But Game X Did Y!

in Design

I write a lot of tips on designing games on the blog.

We have an entire forum of people who also have a lot of tips on designing games.

Now, we aren’t always right. And sometimes, we are just talking about from our own perspectives. But there is one defense that I think needs to die.

That defense is “But [insert super popular game from a high-end studio here] did [idea being criticised here] and it did great!”

Castlevania: SotN started with a giant scrolling text!

Castlevania: SotN started with a giant scrolling text!

Ok, well, maybe it did! Maybe it has a legitimate reason why it worked in that game. And if that is so, tell me WHY it worked, and why you think it will work in your game. It isn’t a good idea because x game did it. Try to understand why it worked in that game. Then look if that reason is the same reason you want to do it in yours.

And you know, sometimes, IT DIDN’T WORK in that game.

A specific example of this is Dragon Quest VII. I would suggest you always try to get to the action in a game as early as possible. Dragon Quest VII instead had a several hour prologue with no combat. You just walked around and talked to people and found stuff. And it was slow and boring. And the only reason I ever got through it was that Dragon Quest means a lot to me and I knew once I got to the actual game, it would be good.

But you don’t have the pedigree of Dragon Quest to fall back on. I don’t have the investment in your game that I do in that series. If the beginning of your game was super slow and boring, I’d probably quit.

And low-key stealing the title won't help you.

And low-key stealing the title won’t help you.

On the other hand, there are games with slow beginnings where it DOES work. The slow buildup at the beginning of Persona 3 is a great example. This works because the story itself is captivating enough to carry it, and it regularly drops hints of the supernatural weirdness throughout to draw you in.

If someone says: Don’t do X. Don’t just use a game that does X as your defense. Tell them WHY it is going to work. Don’t just mimic a game you like, understand why you would want to mimic it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mask de Plainview

    Aptly worded! Just because some things work for some games doesn’t mean it’ll work in yours. In the case of the Castlevania scrolling text for example, it’d be far more beneficial to have the party recount events, or actually show what’s going on. “Show, don’t tell” should always be your priority when telling stories.

    • Nick Palmer

      I’ve always been a fan of a game just getting moving and then filling you in as you go along. The FFVII intro is a good example of that.

  • Diretooth

    This, though I will offer this corollary to this: If you are wanting to replicate something another game has done, then do it in an original manner. Just straight out copying a feature or function in a game will just make you a ‘X” game copycat, but if you can expand upon that use in a way the original never did, and you do it well, then you have done well in that aspect.

  • David Ruckman

    Is this inspired by Seacliff’s forum post from February?
    Anyways, this is a really good subject that even large titles failed to understand. Mechanics shouldn’t be seen a seperate entities, but as a formula. If a mechanic worked really well in a game, it’s probably had more to do than just the mechanic, but also the complementary mechanics and even how the mechanic tied to the story/characters.

    • Nick Palmer

      I always refer to mechanics as cogs in a machine. They only work when they work together. You can’t just put a shiny new cog in there just because you like that individual cog. It could fit badly into the space you’ve created for it.