My Elements of a Great Video Game

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what it is that makes a video game truly great and I’ve broken it down into a few categories.  It’d be easy to name specific games and leave it at that, but I want to know why I love the games I love.  I want to know what it really is that draws me in and leaves me wanting the story to keep on going.  Games that fit this criteria are Dead Space, any of the Halo gamesBanjo-TooieFable III, KOTOR I & II, Ocarina of Time (obviously), and almost all of the Assassin’s Creed games.  Notably, most of the games mentioned are more modern, but there is a reason for that.  Anyway, let’s dive in to why these games are so great.

The Most Important Element: The Story

Ocarina of Time, the first 3D-styled game of t...

The most important element to any game is its story.  I don’t care how good the graphics are or how well developed the characters are, if the story sucks the game is already missing a vital piece of the puzzle.  Look at it this way; I would much rather play Ocarina of Time with substandard N64 graphics than a game like Alien vs. Predator on the Xbox 360.  The difference between these two games lies heavily upon their stories.  Ocarina of Time is extremely well-developed and, while it has a few loopholes, it makes you want to keep on playing.  AVP on the other hand is beautiful graphically, but the story sucks in my opinion.  As a whole, it is long, redundant, and confusing.  It truly is a recipe for disaster, but hey maybe I’m just bitter because I spent $60 on the game when it first came out…

Fable III

A sense of depth and the ability to make decisions that directly affect the outcome of the game is another vital piece of the story element because it places you behind the steering wheel of the game.  The two games that instantly come to mind when discussing decision making gameplay are Fable III and both KOTOR games.  I LOVED these games beyond comprehension.  It might just be me, but I love the ability to choose to be good or evil.  Partner that with an awesome plot and you’ve got yourself a couple of great games.  Just a side note, but I played KOTOR II for 68 hours in three days…that’s a lot of love for a game if I do say so myself.  The point is that I wouldn’t have played either game so excessively if I hadn’t been so caught up in the story and the choices I was making.  That is why the story element itself is so important to me when playing any video game.

Character Development

After the story element of a video game the next most important criteria to me is intricate development of characters and their relationships with one another.  The cool thing about this is that dialogue isn’t necessarily required to do this.  The Legend of Zelda series is a testament to this.  For example, in Twilight Princess the relationship between Link and other characters can be felt because emotion is expressed through actions and facial expressions.  Skyward Sword took this concept one step further by developing a strong sense of friendship between Link and Zelda.  Once a great story has been established it opens up the floodgates for characters to interact and build relationships with one another, which in turn makes the experience for the player that much more rewarding.  It’s much easier to become captivated by a game when you feel like you actually have a connection to the characters compared to games that leave you feeling desolate and alone (i.e. Metroid Prime).

evolution-of-the-masterchief-halo

Evolution of Master Chief

Other games that have made huge improvements in the area of character development are Halo 4 and Dead Space 2.  Before Halo 4 Master Chief was hardly developed as a character, which is fine considering he was portrayed as more robotic and that probably worked to the game’s advantage in the earlier installments of Halo, but what has been done with Master Chief as a character in the latest installment is beautiful.  Showing a human side to a character who never reveals his face is something that must be done carefully, but 343 Industries got it right.  I loved the development between Chief and Cortana, especially since they’ve been together for so long.  It just makes the game feel so much more personal and real to the player.  The same goes for Dead Space.  In the original game Isaac Clarke hardly said a word, which is also fine because I freakin’ loved the feel of the first game, but Dead Space 2 showed a new side to Isaac Clarke.  They gave him dialogue and a personality, which did somewhat change the feel of the game, but it needed to happen.  When characters are allowed to develop personally and with others it helps the player feel more involved.

What You See is What You Get: Graphics

I saved graphics for last because, to me, it is the least important element assuming a game has an exceptional story and a strong sense of character development.  Obviously, I love games that look beautiful from a graphical standpoint, but I don’t put a huge amount of weight on it when it comes to really analyzing a game.  If I did, games like Ocarina of Time and a whole bunch of Nintendo games probably wouldn’t be on my list of great games.  Besides, graphics are reliant upon the era in which they are produced.  At their peak, certain systems hold the title of graphic superpowers, but as time moves forward new systems are able to handle more realistic depictions of their games.  So long as the graphics don’t detract from the gameplay, I’m not concerned with how the game looks in the long run.

-Ocarina of Time Nerd

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About Joel

Live, love, play video games.
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5 Responses to My Elements of a Great Video Game

  1. Fallyn says:

    Excellent points on all accounts, I remember Nintendo Power asking a question similar a long time ago and remember there was a lot of back and forth in the replies, some people needed excellent graphics but didn’t care about story or character while others were on the other end of the spectrum, like me and well you after reading this 😛 I am curious though, you mentioned Metroid Prime as an example of a game that left you feeling alone and desolate, which it did even though I loved them, but what about Metroid: Other M (if you’ve played it), Nintendo tried to infuse more of a back story and history for Samus even finally giving her a voice, I’m just curious on your take on it if you don’t mind me asking.

    • Joel Palermo says:

      Of course! I’ll clear things up a bit. It’s not that I didn’t like Metroid Prime. In fact, I loved it, but for different reasons. Other Metroid games (I haven’t played Other M) have definitely added a lot to the series and reworked the feel of the game, which is awesome! It’s actually kind of funny because the First Dead Space is actually comparable to Metroid Prime. You’re alone a whole lot of the game, but I suppose some games need to be that way in order to achieve the tension desired for a particular game. For the same reasons I love Dead Space, I love Metroid Prime, but I’m just more of a fan of Dead Space’s story. Hope that clears things up!

      • Fallyn says:

        Crystal clear thanks, and I agree, sometimes games do need that lone wolf quality, reminds me of Solid Snake almost, but I agree, I love seeing characters develop over time and along with the story.

  2. Great post! I agree with all your points here. Regarding graphics, I got into gaming as an adult and worried I would be “spoiled” by modern graphics… having not played older games, really. But since getting into gaming, I’ve played many older titles and absolutely love them. And with a cinematic game like Mass Effect 2, which is probably my favorite game, I do enjoy the graphics BUT would still love the game as an 8-bit or 16-bit, as long as the story and characters remained the same.

    Thinking about the comment above, how do you feel about settings? With games that feature isolated protagonists, I tend to pay more attention to my character’s surroundings… to the point where often the setting feels like the other main character, in a way.

    • Joel Palermo says:

      Thanks so much, Ashley!
      Older titles are so much fun to play. In fact that’s why I still have an N64 and a Super Nintendo set up in my room. I love playing games like Super Mario World 2 and Doom. It’s just so classic you know?
      It’s funny, but I’ve never actually played Mass Effect. I’ve heard it’s absolutely splendid, but I just haven’t gotten around to playing those games. I’ll add them to my “must play sometime in the future list.” 🙂

      Regarding settings, I think you’re 100% right. I’d never actually thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, envisioning the setting as a character in and of itself is brilliant, especially because it’s true. I guess it all really stems back to levels of conflict in literature. I remember reading a lot of books in which the conflict is man vs. nature and it seems as though many video games infuse this into the inner workings of the plot. This is definitely true of the first Dead Space. It’s pretty much Isaac Clarke and the the Ishimura and that’s it. Plus, the ship itself feels as though it’s alive because you’re constantly on guard against what may be hiding within its depths.

      Absolutely wonderful observation! Thank you so much for sharing!

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