Good to hear from Raph in the comments! By the way, anybody who hasn't checked out his slideshow on small-world-networks and gaming should: http://www.legendmud.org/raph/gaming/index.html, go to Essays and scroll down to the one on small worlds. It gave me a new lens with which to view the world. Sorry if I misinterpreted you, Raph, but didn't you say something along the lines of us having to discard dressing if we truly wanted to approach game development as an art?
Speaking of terminology: I'm told that board game guys have been using the word "color" for what Raph was calling dressing since the beginning of time. And, as for the "salad" - I always used to call it "gameplay." That's what I said in *Difficult Questions About Videogames*, and a few others seemed to agree with me. Others, however, think of "gameplay" not as the formal abstract core systems, but as an activity. The act of engaging with the game. Down to the feeling of the controller in your hands. At first I thought those people were just wrong. But then I decided we should throw "gameplay" out as an overused term. (One of the guys in *Difficult Questions* - I forget who, I don't have the book on me right now - said that we all use the term, thinking everybody knows what we're talking about, but we all have our own definitions. He was right on the money.) Instead, how about "game mechanics" as a term for the salad?
One other thing about save-anywhere: dozens of hugely popular games don't have it. Let's take an irresponsible look at the Best Games Evar from gamerankings: Zelda - nope. MGS - I forget. I don't think so. Metroid Prime - nope. Resident Evil - nope. Halo - nope. Grand Theft Auto - nope. Half-Life 2 is, in fact, the first game on the list that does have save anywhere. Now I'm not one to say that just because all these great, massively popular games don't do it, it must be wrong, but it can't be the enormous issue that some of you have made it out to be in the comments section.
Speaking of irresponsible looks at gamerankings, I was just wondering: how important is variety in games? Some games are basically the same thing over and over (driving games) whereas others strive to give you mini-games and the like to change it up. My first instinct when thinking about having mini-games is to say NO! If people wanted to play Battleship they'd play Battleship; they wouldn't play the Battleship minigame in Wind Waker. If they wanted a rhythm game they'd play Parappa or DDR or Amplitude rather than the rhythm missions from San Andreas. If they wanted a stealth game they'd play Splinter Cell instead of the stealth missions from True Crime. And so on. But maybe I'm wrong about people. Maybe your mass market game consumer only wants to buy a few games, and he wants those games to be swiss-army knives: you can get your racing, shooting, stealth, rhythm, dating-simulation, extreme sports tricks, role-playing, and territory conquering strategy all from *San Andreas* - why spend more money on other games just because they do those subgames better? Plus, from a production point of view, Erik Bethke's argument for a lean, tight feature set - so those features can be high-quality, high-polish - is pretty compelling.
So I'm looking at top games on gamerankings and asking myself: How many sub-games do these games contain? What constitutes a sub-game is tough to define (each boss fight in some of these games could almost be considered its own mini-game), so your mileage may vary.
Zelda, Ocarina of Time: fighting, puzzle-solving, nonlinear exploration, horseback riding, stealth, boss fights. 6+
MGS: stealth, shooting, boss fights, nonlinear exploration. 4
Metroid Prime: shooting, jumping, nonlinear exploration. 3 (Correction: boss fights, ball-modes, both side-scrolling and straight ahead. 6. Good point.)
Halo: shooting, driving. 2 (or does flying / tank driving count as a separate game?)
Half-Life 2: shooting, driving, ant-lion/squad herding, "Don't walk on the sand" stealth, physics-puzzle solving, automated turret placement. 6. (Does the gravity gun count as a separate game?)
San Andreas: I counted eight up until my PS2 threw a rod the other day. I'm not sure if I want to buy another PS2 just to finish this game...
Wind waker: Ocarina of Time plus some more mini-games and sailing. 8+
Pro Skater 2: Tricks. Collecting. 2. (Side note: the highest rated of the Tony Hawk games has the fewest sub-games: Tony Hawk 1 had racing, and then Tony Hawk 3 and on started adding new kinds of challenges. Not that this anecdote proves anything.)
Half-Life: Shooting. Xen. The "get past the tentacles" puzzle. The final boss fight. 4.
Vice City: Driving, shooting, rail-shooting, remote control vehicles, buying property. 5.
Prince of Persia: Fighting, navigating terrain. 2
Knights of the Old Republic: Fighting, nonlinear exploration, leveling up, talking, space combat, racing, a couple mini-games here and there. 8+
So...my new stance...a game needs to contain at least two games to be popular, and more sure doesn't hurt. And if those games aren't polished (San Andreas's aren't, although they're well tuned) it's not the end of the world, either.