In an interview, game designer Sid Meier (Sim Golf, Sid Meier's Gettysburg, Antietam, Civilization, Alpha Centuri, Pirates! Gold, Railroad Tycoon) explains "We don't evaluate a game idea on how much learning is possible, we basically evaluate it on how much fun the game could be."
David Perry of Shiny Entertainment (Earthworm Jim, Wild9, MDK, Messiah, Sacrifice, R/C Stunt Copter, Cool Spot, Aladdin, Global Gladiators, Enter The Matrix) states that one of the key elements in good game design is "Fun - This is the magic element in all designs. You've got to step back from your design and say, if everything goes as planned, would I like to play this game? Would anyone else?"
Currently, I am an adjunct professor at NYU teaching game design, author of the best-selling book entitled Game Design Foundations (published by Wordware) and working as a freelance designer. I am also working with NYU on their upcoming NYU Summer Game Camp (July 6 to August 6, 2004) for high school and college students and a frequent speaker at Game Conferences.
Many students and professionals often ask "What makes a great game?"
Is this "magical" element called "fun" the key to designing a great game?
What is "fun" and how do we define it?
"Enjoyable or amusing activities," "a source of enjoyment, amusement, diversion" and Webster defines fun as "what provides amusement or enjoyment."
Does designing an addictive game mean it's a great game? Do designers and publishers want players putting real-life on hold such as school and work to play this game till the early morning hours?
Publishers do want a top-selling game but they also want a working, healthy audience so there's money and time available to purchase and play their other games. There is a lot of recent discussion about "addictive" warnings due to several suicides involving avid gamers. Addiction has a bad connotation associated with it, let's design compelling and intriguing games not addictive games.
The word "funny" is a derivative of "fun." Does a funny or comedy game mean that it should be successful? A joke may be funny the first few times but eventually it becomes stale and painful to listen to.
Great games are entertaining and give the player the feeling of personal achievement and accomplishing their goals. Puzzles, adventure games and mysteries ("Who Done It?") gives the player a feeling of accomplishment and success. Solving a hard or frustrating dilemma increases one's happiness and validates their problem-solving skills.
In a game, I suggest rewards and personal interaction throughout the game from nibbles to grandiose, spectacular endings from the successful to the unsuccessful, "You're DEAD!" endings.
In several games I designed, having player unknown rewards or trophy rooms gets the player to wonder what item goes where (see my Gamasutra article "Designing a Game in 13 Weeks or What I Did During my Summer Vacation"). "Reel Deal Poker Challenge" that I designed and programmed for Phantom EFX had an empty trophy room that had players wondering what item goes into that space. By winning in each level's poker tournaments, prizes were won that answered those trophy room questions. The game had a few Easter eggs such as a Birthday cake and a $100 chip (oh, remember entering your name and birthday when you bought the game!). Another trick was to forbid the player from entering the highly visible elevator until they achieved an unknown to them amount of "Prestige Points." Like the Roxbury boys, players hate to be omitted as not "cool" enough to enter the unauthorized areas. This feature had players eagerly trying to win "Prestige Points" to access higher levels, gain more money and compete against better opponents. The final plateau was to accumulate enough money and prestige to enter the "basement" to challenge the World Champion in a $5 million winner-takes-all shootout. Upon your victory, the now ex-world champion dons a red dress and dances around the screen for you.
In my children games, I constantly had the game address the child by name and play music that that child seemed to enjoy. Also, the children's games provided lots of animations and feedback based on input, animations during the pause time between input and mouse movement.
In a game I'm currently designing, I'm using astrological characteristics, player's state and age to tailor the game for that player. The common astrological characteristics lets me control and draw the player into my web. Using favorable characteristics, the game can entice the player and gain their trust. Interacting with Non-Player Characters defined with astrological unfavorable characteristics or an astrological sign that's incompatible with the player will set the player's mind on "warning." The age will have the game creating age appropriate room settings. The state allows for objects pertaining to the player's venue such as the state bird chirping outside the window on the state's tree, the state's flowers on the kitchen table and the state's sports team poster on the wall.
From my book "Game Design Foundations" published by Wordware Publishing (Wordware.Com)…
All games have two common characteristics "Education" and "Fantasy" meaning that games educate or train the players. The obvious learning in games such as "Civilization" and "Age of Empires" which teaches historical events even if not entirely accurate to simulations which teach players the "how to"s of what their simulating. The not so obvious games like adventure or action games even "Pacman" teach players to learn patterns and timing techniques to better their results (when "Blinky" is moving up then move left to the blinking circle).