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That’s good game design!

I was sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the widely spread phosphors of a cheap 20 inch color TV. My friend had recently moved his bedroom from the the highest point in his parents aging, but immaculate farm house, to the cool dry of the basement. It’s the move all teenage boys are eager to make. The yearning for the cave lifestyle must be deep in our cellular makeup. He could have stopped there and I would have still thought this new abode lined with Iron Maiden and ACDC emblems, was comfortably epic. He went one further, and picked up an old TV from a relative and bought a brand new SEGA Genesis.

I still wasn’t fully convinced that a game console was a thing you could own. We would regularly rent a console and a stack of games from the video store for weekends at a time. It would get hooked up and we would spend as many hours as humanly possible trying to play through the games. The notion that a current generation game machine could be set up in your own room every weekend! Absurd! I mean how would that even work.

I was staring at the mass of blue pixels, Sonic impatiently tapping his foot waiting for the player to get on with playing already. And I said “That’s good game design!” I had next to no idea what game design was, what was required to tune a jump so that it had just enough float, just enough gravity. I didn’t understand what it took to balance rules and movement speeds. I just saw a hedgehog standing there tapping his foot and I equated that with good design. I still think that I was right.

Design is entirely about details. The ones you include, the ones you cut. The reason you keep the details that you do. How those details fit into the whole. You could pick up any three games from the same era as Sonic, and at least one of the other two would be about jumping. The minor differences between those jumping games, platformers is the accepted term, were all that set them apart. They all contained elements of running and jumping, they all had enemies that you could either jump on or attack to dispatch, and they all had platforms floating in space, self suspended by magical programming fairy dust. The only differentiators they had going for them were the minor details. Small adjustments in attitude and style.

Sonic, the character, knows how you should be playing his game. When you wait around he is unhappy and impatient. When you push him forward, he flies, he swoops, he soars. For a game to suggest the most fun way to play it, not demand, not enforce, just suggest. That is good game design.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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