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June 01, 2004



>The question is: is there a magic ingredient the games from the first list have that we can steal and inject into our own games?
Altough I don`t believe you could make up a hard-and-fast rule for making games that move the player emotionally (I`ve found that this is behind the feeling of being sad after finishing a game), there are some aspects most of the games I found involving had.
Perhaps the most important of them is character. I found the game Syberia highly involving, despite its almost perfectly linear gameplay (duh) and despite being so hard to figure out what to do to advance the story that I _really_ often had to look at the walkthrough (double duh). But the main character, Kate was not only charming, she also came over as a real person: she had a career, then she was enthust with her mission and, over time, it became more important for her than being a lawyer. I think that`s what you would call a "character arc" in movies. She also had feelings and a life outside the boundaries of the game (she spoke with her mother, her boyfriend on her mobile phone in the middle of the game, etc).
Another important aspect in Syberia was the artwork. It was just plain beautiful, you really wanted to see more of it.
There were similar reasons I found other adventure games or RPGs, like The Longest Journey, The Outcast, even Deus Ex 2 involving - character, artwork and also story.
Diablo2 and Thief also had a story but it wasn`t that visible for me as in those mentioned earlier - I would guess they didn`t have that emotional component which made the characters (not just the avatar but also others) "alive". Diablo2 definitely didn`t have that in my opinion.

Saul Bottcher

Maybe the best word is "longing"? The feeling that the game ended before you learned or experienced all you wanted. The desire to keep living in the game a while longer.

It's one of the few things I don't think can be created by gameplay alone. I think it comes from identifying with the characters, or being moved by the story, or fascinated by the world. In other words, from good writing which is unencumbered by errors in game design.

As Zoltan suggested, Diablo 2, though addictive and well-designed, doesn't resonate on an emotional level at all. It never "captures" the player in the first place.

On the other hand, Chrono Trigger had an involved story with good development of secondary characters. Link to the Past had a fascinating and fun world. In addition, both of these games moved at a fairly brisk pace, not allowing the ideas to get stale.

I'd suggest that the formula is simple: (1) engross the player with good writing, (2) end the game before the feeling fades.

Nathan McKenzie

"I'd suggest that the formula is simple: (1) engross the player with good writing, (2) end the game before the feeling fades"

Is that really it?

Ico barely has any writing at all. The writing in the Zelda games, especially recently, has a very pleasant kind of charm to it, but I really don't think it factors in highly in why I'm sad to leave those worlds. Did Out of This World have any writing at all? And as for the writing in Max Payne 2... well, that seems to be very love it or hate it.

I know with the Zelda games, I grow intensely attached to the _world_ of the game by the time things draw to a conclusion. I think I'm sad to leave the game because I'm sad that I won't get to be in that place any more. Maybe that's just a sign of the artistry with which they crafty their pocket universes?

Ico also has that deep sense of place that fosters emotional attachment, I think, and it also has characters that a player can get very, very drawn to. But it's almost like the world is a character too, somehow.

I think maybe the games in the first category are better about having elements that resonate emotionally very deeply, for some reason, whether through characters (frequently via dialog) or by the world itself.

Many of the second set of games on the other hand, while often technically very well crafted, are almost... bloodless? I would almost want to describe many of them as feeling clinical or detached somehow.


My guess is that the first list is made up of titles that were for the most part groundbreaking, while the second are titles that were well polished gems that followed in the wake of another game.

Jamie Fristrom

I think Saul's onto something, if by 'writing' he doesn't mean dialog per se but storytelling in general, and not just plotting but setting and character and emotion (in which case games with no dialog at all such as *Ico* and *Out of This World* qualify), but then we just move the magic question into 'what makes a good story?' And countless books have been written on that subject but somehow most stories aren't good...
Still, interesting. Even though I like to write fiction I used to be one of those 'story in videogames is like story in porn, get over your frustrated screenwriter syndrome' guys - probably as a reaction to those FMV-heavy days in the early nineties to which *Doom* was the antidote.
Somehow I got from there to thinking good storytelling might be the magic ingredient a videogame needs to linger in the mind of its audience?
Can this quality of 'longing' be measured? When a developer finishes making a game they're usually quite sick of it...so they have no way of knowing if the magic ingredient made it in or not. Was anybody sorry when *Die By The Sword* was over? Or *Spider-Man*? I have no idea.


A better way of putting it than the porn analogy is that story in video games is the 'context for gameplay'. And I think context can definitely detract or add to the experience. (Hey, just like porn, again.)

Sure Tetris is the greatest game ever, but it's one extreme, pure gameplay. At the other extreme I'd put something more like Grim Fandango and Final Fantasy III (The US three). The gameplay wasn't stellar in itself, but those games had amazing style and their stories such substance that the gameplay worked wonderfully.

The combination of these two things is like comic books. The sequential art is the driving force. It's what sets it apart from novels and paintings. But nearly no one thinks that story isn't important. (Well, not counting the early 90s.) In games the gameplay is the art. It's the more important factor. It seperates games from animation and novels. Sure you can appreciate the art of a good comic, but could you stand to read through a badly drawn one?

In that same vein, you can play a game with and incredibly stupid story as long as the gameplay is fun in the context of the story. But if you can't dig the gameplay, the story is ruined.

But so far as a single trait that all of the first list games have? I don't think there is. I think just like there's no way to make an amazing or horrible movie you can do the same with games. Sure, you could probably figure out a formula for commercially successful games, like music and movies, but 'good'? I doubt it.

Here's an idea. As great as the first list is, howsabout going through and seeing if you can pick what you liked about each game and seeing if there's any 'thing' that seems to win your favor most of the time? Maybe you can figure out a formula for 'good games for Jamie'?

Back to work.


I have a different question, out of those 14 games (12 actually since 2 were mods), nearly half of them performed miserably in the marketplace. How do we as developers ensure that quality games like those in that list drive the industry instead of repackaged games with new textures and a higher number at the end of the title?

Sender has a good point that nearly everything in the second list is a victim of sequel-itis. Not that they were bad games, quite the opposite, however they had nearly all been seen or done before.

Of course, people have been trying to figure out for years why quality games like ICO are ignored while crapfests like Enter the Matrix sell insane quantities, thereby ensuring that publishers only want more of the big name sequels or licenses, while burying the truly original games.

My concern is how long will the gaming public stand for more of the same? Personally, after nearly 20 years of gaming, if I see another game that claims 'it's just like X, but better' I almost immediately put it on my rental only list, just to see if that was just a line marketing attached to the title to attract the average Best Buy customer or if the creative team just copped out and followed the same tired formulas. The games that have grabbed me the most are the ones that still have some measure of originality in them. Of course, I fully admit that after so many years playing and now working in the industry, I've been hit with jaded gamer syndrome and I'm not the best example of the gaming public.

Unfortunately, next year looks like it's going to be nearly all sequels or spiritual sequels. Of course, I'm sure a number of them will be good, but will they have the same impact as a truly original title? I doubt it, but at least they will (probably) sell better.


I was just commenting to a friend about how I can never get enough Max Payne. They could release a mission pack every 6 months and I'd buy it and play it. I just completed Red Dead Revolver (which is little more than Max Payne in the Old West), and I felt the same way. I think the thing that does it for me is the combination of solid skill-based gameplay (aiming is the primary skill, avoiding bullets the second, etc) AND a story that justifies me blowing away hundreds of bad-guys (revenge is always a great motive -- just look at EVERY SINGLE super hero comic). I prefer Max over GTA in that at least there's a reason I'm acting like a homicidal maniac.

I have this kooky idea that we don't have to know WHY these games "do it" for us, we just have to be able to recognize it in the games we're creating, and not be afraid to foster it when we find it. But that theory is only half-baked so far...


I first thought, games that made me sad.. And no Another World?! But alas you named it "Out of this world" - a less known US version of the games name.

However you managed to miss Loom from LucasArts! If not the story, the beatiful music scores brought a lot of emotion to that. Atleast so for the Amiga version, which has better ending than PC IMHO.


It's easy to too easy to forget I admit. In addition to Loom & AW, Star Control 2, while perhaps not exactly a "sad" end, as it was written like the rest of the game, to be humorous - it certainly made the player sad for the greatest space exploration adventure in true Trek fashion to have an ending.

The Dig was a good effort but in the end did not quite make it to the level of the others I've mentined here.



i'm down with jeffool, and Nathan's "bloodless" comments.

interactive entertainment products are evolving in two directions--what i call games and experiences. we'll see an increasing dichotomy in the coming years. the pure game side was first on the scene and is most developed (Tetris et al). the pure experience side is a ways off yet, (moving well beyond current MMO and sandbox paradigms--any takers?). the vast majority of products have elements of both and are somewhere in the middle.

designing experiences requires great empathy with an audience, deep understanding of how to move them, and holistic vision. the games on your first list venture further into this area. the second listers, while well crafted, don't understand this as well.



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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game