic example of fallout 2 (no not the one on the xbox 360), but the one on the PC which came out in 1998 developed by black isle. by 2011 standards the graphics are relatively shocking, but the game play and PLAYABILITY is unbelievable.
  2. a gripping story helps as well. it has to be compelling, not neccesarily believable but it has to grab you – just as any good novel / fiction / fantasy story would in traditional book form. but furthermore the characters you are playing must be able to fit into that story and you must be able as those characters to effect changes to the story as you go along – again the fallout series is fantastic here as is the mass effect story. and i would humbly suggest that the final fantasy series has set the bar in terms of story line and complex character dramas – although i do think that the linear nature of some of the games has limited their greatness.
  3. the shape of the game is another contributing factor – is it strictly linear – do you have to go there, do that, kill that character or interact and then do the next thing? or can you wander the Capitol Wastelands and go wherever you want, moving the storyline on as you see fit? however, again, this is not a strict science. take for example the best game ever released for N64 and never equalled despite the names on other platforms – goldeneye. even watching a short video of this game is exciting. now this is a different kind of game – straight forward shoot-em-up, FPS, with a limited story line and is incredibly linear – you literally just go through the levels (although the different difficulties do add complexity) and the graphics (due to the technology – early release on N64 etc) are not great – but the game as a whole is brilliant – playability, replayability, quick to pick up, challenging, excellent multiplayer – everything that you could want.

now i’m still catching up on my modern games – mass effect 2 and fallout 3 i think will eventually rate up there as great games, but in the mean time i think it is fair to say that as with other parts of life, greatness really does come down to an x factor.