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What Makes A Great Game?


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From a comments thread on another forum:

on their worst day, the folks at gamespot could write circles around *deleted*. their writing is centered on the game, and not the person playing it (who i give less that half a shit about), and despite its brevity manages to cram in several perceptive insights. i have LEARNED about what makes a great game from reading gamespot and watching their video reviews (Greg Kasavin's are particularly good).

I'm not interested in the main topic of the comments thread, for those who recognise it - there's enough other places/threads to talk about the subject.

I'm interested in whether you can really learn what a great game is by reading/watching reviews [as opposed to a "bad" game, which for the sake of argument I'll typify by Driv3r's list of bizarre technical shortcomings].

I say no. The darn things should be played and not filtered through someone else's worldview. Something "great" is more than the sum of its parts, and is at least in part personal - GT4 might be a "great" game for some of you, but I really couldn't give a toss <_<

I'm distinguishing between technical excellence and a "great" game here, btw. I'm sure a review could just consist of "polygons, shaded, guns, lots of guns, shadows, dynamic, ..., 100%" but that's not really what I'm looking for when I make a purchasing decision (or rather, follow the latest forum fad).

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A great game to me is one that keeps my interest from the beginning to the end. One that urges me to play it. One that's not too long, but not too short either.

This has everything to do with gameplay design. Recent example: Resident Evil 4.

Lifespan after completion is very important too; do I want to play a game again after I've finished it?

Sound and Graphics are only a plus.

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From a comments thread on another forum:

I'm not interested in the main topic of the comments thread, for those who recognise it - there's enough other places/threads to talk about the subject.

I'm interested in whether you can really learn what a great game is by reading/watching reviews [as opposed to a "bad" game, which for the sake of argument I'll typify by Driv3r's list of bizarre technical shortcomings].

I say no. The darn things should be played and not filtered through someone else's worldview. Something "great" is more than the sum of its parts, and is at least in part personal - GT4 might be a "great" game for some of you, but I really couldn't give a toss <_<

I'm distinguishing between technical excellence and a "great" game here, btw. I'm sure a review could just consist of "polygons, shaded, guns, lots of guns, shadows, dynamic, ..., 100%" but that's not really what I'm looking for when I make a purchasing decision (or rather, follow the latest forum fad).

Of course you can, in principle. It's education like anything else that teaches you to appreciate something, unless you're so arrogant you presume you know all there is to & see no merit in the opinions or perceptions of other people.

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'Great' games for me are the ones that make me form some emotional understanding for the characters involved, their plight, story, etc. Recent example, MGS3. Less Recent example, Majora's Mask.

Visual style and music are important, but on their own can only make a 'very good' game.

Although re-reading your initial post, I see you are asking if a person can 'learn' what makes a generally accepted great game. I think if you've gotta learn, you'll probably never be able to tell properly.

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It's possible. If someone showed you a movie trailer then told you the plot of the film and their thoughts after watching it, you would have a very good idea of whether that film was great or not. You have to always include a 20% either-side discrepancy in opinion (and very occasionally the 100% switcheroo), but by and large it'd make for a fair assessment. If it didn't, why do we have reviews? Why do why have topics on this forum like "sell me on blah"? If peoples' opinions don't count, why are we still asking for and reading them?

On a more personal note, I don't think Gamespot really get into the meat of the game, though they're certainly one of the better interent review sites around. I have a real love-hate relationship with Eurogamer who at times are streets ahead of everyone else, and other times seem content to tread the bitter British cynic path (a la Edge).

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Hey - a post on topic!

Of course you can, in principle. It's education like anything else that teaches you to appreciate something, unless you're so arrogant you presume you know all there is to & see no merit in the opinions or perceptions of other people.

Hmm. The implication of the first post is that you can learn what makes a great game solely by watching / reading reviews.

You can read as many reviews as you like of Citizen Kane, but it's *not* the same as watching it and picking the details out for yourself. And movies aren't as focused on interactivity as games are.

Similarly, I've not yet read a review of Mario 64 that explains why it's great that's even half as good as picking up the controller and moving Mario around the opening level.

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Although re-reading your initial post, I see you are asking if a person can 'learn' what makes a generally accepted great game. I think if you've gotta learn, you'll probably never be able to tell properly.

One possible interpretation is that there is a list of features in a review that, all ticked off, make a game "great" and not just good.

I'm dubious about this because "great" != "good" is so subjective.

PoP:SoT is mechanically similar to PoP:WW. But only one of them is (to my mind) great, and that has nothing to do with the mechanics of the gameplay (and couldn't be put in a review without spoiling the game for the player)...

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Great games: Anything where controlling your character is such a joy you can just load it up many months after purchase and just run around maybe not even doing any particular goal. Mario games for example

Anything with an in game shop where you can buy more features, I've yet to see a bad game with one of these.

DrivTHREEr

I have to disagree when people bad mouth it, few of us went over to a friend of mine and he'd just got drivTHREEr on xbox and I have to say it was the most entertaining thing of the day. Its so shit its ace just laughing at how you press a button and appear in a boat and the video director was ace making really awful movies its such a shame you couldnt comment on them online.

Yes its badly made but its not really a bad game because of it, its a great game(well great in a shit and amusing if you didn't waste money on it way).

Bad game for me is something which promises and doesn't deliver like Fabel for example.

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To answer the reviews issue, all I ask for in a review is an objective opinion that informs me if a game is good or not. Not much more. I normally get my gaming opinions from this forum anyway, and have bought many games on the back of you lot all saying "it's ace". Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a recent example - I read the Edge review (9/10) and thought "ok, fair enough, next page", then read mostly praise on the forum. So I took a shot. And I was duly rewarded.

I don't think a review can tell me why it's great, but enough likeminded people singing it's praises can tell me that it could be great..

Like most folk here, I have a varied collection of games with differing gameplay styles, art direction and lifespan. But through all the "great" games, the only constant I have seen is attention to detail. They all have it. Simple touches that (in their day, at least) always made you smile. It would have played the same without it, but it wouldn't be as magic. I'm talking about things like incidental background details, well realised weather effects or even a character blinking on screen. They suck you in much more than wooden sprites ever could.

Take Head over Heels. It's a lovely isometric 3D platformer. But looking closer, the walls are adorned with knights in armour, medallions, well-realised brickwork, individual books, hanging skeletons... the floors are tiled, or you feel as though you can make out the dirt as you land in the marketplace. Head and Heels are cute as can be, with tiny blinking eyes and Head has a brilliant smile on his face througout, open mouthed as he floats through the air. The game would be just as playable without all these incidental details, but it wouldn't have been great.

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Hey - a post on topic!

Hmm. The implication of the first post is that you can learn what makes a great game solely by watching / reading reviews.

You can read as many reviews as you like of Citizen Kane, but it's *not* the same as watching it and picking the details out for yourself. And movies aren't as focused on interactivity as games are.

Similarly, I've not yet read a review of Mario 64 that explains why it's great that's even half as good as picking up the controller and moving Mario around the opening level.

Fair enough, I read your post as asking if you could learn ANYTHING from the opinions of others, and in my view you most certainly can. Say for example you play a game in which there are references to a novel, or a film, or anything that you haven't yet experienced. Maybe you'd only learn that connection by reading someone else's opinion, in which case you could revisit the game and appreciate it on a new level.

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